In the spring and summer of 1916, three children Lucia De Santos (10) and her two cousins, Francisco (9) and Jacinta Marto (7) reported speaking to an The Guardian Angel of Portugal, St Michael, who said the Virgin Mary would appear to the three shepherds when the end of the Great War was near. Lucia’s mother told her to stop “spreading childish nonsense”, her father took a physically violent route to silence the children in the face of scorn of even the faithful in the small town of Fatima, Portugal.
Following America’s lead on 21 April 1917, Portugal entered the First World War on the side of the Allies. Two weeks later on 5 May Pope Benedict XV wrote a pastoral letter to the world asking for the veneration of the Virgin Mary to bring an end to the war.
On 13 May, 1917, in a small open field known as the Cova de Iria (The Cove of Irene) the three children watched the sheep and sped through their daily Rosary so they could play. The three children said they met “a lady dressed all in white, more brilliant than the sun” who appeared to them above the lone tree in the field. Francisco said he could see her, Jacinto said she could see and hear her, and Lucia said she could, see, hear and speak to the Lady. The apparition told the children to come back to the spot on the 13th of every month.
The children told their parents and soon the town, and increasingly larger and more skeptical crowds accompanied them over the months. On the second visitation in June, the apparition revealed that Francisco and Jacinta would go to Heaven soon (they would both die of the Spanish Flu after the war, but Lucia would stay on Earth for a long time (Lucia would only die in 2005). On July 13th, the apparition, who had finally identified herself as the Virgin Mary to Lucia and Jacinto, revealed the Great Secret (too long to cover in this post), and that she would perform a miracle in October for all the world to see. Growing crowds reported changes in the atmosphere and temperature, and a small cloud over the tree with the children.
The popularity of the visions was becoming too much for the secular, if conservative, local government. In August the local mayor kidnapped the children to prevent them from going to the Cova de Iria at the appointed time. Despite, threats of torture and imprisonment, the children wouldn’t recant their story. The justifiably angry parents roused the townspeople. Fearing further incident, the mayor released the children. The Lady appeared to them again on the 19th of that month, this time privately since everyone thought they missed the date. The next month, the crowds grew larger due to the mayor’s actions, and many reported a “pillar of clouds” above the tree, and being showered with “snowflakes” or “rose petals”. To the children, the Lady promised a miracle for “all the world to see”.
On the 13th of October, at least 70,000 people, faithful and skeptics alike, flocked to the field in the driving rain. The children reported seeing the Virgin Mary, her husband Joseph, and the Baby Jesus. The people in the crowd reported seeing everything from the rain stopping to seeing the Holy Family.
At one end, Francisco and Jacinto’s father, now a firm believer reported, “We looked easily at the sun, which did not blind us. It seemed to flicker on and off, first one way and then another. It shot rays in different directions and painted everything in different colors…What was most extraordinary is that the sun did not hurt our eyes at all. Everything was still and quiet; everyone was looking upwards…”
The editor of the secular and vehemently anti Catholic newspaper, O Seculo, wrote, “One could see the immense multitude turn toward the sun, which appeared at its zenith, coming out of the clouds,” he wrote…. Before their dazzled eyes the sun trembled, the sun made unusual and brusque movements, defying all the laws of the cosmos, and according to the typical expression of the peasants, ‘the sun danced’… (the sun seemed) to be a living body…It looked like a glazed wheel made of mother-of-pearl.”
Whether it was a miracle or not is open to debate, but one thing everyone that was there agreed on was that something happened in that field. Today, it is known among Catholics as “The Miracle of the Sun”.