Fatima, Portugal, the site of probably the most remarkable religious experiences in history. In 1917, on May 13th, when the world was at war, three young children were out tending their flocks in an area known as Cova da Iria. It was a village like any other and the children were simply carrying out their chores. For ten-year-old Lucia dos Santos along with her two cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto it would be a day that would change not only their lives but the lives of everyone in Fatima to this day.
The story goes like this: They saw a woman appear in a blinding golden light stronger than the sun itself who spoke to them. She would appear twice more on the 13th of June and July and, in the end, a total of six times between May and October. The children would perform acts of penance like beating themselves with nettles, wearing cords tightly round their waists so they were in pain and go without water on hot days. But she also told them things, things that they could not speak of, given to them through a series of visions and prophecies which are known as the Three Secrets of Fatima.
Initially the children were told by their elders to say nothing but word soon spread and thousands began arriving to witness the miracle for themselves. However, it was not all happiness as, on August 17th, the provincial administrator and anticlerical Freemason Artur Santos arrived to arrest the children before they could go to the Cova on that day. He claimed it was politically disruptive, especially since there was a war on. The terrified children led the inmates in prayer and Artur threatened to boil them in oil unless they told the secrets they were entrusted with. To their credit they did not, with Lucia offering to ask our Lady’s permission to tell them. They were eventually released and the pilgrimages continued.
The Dancing Sun: The most famous Fatima incident was the dancing sun as seen in the picture above. Now what makes this even more intriguing is that astronomers were able to record something unusual happening with the sun on October 13th, the day the Lady promised she would provide a miracle to prove she was real. Over 70,000 people had gathered and the eyes of the world and the press were on the Cova for the miracle. It was said the sun changed colour and rotated like a huge cartwheel. Some were terrified it would fall to the Earth. Now some people saw nothing and mass hysteria would be the explanation except for the aforementioned astronomers’ readings and it was reported as being seen up to forty kilometres away. After that the visions stopped, but while the world was watching the sun, with no need for sunglasses etc, the children saw a plethora of heavenly images which they described in full detail.
The Three Secrets: But it was the three secrets that authorities, and the populace, wanted to know about. The first was said to be a vision of hell which terrified the children as they saw great fires and demons and were told this was the place some sinners go. The second concerned saving souls and trying to get the world to turn to God and Catholicism. She warned if people did not another great war would come heralded by a bright light in the sky as a warning of the impending tragedy. Interestingly enough a huge display of aurora borealis was seen all across Europe one year before the Second World War began.
As for the third, well that’s the most controversial. It is said that it scared Lucia so badly that she wrote it down and it was not to be opened until 1960. She supposedly saw religious men and women treading up a mountain where they are exterminated by machine guns. A huge cross stands on top of the mountain and an angel with a flaming sword. However many say that what the final secret is is yet to be really told and the Vatican only bowed to pressure to complete the mystery.
Whatever happened in those six months and what the children saw cannot be disputed. Something happened which has yet to be explained fully but it had a significant enough impact on the children’s lives until the day they died. Lucia became a nun. She had subsequent visits from Our Lady and Jesus himself where he delivered a message for the church leaders and taught her prayer. She also revealed that all their deaths had been predicted at the first vision and they spoke freely of it. Lucia was told Francisco and Jacinta were to go to heaven first while she remained to do God’s work which is exactly what happened. This was confirmed by family members who said it was indeed fact. Francisco died from the influenza epidemic that floored Europe in 1919. Efforts to save Jacinta from a similar fate were futile in the end and she died in 1920 at the age of nine. And, curiously, she died as she predicted; alone, even though her condition wasn’t deemed serious at the time. A campaign went underway to have both of them canonized. When Jacinta was exhumed twice, 1935 and 1951, she was in perfect condition with no composition and smelt of flowers which they took to be the smell of heaven. Francisco had however decomposed as normal. Some say that the vision of hell scared Jacinta so much she was given the protection of Our Lady herself.
Lucia went on to serve the church and wrote six memoirs before her death in 2005 on February 13th at the ripe old age of 97. Whatever the truth, the world will never forget the little place called Fatima.