Sanctuary of Fatima – a Pilgrimage Destination
The Sanctuary of Fátima is an intensely religious place and matches Lourdes in France as a pilgrim’s destination. This small town north of Lisbon has become one of the most visited holy sites in the Christian faith. Hundred of thousands of pilgrims and tourists visit annually and many Catholics come to participate in the celebrations that commemorate the apparitions of Our Lady to the three witnesses of Fátima.
Fátima became famous in 1917 when the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children of the town of Aljustrel, a village located around two kilometres away. The first apparition took place on May 13, 1917, in Cova da Iria, at the site of the current Sanctuary. Ten year-old Lucia Santos and her young cousins, Jacinta Marta and Francisco Marto, saw a shining figure in a holm oak tree. The vision ordered the children to return to the tree on the 13th day of each month for six months, promising to tell them in October who she was and what she wanted.
By October 13, 70,000 pilgrims had gathered by the tree with the children, but it was only Lucia who heard the “Secret of Fatima” – the first was a vision of hell, the second a war worse than World War I and the third was a vision of a papal assassination.
Within years of this, hundreds of thousands of believers were making pilgrimages to the town in honour of the Virgin and a magnificent cathedral was constructed on the site of the first apparition. The Neo-Baroque Basilica, flanked by statues of saints, has a 213-feet tower and was consecrated in October 1953 by Pope Pius XII. Its 15 altars are dedicated to the 15 mysteries of the Rosary. The Chapel of Apparitions is the exact spot where the Virgin Mary appeared and devotees come here to pray, light candles or make offerings such as flowers.
May 13th (the first apparition) and October 13th are the busiest times in the Fátima calendar and vast numbers of pilgrims arrive to commemorate the appearances of the Virgin to the three shepherd children (the three pastorinhos). The scene can be quite emotional as the faithful and penitents approach the shrine on their (padded) knees. Thousands of candles light the esplanade in night-time masses and wax limbs are burned as offerings for miracles performed by the Virgin. Furthermore, the 13th of every month between these two dates is also a day of devotion.
For those interested in the historical context of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima, visits can be made to the houses of the shepherd witnesses in the village of Aljustrel.
In the gardens of Casa de Lúcia, there is a monument commemorating the second apparition of the Angel of Peace and the end of the Via Sacra which begins in the Sanctuary. Along this route, there are 14 chapels donated by Hungarian Catholic refugees in the West. Of particular note is Valinhos, 400 metres from the village where monuments commemorate the fourth apparition in 1917 as well as the place chosen by the Angel. Here, in 1916, the shepherds saw the Angel of Peace for the first and third times.
Day tours to Fatima
From Lisbon you can join a half day tour that will take you to Fatima to visit the Basilica. The tour continues to Aljustrel, where the three shepherd children Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia, were born and then continues to Valinhos where Our Lady of Fatima appeared for the fourth time on August 19, 1917.