“The Lady in the Light”

by the Rev Father John De Marchi, IMC, 1952.

Re-published by Patrimonium Publishing, 2016.


Now, in September, exhausted by trial, the children thirsted for the consolation of their Lady. There was no comparable nourishment. All hope and faith and love were one with the Lady who came dressed in the light of her Son. A scathing disrespect for the apparitions continued to thrive in Aljustrel, even though, beyond the parish, the faithful multiplied. The courage and constancy of the children before the mayor had affected many, as had the strange phenomena of light observed in the Cova da Iria the month before.

Today the pilgrims came in rather remarkable array, and by noontime there were 30,000 in the crude, natural bowl of the Cova da Iria. Even at dawn the roads near Fatima were reported blocked with the faithful, most of them devoutly reciting their beads.

A witness has told us:

It was a pilgrimage really worthy of the name. It was a profoundly moving sight. I had not in all my life seen such a demonstration of faith. At the place of the apparitions, all the men had removed their hats. Nearly everyone knelt and said the Rosary with clear devotion.

A young seminarist of the time, present in the Cova with a group of his fellow students, has recalled the day for us:

On the 13th of September our long vacation was nearly over and we didn’t want to go back to the seminary without having visited this place of which we had heard so much. A group of four or five of us set out on foot to see what would happen.
We returned, tired but very happy. There were quite a number of seminarists in Fatima that day – some thirty, perhaps from various seminaries. And this should not have been surprising, because the same idea brought all of them there.
For a long time we went along, jumping from rock to rock and climbing walls and stiles, watching everything that went on and talking about it among ourselves. One of the priests, however, called us over to him, and warned us to be prudent about this affair. It could all be of diabolical origin, he explained, and, in any event, it would most likely end in a great fiasco. That was the attitude of most priests, anyhow.

Among the Catholic clergy present in the Cova da Iria that day was Monsignor John Quaresma, Vicar General of the diocese of Leiria, who later became a member of the Canonical Inquiry into Fatima instituted by the bishop. A letter written by him in 1932, gives a detailed and moving description of the impressions he carried away:

Fifteen years have passed since the extraordinary events of Fatima. Heavy clouds hung over Portugal and her people, while sadness and despair reigned in our country. In the midst of this darkness innumerable prayers were offered to God, asking for help and for mercy.
Men hoped for a ray of light in the storm which human passions had provoked. The Lord heard the prayer of His servants, and in the sky of Fatima there appeared, like the rainbow after the flood, a vision of Peace. The vision spoke to three children, and at once the terrible clouds began to disperse and souls breathed again as the burden of sadness was laid aside. Eyes, longing for the light, searched the skies where the morning star shone.
Now, may it not be that these simple children were mistaken? May they not have been victims of an illusion? Yet it is always possible that our Lady may come to earth to bring us a message. Could there be some truth in what the children said? How explain these ever-growing multitudes that filled the Cova every thirteenth day of the month declaring that they witnessed extraordinary phenomena?
So on a beautiful September morning we left Leiria in a rickety carriage drawn by an old horse, for the spot where the much-discussed apparitions were said to take place. Father Gois found the dominating point of the vast amphitheatre from which we could observe events, without approaching too nearly the place where the children were awaiting the apparition.
At midday there was complete silence. One only heard the murmur of prayers. Suddenly there were sounds of jubilation and voices praising the Blessed Virgin. Arms were raised pointing to something in the sky. “Look, don’t you see?”
“Yes, yes, I do… !” Much satisfaction on the part of those who do. There had not been a cloud in the deep blue of the sky and I, too, raised my eyes and scrutinised it in case I should be able to distinguish what the others, more fortunate than I, had already claimed to have seen.
With great astonishment I saw, clearly and distinctly, a luminous globe, which moved from the east to the west, gliding slowly and majestically through space. My friend also looked, and had the good fortune to enjoy the same unexpected and delightful vision. Suddenly the globe, with its extraordinary light, disappeared.
Near us was a little girl dressed like Lucia, and more or less the same age. She continued to cry out happily: “I still see it! I still see it! Now it’s coming down… !”
After a few minutes, about the duration of the apparitions, the child began to exclaim again, pointing to the sky: “Now it’s going up again!” – and she followed the globe with her eyes until it disappeared in the direction of the sun. “What do you think of that globe?” I asked my companion, who seemed enthusiastic at what he had seen. “That it was our Lady,” he replied without hesitation.
It was my undoubted conviction also. The children had contemplated the very Mother of God, while to us it had been given to see the means of transport – if one may so express it – which brought her from heaven to the inhospitable waste of the Serra da Aire. I must emphasise that all those around us appeared to have seen the same thing, for one heard manifestations of joy and praises of our Lady. But some saw nothing. Near us was a simple devout creature, crying bitterly because she had seen nothing.
We felt remarkably happy. My companion went from group to group in the Cova and afterwards on the road, gathering information. Those he questioned -were of all sorts and kinds, and of different social standing, but one and all affirmed the reality of the phenomena which we ourselves had witnessed.
With immense satisfaction we set off for home after this pilgrimage to Fatima, firmly resolved to return on the 13th of October for further confirmation of these facts.

