Knock
Irish village in county Mayo that was the scene of apparitions
of the Virgin Mary similar to those that occurred at
Lourdes in the nineteenth century. On the evening of August
21, 1879, shortly before dusk, three strange figures were observed
by one or two parishioners of the village. The figures
were standing motionless by the gable of the Roman Catholic
church. At first this occasioned no surprise, since the parishioners
assumed that the figures were statues ordered by the parish
priest. As the evening advanced, however, the figures appeared
to be surrounded by a strange light, and soon a small
crowd of villagers assembled to observe the apparitions. The
main figure was a woman clothed in white, wearing a golden
crown. On each side of her was a man, one wearing a bishop’s
mitre, the other elderly and bearded.
Because it was raining at the time the crowd eventually dispersed.
Some villagers went home to dry their clothes, others
to assist an elderly woman who had collapsed on her way to
church. The priest’s housekeeper went to tell the priest about
the apparitions, but he was not impressed and did not go to the
church to see for himself. Later that night the apparitions disappeared.
The apparitions had been witnessed by nearly 30 people,
and a few weeks later the archbishop of Tuam set up a commission
to investigate the phenomenon and interview the witnesses.
Fifteen villagers were interviewed, ranging from a boy of six
to an old woman of 75. Their evidence was given in a frank,
down-to-earth manner that carried absolute conviction, and
their accounts never changed throughout their lives. Minor
variations between accounts were no more significant than
might be expected from a number of individual witnesses to a
remarkable event.
A Marian shrine for pilgrimages was constructed at Knock
with the permission of the Roman Catholic Church. In addition
to the original Knock Shrine at the apparition church, there is
now a large new Church of Our Lady, and, as at Lourdes, there
are mass services for healing the sick. The shrine achieved
worldwide recognition when Pope John Paul II visited Knock
in September 1979. In the 1980s an ambitious project was
begun—the construction of an airport at Knock.
The Knock airport was the brainchild of Monsignor James
Horan, parish priest of Knock, and although the plan was at
first ridiculed, he managed to secure initial financial support,
which was later curtailed. Critics pointed out that there was no
need for an airport at Knock, that it was on the edge of a bog
in the middle of nowhere. In spite of such opposition Horan’s
tireless enthusiasm somehow culminated in completion of the
airport, now regarded as the major miracle of Knock.
On Friday, October 25, 1985, the Knock airport was operational
and three Aer Lingus planes landed there. They took off
with nearly 500 people on an eight-day pilgrimage to Rome,
where Horan was received at St. Peter’s. The 72-year-old priest
made a speech calling upon the Irish transport minister to
grant full recognition to Knock and create a duty-free zone
there in order to develop the airport to its full potential.
On Friday, August 1, 1986, Horan died at age 74, only two
days after the first transatlantic flight touched down at the new
Connaught Airport at Knock. It was also the golden jubilee year
of Horan’s ordination to the priesthood.
On July 9, before setting out on his final pilgrimage to
Lourdes, Horan had signed the remaining contract for Connaught
International Airport to install lighting on the runway.
In Lourdes he celebrated public Mass and remarked, ‘‘This
is the happiest day of my life.’’ With a convivial Irish group in
the hotel lounge he sang ‘‘Auld Lang Syne;’’ he died only a few
hours later.
From time to time, skeptics have revived the theory—
considered in great detail in 1879—that the apparitions at
Knock were the work of a prankster projecting magic lantern
slides. However, this theory is based solely on the fact that the
images appeared static—as distinct from the reported living
and moving images of the Virgin Mary seen at other locations—and
there is no direct evidence to substantiate the slide
projection theory.
Notable points from witnesses seem to negate the magic lantern
theory. The apparitions were first seen in daylight, just before
sunset, and continued after dark. It was raining, but this
did not affect the apparitions. Various witnesses saw the apparitions
from different angles of approach, and some would surely
have observed a characteristic beam of light proceeding from
a magic lantern, even assuming that it could project images in
daylight as well as dusk and be unaffected by rain.
In 1880 a reporter for the London Daily Telegraph interviewed
a policeman who said he saw only ‘‘a rosy sort of brightness,
through which what seemed to be stars appeared. I saw
no figures . . . but some women who were praying there, declared
that they beheld the Blessed Virgin’’ he said. Asked
whether he looked around to see where the brightness came
from, the policeman replied, ‘‘I did, but everything was dark.
