In 1916 and 1917, Fatima, a small town in central Portugal, was the site of a set of apparitions of the Virgin Mary that have become among the most heralded in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. The apparitions appeared to three shepherd children—Lucia Dos Santos (age nine), Francisco Marto (age eight), and Jacinta Marto (age six). None of the three had had schooling enough to have learned to read and write. Their adventure began one spring day when out on a hillside with the sheep, they each shared a vision of a young man who described himself as the Angel of Peace. He visited them on two subsequent occasions and the last time shared with them the Eucharist, which Roman Catholics believe to be the body and blood of Jesus.
After the angel 's visits, nothing more occurred for almost a year. Then on May 13, 1917, a brilliant flash of light caught their attention and a beautiful young Lady, described as dressed in white and shining with light, appeared before them. The Lady said that she had come from heaven and wanted the children to come to their present location on the 13th of every month for the next five months. In October she would reveal her name and purpose. She also posed a question to the children, "Do you wish to offer yourselves to God in order to accept all the sufferings he wishes to send you, in reparation for sin and for the conversion of sinners?" They answered in the affirmative.
Once the story got out as to what the children claimed to see, they were questioned and ridiculed; even the local priest was hostile to the children. Only the father of Francisco and Jacinta believed. The children kept their appointment on June 13, along with some 60 spectators. When the apparition occurred, only the children saw the Lady. There was a brief message to pray the Rosary and return in July, and that Lucia would be used to spread devotion to Mary's Immaculate Heart. As the Lady departed, the people witnessed the bending of a branch of the tree near the place where she supposedly stood, as if under a weight, and then the movement of the uppermost branches as if her clothes were sweeping over them.
On July 13, the crowd numbered 5,000. The Lady made two important statements. First, she noted that on October 13, the last of the planned appearances, she would work a miracle. As occurred at La Salette, she also imparted a secret message to the three children. When word of what had occurred circulated, representatives of the Freethought community began a campaign to discredit the children. In fact, the magistrate at Fatima, himself a Freethinker, imprisoned the children so they could not go to the place of the apparition on August 13. However, 18,000 people did go. They reported that at noon they saw a cloud form suddenly around the tree that remained briefly and then dissolved away. They interpreted what they saw as the Virgin having come as she promised. The children were released two days later and Mary appeared privately to them on August 19.
On September 13 some 30,000 people, including for the first time a group of priests, witnessed the apparition. Around noon, according to reports, the sky darkened, a globe of light appeared in the east and descended to the tree, and small white flakes, some described them as petals, began to fall, but dissolved before hitting the ground. After speaking to the children briefly, the Lady again said that she would perform a miracle on October 13 and departed. The people saw the globe of light depart to the east.
In spite of rain, a crowd numbered between 70,000 and 100,000 crowded the place of the apparitions on October 13. Included was the editor of Lisbon's leading Freethought newspaper. The skies were cloudy, but Mary appeared as promised to the children. She called for a chapel to be built on the spot in her honor. As she finished her message, the children saw a ray of light go from her in the direction of the sun. Lucia cried out to the people, "Look at the sun!" As they turned their heads, the clouds parted and a large brilliant silver disk appeared and began to twirl around, shooting out lights in different colors. The phenomenon of the dancing sun lasted for almost a half hour and was seen by people up to 30 miles away. Meanwhile, the children saw St. Joseph appear and Jesus arrive to bless the people.
The twirling disk came to a stop and then seemed to plunge toward Earth, bringing with it a great deal of heat. As it neared the crowd, it suddenly stopped and shot upward. The people who had been soaked by the rain earlier found that their clothes were suddenly dry. The next day newspapers all over the country carried reports of the event.
The apparitions at Fatima joined those at Lourdes as the most spectacular occurrences relative to the reported modern appearances of the Virgin Mary. The Catholics who witnessed it were transformed into devout practitioners of their faith and firm believers that the Virgin Mary had indeed appeared. Fatima has since become one of the most important shrines in Roman Catholicism. Pope Paul VI put his stamp of authority on it by mentioning it during Vatican II and with a papal visit and meeting with Lucia on the 50th anniversary of the apparitions in 1957. In 1982, Pope John Paul II also visited Fatima, and two years later in Rome again consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart. Pope John Paul's faith in the Fatima revelations appears to be partially tied to the assassination attempt that occurred on May 13, 1981 (the anniversary of the first apparition). Just as the gunman pulled the trigger, he bent over to bless someone carrying a picture of the Virgin. Had he not bent over, the bullets would have hit him squarely in the head.
