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Virgin Mary's appearance in Fatima



The small town of Ourem is located approximately seven miles to the northeast of Fatima. The location was originally the site of the medieval watchtower, positioned to guard against Muslim Invasion during the Crusades, but as the years passed, the number of residents around the fortification steadily expanded to create a significantly larger settlement. On the 13th May 1917, a 10 year old Lucia dos Santos was playing out in the midday sunshine with her two younger cousins, in some fields on the outskirts of the town.


The appearance of a mysterious lady


As the children laughed and chased each other around, there wasn't a cloud to be seen in the sky, until a sudden flash of lightning sent them running for the shelter of some nearby oak trees. As Lucia held nine-year-old Francisco and seven-year-old Jacinta close to her, she saw the dazzling and radiant figure of a beautiful lady dressed all in white, standing where the lightning had just struck. Despite her fears, the young girl felt drawn towards the figure and told her younger cousins to stay where they were, as she rose and tentatively walked to meet the newcomer.



As Lucia approached, the lady bore a kind smile and introduced herself as Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ. She motioned for the other children to approach, but Francisco would not be moved, insistent that he could not see the vision the girls were experiencing. When the Apparition advised him to say the Rosary, he immediately gained the ability to see her and cautiously stepped forwards to join his sister and cousin.


The figure explained that she would reappear to the children on the same date over the next few months and that together, they would end the horrific war that threatened to consume their country. She then asked Lucia to offer up a daily prayer for peace, until the next meeting, before rising and vanishing into thin air. The excited children immediately ran straight to their homes, to tell their bewildered parents what had just taken place.


Word spread quickly throughout the small town and when the children returned to the spot four weeks later, they were accompanied by a crowd of approximately 50 curious onlookers. After a short time, the vision descended from the skies and asked the children to pray with her before again vanishing before their very eyes.


None of the adults who were present witnessed the shining figure appear, but they saw the three children apparently speaking and interacting with something, and several claimed to see the branches and foliage around the children disturbed by an invisible force that entered and then subsequently left the location. The following month, a crowd of several hundred gathered to watch as Lucia and her cousins again apparently spoke to the Virgin Mary, with witnesses this time reporting a mysterious haze that seemed to envelop the children before rising up again into the heavens.


By now, the rumors of the the visions had spread to the local authorities, who took a dim view of the situation and elected to detain and question the children on August the 13th, in order to prevent the assembly from again taking place. After speaking with the apparition for a fourth time on September 13th, young Lucia turned to the assembled crowds and informed them that Mary would visit for one final time the following month and this time would reveal herself to everyone who attended.


Three weeks later, people were traveling to Fatima from across the length and breadth of the land, desperate to catch a glimpse of the lady of the Rosary. The events that subsequently took place at Ourem on the morning of October 13th, 1917, are today known within the Catholic Church as "the miracle of the sun". It had been raining heavily for most of the previous evening and the attending crowds have been forced to negotiate freshly sodden and muddy foot paths in order to reach the site.


Now, as midday approached, the rains had finally eased off, but the skies remained angry and sullenly overcast. An improvised wooden shrine had been thrown together, and now in front of it stood a crowd of 70,000 people. They were a diverse mixture of faithful worshipers, skeptics and idle curiosity seekers, all waiting for some kind of sign that the Virgin Mary truly had come down from heaven to walk amongst their number. As the crowds watched on impatiently, three small figures dressed in flowing white robes were gently lifted onto a hastily erected platform that stood before them.



Lucia's announcement


With the people waiting expectantly, Lucia had step forward to announce that the Virgin Mary was now present and had chosen to entrust her and her cousins with a series of holy secrets and truths. Once again, it appears that nobody other than the children themselves had been able to see the astral visitor, but there would be plenty of witnesses to what was to take place next.


