Fatima, Portugal, was once the insignificant hometown of poor shepherds and farmers. Today, it is one of the most popular Marian apparitions sites. Roughly 4 million people visit each year to see where Our Lady of Fatima appeared.
Today, we will explore the six apparitions, the message of Fatima, and the state of the shrine today.
Our Lady of Fatima’s Story
The story begins in 1916 with three shepherd children: Lucia (ten years old) and her two cousins, Francisco (nine) and Jacinta (seven).
The Shepherd Children
These young children were part of devout hardworking Catholic families. For their chores, they shepherded their families’ flocks amid the rocky hillsides of Fatima, Portugal.
Their part in God’s plan for Fatima and the world began one spring day in 1916. An angel identifying itself as the Angel of Peace appeared to them while they were in the field. He would visit them three times in 1916.
The angel taught them how they should pray and sacrifice for sinners. Little did they know, this was their preparation for the upcoming apparitions!
There were six apparitions in total that Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta Marto witnessed on the 13th day of each month from May to October 1917.
When Mary appeared, only Lucia was able to speak to her. Jacinta could hear her but could not respond, and Francisco could only see her but could not hear or speak to her.
May 13, 1917: Mary Instructs Them to Pray the Rosary Daily
It was noon when the shepherd children were watching their sheep in a family field called the Cova da Iria. After a flash of light occurred, the children saw the Blessed Virgin for the first time.
Lucia recounted: “Before us on a small Holm oak, we beheld a Lady all dressed in white. She was more brilliant than the sun and radiated a light.”
The Lady asked them to return there on the 13th day, at the same hour, for six months.
She told them to “Say the rosary every day to bring peace to the world and the end of the war.” In the months to come, she would continue to make the same request.
June 13, 1917: Mary Reveals Her Immaculate Heart
Word began to spread about the apparition. 50 people went with them to the Cova da Iria. After praying the rosary before the Holm oak tree, Mary once again appeared following a flash of light.
It was revealed that Francisco and Jacinta Marto would go to Heaven soon. However, Lucia would stay behind to spread devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart.
Then, Mary opened her right hand. On her palm was her Immaculate Heart wrapped with thorns. The thorns were the sins of humanity. She then disappeared.
July 13, 1917: The Vision of Hell
As news of the apparitions spread, people wanted proof that the children were really seeing the Blessed Virgin Mary.
When Mary appeared to the shepherd children for the third time, she promised that a miracle would occur on October 13th.
After a time, Mary opened her hands. Light penetrated the earth under the children’s feet. What they saw was a vision of Hell.
They saw Hell as a sea of fire. “Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form… amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair…”
After the vision was over, Mary revealed the three parts of the “Secret” (or Message) of Fatima:
- 1st Part of the Secret: The need to establish devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. She said, “If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.”
- 2nd Part of the Secret: Prophecy of the end of World War I and the start of World War II, and the need for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart.
- 3rd Part of the Secret: A cryptic vision of the future sufferings of the Church, specifically that of an unnamed Pope.
Before ascending into Heaven, Mary taught them the “Fatima Prayer” to be recited during the Rosary: “O my Jesus, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls into Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy mercy.”
August 19, 1917: Mary Visits the Children After Their Imprisonment
Crowds from all over Portugal began to visit Fatima. The atheist government officials wanted to stop a potential uprising of the faithful. So, they kidnapped the children on the morning of the 13th and kept them from going to the Holm Oak as Mary had asked.
The officials threatened them and tried to convince them to tell the faithful that the apparitions were a lie. These brave children refused to lie and were released on the 15th.
Later, on August 19th, Mary appeared to them at the oak tree as before. She told them: “Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.”
September 13, 1917: Mary Reassures Them of the Miracle
After leading the increasing crowds in the rosary, Mary appeared to the children and reassured them of the miracle on October 13th.
The Blessed Virgin said, “Our Lord will come, as well as Our Lady of Sorrows and Our Lady of Mount Carmel. St. Joseph will appear with the Child Jesus to bless the world.”
October 13, 1917: The Miracle of the Sun
On October 13, 1917, the most remarkable historical event since Christ’s Resurrection occurred. It is known as the Miracle of the Sun, or the day the sun danced.
70,000 people gathered in the pouring rain at the Cova da Iria to witness the rumored miracle.
O Seculo, an anti-Catholic and atheist newspaper, was in attendance. They were ready to write a report that mocked the believers’ faith. The story they would write was very different.
After the shepherd children led the crowd in the rosary, Mary appeared to them and said: “A chapel is to be built here in my honor. I am the Lady of the Rosary. Continue always to pray the Rosary every day. The war is going to end, and the soldiers will soon return to their homes.”
She then ascended to the sky. Immediately, the sky cleared, the muddy ground became dry, and the people gathered were no longer wet!
They looked up and could look at the sun without pain as it began spinning and changing colors! It came close to the earth and retreated multiple times.
The shepherd children saw Saint Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady standing beside the sun. Joseph and Jesus made the Sign of the Cross with their hands and blessed the world.
The event lasted ten minutes before the sky returned to normal. Scientists and atheists in attendance later reported their amazement. Some even converted to the faith.
The Fatima Shrine Today
Today, the message of Our Lady of Fatima lives on. What began as a humble chapel to commemorate the Marian apparitions is now a beautiful square with multiple churches surrounded by beautiful gardens.
While you are there, you will see three major buildings surrounding the square called the Enclosure of Prayer:
- The Little Chapel of Apparitions: As its name describes, this little chapel is built on the site of the Holm oak tree where Our Lady of Fatima appeared.
- Our Lady of the Rosary Basilica: The neo-baroque style church containing the tombs of the visionaries: Saints Francisco and Jacinta, and Sister Lucia.
- Holy Trinity Basilica: A simple but intimidating modern basilica adorned with breathtaking mosaics.
Outside of the square is the Via Sacra (“The Sacred Way”). The beautiful garden walk is lined with fifteen small chapels commemorating moments of Jesus’ Passion. Along the way is Mary’s apparition site, where she appeared on August 19, 1917, as are the apparition sites of the Angel of Peace.
With Glimmer Tours, you will have the opportunity to visit each of these shrines. Explore our Fatima, Portugal travel itinerary and join us for a prayerful experience of this remarkable place.
Kondor, Louis, ed. Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words: Sister Lucia’s Memoirs. Translated by Dominican Nuns of Perpetual Rosary. 14th ed. Fatima: Secretariado dos Pastorinhos, 1976.