The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima (Portuguese: Nossa Senhora do Rosário da Fátima) is one of most famous Marian shrines in the world. Some four million people visit Fatima each year, drawn by apparitions of the Virgin Mary reported by three local shepherd children in 1917.
History of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima
On the 13th of each month from May to October 1917, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to three shepherd children - Lúcia dos Santos (age 10) and her cousins Jacinta (age 7) and Francisco Marto (age 9) - in the fields outside the village of Aljustrel near Fatima. The children later said that her coming had been preceded by an "angel of peace" who appeared in 1916. Lúcia described her vision of Mary as "more brilliant than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal glass filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun."
According to Lúcia's account, Mary exhorted the children to do penance to save sinners. They wore tight cords around their waists to cause pain, abstained from drinking water on hot days, and other works of penance. Most important, she asked them to say the Rosary every day. She reiterated many times that devotion to the Rosary was the key to personal and world peace. Many young Portuguese men, including relatives of the visionaries, were then fighting in World War I.
Lúcia later reported that during the second apparition on June 13, the Virgin Mary predicted the deaths of two of the children. When Lúcia asked the Virgin to take them to heaven soon, Mary replied, "Yes, I shall take Jacinta and Francisco soon, but you will remain a little longer, since Jesus wishes you to make me known and loved on earth. He wishes also for you to establish devotion in the world to my Immaculate Heart."
The Three Secrets
On July 13, the Virgin is said to have revealed the Three Secrets of Fatima to the children, which consist of prophecies about the future and have been the focus of much interest ever since. The secrets were not written down until 1941, when Lúcia was asked to compose memoirs about Fatima and her cousins so their canonization proceedings could begin.
The first secret described a horrific vision of Hell. The second secret foretold the end of World War I and the beginning of World War II and called for the "Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary." Many believe Pope John Paul II fulfilled this request in 1984 by giving a blessing over the world, including Russia, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is some confusion as to whether Sister Lúcia believed this fulfilled the request of Mary.
The Vatican kept the third secret under wraps until Easter 2000 – despite Lúcia's declaration that it could be released to the public after 1960. The officially released text of the third secret was unspecific in nature, leaving it open to various interpretations. The vague nature of the secret has led to speculation that the Vatican did not release its entire contents.
The secret speaks of a pope being killed by soldiers at the foot of a cross on top of a mountain, along with many other bishops and priests. The Church's interpretation is that this predicts the May 13, 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Ağca in Saint Peter's Square. John Paul himself credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life, saying he saw her intervening to deflect the gunman's arm and he maintained consciousness on the ride to the hospital by keeping his mind focused on her.
The Sun Miracle
On her last visit on October 13, a crowd of 70,000 people, including reporters from anti-religious newspapers, gathered in a torrential rainstorm to witness the scheduled arrival of the Virgin Mary, which led to the famous Sun Miracle of Fatima. Around noon, many of the observers testified they saw wondrous things in the heavens: the rain clouds parted, the "sky opened up" and the sun seemed to spin in the sky, change colors, or go completely dark for several minutes, before appearing to plunge towards the earth.
Some feared it was the Last Judgment. Many agreed that a major miracle had occurred. Only the children saw the Virgin appear, however. One of those who witnessed and reported the strange solar phenomena was Avelino de Almeida, a reporter who had ridiculed the so-called miracles at Fatima in previous articles. His photographer did not see it, but shot pictures of the mesmerized crowd looking into the sky. There is no independent verification of the solar phenomenon, and no movement or other phenomenon of the sun was registered by scientists at the time.
Fates of the Visionaries
Francisco and Jacinta Marto both fell victim to the Great Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1919. Exhumed in 1935 and again in 1951, Jacinta's body was found incorrupt, while Francisco's had decomposed. Francisco and Jacinta were declared "venerable" by Pope John Paul II in a public ceremony at Fatima on May 13, 1989, and John Paul returned on May 13, 2000, to declare them "blessed." Jacinta is the youngest non-martyred child ever to be beatified.
Lúcia reporting seeing the Virgin again in 1925 at the Dorothean convent at Pontevedra, Spain, and was asked to convey the message of the First Saturday Devotions. Lúcia was transferred to a convent in Tuy, Spain, in 1928. In 1929, Lúcia reported that Mary returned and repeated her request for the Consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart. Lúcia reportedly saw Mary in private visions off and on throughout her life. Most significant was the apparition in Rianxo, Spain in 1931, in which Jesus taught Sister Lúcia two prayers and delivered a message to give to the hierarchy of the Church.
In 1947, Sister Lúcia left the Dorothean order and joined the Carmelite order in a convent in Coimbra, Portugal. She died on February 13, 2005, at the age of 97. The date is significant for Fatima devotees, being on the 13th day of the month. After her death, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) ordered her cell sealed off, perhaps to examine it for Lúcia's canonization proceedings.
Development of the Shrine and Pilgrimage
Construction on the first place of worship, the Chapel of Apparitions, began on April 28, 1919. Permission was first granted for the celebration of Mass at the shrine in October 1921 and on June 26, 1927, the Bishop of Leiria presided over an official ceremony in the Cova da Iria. On October 13, 1930, the 13th anniversary of the Sun Miracle, the Bishop of Leiria issued this statement authorizing the cult:
In virtue of considerations made known, and others which for reason of brevity we omit... and after hearing the opinions of our rev. advisers in this diocese, we hereby: 1) Declare worthy of belief, the visions of the shepherd children in the Cova da Iria, parish of Fátima, in this diocese, from 13 May to 13 October, 1917. 2) Permit officially the cult of Our Lady of Fátima.
