THE TRUE STORY
“The Lady in the Light”
by the Rev Father John De Marchi, IMC, 1952.
Re-published by Patrimonium Publishing, 2016.
August 13, 1917: THE CHILDREN JAILED
On the following day the children awakened in the mayor’s house at Ourem21, and Jacinta, more than the others, found these strange surroundings difficult to bear. Above all she missed her mother. She began to pray for strength and guidance from the Virgin Mary. The mayor, more like a goblin than a grown man, had marshalled his various scalp-raising devices for the bitter business of the day. The first arrival in the children’s room was an old lady inquisitor, who did everything but spin on her horns to extract the famous secret. She did not succeed, and was withdrawn in favour of the mayor himself. The children were brought before him at approximately ten o’clock. He enlisted charm. He placed shining coins and a beautiful gold chain on the table. “The secret, please?” he requested, but without success. If he believed in angels he’d have suspected a whole armada had left the head of a pin to prop the courage and hold high the resolution of these smudge-nosed saints who stood before him. The Mayor began to feel less clever, even though his bag of tricks had scarcely been opened.
[21. This account of the children’s detention has been taken from various sources, including contemporary witnesses and Lucia’s First Memoir.]
In the afternoon the children were put in the public jail. The imprisonment was real. They were cast among adult and hardened sinners, with the Mayor’s solemn assurance that they would remain in the jail only until a cauldron of boiling oil had been prepared. When the oil was bubbling properly, they would be thrown into it – alive.
They doubted neither the mayor nor his jailers, and for two hours they expected precisely this sizzling end to life on earth. Again Jacinta appears to have suffered the most. She tried to conceal her tears from Lucia and Francisco by gazing through a window to the market square. But Lucia; who was stronger, and who loved her so dearly, wasn’t fooled.
“Why are you crying, Jacinta?”
“Because we’ll die without even seeing our parents,” Jacinta said. “They haven’t even come to see us. That’s how much they care.”
The betrayal, the abandonment, the end of love, were more cruel to her than the prospect of martyrdom. Francisco appears to have passed through this trial with extravagant courage. Like some small Saint Stephen, he was ready for sticks or stones or boiling oil.
“Don’t worry, Jacinta,” he consoled his little sister. “We can offer this for sinners, too.”
This was not play-acting. Their conviction was complete. Nor was there self-conscious piety displayed. The act of reparation, the consignment of personal suffering to God so that He might find even greater mercy for others, had become a natural, everyday thing. They joined their hands and together said, “O my Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners….”
Understandably, to their fellow prisoners, the children did not present a tableau seen every day. Pop-eyed, nudging one another, the inmates crowded close. Awkwardly, fumblingly in their ways, they tried to comfort them, without, however, retreating from their own conviction that these children were crazy.
“Look, be smart,” one of them suggested. “Tell the mayor the secret and you can go home. It doesn’t matter about the Lady.”
“It doesn’t matter?” Jacinta, incredulous, looked at the man. “But we’d much rather die than tell the secret.”
So there you are, and there were the prisoners, scratching their puzzled heads. This sort of thing they had never witnessed before. It touched them, if not spiritually, then at least sentimentally. It tugged at chords of sympathy they were embarrassed to know they still possessed. Unable to dissuade their strange new friends from such grim resolve, they tried then, as best they could, to brighten the burden some way. One of the prisoners had a concertina which he began to squeeze like a musical muff. The result was gay enough. Other prisoners began to sing.
Jacinta was feeling better now. The tears dried on her cheeks, a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. The rhythm and the pleasant nonsense of the moment went to her feet if not to her head. One of the larger inmates invited Jacinta to dance, and with solemn courtesy, she accepted. Lucia, whose sense of comedy has always been as broad as her charity, began to laugh. The prisoner tried valiantly to cope with the size of his partner, but found that the only reasonable solution was to gather her up like a loaf of bread in his arms and continue the dance himself. The concertina labored merrily along.