The impressions of Monsignor Quaresma on this day were confirmed by thousands of eyewitnesses who beheld the identical phenomena This is not carelessly stated. It is legitimately known. Other manifestations, strange and moving, were observed by many but not by all. The sudden freshening of the atmosphere that had attended prior apparitions, the midday sun paling strangely until stars were visible in the daytime sky; a falling of flower petals that somehow disintegrated and were gone before they could reach the earth.

As for Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, it had been a busy day. From the first hours of daylight the Marto and Santos houses had been overrun by petitioning pilgrims who had come all kinds of distances to lay their miseries and afflictions before the mercy of the Lady of Fatima. Lucia, in her memoirs, has recalled for us the hour of departure for the Cova da Iria:

Lucia recalls:

When the time came, I left with Jacinta and Francisco, but we were surrounded by so many people that we could hardly move along. The roads were packed, and it seemed as if every. one wanted to see us and speak to us. Ladies and gentlemen, as well as simple people, struggled to break through the crowd to us, and when they succeeded, they would fall on their knees before us, begging us to place their petitions before our Lady. Many who couldn’t get close to us, shouted from a distance.
“For the love of God,” I can remember one saying, “ask our Lady to cure my crippled son!”
“And mine who is deaf!” another would shout. “And mine who is blind!”
It went on like that. They asked to have their sons and husbands brought back from the war. They asked for the conversion of some particular sinner. They asked for the cure of consumption. They asked for everything. Every ailment of humanity seemed to be paraded before us. Some climbed up into trees or to the tops of the walls to see us go by. Closer by, we tried to answer some of the people and to help others out of the dust where they were kneeling. We would not have been able to move at all if some hadn’t worked hard to keep an opening in the crowd.

It was almost time now, and they came down through the crowd to the cleared space by the little oak tree, like champions to a place of contest. They were comically small, and almost tragically sincere. If this was make-believe, it had been carried to a point of agony.

They knelt on the ground, then Lucia, her rosary in hand, began to lead the prayers. The responses of the faithful came in cadenced and increasing volume:

“Holy Mary, Mother of God….”

Now, while the beads were being told, the crowd could see the children rise from their knees and face to the east, and see the wonder come alive upon their faces. A moment while the children waited, watching, watching, their eyes on the oak tree now, their joy like a flame. They had fallen to their knees again, and people, close to Lucia, heard her say:

“What do you want of me?”

But for Lucia and her cousins there were no people. Their senses could not wholly accommodate the Queen of Heaven standing in gentle courtesy above them. There was room for nothing more. Neither smiling nor grave, the Lady gave her simple, direct, and unadorned instructions:

Continue the Rosary, my children. Say it every day that the war may end.

“Is that all?”

No, there was more, because the Lady repeated all she had told them the month before, reminding them that in October they would see Saint Joseph with the Holy Child. God Himself would be seen and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Our Lady of Dolours would appear.

The Lady paused. Her triumphant beauty softened, her voice became more tenderly maternal.

God is pleased with your sacrifices,” she said, “but He does not want you to wear the cords to bed. Keep them on only in the day.

Lucia, whose eyes had been lowered during the Lady’s statement of God’s approval of their sacrifices, dared now to raise her glance.

“I have the petitions of many for your help,” she said.

“Will you assist a little girl who is deaf and dumb?”

She will improve within the year,” the Lady said.

“And the conversions that some have asked to have brought about? The cures of the sick ones?”

Some I will cure,” the Lady said, “and some I will not. Our Lord does not trust them all.

Lucia, obedient and satisfied, accepted this decision. She then remembered the desires of Maria da Capelinha and other pious women who had believed in the apparitions from the beginning.

“Would you like a small chapel to be built here with the money the people have left?” she asked.

Yes. I would like a small chapel built in honour of Our Lady of the Rosary. But tell them to use only half the money for this. The other half is to be for the andors that you already know about.

Lucia’s thoughts turned inward to personal problems.

“So many believe that I am an impostor and a cheat,” she said, “that they say I deserve to be hanged and burned. Will you please perform a miracle so that all of them can believe?”

In October,” the Lady said, repeating her earlier promise, “I will perform a miracle that will permit everyone to believe.

The interview was over. The vision rose as before, and Lucia, beholding her Lady, called to the crowd, “If you wish to see her – look! Look!”

And they gazed, of course, as the child directed. They saw no Lady, but many did see the radiant globule of light that marked her path from the wretched little oak tree to the firmament, of which she was the Queen. In wonder they watched the ball of light move down the valley, gradually rising until it appeared to have joined the light of the sun itself. After a silence, their emotions overflowed, and the crowd noise poured like a wild surf over the parched heights of the serra. The children’s parents struggled to salvage them from the pressing weight of the mob. Long hours after, until and beyond the welcome fall of night, the frantically faithful besieged the three small children in their homes at Aljustrel.

In the September days that followed the fifth apparition, Aljustrel became a kind of religious Coney Island for the eagerly pietistic and, as well, for those less reverent idlers lacking better things to do. The questions asked were for the most part irrelevant or irrational, serving no clear purpose in heaven or Portugal, except to stretch the patience of the children and their parents.