Two of the children, Francisco and Jacinta, died shortly after the apparitions, in 1919 and 1920 respectively, the Lady having predicted that she would return not long after the apparitions and take them to heaven. In 1921 Lucia was sent to a school in Porto, Portugal, run by the Sisters of St. Dorothe, and she entered holy orders four years later. She devoted the next decade to promoting the devotion to the Immaculate Heart and then in 1934 retired to a Carmelite monastery, for the rest of her life. Once there, between 1935 and 1941, at the suggestion of ecclesiastical superiors, she wrote four manuscripts detailing what she could remember of her life.
The secrets of Fatima revealed to the children on July 13, 1917, became a topic of interest throughout the Roman Catholic world. All three parts of the secret were revealed as of 2000. The first was a vision of hell and the consequences if people did not cease their offensive acts. The second concerned the promotion of devotion to the Immaculate Heart. The third part of the secret was written down and placed in the hands of the Bishop of Leiria, Portugal. Rather than assume the responsibility of knowing the "secrets of heaven," the bishop decided to send it to the Vatican. In 2000, Pope John Paul II revealed the content of the third secret. The third secret dealt with an assassination attempt on "bishop in white" by an atheist system against the Catholic Church and Christians in the twentieth century. This was considered to be the assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II in 1981.
The miraculous occurrences at Fatima on October 13, 1917, have also been evaluated in light of the post-World War II UFO phenomenon, and many ufologists view it as a classic appearance of a UFO. They note that the "sun" that danced in the sky at Fatima bears a remarkable likeness to UFOs. The white substance that fell resembles what has come to be known as angel's hair, a phenomenon accompanying a number of UFO reports. Roman Catholic authors, more interested in the religious and miraculous aspects of Fatima, have as a whole refrained from even commenting on such speculations.
The church, after careful study, has given its approval of the devotion to Mary as related to the Fatima events, and devotion to Fatima has spread worldwide. A large church has been built close to the site of the apparitions to accommodate the many pilgrims. While a matter of devotion to Catholics, it remains an enigmatic occurrence to non-Catholics.
Also like Lourdes, a Hollywood movie was made of the Fatima story though it did not enjoy the popular critical acclaim of The Song of Bernadette. The Miracle of Fatima (1952) starred Susan Whitney and Gilbert Roland.
[Abóbora], Sister Lucia. Fatima in Lucia's Own Words. Cambridge, Mass.: Ravengate Press, 1976.
Alonso, Joaquin Maria. The Secret of Fatima: Fact and Legend. Cambridge: Ravengate Press, 1979.
Fox, Robert J. Rediscovering Fatima. Huntington, Ind: Our Sunday Visitor, 1982.
McClure, Kevin. The Evidence for Visions of the Virgin Mary. Wellingborough, UK: Aquarian Press, 1983.
McGlynn, Thomas. Vision of Fatima. Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1948.
Parish in the Diocese of Leiria, central Portugal, near the famous cloister Batalha; the name Fátima is Arabic in origin. Since 1917 it has been one of the most famous Marian shrines in the world and the destination of numerous pilgrimages. The parish includes the hamlets Aljustrel and Valinhos and the natural depression Cova da Iria (St. irene), where the apparition of the Blessed Virgin occurred six times from May 13 to Oct. 13, 1917.
Three shepherd children, Lucia dos Santos (b. 1907) and her cousins Francisco (1908–19) and Jacinta (1910–20), said they saw the figure of a Lady brighter than the sun, standing on a cloud in an evergreen tree. In a conversation that Francisco alone did not hear, though he said he saw the figure, the Lady asked the children to return to the place on the 13th of each month until October, when she would disclose her identity and reveal what she desired. In spite of local incredulity, the children returned as promised, joined by a crowd of spectators that increased from 50 in June, to 1,000 in July, to 18,000 in August, to 30,000 in September, and to 50,000 in October. Only the children saw the Lady, but others reported that they noted movements of the tree and the arrival and departure of the cloud.
Radicals and anticlericals, who were then strong in Portugal, assailed the events. On August 13 the civil prefect of Outrem kidnapped the children and held them for two days, submitting them to interrogation and threats; but the Lady appeared to them on the 19th of the month at nearby Valinhos, promising that in October a great miracle would occur. On that date, in wet and dismal weather, she announced to them that she was Our Lady of the Rosary, and called for amendment in men's lives. Then the sun appeared and seemed to tremble, rotate violently, and finally fall, dancing over the heads of the throng before it returned to normal. Many of the crowd reported having seen this "Miracle of the Sun" that was repeated twice more. A journalist who had mocked the events of Fátima in the Lisbon daily O Seculo that morning reflected a changed attitude in his report of October 15.