It was all very amusing, we are told, and gloom departed the jail cell like a frightened cat. But Jacinta, while being whirled, came suddenly to realise this was not – as far as she knew – an indulgenced preparation for martyrdom. She did not know if her beloved Lady would approve of the general commotion. She asked the prisoner please to put her down, and when he had, she dug deep in her pocket for a holy medal, which she then, with some ceremony, hung from a nail on one of the walls. Devoutly, with Lucia and Francisco, she knelt on the bare floor and began to recite the Rosary aloud. Automatically, the older prisoners knelt in deep respect, the single flaw in their gesture being one man’s failure to remove his hat. Francisco, to correct this, got up and walked over to him.
“Sir, when you pray,” he remarked, perhaps too smugly, “you are expected to take off your hat.”
The prisoner, flustered by the amused hoots of his cell mates, took it off all right, then heaved it violently to the floor. Francisco very politely retrieved it, dusted it, and placed it gently on a bench. It was a lovely incident, and the angels, it seems fair to assume, were working overtime.
But suddenly, while they were praying, there was a frightening clamour beyond the door. It opened and a prison guard stood sternly there.
“You three,” he said. “Yes, you. It’s time.”
In their own minds, at least, they stepped forward to the doom for which they had prepared. Once again they were obliged to face the mayor.
“Well?” he said.
There was no reply. No sign of capitulation. The mayor was baffled. In the children’s presence he gave elaborate orders about the preparation of the boiling oil, and was assured by his aides that it was boiling very nicely. The mayor then turned to the children.
“It’s your last chance to tell the secret. Do you hear? Well – do you?” His glance settled on Jacinta, who trembled and paled. The terror swelled within her. “Take that one first!” he shouted to the guards. “Throw her into the cauldron!”
“Dear Jesus, help me! Our Lady help me!” Jacinta called aloud. The guards grasped her and shook her, but found her resolution still unshaken. The secret remained her own. The door closed behind her. The staging was effective, and the drama, as far as the children knew, entirely real.
Lucia, left alone with Francisco, turned to him. He had really become quite a fellow. And if, as so many have concluded, he was the least favoured of our Lady’s small friends, he had aimed himself point-blank at heaven. Clearly, he could hardly wait for the glad someday.
“If they kill us,” he said, “what about it? We’ll be in heaven, won’t we, Lucia? Is there anything more you could want?”
“No, Francisco, I’m sure there is not.”
She watched him tug at the rosary in his pocket. She saw his lips move now in prayer. A guard, watching them closely, came over.
“What are you saying?” the guard inquired.
“An Ave Maria,” Francisco said, “so my little sister will not be afraid.”
Beyond the room there was ominous silence until the door swung open. The guard who had taken his sister away, placed heavy hands on Francisco.
“Your sister’s well cooked by now, young man. It’s your turn next. You might as well come out with that secret. Don’t be a crazy and stubborn fool. Tell his excellency what he wants to know.”
“I can’t,” Francisco said. “It isn’t possible. I can’t tell anyone.”
They led him through the door and only Lucia remained. The oldest of the children, she was only ten. From the beginning she had not doubted that the cauldron of oil was real. Her inquisitors, returning, and carrying their wrathful drama to its clumsy and faltering conclusion, were naturally as unsuccessful with Lucia as they had been with the others. In another few moments the children were joyfully together, and the only thing resembling a cauldron of boiling oil, was the temper of his honour, mayor, administrator, and torch-bearer of the new “enlightenment,” who did not believe in God.
That evening the mayor’s wife fed them well, and they slept together happily under the mayor’s roof. By the morning of the Feast of the Assumption, his honour gave up, and in concession to popular sentiment, returned the children by carriage to the presbytery of Father Ferreira, the pastor of Fatima.
In Fatima, on August 15, Father Ferreira was concluding the last Mass of the holy day. His parishioners were restless through the final prayers. Glances were anxious and meaningful. Curiosity was high. As soon as they were outside the church, the people gathered close and demanding around Ti Marto.
“Where are the children?” they wanted to know. “What has happened to them, Ti Marto? How much do you know? Or is it that you do not care?”
Outside the church I tried to tell the people that I knew nothing about the children, really, but only trusted in God. On the day they were taken away, I explained, my stepson, Antonio, and some other boys, reported they had seen them playing on the veranda of the mayor’s house at Ourem, but they could be anywhere now, even at Santarem.
