San Sebastian de Garabandal is a village in Spain, located 90 kilometers from Santander, where beginning in 1961 four young girls claimed to see apparitions of the Virgin Mary. In July 1961 Maria Cruz Gonzalez, Jacinta Gonzalez, Mari Loli Mazon, and Maria Conception (known as Conchita) Gonzales, ages 11 and 12, astonished villagers by declaring that an angel had appeared to them, followed by an apparition of the virgin. These visions came several times in a week, when the girls went into trance, oblivious to the crowds surrounding them. Afterward they said they were talking to the Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary. In the course of time, their trances were witnessed and recorded by priests and psychologists, even filmed. When the girls were pricked with pins and bright lights flashed in their faces they did not respond.
In October 1961 the message from the Virgin Mary was that they had been chosen to receive a message for the world: "We must make many sacrifices, perform much penance and visit the Blessed Sacrament frequently, but first we must lead good lives. The cup is already filling up and if we do not change, a very great chastisement will come up on us."
During such visions the girls were shown part of the chastisement threatened to the world, and they screamed in terror. The visions continued until 1965, when Conchita was 15 years old. Conchita asked the Virgin Mary to send proof that these visions were truly from God and was told that a great miracle would take place. Conchita reported,
"The only thing I can tell is that it's going to be something that will happen in my village…. [T]he people who are sick are going to be cured. The day after there is going to be a sign in the pine trees … something we can see is gonna be there for ever." This miracle was to be announced eight days in advance.
By this time Conchita was the only one of the four girls to continue to see visions, and early in 1965 she stated that she was to receive a second worldwide message. It came late at night on June 18 before a large, expectant crowd. The following morning Conchita stated that the message was similar to the earlier one but much stronger:
"Before the cup was filling up, now it is flowing over. Many cardinals, many bishops, and many priests are on the road to perdition and taking many souls with them. I, your Mother, ask you to amend your lives. You are now receiving the last warnings. I love you very much and do not want your condemnation. You should make more sacrifices, think about the passion of Jesus."
By November 1965 the visions ceased entirely, but Conchita was constantly pressed to reveal the date of the promised miracle, known only to her. Then quite suddenly Conchita lost faith in her visions, feeling it was all a dream. The village priest sent her to the bishop, who simply advised her not to talk further about the apparitions. She decided to leave the village, feeling she could not stay there with people wanting to talk to her and not knowing what to say to them. She emigrated to the United States and lived anonymously.
An advocacy center for the Garabandal visions was founded in New York, and a branch was formed in London. The center declares that before the "chastisement" there will be great miraculous signs that the world will accept as supernatural. There will be a worldwide warning that everyone will be aware of, regardless of race, color, or creed. Conchita will announce the great miracle eight days in advance. It will take place at Garabandal, where the sick will be cured and sinners converted, and in this spectacular miracle God will manifest at the pine trees a visible sign that will remain until the end of time for the conversion of the world.
Meanwhile Conchita lives quietly and avoids publicity, trying to escape the attention of the public. She did, however, take part in a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television feature on Garabandal (telecast in the "Everyman" series in 1980), although she declined the standard fee for her appearance. This program highlighted the extraordinary challenge of such apparitions of the Virgin Mary and the dilemma they pose for those who see them.
Whereas the story of Lourdes now depends upon hearsay accounts and traditions of a century ago, the case of Garabandal is so topical that film records were actually taken of the girls during their trances, and direct interviews were recorded with Conchita herself. In the BBC feature it was clear from interviews with Conchita that she faces a strange problem, intensified as the date of the miracle, known only to her, presumably approaches. If there is no miracle, she will be branded a fake or hysteric. If there is a miracle, her privacy and family life will be invaded and disrupted by publicity.
Even the simple life of the villagers of Garabandal has changed as the village has become a great pilgrim center. Speculators have bought up land and new houses are being built to accommodate pilgrims. Every year thousands visit the pine trees where the miracle is scheduled. In the United States, Conchita Gonzales waits with her family and dedicates herself to "love God and do his work."
Fr. Robert Pelletier, the strongest advocate for the Garabandal visions in North America, has attempted to liken Garabandal to Fatima, even recounting a similar miracle of the sun's dancing in the sky. Unlike Fatima in neighboring Portugal, however, Garabandal has not received the endorsement of the Catholic Church. An initial inquiry under the bishop of Santander in 1967 reported to Rome negatively about the events at Garabandal. Rome did not act on these findings, and thus the church has made no official pronouncement on the validity of the apparitions.
Gonzalez, Conchita, and Harry Daley. Miracle at Garabandal: The Story of Mysterious Apparitions in Spain and a Message for the Whole World. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983.
McClure, Kevin. The Evidence for Visions of the Virgin Mary. Wellingborough, England: Aquarian Press, 1983.
Pelletier, Robert A. God Speaks at Garabandal. Worcester, Mass.: Assumption, 1970.
——. The Sun Dances at Garabandal. Worcester, Mass.: Assumption, 1973.
Perry, Nicholas, and Loreto Echeverria. Under the Heel of Mary. London: Routledge, 1988.