THE TRUE STORY
“The Lady in the Light”
by the Rev Father John De Marchi, IMC, 1952.
Re-published by Patrimonium Publishing, 2016.
MAY 13, 1920: THE FIRST STATUE OF OUR LADY OF FATIMA
The statue in the little chapel at the Cova da Iria was acquiring an interesting history of its own. As earlier disclosed in this narrative, it arrived in Fatima on May 13, 1920, but rather sheepishly, like some contraband, hidden under farm tools in an ox cart. The reason, of course, was the fear of its being confiscated or destroyed by the civil authorities, or by those venturesome hoodlums the authorities sometimes encouraged.
To know its history a little better we will have to go back a bit with the recollections of Maria da Capelinha:
Hardly a month had passed since the completion of our little chapel, when a gentleman named Senhor Gilbert arrived from Torres Novas and asked me, with some excitement in his voice, who had built this chapel. I did my best to explain to him how it had come about by the sacrifices and savings of the people who believed in our Lady’s appearances here, but he still looked disappointed and upset.
“My trouble is,” he explained to me, “that I promised very solemnly to help as much as I could with the first building raised on this spot. I would have given a great deal of money for building a chapel here, believe me. Why, just one month ago there was not a single stone disturbed, and now I find that the work is already done.”
I sympathised with him, of course; I told him it was a shame, but if he wanted so badly to do something, I said – well, he could contribute toward the building of a statue. “Is that right?” he said.
The idea seemed to please him very much. He said he would speak to his own parish priest in Torres Novas, and if there were no objections, he would have a statue made. This Senhor Gilbert was a great help, believe me, because it was not long before he came back and told me his pastor had no complaints about a statue, and that he would go right ahead with the arrangements.
This was a good way back – before Jacinta had gone to the hospital in Lisbon even, but this man was very sincere. He came with a sculptor several times to question the children about how our Lady had looked. Other times he came to talk with Dr Formigao, who was such a smart, good man, and such a fine friend to the children’s families. All in all it took a long time for the statue to be made. Meantime, some people came from the Quinta da Cardigo and offered us an image of Our Lady of the Rosary to place in the chapel. I said – well, it was very kind of them, but the least we could do was wait until we heard from Senhor Gilbert. It would not be fair, I said, to overlook Senhor Gilbert after all his efforts and good intentions.
I did not guess wrong, for Senhor Gilbert was a man in whom you could believe. Sure enough, the first part of May, we hear the statue is now in his house in Torres Novas, and that somehow or other it was going to get to the Cova da Iria by the 13th of May, the third anniversary of our Lady’s first appearance.
Well, it got here, all right, in an ox cart, but for a while it was not brought to the Cova, because of rumours we kept hearing that the Freemasons were planning to blow up our little chapel and kill us all. Meanwhile it was kept in the sacristy of the church, where Father Reis, who was taking Father Ferreira’s place, blessed it himself.