Alphonse Ratisbonne, a freethinking French Jew, has a vision of the Virgin Mary in a church in 1842:
“Coming out of the café I met the carriage of Monsieur B [a proselytising friend who had given him a medal of the Virgin]. He stopped and invited me in for a drive, but first asked me to wait for a few minutes whilst he attended to some duty at the church of San Andrea delle Fratte. Instead of waiting in the carriage, I entered the church myself to look at it. The church of San Andrea was poor, small, and empty; I believe that I found myself there almost alone. No work of art attracted my attention; and I passed my eyes mechanically over its interior without being arrested by any particular thought. I can only remember an entirely black dog which went trotting and turning before me as I mused. In an instant the dog had disappeared, the whole church had vanished, I no longer saw anything… or more truly I saw, O my God, one thing alone.
“Heavens, how can I speak of it? Oh no! human words cannot attain to expressing the inexpressible… I was there prostrate on the ground, bathed in my tears, with my heart beside itself, when M. B. called me back to life. I could not reply to the questions which followed from him one upon the other. But finally I took the medal which I had on my breast, and with all the effusion of my soul I kissed the image of the Virgin, radiant with grace, which it bore. Oh, indeed, it was She! It was indeed She!..
“In the bottom of my soul I felt an explosion of the most ardent joy.”
In 1929, CS Lewis describes giving up his atheism:
“You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and…