by Jim Dunning
(This article was originally published in "Irelands Own" magazine. The webmaster would like to gratefully thank the author, Jim Dunning, for his kind permission in reprinting it here.)
The Miracle of the Sun. This is how it is known to the people of Portugal. It all happened just 93 years ago, starting in May, 1917. Three shepherd children spoke of experiencing a vision of the Virgin Mary in the Cova da Iria fields close to the town of Fatima. It was the 13th day of the month. They were to repeat the experience on the 13th day of each month till October. The eldest child was Lucia, aged ten, and she was accompanied by her two cousins, Francisco, aged nine and Jacinta, aged seven.
When questioned, the children described seeing a flash of lightning about noon. It was followed by another which enveloped them in a blinding light. Looking up, they saw a lady “brighter than the sun”, her bare feet resting on a cloud touching the branches of a stunted holm oak. They described the vision as lovelier than any person they had ever seen. The “lady” was young, dressed in white, her face pure and smiling, with a touch of sadness. Her hands were joined in prayer, and a rosary hung from her arm. The vision spoke to them.
‘Do not be afraid, I will do you no harm.’
‘Where do you come from, my lady?’ asked Lucia.
‘I come from heaven.’
‘What do you want of me?’ asked Lucia.
The lady said she wanted them to come to the same place for the next six months at the same time on the 13th day of the month. Then she asked them: ‘Will you offer yourselves to God and accept all the sufferings he will send you in reparation for the numberless sins which offend his divine majesty? Will you suffer to obtain the conversion of sinners?’
‘Yes, we will,’ Lucia answered enthusiastically for all three.
After about ten minutes the lady departed in an intense ray of light. When they got home and Lucia recounted their story, her mother accused her of lying and thrashed her with a broomstick. The children were generally not believed, but because of their promise to suffer they began a strict regime of praying and fasting, and wore penitential girdles of rope beneath their clothing.
Exactly a month later, at the same time of day, the children received another vision. The lady spoke to them for about ten minutes. She revealed that the two younger children would die soon and be taken into heaven. The lady urged devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, emphasising the importance of saying the Rosary as the key to world peace. The visions continued each month, during one of which Mary confided to Lucia three secrets, to be divulged to the Vatican in the course of time. As each month went by an increasing number of adults accompanied the children to the appointed spot, and although they were not privileged to share their vision, they saw a cloud disappearing to the east and were enraptured by the atmosphere. Even Lucia’s mother stopped thrashing her!
On October 13th a crowd of 70,000 gathered at the Cova da Iria in response to the children’s claim that a miracle would occur on that day “so that all may believe.” At the appointed time, in the middle of a rainstorm the clouds broke up and the sun was seen as a disk spinning in the sky, throwing off great rays of fantastic colours. As one columnist reported, “Before the astonished eyes of the crowd the sun trembled and danced.” Suddenly it seemed to fall until it almost reached the earth, but then it stopped, slowly making its way back into the sky. Many of those present “wept and prayed” in recognition of the miracle they had awaited. The phenomenon was witnessed by people 40 kilometres away, proving that mass hysteria could not be held responsible.
Two years later, at the age of 10 years and 10 months, Francisco died of influenza, to be followed a year later by Jacinta, now aged 10. Exhumed in 1935, fifteen years after her death, and again in 1951, Jacinta’s body was found to be incorrupt. She has since become the youngest non-martyred child ever to be beatified.
The events at Fatima were declared ‘worthy of belief’ by the Catholic Church on 13th October, 1930 – just 13 years after the miracle of the sun. It is interesting to note that ever since the apparitions at Fatima, Portugal has been spared the horrors of war. Of interest also is the close connection between Fatima and subsequent Popes. Pius XI endorsed the visions, while Pius XII recalled that on 13 May, 1917, the day the Lady of the Rosary first appeared at Fatima, he was being consecrated a Bishop in the Sistine Chapel by Pope Benedict XV. He felt a personal, mystical link with Fatima.
The feeling was strengthened in 1968 when, while walking alone in the Vatican gardens, he witnessed what he believed to be the same phenomenon of the spinning sun. Pope John Paul II attributed his escape from death at the hands of an assassin on 13th May, 1981, to the intervention of Our Lady of Fatima, and made a special pilgrimage to the shrine on the 13th May, 1982. As he told the vast crowd, ‘One finger pulled the trigger, another guided the bullet.’ He placed the bullet in the crown above the Virgin’s statue.
Several years after the event, Lucia left the area to become a novice of the Dorothean Sisters. Afterwards, she joined the contemplative closed order of Carmelites at Coimbra. She continued to have private visions, maintained links with the Vatican for the remainder of her life, and died on the 13th February, 2005, at the age of 97.
In answer to the ten-year old Lucia’s question, ‘Will you take us to heaven?’ Our Lady had agreed, saying, ‘Yes, soon I will take Francisco and Jacinta. But you must wait here still for some time.’ Lucia could never have imagined that ‘some time’ would take so long, but perhaps in celestial terms 87 years is a drop in the ocean.
And the famous Three Secrets of Fatima? Well, that’s another story…(click here)
For more information on the children of Fatima, see Sister Lucia dos Santos and also Blessed Jacinta Marto and also Blessed Francisco Marto
-Jim Dunning lives in the United Kingdom. His hobbies include watching rugby and writing short stories and religious articles.