Three little sheperds see godmother Mary in 1917 and she leave them mysterious messages#
This is how Fatima became Portugal's most famous pilgrimage site #By G. Jontes
The pictures were taken by the author in the years 1973, 1974 and 1975 and are part of the archive „Picuture Flood Jontes“
Fatima as a place name in a Christian European country like Portugal appears strange because it is the name of the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. This is true but the naming leads to a legend. As it is well known the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by Muslim moors with the exception of small parts. They came from Northern Africa and founded their own caliphate in Cordoba. The daughter of a provincial prince was named after the daughter of the prophet. After the re-conquest of Spain and Portugal by the Christians, the Reconquista, the place Fatima was liberated in 1147 and the girl was taken prisoner. Because of a love story she was baptized and the name Fatima could be retained without problems.
Today, Fatima is the most important pilgrimage site of Portugal and one of the most important of European Christianity after Lourdes and Mariazell. Fatima is situated about 130 kilometres north of Lisbon, has about 12 000 inhabitants and lives mostly from numerous pilgrims visiting Fatima. This tradition is one of the youngest in Europe. It dates back to the year 1917 when Virgin Maria appeared young shepherd children and left them messages.
On 13 May 1917, three shepherd children, two of them siblings, were herding animals outside the city: Lúcia dos Santos, Jacinta und Francisco Marto. They reported about an apparition of Virgin Maria on this day who demanded them to return to this place on the 13th of each month and to keep silent about it. Despite this, the secret became known and on 13 October many curious people gathered and experienced a previously announced miracle. The sun in the sky turned into a silver disk and people could look at the sun without being dazzled. The sun turned like a wheel.
The apparitions occurred under a tree. Today, there is an adoration hall on this place which is open in all directions. Virgin Maria is worshipped in the shape of a Statue of Grace which was formed after the visions and serves as the most important pilgrimage souvenir.
The shepherd children were praying under a large hol oak tree while they were waiting for Our Lady. The apparitions were under this oak. Today, there is a small column under the protection of a roof of a small chapel in this place.
The church recognized the apparitions of the Blessed Mother as credible and reliable only after years long delays and allowed the public worship right at the site. Fatima became a pilgrimage site which attracted more and more pilgrims. This was partly a result of the three secret messages which were told to the children on 13 July 1917. Two of them were published, the third was sealed and handed over to the Pope and was not be published prior to 1960. However, Pope Johannes XXIII decided against the opening. Cardinal Ratzinger, the later Pope Benedikt XVI got to know the contents on 20 May 2000. Reportedly, the message referred to the attempted assassination of Pope Johannes Paul II who beatified the already dead shepherd children Jacinta und Francisco while Lúcia was still living in a monastery in Coimbra where she received the Pope.
The pilgrimage church which was built in the thirties is pompous and space-consuming but architecturally worthless. In the meantime, a modern pilgrimage church was constructed which is one of the largest churches of the world.
Vows are redeemed by walking barefoot and by financial donations. Vows are like pilgrimages either a solemn promise for asking something, thanking for something or atoning for sins.
Very often candles are used because light sacrifices are the oldest ones. Beeswax is expensive but when there were paraffin and stearin, candles in big quantities were sacrificed by pilgrims in special rooms.
An special team makes sure that these vast amounts of donated candles don’t burn too long and block the space for the next ones. They are removed, melted and celebrate under certain circumstances a nobler resurrection as body-like votive wax figures which refer to the healing of body parts or protection for man and beast, animal and belongings. They have also no claim to eternity and are subject to the same wax circle.
With the devotional objects you enter already the field of commerce. A lot of shops are selling pious souvenirs. It is most probably the same in all pilgrimage sites.
A pure heart and a pure mind belong to a pilgrimage. Therefore, holy masses and the opportunity to go to confessions are precisely announced.
Pilgrims are also hungry and thirsty. In Fatima, even snack bars have the highest ranking spiritual protectors. Pilgrims like to have a roof over the head. For unlimited curiosity, apparitions and miracles appear in a wax museum.