The Fiendish Elephant and Mary’s Mantle

This is a dream/parable told by Saint John Bosco:

My dear boys, I dreamed that it was a feast day afternoon and that you were all busy playing, while I was in my room with Professor Thomas Vallauri (a contemporary lexicographer, prominent literary man and dear friend of Don Bosco) discussing literature and religion. Suddenly, there was a knock at my door. I rose quickly and opened it. My mother – dead now for six years – was standing there. Breathlessly, she gasped, “Come and see! Come and see!”
“What happened?” I asked.
“Come! Come!” she replied.
I dashed to the balcony. Down in the playground, surrounded by a crowd of boys, stood an enormous elephant.
“How did this happen?” I exclaimed. “Let’s go down!”
Professor Vallauri and I looked at each other in surprise and alarm and then raced downstairs. As was only natural, many of you had run to the elephant. It seemed meek and tame. Playfully it lumbered about, nuzzling the boys with its trunk and cleverly obeying their orders, as though it had been born and raised at the Oratory. Very many of you kept following it about and petting it, but not all. In fact, most of you were scared and fled from it to safety. Finally, you hid in the church. I too tried to get in through the side door which opens into the playground, but as I passed Our Lady’s statue beside the drinking fountain and touched the hem of her mantle for protection, she raised her right arm. Vallauri did likewise on the other side of the statue, and the Virgin raised her left arm. I was amazed, not knowing what to think of such an extraordinary thing.

The Elephant in the Sanctuary – Enemy of the Holy Eucharist
When the bell rang for church service, you all trooped in. I followed and saw the elephant standing at the rear by the main entrance. After Vespers and the sermon, I went to the altar, assisted by Fr. Alasonatti and Fr. Savio, to give Benediction. At the solemn moment when you all deeply bowed to adore the Blessed Sacrament, the elephant – still standing at the end of the middle aisle – knelt down too, but with its back to the altar.

Once services were over, I tried to dash out to the playground and see what would happen, but I was detained by someone. A while later, I went out through the side door which opens into the porticoes and saw you at your usual games. The elephant too had come out of the church and had idled over to the second playground where the new wing is under construction. Mark this well, because this is precisely the place where the grisly scene I am going to describe occurred.

At that moment, at the far end of the playground, I saw a banner followed processionally by boys. It bore in huge letters the inscription “Sancta Maria, succurre miseris! Holy Mary, help your forlorn children!” To everybody’s surprise, that monstrous beast, once so tame, suddenly ran amuck. Trumpeting furiously, it lunged forward, seized the nearest boys with its trunk, hurled them into the air or flung them to the ground and then trampled them underfoot. Though horribly mauled, the victims were still alive. Everybody ran for dear life. Screams and shouts and pleas for help rose from the wounded. Worse – would you believe it? – some boys who were spared by the elephant, rather than aid their wounded companions, joined the monstrous brute to find new victims.

Under Mary’s Mantle
As all this was happening (I was standing by the second arch of the portico, near the drinking fountain), the little statue that you see there (the statue of the Blessed Virgin) became alive and grew to life-size. Then, as Our Lady raised her arms, her mantle spread open to display magnificently embroidered inscriptions. Unbelievably, it stretched far and wide to shelter all those who gathered beneath it. The best boys were the first to run to it for safety. Seeing that many were in no hurry to run to her, Our Lady called aloud, “Venite ad me omnes! Come all to me!” Her call was heeded, and as the crowd of boys under the mantle increased, so did the mantle spread wider. However, a few youngsters kept running about and were wounded before they could reach safety. Flushed and breathless, the Blessed Virgin continued to plead, but fewer and fewer were the boys who ran to her. The elephant, meanwhile, continued its slaughter, aided by several lads who dashed about, wielding one sword or two and preventing their companions from running to Mary. The elephant never even touched these helpers.

Meanwhile, prompted by the Blessed Virgin, some boys left the safety of her mantle in quick sorties to rescue some victims. No sooner did the wounded get beneath Our Lady’s mantle than they were instantly cured. Again and again several of those brave boys, armed with cudgels; went out and, risking their lives, shielded the victims from the elephant and its accomplices until nearly ,all were rescued.
The playground was now deserted, except for a few youngsters lying about almost dead. At one end by the portico, a crowd of boys stood safe under the Virgin’s mantle. At the other stood the elephant with some ten or twelve lads who had helped it wreak such havoc and who still insolently brandished swords.
Suddenly rearing up on its hind legs, the elephant changed into a horrible, long-horned specter and cast a black net over its wretched accomplices. Then, as the beast roared, a thick cloud of smoke enveloped them, and the earth suddenly gaped beneath them and swallowed them up.