It was around this time, that the bewildered young seers acquired an intelligent, unemotional and desperately needed friend. A priest named Dr Manuel Formigao, professor at the Seminary and Lyceum of Santarem, had attended the alleged apparition of September 13. A prudent, understanding, and scholarly gentleman, he had not been much impressed with the “spiritual” aspects of what had seemed to him no more than a pious picnic. Standing about two hundred yards from the kneeling children during those moments they were reported in direct communication with the Mother of God, Dr Formigao had seen none of the remarkable phenomena reported by so many. The only odd thing he had observed was a diminution in the light of the sun, and he had been able, reasonably, to attribute this to the height of the serra.

The one thing to puncture the doctor’s sceptical reserve was the actual conduct of the children in their dramatic circumstance. Their manner, their unaffected reverence, their apparent sincerity and lack of theatrical sham – all these remained in his mind like memoranda pinned there by an angel. For this reason alone, on September 27, he returned to see them again.

A record of Dr Formigao’s first conversation with Francisco follows:

“What have you seen in the Cova da Iria during these months?”
“I have seen our Lady.”
“Where does she appear?”
“The top of an oak tree.”
“Does she appear suddenly, or do you see her coming from anywhere?”
“I see her coming from the side where the sun rises and stops on the oak tree.”
“Does she come slowly or quickly?”
“She always comes quickly.”
“Do you hear what she says to Lucia?”
“Do you ever speak to the Lady? Has she ever spoken to you?”
“No, I have never asked her anything. She only speaks to Lucia.”
“Who does she look at? At you and Jacinta or only at Lucia?”
“She looks at all three of us, but she looks longer at Lucia.”
“Did she ever cry or smile?”
“Neither, she is always serious.”
“How is she dressed?”
“She has a long dress, and over it a mantle which covers her head and falls to the edge of her dress.”
“What is the colour of the dress and the mantle?”
“It is white, and the dress has gold lines.”
“What is her attitude?”
“Like someone praying. She has her hands joined at the height of her breast.”
“Does she carry anything in her hands?”
“Round the palm and the back of her right hand she carries a rosary.”
“And what does she wear on her ears?”
“You cannot see her ears, because they are covered by the mantle.”
“Is the Lady beautiful?”
“Yes, she is.”
“More beautiful than that girl over there?”
“But there are ladies who are much more beautiful than that girl?”
“She was more beautiful than anyone I have ever seen.”
After I had finished questioning Francisco, I called Jacinta, who was playing in the road with some other children, and sitting her on a little stool at my side, I subjected her to a similar interrogation, and succeeded in obtaining complete and detailed replies as in the case of her brother:
“Have you see our Lady on the 13th of each month since May?”
“Where does she come from?”
“She comes from the sky from the side of the sun.”
“How is she dressed?”
“She has a white dress, decorated with gold, and on her head a mantle, also white.”
“What colour is her hair?”
“You cannot see her hair, because it is covered by the mantle.”
“Does she wear earrings?”
“I don’t know, because you cannot see her ears.”
“How does she hold her hands?”
“Her hands are joined at the height of her breast, with the fingers pointing upwards.”
“Are the beads in the right or the left hand?”
To this question the child replied at first that they were in the right hand, but just after, owing to a purposely captious insistence on my part, she became perplexed and confused and was not able to indicate with certainty the hand in which the Vision had held the rosary.
“What was the chief thing that our Lady told Lucia?”
“She said that we were to say the Rosary every day.”
“And do you say it?”
“I say it every day with Francisco and Lucia.”
Half an hour after this interrogation, Lucia appeared. She came from a little property belonging to her family where she had been helping with the vintage.
Taller and better nourished than the other two, with a clearer skin and a more robust, healthier appearance, she presented herself before me with an unselfconciousness which contrasted in a marked manner with the shyness and timidity of Jacinta. Simply dressed, like the latter, neither her attitude nor her expression denoted a sign of vanity, still less of confusion.
Seating herself on a chair at my side, in response to my gesture, she willingly consented to be questioned on the events in which she was the principal protagonist, in spite of the fact that she was visibly fatigued and depressed by the incessant visits and the repeated and lengthy questionings to which she was subjected.
