(taken with heartfelt thanks from Sanctus Christopher Blogspot)
Matus Lasut was by all accounts a simple man. From the age of five, when his mother died, he’d learned to bear hardships as a normal part of life. He grew up tending cows, often sleeping with them in the barn on a bed of straw. His family needed his back, not his brain, to survive so his formal education was limited to just the winter months. His real education took place in his work, where he learned to scratch out a living in the rocky soils of northwestern Slovakia. During the years of violent transition that his country went through – from an independent Czechoslovakian nation to a Nazi puppet state to a Communist satellite of the Soviets – Matus always worked the land. He labored quietly as a woodcutter until he was promoted to the respectable position of forest ranger by the local government.
His faith was simple also. Without a mother to instruct him, he had nevertheless learned the basics of being Catholic. He knew the Our Father and the Hail Mary and he understood a few points of the catechism. He followed the Church’s requirements regarding his marriage and the baptism of his children but he wasn’t so fervent when it came to Mass and confession and communion, not to mention charity for his fellow men. He didn’t particularly like many people but the ones he disliked he made certain they knew it. His faith wasn’t lacking so much as it was lazy. Yet Matus retained throughout his life an aspect that was characteristic of all Slovakians regardless of status, a second-natured devotion to Mary.
So it was on June 1, 1958 that Matus was making his rounds on Okruhla, a mountain near the village of Turzovka. As usual, just before 9 am, he stopped at a spot on the side of the mountain called Zivcak (literally meaning “at the picture”). On a pine tree by the side of the trail was an icon of the Mother of God of Perpetual Help and it was here that he knelt to pray:
“I quickly prayed the Pater Noster and Hail Mary, but before I finished, at the end of Hail Mary, all of a sudden I spotted a short flash of light on my left side. I looked in that direction and to my amazement I saw at a distance of approximately 12 meters, a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes about two meters above the ground as if on a mound...
“A faint gust of wind coming from the east slightly moved her veil to reveal on the left side of her head a lock of light chestnut-colored hair... I realized that this was no statue but a living being standing on a tiny cloud as if it was made from a mist...”
Matus went on to describe her as having folded hands and wearing a crown of twelve stars. Her hair fell over her shoulders from beneath a gold-edged veil of white that stretched to her feet. A blue girdle, also edged with gold, cinched her snowy-white dress. On each foot rested a rose of gold.
Hanging over her right arm was a rosary that reached to her knees – white beads for the Aves and gold ones for the Paters. Interestingly, though the vision indeed strongly resembled Our Lady of Lourdes, the rosary that she held was of five decades, not the six decade one described by St. Bernadette.
A field of white roses suddenly appeared below the Lady and surrounding it was a white picket fence; three of the boards were loose. The lady looked at Matus and pointed to where there was a little hammer and some nails. Matus immediately understood that she wanted him to repair the fence. Unquestioningly, he bent down and set to work. Upon completion, the lady seemed pleased. She then smiled at Matus, held out her arm and gently shook the rosary she was holding. He knew that she was asking him to pray the rosary – only Matus had never learned that special prayer of Our Lady.
Before his embarrassment overtook him, the Lady turned her head in the direction of the tree where her icon stood. Matus followed her glance. Before the pine was a canvas showing a map of the world and below it was a black screen.
The map depicted was not unusual in that the oceans between the continents were blue and the land was variously colored green and yellow. Matus was made to understand that the green signified nations that were good, pleasing to God. The yellow were those countries that had abandoned Him. At first, the colors were stable but soon they began to blur and shift until the entire map was yellow. Little explosions erupted on the map, first on the coasts and in the oceans. Eventually the whole world was in flames. On the black screen below the image, these words appeared:
Repent! Pray for priests and the religious! Pray the Rosary!
Frightened and confused, Matus looked back at the Lady. She motioned for him to look above her and a flash of lightning cracked the sky in the shape of a triangle. From the hole in the sky, Christ emerged in all His majesty, wearing a long white robe and with a red cape draped over his shoulder. Under his left arm he carried a cross and in the middle of his chest there pulsed an image of his Sacred Heart. Three brilliant rays shot forth from the Heart. Two passed by each side of Matus but center one flashed right through him and he shut his eyes and collapsed to the ground.
He awoke to the sound of bells. They were the bells of the nearby church announcing the Angelus – it was noon – he had been there for three hours.
He sat up and looked around. The map was gone, as were the flowers and the fence. And the Lady was gone too, but on a rock just below where she had appeared, lay her rosary. He picked it up and began to pray. The Glorious Mysteries formed miraculously on his lips.
When Matus finished his rosary, the understanding came to him that the three fence-boards that the Lady had asked him to repair were indicative of the repairs that he needed to make in his own life. They were his three main shortcomings and he was supposed to fix them through the prayer of the Holy Rosary, the receiving of the Sacraments frequently, and a friendship with all people.
