much of the 18th century, the nation of Vietnam was embattled in various
struggles for power and domination. The northern regions of the kingdom
fell under the authority of the lords of the Trinh family, while in
the southern realm the Nguyen lords took power. As the eighteenth century
drew toward its close, both of their rules were shaken and threatened
by peasant uprisings and emerging rebel forces.
The strongest among the many uprisings was led by the three brothers
from Tay Son. In short order, they overthrew the Nguyen lords and defeated
the Trinh lords to restore national unity for the first time since the
decline of the Le dynasty. A Tay Son brother was enthroned to be King
Quang Trung. In 1792 he passed away and left the throne to his son who
became King Canh Thinh.
Meanwhile, Nguyen Anh continued his insurgency in trying to reclaim
his throne. Earlier in his run from the Tay Son rebels in 1777, he found
refuge on Phu Quoc Island, where Monsignor Pierre Pigneau de Behaine
of the Society of Foreign Missions directed a seminary for youths from
neighboring countries. The bishop persuaded him to seek help from King
Louis XVI of France.
King Canh Thinh knew that Nguyen Anh received support from the French
missionary and worried that the Vietnamese Catholics would also endorse
his reign. He began to restrict the practice of Catholicism in the country.
On August 17, 1798, King Canh Thinh issued an anti-Catholic edict and
an order to destroy all Catholic churches and seminaries. A most grievous
persecution of Vietnamese Catholics and missionaries began and lasted
until 1886. Even after Nguyen Anh succeeded in reclaiming his throne
as King Gia Long (1802-1820), his successors, King Minh Mang (1820-1840),
King Thieu Tri (1841-1847) and King Tu Duc (1847-1884), the last Nguyen
emperor, continued the vehement campaign against Catholics, ordering
punishments that ranged from branding their faces to death by various
cruel methods for Vietnamese Catholics and missionary priests.
It was amidst this great suffering that the Lady of Lavang came to the
people of Vietnam. The name Lavang was believed to be originated in
the name of the deep forest in the central region of Vietnam (now known
as Quang Tri City) where there was an abundance of a kind of trees named
La' Vang. It was also said that its name came from the Vietnamese meaning
of the word "Crying Out" to denote the cries for help of people
The first apparition of the Lady of Lavang was noted in 1798, when the
persecution of Vietnamese Catholics began. Many Catholics from the nearby
town of Quang Tri sought refuge in the deep forest of Lavang. A great
number of these people suffered from the bitter cold weather, lurking
wild beasts, jungle sickness and starvation. At night, they often gathered
in small groups to say the rosary and to pray. Unexpectedly, one night
they were visited by an apparition of a beautiful Lady in a long cape,
holding a child in her arms, with two angels at her sides. The people
recognized the Lady as Our Blessed Mother.
Blessed Mother comforted them and told them to boil the leaves from
the surrounding trees to use as medicine. She also told them that from
that day on, all those who came to this place to pray, would get their
prayers heard and answered. This took place on the grass area near the
big ancient banyan tree where the refugees were praying. All those who
were present witnessed this miracle. After this first apparition, the
Blessed Mother continued to appear to the people in this same place
many times throughout the period of nearly one hundred years of religious
persecution. Among many groups of Vietnamese Catholics that were burnt
alive because of their faith was a group of 30 people who were seized
after they came out of their hiding place in the forest of Lavang. At
their request, they were taken back to the little chapel of Lavang and
were immolated there on its ground.
From the time the Lady of Lavang first appeared, the people who took
refuge there erected a small and desolate chapel in her honor. During
the following years, Her name was spread among the people in the region
to other places. Despite its isolated location in the high mountains,
groups of people continued to find ways to penetrate the deep and dangerous
jungle to worship the Lady of Lavang. Gradually, the pilgrims that came
with axes, spears, canes, and drums to scare away wild animals were
replaced by those holding flying flags, flowers and rosaries. The pilgrimages
went on every year despite the continuous persecution campaigns.
In 1886, after the persecution had officially ended, Bishop Gaspar ordered
a church to be built in honor of the Lady of Lavang. Because of its
precarious location and limited funding, it took 15 years for the completion
of the church of Lavang. It was inaugurated by Bishop Gaspar in a solemn
ceremony that participated by over 12,000 people and lasted from August
6th to 8th, 1901. The bishop proclaimed the Lady of Lavang as the Protectorate
of the Catholics. In 1928, a larger church was built to accommodate
the increasing number of pilgrims. This church was destroyed in the
summer of 1972 during the Vietnam war.
The history of the Lady of Lavang continues to gain greater significance
as more claims from people whose prayers were answered were validated.
In April of 1961, the Council of Vietnamese Bishops selected the holy
church of Lavang as the National Sacred Marian Center . In August of
1962, Pope John XXIII elevated the church of Lavang to The Basilica
of Lavang. On June 19, 1988, Pope John Paul II in the canonizing ceremony
of the 117 Vietnamese martyrs, publicly and repeatedly recognized the
importance and significance of the Lady of Lavang and expressed a desire
for the rebuilding of the Lavang Basilica to commemorate the 200th anniversary
of the first apparition of the Lady of Lavang in August of 1998.