Devotion to Our Lady of Fatima received unprecedented official support from several popes, including Pius XII (1939-58), Paul VI (1963-78) and John Paul II (1978-2005). Pope Pius XII issued a message encouraging devotion to her on May 13, 1946, and again in 1950, when he declared, "may Portugal never forget the heavenly message of Fátima, which, before anybody else she was blessed to hear. To keep Fátima in your heart and to translate Fatima into deeds, is the best guarantee for ever more graces."
On May 13, 1967, Pope Paul VI prayed at the shrine with Sister Lucia. Finally, as described above, Pope John Paul II credited Our Lady of Fátima with saving his life during the assassination attempt in 1981. He came to Fatima as a pilgrim on May 12, 1987, to express his gratitude, and the following day, he officially consecrated the human race to the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin, as Pius XII had done before him.
What to See at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima
The primary building at the shrine is the Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima, a gleaming Neoclassical church begun on May 13, 1928, and consecrated on October 7, 1953. Its slender central spire rises 65 meters high. The church is flanked by monumental colonnades and overlooks a large open plaza, the center of which is occupied by a Monument to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1932). The monument stands over a spring that was discovered there and was, according to the shrine, "the instrument of many graces."
Guards at the basilica doors may stop visitors who are not suitably dressed, which means general modesty, no shorts on men, and skirts or dresses on women. Inside, there are 15 altars dedicated to the 15 mysteries of the rosary as well as the tombs of the young visionaries, Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto, who died in 1919 and 1920 respectively and were beatified in 2000.
The high altar painting depicts the Message of Our Lady of Fatima to the three children. Included in the painting are figures of the local bishop as well as Pope Pius XII (who consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1942), Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. The four corners of the basilica are occupied by statues of men especially devoted to the rosary and the Immaculate Heart of Mary: St. Anthony Claret, St. Dominic of Gusman, St. John Eudes and King St. Stephen of Hungary. The great organ (1952) has 12,000 pipes.
The other main stop for pilgrims to Fatima is the Chapel of Apparitions, an open-air chapel built on the site of the appearances. It is open year-round for regular services and can be virtually visited by a high-resolution webcam. The original chapel was built in 1919, then blown up on the night of March 6, 1922, by those who suspected the church of staging the miracles. Inside the modern chapel is a single white column over the site of a small holm oak tree over which the Virgin Mary appeared on May 13, 1917. That oak fell victim to souvenir collectors long ago, but a large replacement tree grows near the entrance to the sanctuary by the rectory.
Near the entrance to the sanctuary by the rectory is a Berlin Wall Monument, containing a 5,732-pound chunk of the wall donated by a Portuguese emigrant to Germany after it fell in 1989. He offered it as a memorial of God's intervention in bringing down Communism, as promised at Fatima.
Some Fatima pilgrims also visit the original burial site of Francisco and Jacinta at a cemetery on the outskirts of Fatima. In Aljustrel 3.2 km away, the homes of the children have been left mostly unchanged, giving an idea of what the little village was like before the grand shrine was built.
A particularly popular site is the Hungarian Stations of the Cross, consisting of 14 little chapels leading along 3 km of inclined stone walkways to a marble monument of Christ on the cross.
Pilgrims arrive in Fatima throughout the year, but especially in the summer and on the feast days of May 13 and October 13. On May 12 and October 12, crowds of pilgrims (as many as 75,000) throng the small town in cars, on bicycles, in donkey carts, or on foot. Some approach the shrine on their knees in penance. Once in Fatima, they camp out and wait for dawn. On the 13th, pilgrims wave their handkerchiefs in homage as a statue of Our Lady of Fatima is passed through the central square between about 10am and 12:30pm. There are large torch-light processions held in the evenings.
Most visitors arrive in Fatima from Lisbon, which is 125km away. By car from Lisbon airport, it takes about 1 hour 15 minutes to get to Fatima. The highway between the two cities is good quality and safe. Rental cars are available at the airport or other places in Lisbon.
It is possible to reach Fatima by train, but note that the closest train station to Fatima is Caxarias, about 10km outside of town. Twelve trains run daily from Lisbon to Caxarias; the journey takes 2.5 hours and costs €5.70 one way. Seven buses run between Caxarias and Fatima per day; a one-way ticket costs €2. It is quicker and easier to travel the whole way by bus - see below.
Travelling from Lisbon by bus, go to the central bus station in Sete-Rios (Praça Marechal Humberto Delgado, Rua das Laranjeiras). You can either take a taxi to the station or take the Metro to the Jardin Zoologico stop - the bus station is right outside. Buy a ticket at a ticket office in the station. Buses leave for Fatima approximately hourly from 8am to 8pm (see online schedule; Portuguese only). The bus journey costs about €10 each way, takes about 90 minutes and arrives close to the shrine. From Batalha, about three buses a day go to Fatima, which take 40 minutes and cost €4 one-way. Note that on bus schedules Fatima is often listed as Cova da Iria, which can lead to confusion.
Quick Facts on the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima
|Names:||Nossa Senhora do Rosário da Fátima · Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima · Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||39.632481° N, 8.671603° W|
|Phone:||(+351) 249 - 539 600|
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima|
- Santuario de Fatima - official website
- Our Lady of Fatima - Wikipedia (accessed 2005)
- Fatima - Frommers.com (accessed April 2009)
- Travel from Lisbon Airport to Fatima - TripAdvisor forum
- Vatican Statement releasing the third secret of Fatima
- Full account of the apparitions - Fatima.org
- How The Sun Danced At Noon At Fatima - Translated text of Avelino de Almeida's eyewitness account, as published in O Seculo (The Century), a leading Lisbon newspaper.
- The Miracles at Fatima - skeptical perspective on the miracles at Fatima
- The Fatima Center from an alternative perspective, a very thorough look at Fatima.
- Fatima's vision to believers and the curious – Sydney Morning Herald, April 10, 2005
- Photos of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.