Lucia announced that Mary, the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ was going to be the one to finally end the Great War that had been raging for the last three years. Here and now, she would demonstrate her mighty powers to the assembled crowd as proof that she was capable of making good on this promise to them. The young girl then turned and raised her hands towards the skies, before this movement was also mirrored by her younger cousins, Francisco and Jacinta.



Descriptions of what exactly took place after this do very somewhat, but pretty much all of those present agree on some level that the clouds above them slowly parted and the sun began to shine down on the upturned faces of the watching masses. Many claim that the light that was generated by this development was in fact strong enough to dry their rain sodden clothes and once again bake the damp ground, beneath their feet, so that it was solid enough for them to stand upon. The significant number of witnesses would go on to describe how the Sun started to move around in the skies above them in an extraordinary and sometimes frightening manner.


Some people describe this movement as a slow rotation or cartwheeling motion, to others, it started to gyrate around its axis with some speed, much the same way as a child spinning top would move. Many of those who are present make reference in their accounts to the sun's color changing back and forth. In some testimonies, the sun morphed from a bright orange into a deep dark purple and then back again. Others stated that it changed into a silvery metallic color, still clearly visible but almost intangible to behold. In a minority of cases, witnesses reported seeing streamers and flashes of light issuing forth from the Heavenly Body descending to the ground below.


But it is the descriptions of the sun's sudden and rapid movements back and forth across the sky that are most disturbing. Countless reports described seeing the sun violently zigzagging from side to side, whilst others state that the sun suddenly accelerated towards the ground burning with a fiery intensity, before again, returning to normal. This amazing turn of events would continue for another 10 minutes, evoking screams of both Joy and Terror from those watching below. Lucia, then slowly lowered her arms back down to her sides, and turned to face the masses. The clouds rolled back in overhead to once again obscure the Sun and its activities from the terrified crowds.



Aftermath of the incident


In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the church dispatched a number of local priests in order to conduct an official investigation into what had happened. Their orders were to evaluate if what was reported was both compatible and acceptable with the church's traditional teachings, and then present their findings to the local Bishop. As part of their investigations, the priests conducted hundreds of interviews with some of the people who had been present and were reportedly struck by two things. Firstly there was a wild degree of variance in what individual people had reported having seen that day. And secondly, the number of Witnesses were spread widely across the different demographics and groups who had attended, regardless of their own personal beliefs or levels of faith.


There was little doubt that something truly, or inspiring had taken place in that damped little country field and that those who had been present largely believed to have been an act of God. The huge volume and compelling nature of the testimonies of those who are involved was certainly enough to convince the Catholic church that the incident was indeed a genuine visitation by the Virgin Mary. Successive church leaders would go on to spend many years, investigating the event right up until the present day. As recently as 2017, Pope Francis officially classified the event as a holy miracle and open proceedings that paved the way for all three children to be canonized.


Of course, not all commentators and observers place so much faith in such religious explanations, which has given rise to an altogether different slant on what took place and this is that the incident was actually an extraterrestrial visitation rather than a Holy one. The basis for this argument is the fact that the solar effects described by the witnesses were not reported anywhere else in the world that day other than at the Fatima site itself, meaning that it can only have been a localized occurrence.


Given this fact, is it possible that the entity viewed by the children might instead have been a visitor from another planet and that the bright light in the sky seen moving around was some form of craft as opposed to the sun itself. Whether a true miracle or an extraterrestrial visitation, the fact remains that many people witnessed the event some in wildly different ways to others and many saw nothing at all. So it appears the occurrence was either deeply personal or some form of optical illusion, which not everyone was in a position to have experienced or experience in the same way.


A third, much more grounded possibility is that the witnesses were seeing an optical phenomenon known as a sundog or Mock sun. The technical name for such an event is a parhelion and consists of either one or two intensely bright Halos of light appearing to form alongside the Sun. Parhelia are caused when the sun's rays are reflected back by patches of ice crystals which are formed in the upper atmosphere. To observers on the ground, it appears as if the Sun's mass is gradually increasing or decreasing in size dependent on how large the patch of crystal is, which the light is passing over. Parhelia are not restricted to any one geographical area, or type of weather system and are something that has been historically witnessed all over the globe. They are at their strongest when the sun is either rising or setting.