There was no light anywhere, except on the gable.’’
The Daily Telegraph reporter also made a detailed investigation
of all possible sources for a magic lantern projection, as
other investigators had done earlier. His finding was as follows
‘‘The chapel stands in a rather extensive yard, which is
bounded, opposite the table, and distant from it some 25 paces,
by a dilapidated wall about four feet high. Beyond this is a large
field and the open country. Within the yard, a little to the north
of a line drawn from the north angle of the gable to the low
wall, stands a schoolhouse, its gable directly facing towards the
east. Obviously, therefore, if the appearances alleged to have
been seen on the chapel wall were due to a magic lantern, the
operator, supposing he could have focussed his picture at such
a distance, must have taken post behind the low wall; or, if stationed
in the school, must have thrown the image on the
‘screen’ at a very considered angle. The wall theory may be dismissed,
because over its tumbled stones the first witness passed
to get a nearer view, and the glare of the lantern would at once
have been detected by the observant policeman. There remains
the notion of a manipulator stationed in the schoolhouse. I
gave my best attention to the windowless gable of that building,
and could find no signs of hole or crack from chimney to foundation.
Going inside among the children, to look at the wall
from that point of view, the plaster appeared untouched, and
the roof too much open to admit a man working between its
apex and what there was of ceiling.’’
One of the witnesses, a Mrs. O’Connell, later recalled how
two church commissioners took her statement in the schoolhouse
and a fortnight later 20 more priests arrived, and carried
out elaborate tests with magic lantern slides. ‘‘They wanted to
make out,’’ she said, ‘‘that the pictures were like the ones we
saw, but they were no more like them and no one could make
them like the apparitions.’’
The Catholic Church is normally skeptical of reported miracles
and is prepared to endorse them only after most careful
and extensive investigation. Moreover, in the case of Knock,
the commission of inquiry had barely completed taking depositions
from witnesses when further visions were reported. Amid
scenes of great religious fervor, similar appearances on the
same church gable were reported on February 9 and on March
25 and 26, 1880. The probability of a prankster being able to
maintain a hoax over a period of several months, in the presence
of investigators and newspaper reporters, seems low.
The magic lantern theory was again revived in a British television
program, ‘‘Is There Anybody There’’ produced by Karl
Sabbagh and telecast on October 31, 1987. In this production
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Knock
869
Nicholas Humphrey demonstrated how a passable magic lantern
image could be projected from within the gable of a Cambridge
church, using a right-angled shaving mirror. Humphrey
suggested fraud by Archdeacon Cavanagh, one of the three
commissioners. In support of the theory, a document from the
State Papers in Dublin Castle was cited in which Cavanagh, parish
priest of Knock, was reported by a spy as criticizing rebels
and consequently endangering his prestige in the area by
championing landlords and attacking local Fenians or Land
League leaders. The idea that Cavanagh, widely respected in
his parish, might resort to fraud was not well received.
Over the years, many remarkable miraculous cures have
been reported in connection with Knock Shrine, including
cures of three archbishops, and Knock has become known as
‘‘the Lourdes of Ireland.’’
Sources
Berman, David. ‘‘Knock Some New Evidence.’’ The British
and Irish Skeptic 1, no. 6 (NovemberDecember 1987).
———. ‘‘Papal Visit Resurrects Ireland’s Knock Legend.’’
The Freethinker (October 1979). Reprinted in The British and
Irish Skeptic 1, no. 1 (JanuaryFebruary 1987).
Coyne, William D. Our Lady of Knock. New York Catholic
Book Publishing, 1948.
MacPhilpin, John. The Apparitions and Miracles at Knock, also
Official Depositons of the Eye-Witnesses. Tuam, Ireland, 1880. 2d
ed. Dublin M. H. Gill & Son, 1894.
Neary, Tom. Our Lady of Knock. London Catholic Truth Society,
1976.
Rynne, Catherine. Knock 1879–1979. Dublin Veritas Publications,
1979.
Walsh, Michael. The Apparition at Knock A Survey of Facts and
Evidence. Tuam, Ireland St. Jarlath’s College, 1959.
Webber, Muriel I. Knock Who Goes There London Protestant
Truth Society, 1980.

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