I’ve been to Fatima before. Back in September 2005 I went on a trip with my Italian friends, which we started in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. From there, we crossed into Portugal and visited various places. The Portuguese leg of the journey started in Porto and finished in Lisbon. In between, we went to Braga, Porto, Coimbra, Leiria and also to Fatima.
This time, I went to Portugal with a different group of friends. We were in Lisbon and, as we had a car, we decided to do a day trip to Fatima, especially as none of them had been there before. Fatima is some 130km from Lisbon, which means that it’s possible to go there and come back in one day.
Fatima is a very small city and, in reality, it’s not particularly interesting. The only reason why you would want to go there is to visit the Sanctuary of our Lady of Fatima. In fact, that’s why some 4 million people visit that place every year. So, what is the story behind?
What happened was that back in 1916 an angel appeared three times, to three little shepherds. It was then assumed that the Virgin Mary had appeared to the children. The apparitions culminated in October 1917. After that, no one has seen the vision of the Virgin Mary in that same place again.
The Catholic Church started the canonical process in 1922. The church eventually recognised these claims as “worthy of belief”.
SANCTUARY OF OUR LADY OF FATIMA
Construction of the main sanctuary started in 1928 and it lasted until 1954. It’s a huge complex that can house up to 1 million visitors on most significant apparition days – the 13th May and the 13th October.
I don’t want to get into discussion with regard to whether this supernatural event really occurred. It may or may not be true. Three children claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary. Surely, they must have seen something to make that claim. Perhaps, they were meticulously instructed? But being so young, the question is for how long they would have been able to consistently maintain the same story? Also, no one else witnessed the miracle, apart from the three of them, despite the fact that the Virgin appeared several times.
Additionally, it is in the interest of the Catholic Church for places like Fatima to exist. After all, the church wants to maintain and advance its ideology and influence.
Perhaps, I am slightly sceptical although I would definitely believe in the apparition if I saw it with my own eyes.
Regardless, I am actually very glad that this place exists. Not so much this time, but the first time when I visited Fatima, there were many people at the sanctuary. I remember seeing a lot of people in wheelchairs and on stretchers, with severe disabilities and illnesses. Perhaps, the weather was far too hot this time for many people to visit. In any case, back then they were all there in search of a miracle, to cure whatever problem they had.
If visiting places like Fatima installs hope of recovery to otherwise destitute people, then I fully support their existence. But, for as long as the religious aspect does not try to overtake and dominate their lives. Although, I fear that the Catholic Church tries to precisely do that and I don’t think that’s correct.
BASILICA OF OUR LADY OF THE ROSARY
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary is the main structure in the sanctuary. Admittedly, it’s not a very big church and certainly it can’t accommodate huge numbers of visitors that come to this place.
In these photos you can see that there weren’t many people at the sanctuary when we were there.
As I mentioned, it was a very hot day and at one point it became impossible to stay in the sun for a longer period of time.
There are colonnades at both sides of the main entrance into the Basilica.
Inside, the Basilica is not very big. People that you can see inside of the church were all visitors like us, probably also taking refuge from an oppressive outside heat. There was nothing happening in the church, there was no service of any kind.
I was slightly surprised with the interior decoration. Although I visited this church in the past, I didn’t remember its interior and I expected to see something much more opulent, the same as you can usually see in Catholic churches and cathedrals.
There are also sculptures of the three little shepherds, to whom the Virgin Mary appeared.
The fact that they carry lambs in their hands points out that it was them that witnessed the miracle.
Additionally, all around the Basilica you can see various images of Jesus Christ, as depicted in the Bible. The image below is the Flagellation of Christ.
Outside of the Basilica, there is an area where you can buy and burn a candle. There was a long queue of people burning candles. Because of the intense heat coming from the burning area, it was impossible to approach and position the candle to burn properly. Rather, people were just throwing them into the designated area.
I think that the most interesting thing that you can see in the Sanctuary are the penitents. On this occasion, there were only a handful of them. Last time when I was in Fatima, there was a huge number of people that engaged in a ritual kneeling or crawling from the top of the Sanctuary, until the Chapel of the Apparitions.
It’s a long stretch that requires some significant physical effort. I assume that it was deliberately made like that, so that the penitents experience physical pain and suffering before they reach the Chapel of the Apparitions. In other words, almost exactly the same as what Jesus Christ felt on the day of his crucifixion.
BASILICA OF THE HOLY TRINITY
As I’ve already mentioned, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary is not big enough to accommodate big numbers of worshippers. That’s why the Basilica of the Holy Trinity was constructed in 2007, at the other end of the Sanctuary.
Architecturally, it differs dramatically from the classical appearance of the original Basilica.
The main altar in this new Basilica has the Virgin Mary statue.
CHAPEL OF THE APPARITIONS
The Chapel of the Apparitions, built in the 1920s, is another focal point of the Sanctuary. It marks the exact place where the Virgin Mary appeared before the three little shepherds. It’s where the penitents go in circles, on their knees, while praying for a miracle to happen.
Several hours is more than enough to visit this Sanctuary. It means that you don’t really need to stay in Fatima, rather a day visit from Lisbon is perfectly fine.
However, if you decide to go there for religious reasons, it’s a different story. In that case, you have to decide how long to stay, depending on what you want to do.
We went there as tourists, but perhaps also in search of a miracle!