Shrine at Fátima

Courtyard at Fátima and the Chapel where the Virgin appeared


Across the scrub-covered limestone hills of the Serra de Aire, lies Fátima, an important Roman Catholic pilgrimage site which will be the last stop of the tour. This great Christian shrine is a village named after the daughter of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam. Pope John Paul II visited in 1961. It all began on May 13, 1917, when 3 young shepherds-Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta--reported having seen the Virgin Mary in a field at Cova de Iria, near the village. The Virgin promised to return on the 13th of each month for the next 5 months, and amid much controversy and skepticism, each time accompanied by increasingly larger crowds, the 3 children reported successive apparitions. This was during a period of anticlerical sentiment in Portugal, and after the sixth apparition, in October, the children were arrested and interrogated. But they insisted that the Virgin did speak to them and had told them three secrets. Two of these, revealed by Lúcia in 1941, were interpreted to foretell the coming of World War II and the spread of communism and atheism. The third secret is still held by the Vatican. In 1930, in a Pastoral Letter, the Bishop of Leiria declared the apparitions worthy of belief, thus approving the "Cult of Fátima." On the 13th of each month, and especially in May and October, the faithful flock here to witness the passing of the statue of the Virgin through the throngs, to participate in candlelight processions, and to take part in solemn masses. At the head of the huge esplanade is a large, neoclassical basilica build in the late 1920s, flanked on either side by a semicircular peristyle.



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