“Is it true that our Lady has appeared in a place called the Cova da Iria?”
“Yes, it is true.”
“How many times has she appeared to you?”
“Five times, once each month.”
“On what day of the month?”
“Always on the 13th, except in the month of August, when I was taken to Ourem by the mayor. In that month I only saw her a few days afterwards, on the 19th, at Valinhos.”
“People say that our Lady also appeared to you last year? Is there any truth in this?”
“She never appeared to me last year, never before May of this year; nor did I ever say so to anybody, because it is not true.”
“Where does she come from? From the east?”
“I don’t know because I don’t see her come from anywhere. She appears over the oak tree and when she goes away she goes into the sky in the direction where the sun rises.”
“How long does she stay? A long or a short time?”
“A short time.”
“Enough to be able to recite an Our Father and Hail Mary, or more?”
“A good deal more, but it is not always the same time; perhaps it would not be long enough to say a Rosary.”
“The first time you saw her were you frightened?”
“I was, so much so that I wanted to run away with Jacinta and Francisco, but she told us not to be afraid because she would not hurt us.”
“How is she dressed?”
“She has a white dress, which reaches to her feet, and her head was covered with a mantle, the same colour and the same length.”
“Has the dress anything on it?”
“You can see, in the front, two gold cords which fall from the neck and are joined at the waist by a tassel, also gold.”
“Is there any belt or ribbon?”
“Her earrings? ”
“They are little rings.”
“In which hand does she hold the rosary?”
“In the right hand.”
“Is it a rosary of five or fifteen decades?”
“I didn’t notice.”
“Had it a cross?”
“Yes, a white cross and the beads, too, were white; so was the chain.”
“Did you ever ask who she was?”
“I did, but she said she would only tell us on the 13th of October.”
“Did you ask her where she came from?”
“I did, and she told me that she came from heaven.”
“When did you ask her this?”
“The second time, on the 13th of June.”
“Did she smile sometimes, or was she sad?”
“She neither smiled, nor was she sad; she was always serious.”
“Did she tell you and your cousins to say certain prayers?”
“She told us to say the Rosary in honour of Our Lady of the Rosary, to obtain the peace of the world.”
“Did she say that many people were to be present in the Cova da Iria during the apparitions of the 13th?”
“She said nothing about that.”
“Is it true that she told you a secret that you were not to tell to anybody at all?”
“Does it only concern you or your cousins also?”
“It concerns all three of us.”
“Could you not tell it even to your confessor?”
At this question Lucia was silent and appeared confused. I judged it better not to insist by repeating the question.
“In order to free yourself from the mayor on the day he imprisoned you, did you tell him something as if it were the secret, thus deceiving him and boasting of it afterwards?”
“That is not true. Senhor Santos really did want me to reveal the secret, but I could not, and did not do so, although he tried in every way to make me do what he wanted. I told the mayor everything that the Lady had said to me except the secret. Perhaps it was because of this that he thought I had told him the secret too. I never wanted to deceive him.”
“Did the Lady tell you to learn to read?”
“Yes, the second time she appeared.”
“But if she told you that she would take you to heaven in October next, what would be the good of learning to read?”
“That is not true. The Lady never said that she would take me to heaven in October, and I never told anyone that she had said such a thing.”
“What did the Lady say was to be done with the money which the people left under the oak tree in the Cova da Iria?”
“She said that we were to make two andors and that I and Jacinta and two more girls were to carry one, and Francisco with three more boys the other, to the parish church. Part of this money was to be for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and the rest to help to build a new chapel.”
“Where does the Lady want the chapel built? In the Cova da Iria?”
“I don’t know; she didn’t say.”
“Are you glad that our Lady appeared to you?”
“On the 13th of October will our Lady come alone?”
“Saint Joseph and the Holy Child will come, and a little time afterwards the world will have peace.”
“Did our Lady reveal anything more?”
“She said that on the 13th of October she would perform a miracle so that the people can believe that she appeared.”
“Why do you often lower your eyes, instead of keeping them on the Lady?”
“Because she sometimes blinds me.”
“Did she teach you any prayer?”
“Yes, and she wants us to recite it after each mystery of the Rosary.”
“Do you know this prayer by heart?”
“Say it.”
O my Jesus, forgive us and deliver us from the fire of hell. Take all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.

Dr Formigao returned to his seminary at Santarem, pondering seriously and prayerfully the strange case of the children of Aljustrel. For better or worse he believed them. He was convinced they told the truth, at least as they saw the truth, which did not exclude a possibility that in all their honesty, they were yet the victims of hallucination. Indeed the doctor in his charity would have allowed it altogether possible to be both virtuous and crazy.

Yet he did not think they were crazy; and he did not believe they had lied. Consistent with the priestly responsibility he felt, he resolved to visit the children at least once more before the scheduled “miracle” of October 13. He travelled as far as Vila Nova de Ourem by train and completed the journey to Fatima by horse-drawn carriage. He arrived too late to question the children, and for that reason spent the night with a family named Goncalves. Manuel Goncalves, the eldest son of the house, and a man of bright good sense, was able to supply him with information about the families of the children. Happily this dialogue has been preserved and is presented intact.

Dr Formigao is the first to speak:

“Have the parents of these children a good name? Are they respectable, decent living people?”
“The parents of Jacinta and Francisco are very good people, profoundly religious and well thought of by everybody. Lucia’s father is not a churchgoer, but he is not at all a bad man. On the thirteenth of June some of his more disreputable friends succeeded in making him drunk in the hope of getting him to commit some folly or other in the place of the apparitions, and although he had allowed his daughter to go to the place as usual, he ordered the other people off, as proprietor of the ground where the oak tree grows. When the people saw that he was drunk, they took no notice of his order, but a man pushed him so that he fell to the ground. The mother is a pious hard-working woman.”
“What do the inhabitants of Fatima think of the children’s affirmations? Do they believe them? Do they think they are lying, or perhaps victims of a hallucination?”
“At first the people did not want to go to the Cova. No one believed the children. On the 13th of June, the day of the second apparition, there was a feast in the parish in honour of Saint Anthony. In the Cova there were only about seventy people at the time of the apparition. The parents of Jacinta and Francisco had gone in the morning to Porto de Mos for the so-called ‘Fair of the thirteenth,’ with the intention of buying oxen and returning at night. In their absence the house filled up with people who wanted to see the children and question them. At present a large proportion of the people think that the children are speaking the truth. For my own part I am convinced of this.”
“On the days of the apparitions are there extraordinary signs? Many people claim to have seen them.”
“The signs are very numerous. In August almost everyone who was present saw them. A cloud came down on the oak tree. In July the same thing was seen, and there was no dust. The cloud seemed to sweep the air clean.”
“Were there any other signs?”
“In the sky, near the sun, there were some white clouds which turned successively bright red (the colour of blood), pink and yellow. The people themselves turned this last colour. The light of the sun sensibly diminished in intensity, and in July and August a noise was heard.”
“Is it possible that anyone could have induced the children to play a hoax?”
“That would be impossible!”
“Have many people come from outside to talk to the children?”
“Innumerable people from all parts.”
“Do they accept the money which is offered them?”
“They have accepted something from people who insist, but they do not accept it willingly.”
“Are there people in Fatima who have been close to the children during the apparitions?”
“In July, Jacinto Lopes da Amoreira and Manuel de Oliveira from this village of Montelo, were near them.’
“What does Lucia do during the apparitions?”
“She says the Rosary. When she speaks to the Lady she speaks loudly. I myself heard her in June, because I was near her. Some people say that they heard the sound of the reply.”
“Is the place of the apparitions much frequented on the other days?”
“Yes, many people go there, especially on Sundays, and mostly at night. People come from far and near, even more from outside the parish. They say the Rosary and sing hymns in honour of our Lady.”

After this conversation Dr Formigao went to Aljustrel, where he found Lucia helping a mason who was repairing the roof. He has also noted that the following interview was attended by four responsible witnesses.

Dr Formigao:

As soon as she saw me, she greeted me respectfully. Her mother appeared at that moment, and willingly consented to my questioning her daughter again. First, however, I asked her [Maria Santos] a few questions, among which the following may be of interest:
“I think that you have a book called Short Mission, which you sometimes read to your children. Is that so?”23
“Yes, I have read it to my children,” said Maria Santos.
“Have you ever read about the apparition of La Salette to Lucia or to the other children?”
“Only to Lucia and the family.”
“Did Lucia ever speak about the apparition of La Salette, or show in any way that the story had made a great impression on her mind?”
“I don’t remember her ever having mentioned it.”

[23. Dr Formigao had in mind the possible “suggestive” influence of this book.]

Now Dr Formigao resumes his questioning of Lucia:

“You told me some days ago that our Lady wanted the money given by the people to be used for the parish church for two andors. How are these to be obtained, and when are they to be taken to the church?”
“They must be bought with the money which is given on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.”
“Do you know for certain where our Lady wants the chapel in her honour to be built?”
“I don’t know for certain, but I think she wants the chapel in the Cova da Iria.”
“What did she say that she would do in order that people might believe?”
“She said that she would perform a miracle.”
“When did she say this?”
“She said it several times, but once, during the first apparition, I asked her.”24 “Are you not afraid of what the people will do if nothing extraordinary happens on that day?”

[24. One of the slips which Lucia occasionally makes and which are easily explained, as we have said, by the continual and ceaseless interrogations which everybody considered they had the right to impose.]

“I am not at all afraid.”
“Do you feel something inside you, some force which draws you to the Cova da Iria on the 13th of each month?”
“I feel I want to go there, and I should be sad if I didn’t.”
“Did you ever see the Lady make the sign of the cross, pray, or tell the beads?”
“Did she tell you to pray?”
“She told me to pray several times.”
“Did you see the signs which other people said they saw, such as a star, or roses falling from the Lady’s dress?”
“I didn’t see a star nor any other signs.”
“Did you hear any noise or an earthquake?”
“No, I heard nothing.”
“Can you read?”
“No ”
“Are you learning?”
“Then you are not doing what our Lady wants?…”25
Lucia did not reply to this.
“When you tell the people to kneel and pray is it the Lady who tells you to?”

[25. Lucia did not wish to blame her mother who had said: “What does it matter to our Lady if you can read or not!”]

“No, it is not the Lady. I tell them to.”
“Do you always kneel when she appears?”
“Sometimes I kneel, sometimes I stand.”
“When she speaks is her voice sweet and agreeable?”
“How old is the Lady?”
“She looks about fifteen years old.”
“What colour is the rosary chain?”
“And the crucifix?”
“White too.”
“Does the veil cover the forehead of the Lady?”
“It does not cover it; you can see her forehead.”
“Is the light which surrounds her very beautiful?”
“More beautiful than the most brilliant light of the sun.”
“Did the Lady ever greet you with her head or with her hands?”
“Did she ever laugh?”
“Does she usually look at the people?”
“I never saw her look at them,”
“Do you hear the voices and the cries of the people while you are talking to the Lady?”
“Did the Lady ask you in May to come back every month until October to the Cova-da Iria?”
“She said we were to come back from month to month on the 13th for six months.”
“Do you remember your mother reading a book called Short Mission, where there is a story of an apparition of our Lady to a girl?”
“Did you think much about this story, or speak about it to other children?”
“I never thought about this story, and I never talked about it to anyone.”