Promises and Maxims
I looked for my mother and professor Vallauri to speak to them, but I could not spot them anywhere. Then I turned to look at the inscriptions on Mary’s mantle and noticed that several were actual quotations or adaptations of Scriptural texts. I read a few of them:
• Qui elucidant me vitam aeternam habebunt – They that explain me, shall have life everlasting. (Eccles. 24:31).
• Qui me invenerit, inveniet vitam – He who finds me, will find life. (Proverbs 8:35).
• Si quis est parvulus, veniat ad me – Whoever is a little one, let him come to me. (Prow 9:4).
• Refugium peccatorum – Refuge of sinners.
• Salus credentium – Salvation of believers.
• Plena omnis pietatis, mansuetudinis et misericordiae – Full of piety, meekness and mercy.
• Beati qui custodiunt vias meas – Blessed are they that keep my ways. (Prow 8:32).
Avoid Foul Talk
All was quiet now. After a brief silence, the Virgin, seemingly exhausted by so much pleading, soothingly comforted and heartened the boys and, quoting the inscription I had inscribed at the base of the niche, “Qui elucidant me, vitam aeternam habebunt”, she went on:
“You heeded my call and were spared the slaughter wrought by the devil on your companions. Do you want to know what caused their ruin? Sunt colloquia prava: Foul talk and foul deeds. You also saw your companions wielding swords. They are those who seek your eternal damnation by enticing you from me, just as they did with some schoolmates of yours.

But “quos Deus diutius exspectat durius damnat – those for whom God keeps waiting longer, He punishes more severely.” The infernal demon enmeshed and dragged them to eternal perdition. Now, go in peace, but remember my words: Flee from companions who befriend Satan, avoid foul conversation, have boundless trust in me. My mantle will always be your safe refuge.”

Our Lady then vanished; only her beloved statuette remained. My deceased mother reappeared. Again the banner with the inscription, Sancta Maria, succurre miseris, was unfurled. Marching processionally behind, the boys sang “Laudate Maria, O lingue fideli – Praise Mary, O ye faithful tongues.” Shortly afterward, the singing waned and the whole scene faded away. I awoke in a sweat. Such was my dream.

My sons, now it is up to you to draw your own strenna. Examine your conscience. You will know if you were safe under Mary’s mantle, or if the elephant flung you into the air, or if you were wielding a sword. I can only repeat what the Virgin said: “Venite ad me omnes – “Come all to me”. Turn to her; call on her in any danger. I can assure you that your prayers will be heard. Those who were so badly mauled by the elephant are to learn to avoid foul talk and bad companions; those who strive to entice their companions from Mary must either change their ways or leave the house immediately. If anyone wants to know the role he played, let him come to my room and I will tell him. But I repeat: Satan’s accomplices must either mend their ways or go! Good night!

Don Bosco had spoken with such fervor and emotion that for a whole week afterward the boys kept discussing that dream and would not leave him in peace. Every morning they crowded his confessional; every afternoon they pestered him to find out what part they had played in the mysterious dream.

That this was no dream, but a vision, Don Bosco had himself indirectly admitted when he said: “I regularly beg God to suggest . . . A very bad night is usually a forewarning that Our Lord is about to reveal something to me.” Furthermore, he forbade anyone to make light of what he had narrated.

But there is more. On this occasion he made a list of the wounded and of those who wielded one or two swords. He gave it to Celestine Durando, instructing him to watch them. The cleric handed the list over to us, and it is still in our possession. The wounded were thirteen – probably those who had not been rescued and sheltered beneath Our Lady’s mantle. Seventeen lads wielded one sword; only three had two. Scattered marginal notes next to a boy’s name indicate an amendment of life. Also, we must bear in mind that the dream referred also to the future.

That it mirrored the true state of things was admitted by the boys themselves later on.

40 Dreams of Saint John Bosco
Memoirs of Saint John Bosco

Proverbs 8:35
View in: NAB Vulg Hebrew
35He that shall find me, shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord: