Marian Apparitions in Fátima, Portugal Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Three peasant children reported being visited by the Virgin Mary each month for six months, and these accounts created widespread interest in the hillside site outside the village of Fátima. Reportedly, the apparition delivered three prophecies that were not revealed until much later. The final visitation culminated in the Anomaly of the Sun, an atmospheric phenomenon witnessed by more than seventy thousand people.

Summary of Event

In 1917, Europe was in the throes of World War I, and Pope Benedict XV was exhausted by his attempts to broker an armistice. On May 5, he addressed a letter to Christians around the world that begged believers to pray to the Virgin Mary, whom Catholics venerate as a mediator between humans and God. Benedict XV insisted that Mary alone could stop what the pope saw as Europe’s self-destruction. Marian apparitions Angel of Portugal Virgin Mary, visions at Fátima [kw]Marian Apparitions in Fátima, Portugal (May 13-Oct. 17, 1917) [kw]Apparitions in Fátima, Portugal, Marian (May 13-Oct. 17, 1917) [kw]Fátima, Portugal, Marian Apparitions in (May 13-Oct. 17, 1917) [kw]Portugal, Marian Apparitions in Fátima, (May 13-Oct. 17, 1917) Marian apparitions Angel of Portugal Virgin Mary, visions at Fátima [g]Portugal;May 13-Oct. 17, 1917: Marian Apparitions in Fátima, Portugal[04280] [c]Religion, theology, and ethics;May 13-Oct. 17, 1917: Marian Apparitions in Fátima, Portugal[04280] Marto, Francisco Marto, Jacinta Santos, Lúcia Benedict XV John Paul II

Eight days later, on Sunday, May 13, Francisco Marto, his sister Jacinta, and their cousin Lúcia Santos, three Catholic peasant children who tended sheep in the hills near Fátima, Portugal, were visited by an apparition that identified itself as the “Angel of Portugal.” The angel, a female figure dressed in white who hovered above a small oak tree and from whom emanated a bright light, instructed the children to pray to the Trinity, to embrace suffering, and to venerate the Eucharist. The children initially told no one of the visions but dedicated themselves to prayer. Of the children, only Lúcia communicated with the apparition; Francisco saw but could not hear the vision, and Jacinta saw and heard her but did not speak with her.

The figure told the children that they could help end the war by consecrating themselves to the Rosary and by converting sinners to Catholicism. The figure then asked them to return to the site on the thirteenth day of each of the next six months. Although the children agreed to tell no one of the vision, Jacinta told her parents, and word spread through the tiny village. On June 13, a hundred onlookers joined the children, who again saw the vision. The onlookers, however, only heard thunder and saw a cloud move across the sky. The following month, more than five thousand people gathered to watch the children receive another vision.

On August 13, more than ten thousand pilgrims gathered on the hillside, but the children were not there. The threat of religious fanaticism loomed large at the time, and many Portuguese wanted to lessen Catholicism’s influence. In response, the provisional authority had the children imprisoned and threatened with death (a cauldron of boiling oil was even prepared) unless they admitted they were lying or revealed the vision’s prophecies. The children refused and instead embraced their approaching martyrdom. They were released two days later, and the vision appeared to them again with a promise to perform a miracle on the sixth visit. In anticipation of the October visit, the children devoted themselves to prayer and sacrifice: They refused to drink water on hot days and bound their waists with rope.

On October 13, despite a chilling rain, close to seventy thousand people crowded the hillside. When the vision appeared to the children, she identified herself as the Lady of the Rosary. She then requested that the entire world be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and ascended into the sky. Although they did not see Mary, witnesses later reported that the rain abruptly stopped and that the sun turned like a wheel and emitted a rainbow of colors (witnesses’ eyesight appeared to have been undamaged, however) before the atmosphere assumed a purplish glow. The sun then turned blood red and suddenly dropped toward both the horizon and the frightened pilgrims before coming to an abrupt halt and returning to its position high in the afternoon sky. The entire phenomenon, which lasted a little more than nine minutes, was seen as far away as thirty miles. In response to the event, witnesses burst into shouts of joy and later reported that their rain-soaked clothes had been thoroughly dried. Lúcia herself recorded that while the sun danced, she was given beatific visions of Mary as Mother of Christ, the Mother of Sorrows, and the Mother of Heaven, symbols that were widely interpreted as representations of the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

More than twenty years later, Lúcia, who had become a Carmelite nun, revealed the contents of the conversation in her memoirs, written at the request of the bishop of Leiria, who directed the ten-year Vatican inquiry into the apparition’s appearances. She recounted that the apparition gave the children a terrifying glimpse of Hell before delivering three prophecies, two of which Lúcia revealed in her memoirs. The vision prophesied that the Great War would end soon but that it would be followed by another, far greater war that would punish humanity for its persistent sinfulness. The vision then prophesied the specific threat of Russia—which was unimaginable at the time, since Russia was immersed in the chaos of the Communist revolution—and said that Russia would abandon Christianity and cause great suffering to the world until it returned to the faith. Lúcia recorded the third prophecy in a letter that was carefully guarded by the Vatican for fifty years.