The patriarch of Lisbon had the events watched by Canon Manoel Formigão, who interviewed the children frequently. In 1922 a canonical process of enquiry was opened and lasted seven years. The bishop of Leiria (Oct. 13, 1930) pronounced the 1917 visions at Cova da Iria worthy of credence and authorized the cult of Our Lady of Fátima. Thereafter, Lucia, as a Dorothean lay sister at Túy (Spain), on episcopal command wrote her remembrances in documents dated 1936, 1937, 1941, and 1942, giving further details about the apparitions and the first public information about apparitions of an angel in 1915.
Francisco and Jacinta died of influenza, and in 1948 Lucia entered the Carmelites at Coimbra. The Basilica of Our Lady of Fátima with its lofty tower (1928–53) dominates Cova da Iria. Nearby on the site of the tree is the chapel of the Apparitions, with a statue carved according to Lucia's description. On May 12, 1946, the statue was crowned by the legate of Pope Pius XII, who had been consecrated bishop on May 13, 1917, and who in 1951 chose Fátima for the solemn closing of the Holy Year, attended by more than one million people.
The Third Secret. According to the memoirs written by Sister Lucia in August and December 1941, the first part of the "secret" revealed to the three pastorinhos of Fatima told of a vision of hell that was interpreted to refer to the two World Wars. The second part of the "secret" predicted that Russia would one day return to Christianity, but details of the third part of the secret, recorded by Sister Lucia in January 1944, were not made public until May 12, 2000. The memoir describing the so called "third secret" had been taken to Rome in April 1957 where it was kept in a sealed envelope in the Secret Archives of the Holy Office. Pope John XXIII read the memoir in 1959, Pope Paul VI read it in 1965, and Pope John Paul II read it in July 1981, following the attempt on his life in May of that year. Finally, in May 2000, at Pope John Paul's instructions, a photostat of Sister Lucia's 1944 memoir was made public. It described martyrdom and suffering, including a man "clothed in white" who "falls to the ground apparently dead, under a burst of gunfire." At the time Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State issued a statement to pilgrims who had gathered for the beatification of the two deceased shepherd children that said, after the 1981 assassination attempt by a Turkish gunman in St Peter's Square, "it appeared evident to his Holiness that it was a motherly hand which guided the bullets past, enabling the Pope to halt at the threshold of death."
The failed attempt on Pope John Paul's life occurred in 1981 on May 13, the anniversary of the first apparition. After recovering from the gunshot wounds, John Paul had one of the bullets put into the crown of Our Lady's statue. The beatification of Jacinta and Francisco Marto, May 13, 2000 was the occasion for Pope John Paul's third visit to the Fatima shrine.
Bibliography: c. c. martindale, The Message of Fatima (London 1950). j. de marchi, Era uma Senhora mais brilhante que o sol (3rd ed. Cova da Iria 1947), Eng. Fatima, the Facts, tr. i. m. kingsbury (Cork 1950). j. a. pelletier, The Sun Danced at Fatima (Worcester, Mass. 1951). visconde de montelo (M. N. Formigão), Os episodios maravilhosos de Fatima (Lisbon 1921); As grandes maravilhas de Fatima (Lisbon 1927). c. rengers, The Youngest Prophet : The Life of Jacinta Marto, Fatima Visionary (New York 1986). t. tindal-robertson, Fatima, Russia and Pope John Paul II (Chulmleigh, England 1992). j. m. alonso, "Histoire ancienne et histoire nouvelle de Fatima," in Vraies et fausses apparitions dans l'église, ed. b. billet (Paris 1973) 55–95.
[h. m. gillett/eds.]
Born in the holy city of Mecca in Arabia in about 605, Fatima was the daughter of the prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. Generations of Muslims have revered her as one of four "perfect women." (They also place Mary, the mother of Jesus, in this group.) Fatima is especially important to the Shiite sect of Islam.
Muhammad had other sons and daughters, but they all died young or failed to produce heirs. Fatima stayed close to her father and nursed him at his deathbed. When the prophet died, a split developed over Muslim leadership. Fatima's support for her husband Ali's claim as leader led to the establishment of the Shiite sect. Later Shiites viewed Hasan and Husayn, the sons of Fatima and Ali, as the rightful heirs to Muhammad and the Islamic tradition.
prophet one who claims to have received divine messages or insights
Although Fatima was a historical figure, many aspects of her life took on the dimensions of myth, and she has become the subject of various legends. In one, for example, Fatima was a virgin who had three sons, and she possessed miraculous powers. Some stories describe her as the incarnation, or human form, of the Arabian moon goddess. Fatima appears as the holy woman in a story about Aladdin, Thousand and One Nights.
The Fatimid dynasty, which ruled in parts of northern Africa, Egypt, and Syria from 909 to 1171, and founded Cairo as its capital in 969, is said to descend from her.