Fátima, central Portugal
While the First World War was devastating large parts of Europe, a series of mystical events alegedly took place that would transform what was then a primitive, insignificant rural area far from the world’s focus into one of the Catholic world’s most important pilgrimage sites.
In the middle of Portugal, one hundred and twenty kilometres north of Lisbon, on 13 May 1917, a group of three small shepherd children received the first of what would be series of six monthly visitations from the Holy Mary, preceded by 3 visitations from an angel advising of her coming. Despite attempts by the anticlerical local authorities to suppress what was happening, the visitations were attended by increasing numbers of people. The final, on 13 October 1917, was attended by over 70 000 people, many of whom witnessed what would later be called the “Miracle of the Sun”, in which the sun was observed to change colour, spin on its access and hurtle towards the earth.
The children later disclosed three secrets that had been revealed to them during the visitations. The last of these secrets was made public in 2000 and, according to the Vatican, predicted the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, who believed that Mary’s intervention saved him. Despite threats from local officials and severe interrogation by the Church, the children never wavered in their account of the events, which were soon recognised by the Vatican as having a miraculous nature. Pope John Paul II naturally felt a great affinity with this site, visiting it twice and offering the bullet with which he was shot to be added to the crown of the statue of Mary.
The importance of this shrine is reflected in the number of people who visit. There are more than 4 million annually, with the thirteenth days of May and October being especially busy. Numbers have reached a million a day on the most important celebrations. There have been countless miraculous healings and other events ascribed to these pilgrimages. There are also numerous conspiracy theories, fit for a Dan Brown novel. These often involve the current Pope Benedict XVI and allegations that he is party to a cover up of the real third secret.
With such a history it is not only the most religious who come to visit, but anyone with an interest in historic sites or with an interest in the role of religion in society. It is centrally located in Portugal, has easy access and is well equipped to receive visitors, making it an ideal point at which to stop when visiting the country.
There is also so much to see in the surrounding area: the stunning late Gothic Monastery of Batalha is less than 20 km away and another UNESCO World Heritage site, Tomar’s famous Convent of Christ, almost a thousand years old, is only 30 km away. Magnificent beaches are 30 km away at picturesque, unspoilt Nazaré and the area is renowned for its gastronomy and local wines. There’s something for everyone in and around Fátima.
Recommended Fatima Hotels