After hearing Lucia, Dr Formigao went to Senhor Marto’s house, and in his presence, and before some of his daughters, he questioned Jacinta:

“Did the Lady tell you to say the Rosary?”
“When she appeared the first time.”
“Did you hear the secret or was it only Lucia who heard?”
“I heard too.”
“At the second apparition on Saint Anthony’s day.”
“Is the secret that you will be rich?”
“That you will be good and happy?”
“Yes, it is for the good of all three of us.”
“Is it that you will go to heaven?”
“Can you tell the secret?”
“I can’t.”
“Because the Lady said we were not to tell it to anyone.”
“If the people knew it, would they be sad?”
“How did the Lady have her hands?”
“She had them stretched out.”
“Sometimes she turned the palms up to heaven.”
“In May did the Lady say she wanted you to go to the Cova da Iria again?”
“She said she wanted us to go there each month until October, when she would say what she wanted.”
“Has she light round her head?”
“Can you look easily at her face?”
“No, because it hurts my eyes.”
“Do you always hear well, what the Lady says?”
“Last time I couldn’t hear everything, because of the noise the people were making.”

Then came Francisco’s turn:

“How old are you?”
“Nine years old.”
“Do you only see our Lady, or do you also hear what she says?”
“I only see her. I can’t hear anything she says.”
“Has she light round her head?”
“Can you look well at her face?”
“I can look, but only a little because of the light.”
“Has her dress some decoration?”
“It has some cords of gold.”
“What colour is the crucifix?”
“And the chain of the rosary?”
“White, too.”
“Would the people be sad if they knew the secret?”

Dr Formigao had gone as far as he chose to go. It was too much for him. In the face of such calm and candid testimony, it was not possible for his own scepticism, or any ghost of it, to thrive any longer. It would be for Mary, the Queen of Heaven, to confirm with her signature the story of these children, or else, by her non-intervention on October 13, to reject as nonsense, all the wonders they had claimed: In October I will perform a miracle so that everyone can believe.

It was exciting salesmanship, whether spoken by the Virgin Mary, or dreamed by her impatient little champions. People are devoted to miracles, anyhow, and a good, resounding one, rates almost as high in the popular taste as finding a million dollars in a shoe box.

Throughout all Portugal the story prospered. Never before had a miracle been so obligingly pinpointed on the calendar, with the month, the day and the very hour so precisely predicted. The children, if crazy, were certainly courageous. Their calm insistence was enough to shrink the scalp of a sceptic, or to send a pious, easily persuaded citizen running for his beads.

The forces of the new “enlightenment” found the situation not only amusing, but highly opportune. Here at last the sly, conniving Mother Church had gone too far, and her simple sheep, spoon-fed for centuries on superstition, were about to absorb a fatal overdose.

Avelino de Almeida, a celebrated Lisbon journalist, published a humorous article in the Seculo, in which he skilfully lampooned the whole affair. Senhor Almeida’s chore for his paper, the most widely circulated in the nation, did much to advertise the scheduled “miracle” and to fatten the ranks of both the scoffers and the faithful, who would journey on October 13 to that rough and humble chalice of earth known as the Cova da Iria.

In Lucia’s house, things did not go well. It is probable that in all the Christian communities of Portugal faith in the children and their Lady was nowhere so wan, emaciated and trembling as it was in their native village. It was true enough that less than a month before, in the Cova da Iria, the faith of many had soared as serenely as a straw hat scaled in the breeze; it was true indeed that a seemingly mystical and enchanting globule of light had hovered above the little oak tree where the children prayed, and equally true that many eyes had seen it duplicate the journey from earth to sky that Lucia described as her Lady’s path. But it didn’t help a great deal now. The children and their families had been warned of the wrath that would befall them if the promised miracle did not take place. Fear moved into the Santos house like a goblin, and faith seemed to have departed from all but Lucia, her two little cousins, and her steadfast uncle, Ti Marto.

Maria dos Anjos has told us:

My family was very much concerned. As the thirteenth of the month drew closer, we kept telling Lucia that she should forget all these wild stories she had invented, because otherwise all of us would suffer. My father was difficult with her, and especially when he was drinking, he was very, very bad, except that he did not beat her. It was my mother who did that.
We kept hearing reports that if the miracle was a failure our house would be bombed. We were terror-stricken, and our neighbours believed it, too. In our fears it seems that we believed everything, and everyone, but Lucia. People advised my mother to take Lucia away, but she did not know what she should do. Certainly at this time she did not believe.
“If it is really our Lady,” my mother said, “there could have been a miracle already. She could have made a spring come up, or something like that. But, no – even when it rains in that place there is no more than a drop of water. Where will all of it end?”
Only the children remained unexcited. One day, I remember, I went to them at the well behind our house, and I said to them:
“All right,” I said, “when are you three going to admit that nothing happened in the Cova da Iria? People are saying that they will put down bombs to destroy our houses. Why don’t you tell me the truth so I can tell Father Ferreira? He can then tell the truth to the people in the church, and all of this will be over. Shall I do that?”
Lucia frowned and said nothing to me. Only Jacinta spoke. She was crying, because I did not believe her, and I remember how little and squeaky her voice was.
“Say what you want,” she told me. “Believe what you like, Maria, but we have seen the Lady; it is true!”

