Me and Gilberte 2Today we took a group of young people to meet Gilberte Degeimbre, the sole surviving member of a group of five children who saw visions of the Virgin Mary (32 altogether) in Beauraing in 1932-33. Whatever anybody’s religious beliefs might be, this lady strikes everybody as being something out of the ordinary. Despite her advanced age (92), she is completely ‘with it’. She radiates serenity and tranquility. After so many years of repeating what she saw (she was nine at the time of the apparitions), there is an inevitable sense of a well-rehearsed account, but each time I hear her speak she adds a fresh dimension to her experiences. And, whatever happened, it is undeniable that something happened. Somebody should surely one day make a film about the apparitions. There is a sort of Picnic at Hanging Rock atmosphere brooding over the whole thing. Three aspects struck me particularly today. The first was the logicality of Gilberte’s explanation about how the pure ecstasy of the apparitions was followed by deep depression (‘like being in a deep well’) caused by deprivation. Related to that was her insistence that the apparitions were as much about suffering as joy. Not only did she suffer her post-apparition depressions, and not only was she hounded by the church and the press and various doctors and scientists, but she suffered the pain of being rejected and disbelieved by her mother. Lastly, I was struck again by Gilberte’s logicality in arguing that words were simply not up to the task of describing what they had seen and experienced. Clearly, to explain what had happened to them the children were obliged to put things into words, but those words would always be inadequate. She used the same logic when one of her audience asked her about the statues of the Virgin Mary dotted about Beauraing; were they a faithful likeness of what the children had seen. ‘they are based on the details we gave them,’ said Gilberte, waving a hand dismissively, but they (the statues) have nothing to do with what we saw.’