Annually on the 13th October, the town of Fátima in Portugal sees tens of thousands of pilgrims arrive to view one of the most important Catholic shrines in the world.
Its importance stems back to 13th May 1917 when three local children witnessed an apparition of a lady dressed in white while they were tended to sheep in the Cova da Iria nearby Fátima. She told the children that she was sent by God to spread the word of repentance and consecration.
She visited the same spot on the 13th of each month until the 13th October 1917. By this time word had spread of the apparition and more than 70,000 pilgrims were present to witness what is now called the ‘Miracle of the Sun’.
The lady, later referred to as Our Lady of the Rosary, brought with her a message containing three mysterious secrets. The first was a vision of hell, a place she said that the sinful would go without prayer. The second was a prophesied the end of World War I and the spread of communism. The third was transcribed and has been held as the Vatican since the 50s, but was revealed on 26th June 2000 as the assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II.
The Cova da Iria quickly became a holy site. To mark the spot where the lady appeared, a cross was constructed. In 1918 a chapel was created using donations from the faithful who began arriving in larger numbers. In 1928 construction began on a large 65-metre high neo-classical basilica and enormous plaza to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims. Fátima became to receive names such as Cidade da Paz (City of Peace) and Milagres e Aparições (Land of Miracles and Apparitions).
Unfortunately, two of the young children, siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto, died in 1919 and 1920, succumbing to Spanish flu which was sweeping through the country. The third child, Lucia dos Santos also known as Sister Maria Lúcia of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart, became a nun and did the work of God until the end of her days in 2005.
Though Fatima attracts people all year around, May to October is the high season, particularly around the 13th of each month. These pilgrimage days see thousands of the faithful take part in impressive torch-light processions lead by Cardinals and Bishops. The processions end in the Cova de Iria plaza right in front of the small chapel and holy apparition site.
Next year will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the event with more pilgrims than ever expected to visit the holy spot. There is no better a time to visit, but its recommended to book early to avoid disappointment. Portugal.com arrange pilgrimages to Fátima, Lourdes and beyond. To find out more click here.
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