Lucia’s mother was not having a happy time of it. A fretful woman, disposed to tears and prophecies of doom, she was convinced that assassins were lurking near, eager to pounce on her vision-addicted daughter and herself. Her husband, Antonio Santos, was no help. He would much rather have had a drink of wine, than a visit from an angel. Pointedly, and somewhat vulgarly, he had dismissed the mystical pretensions of his daughter. He was badgered and confused, and clearly unhappy with it all, and he must have had a difficult time with his wife, Maria Rosa, whose panic advanced to such a point that on October 12 she roused her daughter at dawn, demanding they go to confession – now!

“Why, Mamma?” said Lucia, sleepily.

“Because everyone says we will probably be killed tomorrow in the Cova da Iria – do you hear me? If your Lady does not perform her miracle, the people will attack us.”

“Oh, Mamma – please,” said Lucia.

“Kill us, I said, daughter. And so we had better go to confession. We had better be prepared.”

“Well, if you must go, Mamma,” Lucia said softly, “I will go with you, but not for that reason. I’m not afraid of being killed – really I am not, and besides, I know the Lady will do all that she promised to do.”

Maria Rosa abandoned her pleas. As this point she gave up, less to conviction, perhaps, than to helplessness and sheer fatigue. But she managed to survive these difficult hours, and at night to find her bed, aware that tomorrow would be the momentous, decisive day.

It rained through the night and through all the following morning. The hills were drenched. The trees leaned with the weight of wind and rain. Where wagons turned and people marched, the roads were bad, the mud churned ankle-deep.

Lucia prepared for her scheduled journey to the Cova da Iria, intending first to join Francisco and Jacinta at their house. Her mother was in no mood this morning to belabour her, either with words, or the handle of a broom. Evidently convinced that this was to be her youngest daughter’s final day on earth, Maria Rosa had an erratic turn of disposition; she was tenderly compassionate. The pressure of events appears to have given her a new charge of courage, and she resolved, rather suddenly, that she would go with Lucia to the place of the apparitions.

“If my daughter is going to die,” she announced dramatically, “I want to die with her.”

Her obedient and puzzled husband joined the dismal company. They set off in the rain for the Marto household up the street, and it was here, at the Marto’s, that the local commotion had reached its hysterical zenith. The calm and observing Ti Marto himself, has reviewed for us the opening scene of this highly memorable day.

Ti Marto observed:

The people filled our little house so that you could not move an inch. Outside it was raining so heavily you could not see through the thickness of the falling water. Everywhere mud covered the ground.
Inside the house, the people were inconsiderate and wild with their fervour and their curiosity. With their muddy shoes they climbed on the furniture, and stood without apology on the beds. My poor wife! I remember her distress at this, but there was nothing we could do. I said to her, “Never mind, wife; at least it cannot get worse, for it is so crowded now that nobody else could possibly get in!”
A lady from the town of Pambalinho had come to our house with special dresses for Lucia and my Jacinta to wear that day. The dress for Lucia was blue and Jacinta’s was white. The lady dressed the girls herself, with great care.
But such excitement in the house! A neighbour came to me with great anxiousness. “Ti Marto, you must not go today,” he said. “People will not hurt the children, because they are so little, but with you it is another matter.”
“Yes, but I’m going,” I told this man. “I’m going because I have faith in all the children have said, and I do not believe it will go badly.”
This I truly believed, but with my poor wife it was not so easy. She had great devotion to our Lady, I know, but she was impressed by all the priests and people who said it could not be as our children claimed. She was afraid, poor woman, but not Jacinta and Francisco. They were not in the least perturbed.
“Father,” Jacinta said to me, “why should we worry? If we are killed, we will go to heaven, and those poor people who sought to harm us, they will go to hell for their sins.”
So when the children were dressed and ready, we left the house, going out into such a rain as you never did see. Out on the road we began to meet people who were not cynical; indeed we began to meet those who were foolish in another way. Women, and even fine ladies, were kneeling down in the thick mud before the children as they passed.
“My good people,” I said, “you must leave the children alone.”
But they kept crowding closer and getting more emotional, as though these little children had the power of saints. After a long and difficult time we at last arrived at the Cova da Iria. The crowd was so thick that we could not pass through. A man who was a chauffeur picked up my Jacinta at this time and carried her into the field, shouting, “Make way for the children who saw our Lady!” I followed them, and Jacinta, who could see me struggling among so many people, was frightened, lest something happen to me, and she cried out to the people: “Do not push my father! Do not hurt him!”
At last the chauffeur who carried her was able to reach the little oak tree and place her down, although the crush of people here was so great and frightening that Jacinta began to cry. Francisco and Lucia managed then to make their way. My wife, Olimpia, had not been able to get through, but I remember seeing Maria Rosa there.
It was at this time that I saw a man bearing down on me with a stick upraised, but before he could accomplish anything, the people nearby had closed their ranks against him, and when the great moment of that day arrived, it was quiet and orderly by the little tree.