Well, just as I was telling them this, I heard somebody shouting, “Hey, Ti Marto – look! There they are now, on the porch of the presbytery.” I can tell you I don’t know how I got there, but the first thing I knew I was holding and hugging my Jacinta. I can even remember that I picked her up and held her in my right arm – so, like this, and I am not ashamed to say my tears were such that they got my little girl all wet. The other two, Francisco and Lucia, they ran up to me. “Father, Uncle,” they said, “give us your blessings” You can be sure I did, and that it was a wonderful moment for me.
Just at this time now there appears a funny little man who is a kind of official. He works for the mayor. Well, this man is so frightened he cannot stop trembling. I have never seen anyone tremble in this way. He said to me then, this little man, he said, “Well, here are your children.”
I said to him then, “This affair could have ended very badly, and it is not your fault that it hasn’t.” He did not say anything. “You wanted them to say they were lying, but they would not,” I told this man. “And even if they had been so frightened that they gave in to you, I would still have told the truth of it!”
Well, by this time, in the square, there is a terrible noise of the angry people. They are shouting and waving their arms and making threats. They are on my side, you understand, but they are dangerous this way. Father Ferreira hears all this noise and climbs to the top of the presbytery steps where I am standing with the children. He thinks I am making the trouble and he says to me, “Senhor Manuel Marto – are you causing all this disturbance?”
Me? I was still holding Jacinta in my arms. I called down to the people in the square, “Be quiet, all of you! You are shouting against the mayor and you are shouting against Father Ferreira – quiet! You don’t even know why you are shouting. This trouble, I tell you, comes from a lack of faith in God, and that is why He permits it.”
Well, Father Ferreira seemed satisfied. From the porch we had gone inside the house. He went to a window then and faced the people.
“Senhor Marto is right; he is quite right,” he called to them.
At this moment the mayor himself arrived at the presbytery and came upstairs to where we were standing by the window. With authority now he shows himself to the people and says to me, “That is enough, Senhor Marto; that is enough.”
To keep the peace I said, “It is all right. Nothing has happened to the children.”
After a while the mayor called me into Father Ferreira’s office. Looking at me, he said to Father Ferreira, “For myself, I prefer the conversation of Abobora (meaning “The Pumpkin,” Lucia’s father), but I suppose I must talk with Senhor Marto, too.”
He meant by this that he did not like the religious tone of my talk and Father Ferreira said to him, politely but firmly,
“Mr Mayor, we cannot do without religion.”
Well, the mayor thought about this, and perhaps to show what a generous man he was, he invited me to have a glass of wine with him at the tavern. I refused his invitation, but just then I saw a group of noisy boys below us; they were armed with sticks, and I said to myself there will be serious trouble if the anger of the crowd is not relieved, so I said to the mayor, “All right, I will have a drink with you.”
He felt better then, because he knew the way the people felt. At the bottom of the stairs, so they could hear him, he said, “You can be sure I treated the children very well.”
I did not at the time know exactly how he had treated them, but they seemed all right to me.
“It’s not I who is worried,” I said to him. “It’s the people who want to know.”
The crowd broke up and the danger was past. In the tavern then, feeling more secure, he started a silly conversation of some kind, then tried to tell me that the children had told him their secret. Very calmly, I said then, “Certainly, certainly; they wouldn’t tell the secret to their own mother or father, so it’s natural they would tell it to you.”
Meanwhile the children had gone to the Cova da Iria to pray. The mayor insisted on taking me in his carriage down to the post office where I had to go. It was amusing, in a way. Some of the people saw me in the carriage and began to shout, “There goes Ti Marto! He’s talked too much, and the tinker is taking him off to jail!”
The children’s release from the mayor’s custody brought joy and new hope to their followers – by now a sizeable and expanding cult. They had been deeply moved by the strange events in the Cova da Iria on the August 13th just past. The rainbow colours that had washed the earth with strange and unexplained beauty at the alleged time of the Virgin’s visitation, had more than impressed; it had left a deposit of wonder with all who were there. The new advocates were many, and chief among the faithful was the pious and unwavering Maria da Capelinha, who was stumbling into troubles of her own.