“After the apparition, I felt a great infusion of faith. First of all, I had to make peace with people whom I had come into conflict with. I would like to have avoided it but felt I had to do this. After returning from the mountain that very evening I went to beg forgiveness from all those people in Turzovka and the surrounding area. I did it as if against my own will. I took me until late in the night. People were surprised, some laughed at me, others thought that I had gone insane. The next day in the morning, I made confession and went to communion. From that time on, I was released from all my illness; first of all from heavy cough which had troubled me for many years and which the doctors claimed to be incurable.”
He told no one of what he had seen.
Matus was visited six more times at Zivcak by the Lady. Each time she appeared the same way, as Our Lady of Lourdes, and each time a vision was given to him in the same way, on a screen with words subtitled below it. Each vision dealt with the sinful condition of the world and the coming of a divine chastisement that could only be put off through prayer and penance. He gave a general description of some of his visions but he also saw specific names, places, and dates which he would keep secret from everyone except the Holy Father. (The Vatican has never made these revelations public, probably as the events are still under review). On the seventh and final appearance on August 14, 1958, she came under the guise of the Immaculate Conception.
During the time that Matus was having his visions, people began to notice a marked change in him. They pestered and questioned him until finally he broke his silence and told his story. On September 8th, the feast of the Nativity of Mary, a thousand people accompanied him on a visit to the icon on the hill. There, he surprised his new friends by announcing that in three days, he would be imprisoned.
That night, a police car stopped at his front door. Neighbors flocked to Matus’ house and prevented him from being taken away but he was ordered to appear at the police station the next day on charges of inciting insurrection. The communist authorities were not about to brook any supernatural resistance to their authority. He did as ordered, and two days later they decided it would be better to classify him as mentally ill; he was confined to a psychiatric hospital “for his own protection.”
Matus Lasut was moved in and out of various prisons and hospitals by the “committees” in charge of his case. He faced nineteen separate investigations and signed 120 sworn testimonies. During the course of his investigation, he was often subject to twice-daily interrogations. Electrocution. Hypnotism. Chemical cures.
Matus never broke and never renounced his story. From the official records kept during one inquisition, the simple forest ranger reaffirmed his faith to the procurator:
“Mr. Procurator, do you have a mother?”
“And could you deny your mother?”
“No, this I could not do.”
“So, you can see why I cannot deny my heavenly mother either.”
After five years, Matus Lasut was finally released from prison but lived under constant surveillance for the rest of his life. Left half-blind and nearly toothless from the “treatments” inflicted upon him, he went right back to returning to his mountain. He found that despite attempts by the police to deter pilgrims by cutting down trees and burning images of the Holy Virgin, the site of the apparitions was growing dearer and stronger in the hearts of his countrymen every day. In fact, visitors from other parts of Czechoslovakia began to trickle in to Turzovka and soon they followed by Austrians and Germans and others. Many offered money to Matus but he never accepted a penny, preferring to live out his life in poverty.
But the story of Our Lady of Turzovka doesn’t end there.
The remainder of the story begins with a man named Jaroslav Zaalenka. He had a dream in which a beautiful lady told him to go up to the mountain (Okruhla) and dig. Not understanding what he was supposed to do, he didn’t follow her directions until after the third night of the same dream. He brought his shovel to the mountain and wandered around looking for a place he should dig. At a loss for guidance, he picked a random place that wasn’t too rocky. No sooner had he begun when the lady from his dream suddenly appeared and spoke to him. “Not here,” she said, “but over there, where you see those ferns.” He walked over to the ferns and set his shovel below the roots. As his foot pushed the shovel into soft ground, the ferns vanished and water began to bubble up. He turned to look back at the lady but she was gone. Six more springs formed on the mountain over the ensuing years when there had never been a single one recorded in its history.
Word of miraculous cures began to spread.
Nuns, priests, doctors, engineers, and people from all walks of life swore to the healing effects of this water. Lung cancer. Blindness. Paralysis. Soon, upon request, jars of the water were being sent to Rome. The prophecy reportedly made by the visionary and stigmatist Therese Neumann to Slovakian Bishop Karol Kaspar in the 1920’s had apparently been fulfilled: "In a few years, you will have in Slovakia another Lourdes where you will go on pilgrimages." Even the name of Padre Pio was brought into the mix after he wrote in a letter to a Slovakian Jesuit priest, "Turzovka - ít is an authentic apparition. In time, it will become the Slovak Lourdes!"
Turzovka grew beyond control. Visions and voices and unexplainable events spread like a contagion among those who visited the site. Perhaps through modern eyes, jaded by the experience of so many hoaxes and false apparitions, we might see the related phenomena as fakeries by hucksters or hallucinations by “groupies.” Yet, looking at each case individually, there seems to be nothing malicious, nothing sinister behind them. There doesn’t seem to have been an “industry” that profited from the appearance of Our Lady. Nothing but good seems to have come of it. And nothing contrary to the Faith.