Fatima 1, October 1917, by Donal Anthony Foley
As 13 October 1917 drew nearer, the expectation of a public miracle at Fatima, as promised by the beautiful Lady, caused intense speculation throughout Portugal. For those opposed to the Church this seemed like the ideal opportunity to finally be finished with religion in Portugal, once nothing miraculous happened at the Cova da Iria. One secular journalist, Avelino de Almeida, wrote a satirical article on the events at Fatima, which was published in the anti-religious newspaper O Seculo, with the result that even more people came to know about the apparitions.
On the eve of the 13th, people from all parts of the country came in their thousands to the Cova, by all types of transport, braving the ferocious storm that afflicted the countryside around Fatima. On the day itself, many pilgrims came barefoot, praying the rosary as they went, crowding into the Cova, as the rain fell heavily. Once again, the three shepherds, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, were faced with crowds of people anxious to speak to them, and it was only with great difficulty that they were able to reach the holm oak tree where the Our Lady had previously appeared on five occasions between May and September. Despite the continuing bad weather and muddy ground, people knelt before the children to present their petitions. But as noon approached the crowd became calmer under a still threatening sky.
Then, moved by an interior impulse, Lucia told the crowd to close their umbrellas and pray the rosary. Then she and her two cousins saw the customary flash of light which had preceded previous apparitions, as the Blessed Virgin appeared before them for the last of her scheduled six visitations, Again, Lucia asked what she wanted, to be told: “I want to tell you that a chapel is to be built here in my honor. I am the Lady of the Rosary. Continue always to pray the Rosary every day. The war is going to end, and the soldiers will soon return to their homes.”
Lucia made some further requests, but was told that people must amend their lives and ask forgiveness for their sins if they wanted spiritual favors such as healings or conversions. Our Lady then grew very sad and said: “Do not offend the Lord our God any more, because He is already so much offended.” After this, she rose into the air, and growing more brilliant, opened her hands towards the sun. The children then saw her disappear, to be replaced by a series of apparitions of Jesus, Mary and St Joseph, which were only seen by them.
Lucia then cried out: “Look at the sun,” and the huge crowd saw something quite amazing, a true miracle. As they turned to look at the sky, they could see the dark clouds parting and the sun appearing, looking very like a dull gray disc but with its light diminished so that the people could look at it directly.
Writing in O Seculo, Avelino de Almeida, took a very different line compared to his earlier article on Fatima:
“...one could see the immense multitude turn towards the sun, which appeared free from clouds and at its zenith. It looked like a plaque of dull silver and it was possible to look at it without the least discomfort. It might have been an eclipse which was taking place. But at that moment a great shout went up and one could hear the spectators nearest at hand shouting: ‘A miracle! A miracle!’ Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was Biblical as they stood bareheaded, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic lawsthe sun ‘danced’ according to the typical expression of the people. ...”
Dr. José Almeida Garrett, a young lawyer, was another important witness. He later wrote to Dr. Formigão, the priest who had previously interviewed the children, telling him what he had seen: “The sun’s disc did not remain immobile. This was not the sparkling of a heavenly body for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl. Then, suddenly, one heard a clamor, a cry of anguish breaking from all the people. The sun, whirling wildly, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge and fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible.
“During the solar phenomenon, ... there were changes of color in the atmosphere. ... I saw everything an amethyst color. Objects around me, the sky and the atmosphere, were of the same color. ... I turned away and shut my eyes, keeping my hands before them to intercept the light. With my back still turned, I opened my eyes and saw that the landscape was the same purple color as before. ... All the phenomena which I have described were observed by me in a calm and serene state of mind and without any emotional disturbance.”
It is not possible to claim that this was some sort of collective hallucination, since the solar miracle was seen by other people at a distance. While a young school child aged 9, Inácio Lourenço, who would later become a priest, saw the miracle at a village about 12 miles from Fatima:
“I looked fixedly at the sun, which seemed pale and did not hurt the eyes. Looking like a ball of snow revolving on itself, it suddenly seemed to come down in a zigzag, menacing the earth. Terrified, I ran and hid myself among the people, who were weeping and expecting the end of the world at any moment. ... During those long moments of the solar prodigy objects around us turned all the colors of the rainbow. We saw ourselves blue, yellow, red, etc. All these strange phenomena increased the fear of the people. After about ten minutes the sun, now dull and pallid, returned to its place. When the people realized that the danger was now over there was an explosion of joy and everyone joined in thanksgiving and praise of Our Lady.”
Finally, it is very significant that following the decent of the sun, and the heat they could feel at its approach, the people’s clothes, which had been soaking wet, quickly became dry, as did the ground.
The Miracle of the Sun presents a huge challenge to modern agnosticism and atheismit was the greatest miracle in two thousand years of Church history, after the Resurrection, and we have to go back to Old Testament times to find anything similar, such as Elijah calling down fire from heaven on the sacrifices on Mount Carmel. And to make it more extraordinary still, it was predicted three months in advance by Our Lady, and this message given to the world through three young peasant children. The next article in this series will examine some of the objections that have been made against the miracle, and show that they cannot be sustained.
This article appeared initially in the Wanderer.