The good Maria was being hung on an ancient hook, cash money. Involuntarily she had become the receiver of alms left on the little table that she had covered with candles and flowers, not in hope of any material gain, but only to honour the Lady in whom she believed. Now the money was a problem, and began to burn warm in her hands. She has herself related to the author the embarrassment caused her by these unsolicited cash receipts:
Maria da Capelinha:
When the people in the Cova heard that the children had been imprisoned on that August 13th and had seen the wondrous sign of the Lady, you can imagine how much money poured onto that table. The people pushed so hard all around it, that I thought at one moment that it was going to upset. They began to shout at me:
“Take the money, woman, take it and look after it; see that you don’t lose any….” I had my lunch bag with me and began to put the money in that. In the afternoon when there weren’t many people there, I saw Tia Olimpia’s eldest son, Antonio, passing by, and I said to him:
“Will you come here a moment?” He came, but when he saw what it was all about, he wouldn’t say anything and went away. So I took the money home and counted it. It came to 13 ‘mil’ and 40 ‘reis’ if I remember rightly [about $5]. The bag was very heavy, because in those days we had the other coinage. So on the 14th I told my husband that it would be better to go and take the money to Ti Marto. When we arrived, we found Senhora Rosa and Father Ferreira there, too. I can still see him leaning against the wall. I was even rather rude, because I went straight up to Senhor Marto and gave him the money instead of to Father, as I should have done. But Jacinta’s father absolutely refused to accept it:
“Don’t try me any more, woman, I’m tried enough already!” Then I gave it to Lucia’s mother but she said angrily: “God forbid! I don’t want it either….”
I was getting upset by this time and turned to Father Ferreira, and offered it to him. He refused absolutely to take the money. It might have had a curse on it. Then I saw red, too:
“I won’t have it either,” I declared. “I’ll go out and put it back where I found it!” Then Father Ferreira tried to calm me and said:
“Don’t do that, woman, keep it, or give it to someone to take care of until we see what comes of all this.”
Some days later four men arrived and asked me for the money to begin the building of a chapel. I told them that I wouldn’t give them a penny of it, but afterwards I thought that I shouldn’t have done that without asking Father Ferreira. He told me that he didn’t want to have anything to do with it but that, personally, he wouldn’t give it to them as they had no right to ask. He told me to do as I liked, and said that what I had done so far was all right. And so the muddle over the money continued. Those whom I offered it to, wouldn’t take it, and those who wanted it didn’t get it!
This went on until the 19th of August. It was a Sunday and I went to Mass as usual. Afterwards I saw Lucia’s father in the square. Lucia was playing there, too. I thought I would take the opportunity to try and straighten things out. People had warned me to be careful of him because he was often drunk and had been heard to say if he could catch me in the Cova he’d soon put things right, etc. So I went up to him and saw at once that he was sober. After greeting him I said:
“I think you are annoyed because I go on to your ground at the Cova and put flowers there. I have come to ask your permission to go there.” And he answered:
“Put as many flowers as you like; what I don’t want is tabernacles on my land. Someone has already asked me, and I wouldn’t give permission on account of the children getting into those crowds. If they’re lying then they can look after themselves; and if they’re not – well, then it doesn’t matter what happens, crowds or no crowds.” I thought he was taking it well, all things considered, and I had confidence in our Lady.
“Someone told me,” he continued, “that you took a lot of money away from my land, but I don’t want it.”
“Nor do I,” I said.
“What are you going to do with it, then?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps I’d better have Masses said for the intentions of the people who gave it.” At that moment the idea came into my head to ask Lucia to ask our Lady what she wanted done with the money. She told me not to worry, and that on the day of the next apparition in September she would ask about it. That was a great weight off my mind.
Maria had no way of knowing that day, how promptly an answer would come. On the following Sunday, which was the nineteenth of the month, the children went to the Cova da Iria to say the Rosary, after Mass in the Fatima church. There were several others who came along, among them Lucia’s sister, Teresa, her husband, and a gentleman from nearby Moita whose name was Senhor Alves. A good man, the Senhor had asked the children to be his guests at lunch when they had finished with their prayers. No one objected to this kind invitation except Lucia’s mother, who complained that her daughter’s pre-occupation with such a gay program might cause her to neglect pasturing the sheep in the cool, late afternoon. Lucia, however, was back in Aljustrel on time, with Francisco, Jacinta, and their oldest brother, John. Jacinta was called into the house by her mother, while the others went off with the sheep.