Both Francisco and Jacinta died during the influenza epidemic that peaked in 1918-1919, but Lúcia lived to the age of ninety-seven and died on February 13, 2005, a day of the month that carried a great deal of significance for Fátima believers. Lúcia, who was cloistered near Coimbra, claimed that Mary continued to visit her after Fátima. In the meantime, the Church had investigated the apparition, and on October 13, 1930, it confirmed that the visitation was worthy of belief. Upon publication of Sister Lúcia’s four-volume memoir in the 1940’s, interest in the events at Fátima heightened. Given the second prophecy’s emphasis on Russia, the third prophecy, the so-called secret of Fátima, became part of the apocalyptic rhetoric of the escalating Cold War. The Vatican, however, refused to reveal the details of the third prophecy until May 13, 2000. On that date, Pope John Paul II, whose long pontificate had been centered on his devotion to Mary—he consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1984, a few years before the collapse of the Soviet Union—announced in Fátima on the occasion of the beatification of the two Martas that the third prophecy had in fact been a symbolic vision describing a gunfire attack on the pope by forces of evil. John Paul II further interpreted the assassination attempt against him by a Turkish extremist in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981 (yet another thirteenth) as the prophecy’s fulfillment.


Although skeptics initially questioned the vision and disputed the specifics of the third prophecy, the Fátima apparitions were endorsed by the Holy See as a divine intervention. The sensationalism caused by the serial visitations reignited Portuguese Catholicism at a time when urban liberals dismissed religion in general as a collection of rural superstitions and a public menace, and in an ironic twist Fátima became a national icon and a cornerstone of Portuguese pride.

More important, however, was the impact of the vision’s endorsement of fervent prayer, reparative suffering, and religious conversion as ways to secure international peace. Many were frustrated by the continuing horrors created by World War I, and their feelings were validated by the vision’s reference to war as an affront to God. Although healings were documented among the millions of Fátima pilgrims, Fátima differed from sites in which Marian apparitions became healing shrines because it promulgated the power of prayer to influence and even define history. In framing the rise and fall of the Soviet empire in a Christian historiography, Fátima’s prophecies molded twentieth century history into an extended drama of humanity’s chastisement and the ultimate triumph of good. Marian apparitions Angel of Portugal Virgin Mary, visions at Fátima

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Allegri, Renzo, and Roberto Allegri. Fátima: The Story Behind the Miracles. New York: Charis, 2002. Valuable retelling, without theological agenda, that covers the revelation of the third prophecy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Alonso, J. M. The Secret of Fátima: Fact and Legend. Translated by the Dominican Nuns of the Perpetual Rosary. Cambridge, Mass.: Ravengate Press, 1979. Summarizes the Catholic defense of the apparition and sorts through the conflicting stories offered by eyewitnesses.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cunneen, Sally. In Search of Mary: The Woman and the Symbol. New York: Ballantine, 1996. Invaluable study that contextualizes Fátima as an element of Catholicism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kondor, L., ed. Fátima in Lúcia’s Own Words. Translated by the Dominican Nuns of the Perpetual Rosary. Fátima, Portugal: Postulation Centre, 1976. A reliable summary of Lúcia’s four-volume memoir.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Swann, Ingo. The Great Apparitions of Mary: An Examination of Twenty-Two Supernatural Appearances. New York: Crossroad, 1996. Examines the visions as paranormal experiences that reflect the visionaries’ psychologies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Walsh, William T. Our Lady of Fátima. 1954. New York: Image, 2001. Definitive, carefully researched account of the apparitions. Includes interviews with the families of the children and eyewitnesses to the “dance of the sun.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Zimdars-Swartz, Sandra L. Encountering Mary: From La Salette to Medjudgorje. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991. Detailed analysis of the visitation and its political ramifications, the history of the three prophecies, and the life of Lúcia herself.

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Categories: History