This simple and restrained account by Ti Marto does not convey the full proportions of the first great pilgrimage to Fatima on October 13th, 1917. The drama and the haunting mystery of the previous apparitions – at least as word-of-mouth and press accounts, had filtered through – had thrilled the spirits and heightened the hope of nearly all religious people in the land. Even the clergy – tightlipped, sceptical, and justifiably in fear of a shameful fiasco – waited tremulously, as citizens of a nation already torn by bitter religious dissent.

We have at hand a variety of newspaper accounts, taken from journals of differing political policy and tone, and while tempted to print them all, we are aware their bulk would tax the limits of this book. The following is from an article in the newspaper, O Dia, which we now know to have been written by Dona Madalena Patricio:

The hamlets, villages and towns in the proximity appeared to be depopulated. For days beforehand, groups of excursionists were to be seen on the way to Fatima. The fishermen from Vieira left nets and wooden houses by the sea and came swinging through the pine woods. Artisans from Marinha, farmers from Monte Real… serra folk from much further afield, from every place where news of the miracle had penetrated, the people left their houses and their fields, and came to Fatima by horse, carriage, on foot, by every means of transport. The roads through the pines and the mountains echoed during these two days, with the noise of traffic and the voices of the pilgrims.
Autumn was reddening the vines, stripped after the vintage. The cold north-west wind announced the coming of winter… and all night and into the morning a sad, drizzling rain fell. Damp and cold, it penetrated into the bones of those who, with their families and animals, were flocking along the roads which led to the miraculous mountain.
The rain fell and fell. The cotton skirts of the women dripped and hung like lead around their ankles. Water poured from the new caps and hats which had been donned in honour of the day. Boots and bare feet splashed through the muddy puddles… and up on the mountain there was what appeared to be a large dark stain – thousands upon thousands of God’s creatures waiting for a miracle, a blessing, and an alleviation in the bitterness of life….

These observations cover the mass movement of pilgrims approaching Fatima from the direction of Leiria and the ancient cathedral city of Batalha. Signs of equal fervour and spiritual excitement were witnessed on the road leading into Fatima from Vila Nova de Ourem, and the following account was presented by Avelino de Almeida, serving as special reporter for the Seculo, the most widely read Portuguese newspaper of the day. It was Senhor Almeida whose competent hand had satirised earlier the amusing rash of “miracles” alleged to have broken out in the hills. He writes objectively and well:

Senhor Almeida writes:

On the road we can see the first groups of people making their way to the holy place, which is about twelve miles from here.
Men and women are for the most part barefooted, the latter carrying their shoes in bags on their heads, while the men lean on thick sticks and are also prudently armed with umbrellas. Apparently indifferent to what is going on around them, they do not seem to notice the countryside, nor their fellow-travellers, but murmur the Rosary as they go along immersed in thought.
A woman recites the first part of the Ave Maria, and immediately her companions continue the second part in chorus. They move rhythmically and rapidly in order to reach the place of the apparitions before nightfall. Here, under the stars they will sleep, keeping the first and best places near the little tree.
At the entrance to the town, women of the people, apparently influenced by the atheistic tone of the place, mockingly interchange impressions on the topic of the day, while the believers pursue their way indifferent to everything alien to the object of their journey. During the night the most varied types of vehicles have arrived in the square, bringing their loads of the devout and the curious.
At daybreak fresh groups hurry through the town, and the habitual quiet is broken by singing of the most varied kind.
At sunrise the weather looks threatening. Black clouds gather exactly over Fatima but this does not deter the people who by now are flocking in from all sides, employing every means of transport. There are luxurious motor cars travelling at speed, ox carts pulled in to the side of the road, victorias, closed carriages, carts in which seats are improvised and in which not another soul could be squeezed. Everyone is provided with food, both for themselves and for the beasts… valiantly playing their part.
Here and there one sees a cart decorated with greenery, and although there is an air of discreet festivity, people are sober and well-mannered. Donkeys bray at the side of the road and the innumerable cyclists make prodigious efforts not to collide with the carts.
By ten o’clock the sky was completely hidden behind the clouds, and the rain began to fall in earnest. Swept by the strong wind and beating upon the faces of the people, it soaked the macadam and the pilgrims, often without protection against the weather, to the marrow of their bones. But no one complained or turned back, and if some took shelter under trees or walls, the great majority continued on their journey with remarkable indifference to the rain.
The place where the Virgin is alleged to have appeared is fronted to a large extent by the road which leads to Leiria, along which the vehicles bringing the pilgrims are parked. But the great mass of the people congregate round the oak tree which, according to the children, is the Vision’s pedestal. It can be imagined as the center of a large circle round which the spectators gather to watch events.
Seen from the road, the general effect is picturesque. The peasants, sheltering under their huge umbrellas, accompany the unloading of fodder with the singing of hymns and the recitation of the decades of the Rosary in a matter-of-fact way. People plod through the sticky clay in order to see the famous oak tree with its wooden arch and hanging lanterns, at closer quarters.
At one moment a terrified hare runs through the crowd and is hardly noticed except by half a dozen or so of small boys, who catch and kill it.

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