Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima

The Santuario de Fatima is in the little village of Fatima, located about 60 miles northwest of the capital city of Lisbon, Portugal. It is also only about 20 miles from the coast and some fine Portugal beaches.

The history of pilgrimage to the Shrine of Fatima dates only to the relatively recent years of 1916 and 1917 when visions of the Virgin Mary (called Marian appartitions) appeared to three young children (primarily to Lucia Santos, a young peasant girl who later became a nun) tending the family's sheep in the hills near the little village of Fatima, Portugal. Mary has said to have revealed three secrets or predictions, only two of which were made public at the time. Marian apparitions are not unusual in the Christian (especially Catholic) world. They have additionally famously occurred eighteen times in Lourdes, France beginning in 1858, and in 1810 in Chimayo, New Mexico in the United States. They have also occurred in Spain, Egypt, Italy, and many other parts of the world.

Millions of the faithful, at the rate of as many as two to four million per year, have made the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Fatima since the children's visions—even more so since beloved Pope John Paul II (who was particularly fond of Marian apparitions) visited in 1982 to express thanks to the Virgin Mary for saving his life after the 1981 assassination attempt in Vatican City in Rome. He visited the Fatima Shrine again in 2000, revealing that the assassination attempt had been foretold to the children in 1917; he said that this was the third secret of Fatima. The Chapel of Apparitions was the first place of worship built, and construction began in 1919. The first Mass was celebrated in 1921. The Catholic Church declared the Santuario de Fatima a place "worthy of belief" in 1930, the thirteenth anniversary of one of the most important miracles. In addition to John Paul II, several other Popes supported Fatima Shrine devotion, especially Pius XII (1939-58) and Paul VI (1963-78).

The grand Basilica at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima is the primary place of worship. Begun in 1928 and consecrated in 1953, it is a beautiful white Neoclassical church fronted by a large open plaza, with a central spire rising more than 213 feet high. Near the entrance is a monument containing an almost six-ton piece of the Berlin Wall. The Santuario de Fatima has also figured in the political history of Portugal, as it is said one of the Virgin Mary's promises was to bring down communism. The piece of the Berlin Wall was donated in thanks to her for fulfilling this promise. Inside the sanctuary is one of the most magnificent works of religious art from Ireland, the Irish Monstrance (a gold vessel used to display the consecrated Eucharist).

This Fatima Shrine is open to all, but respectful dress is required—no shorts for men and skirts and dresses for women. Many stalls and shopping venues near the Basilica will also sell scarves of locally made lace for women's head coverings.

Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Fatima occurs throughout the year, especially during the summer months and on the feast days of May 13 and October 13. On these days, as many as 100,000 pilgrims crowd into the square in front of the Basilica and visit the Chapel of Apparitions and other important religious sites in and around the town. If you want to know when to go, it is best to avoid these two feast dates, as the town is a relatively sleepy little village during most of the rest of the year.

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