In 1916 and 1917, Fatima, a small town in central Portugal,
was the site of a set of apparitions of the Virgin Mary that have
become among the most heralded in the history of the Roman
Catholic Church. The apparitions appeared to three shepherd
children—Lucia Dos Santos (age nine), Francisco Marto (age
eight), and Jacinta Marto (age six). None of the three had had
schooling enough to have learned to read and write. Their adventure
began one spring day when out on a hillside with the
sheep, they each shared a vision of a young man who described
himself as the Angel of Peace. He visited them on two subsequent
occasions and the last time shared with them the Eucharist,
which Roman Catholics believe to be the body and blood
of Jesus.
After the angel’s visits, nothing more occurred for almost a
year. Then on May 13, 1917, a brilliant flash of light caught
their attention and a beautiful young Lady, described as
dressed in white and shining with light, appeared before them.
The Lady said that she had come from heaven and wanted the
children to come to their present location on the 13th of every
month for the next five months. In October she would reveal
her name and purpose. She also posed a question to the children,
‘‘Do you wish to offer yourselves to God in order to accept
all the sufferings he wishes to send you, in reparation for sin
and for the conversion of sinners’’ They answered in the affirmative.
Once the story got out as to what the children claimed to see,
they were questioned and ridiculed; even the local priest was
hostile to the children. Only the father of Francisco and Jacinta
believed. The children kept their appointment on June 13,
along with some 60 spectators. When the apparition occurred,
only the children saw the Lady. There was a brief message to
pray the Rosary and return in July, and that Lucia would be
used to spread devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart. As the
Lady departed, the people witnessed the bending of a branch
of the tree near the place where she supposedly stood, as if
under a weight, and then the movement of the uppermost
branches as if her clothes were sweeping over them.
On July 13, the crowd numbered 5,000. The Lady made two
important statements. First, she noted that on October 13, the
last of the planned appearances, she would work a miracle. As
occurred at La Salette, she also imparted a secret message to
the three children. When word of what had occurred circulated,
representatives of the Freethought community began a campaign
to discredit the children. In fact, the magistrate at Fatima,
himself a Freethinker, imprisoned the children so they
could not go to the place of the apparition on August 13. However,
18,000 people did go. They reported that at noon they
saw a cloud form suddenly around the tree that remained briefly
and then dissolved away. They interpreted what they saw as
the Virgin having come as she promised. The children were released
two days later and Mary appeared privately to them on
August 19.
On September 13 some 30,000 people, including for the
first time a group of priests, witnessed the apparition. Around
noon, according to reports, the sky darkened, a globe of light
appeared in the east and descended to the tree, and small white
flakes, some described them as petals, began to fall, but dissolved
before hitting the ground. After speaking to the children
briefly, the Lady again said that she would perform a miracle
on October 13 and departed. The people saw the globe of
light depart to the east.
In spite of rain, a crowd numbered between 70,000 and
100,000 crowded the place of the apparitions on October 13.
Included was the editor of Lisbon’s leading Freethought newspaper.
The skies were cloudy, but Mary appeared as promised
to the children. She called for a chapel to be built on the spot
in her honor. As she finished her message, the children saw a
ray of light go from her in the direction of the sun. Lucia cried
out to the people, ‘‘Look at the sun!’’ As they turned their
heads, the clouds parted and a large brilliant silver disk appeared
and began to twirl around, shooting out lights in different
colors. The phenomenon of the dancing sun lasted for almost
a half hour and was seen by people up to 30 miles away.
Meanwhile, the children saw St. Joseph appear and Jesus arrive
to bless the people.
The twirling disk came to a stop and then seemed to plunge
toward Earth, bringing with it a great deal of heat. As it neared
the crowd, it suddenly stopped and shot upward. The people
who had been soaked by the rain earlier found that their
clothes were suddenly dry. The next day newspapers all over
the country carried reports of the event.