Conclusion


As logical and compelling an argument as this is, it does not fully account for the multiple reports of the sun changing its color or zigzagging violently from side to side in the sky. Again, those seeking to discredit the more fantastic explanations for the incident turn to meteorological effects. The sun's color has been proven to alter subtly when incoming light is reflected off droplets of moisture in the atmosphere and the reports of the sun resembling a silvery spinning disk may have the result of thin, almost indiscernible clouds passing across and impairing the field of vision of those watching from below.


Staring directly at the Sun for any sustained period of time can cause significant damage to the retina. Even spending a limited amount of time, trying to focus on a powerful light source such as a light bulb can cause minor damage to the eye and the illusion of movement as the eye muscles start to tire and become overly relaxed. Having laid the groundwork to suggest that it could have been a combination of optical illusion and meteorological effects that the people at Fatima were witnessing, the more skeptical observers then turn to psychological aspects and mentality of viewing an incident as part of the crowd.


In this case, the vast majority of those who attended had an expectation or burning desire to see something happen, which was enough to persuade not only themselves, but also those around them that a miracle was taking place. The scientific term for this is pareidolia and is something the critics of religious sightings have often fallen back on in order to undermine what has been reported. As witnesses testified to having seen humbling and fantastic images, what they describe naturally goes on to influence and taint the mental image for others who are watching. There have been many alleged appearances by the Virgin Mary throughout the years and the argument against the majority of them is that when the idea or image of Mary is placed into the minds of the public by media after one sighting has been reported a certain percentage of people will then suddenly start to see the face of Mary everywhere they look, from smoke rings and shadows to foodstuffs and coffee stains.


Perhaps the element of the story that most regularly comes under scrutiny and criticism is young Lucia herself. Cynics are quick to point out that she was the youngest of seven sisters with a five-year gap between her and her next oldest sibling. From an early age, she played her sisters and parents off against each other, striving to be the center of attention by spinning tall tales and fantastic stories.


Tragically both Francisco and Jacinta would be claimed by the Spanish Flu that ravaged Europe in the aftermath of the war. And so the only real source of information about what the children saw would be Lucia. Over the years, their account has been altered and revised to no small degree and many of her predictions have only arrived years after the events she describes took place. World War one would not end for another year after the incident and it would not be until 1927 that she claimed Mary had foretold that her cousins would die at a young age.


She also said that the spirit had shown her visions of soldiers executing a bishop in the ruins of a great city. Some have tried to tie this to the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, but even Lucia's own mother disowned her testimony, giving interviews to state the girl was a fantasist and trickster. It is rare indeed for the papal authorities to so readily accept an incident as miraculous in nature, but the witness accounts of several thousand people make for a compelling case. Even taking into account the undermining factors of mass hysteria and suggestion, the possibility that something extraordinary did take place in front of the assembled crowd is very real. The actions of Lucia in the years after the incident have done little to improve her credibility, but none of these issues can explain what it was that people saw or how it made them feel. Nor can they explain the sheer coincidence that something truly significant occurred in the skies overhead at exactly the time it was predicted by the children.


Maybe this is the real nature of the supernatural. Some people see it, some people don't. Both groups accuse each other of being uninformed or crazy. And this is, of course, why we divide ourselves into Skeptics and Believers. What makes the Fatima event so interesting is that many Skeptics who were present testified to witnessing the spectacle. Many believers who were also there that day, on the other hand, saw absolutely nothing.


Whether you genuinely believe that for one day only, the mysteries of Heaven revealed themselves to mankind or that some other inexplicable force visited Earth under the guise of a miraculous event, it is difficult to deny that something truly humbling and extraordinary did take place in a quiet corner of Portugal, roughly a 100 years ago.


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