The apparitions at Fatima joined those at Lourdes as the
most spectacular occurrences relative to the reported modern
appearances of the Virgin Mary. The Catholics who witnessed
it were transformed into devout practitioners of their faith and
firm believers that the Virgin Mary had indeed appeared. Fatima
has since become one of the most important shrines in
Roman Catholicism. Pope Paul VI put his stamp of authority
on it by mentioning it during Vatican II and with a papal visit
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Fatima
and meeting with Lucia on the 50th anniversary of the apparitions
in 1957. In 1982, Pope John Paul II also visited Fatima,
and two years later in Rome again consecrated Russia to the
Immaculate Heart. Pope John Paul’s faith in the Fatima revelations
appears to be partially tied to the assassination attempt
that occurred on May 13, 1981 (the anniversary of the first apparition).
Just as the gunman pulled the trigger, he bent over
to bless someone carrying a picture of the Virgin. Had he not
bent over, the bullets would have hit him squarely in the head.
Two of the children, Francisco and Jacinta, died shortly
after the apparitions, in 1919 and 1920 respectively, the Lady
having predicted that she would return not long after the apparitions
and take them to heaven. In 1921 Lucia was sent to a
school in Porto, Portugal, run by the Sisters of St. Dorothe, and
she entered holy orders four years later. She devoted the next
decade to promoting the devotion to the Immaculate Heart
and then in 1934 retired to a Carmelite monastery, for the rest
of her life. Once there, between 1935 and 1941, at the suggestion
of ecclesiastical superiors, she wrote four manuscripts detailing
what she could remember of her life.
The secrets of Fatima revealed to the children on July 13,
1917, became a topic of interest throughout the Roman Catholic
world. All three parts of the secret were revealed as of 2000.
The first was a vision of hell and the consequences if people did
not cease their offensive acts. The second concerned the promotion
of devotion to the Immaculate Heart. The third part of
the secret was written down and placed in the hands of the
Bishop of Leiria, Portugal. Rather than assume the responsibility
of knowing the ‘‘secrets of heaven,’’ the bishop decided to
send it to the Vatican. In 2000, Pope John Paul II revealed the
content of the third secret. The third secret dealt with an assassination
attempt on ‘‘bishop in white’’ by an atheist system
against the Catholic Church and Christians in the twentieth
century. This was considered to be the assassination attempt of
Pope John Paul II in 1981.
The miraculous occurrences at Fatima on October 13, 1917,
have also been evaluated in light of the post-World War II UFO
phenomenon, and many ufologists view it as a classic appearance
of a UFO. They note that the ‘‘sun’’ that danced in the sky
at Fatima bears a remarkable likeness to UFOs. The white substance
that fell resembles what has come to be known as angel’s
hair, a phenomenon accompanying a number of UFO reports.
Roman Catholic authors, more interested in the religious and
miraculous aspects of Fatima, have as a whole refrained from
even commenting on such speculations.
The church, after careful study, has given its approval of the
devotion to Mary as related to the Fatima events, and devotion
to Fatima has spread worldwide. A large church has been built
close to the site of the apparitions to accommodate the many
pilgrims. While a matter of devotion to Catholics, it remains an
enigmatic occurrence to non-Catholics.
Also like Lourdes, a Hollywood movie was made of the Fatima
story though it did not enjoy the popular critical acclaim of
The Song of Bernadette. The Miracle of Fatima (1952) starred
Susan Whitney and Gilbert Roland.
[Abóbora], Sister Lucia. Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words. Cambridge,
Mass. Ravengate Press, 1976.
Alonso, Joaquin Maria. The Secret of Fatima Fact and Legend.
Cambridge Ravengate Press, 1979.
Fox, Robert J. Rediscovering Fatima. Huntington, Ind Our
Sunday Visitor, 1982.
McClure, Kevin. The Evidence for Visions of the Virgin Mary.
Wellingborough, UK Aquarian Press, 1983.
McGlynn, Thomas. Vision of Fatima. Boston Little Brown
and Co., 1948.