THE TRUE STORY
“The Lady in the Light”
by the Rev Father John De Marchi, IMC, 1952.
Re-published by Patrimonium Publishing, 2016.
APRIL-MAY 1920: OFFICIAL PERSECUTION OF THE GREAT PILGRIMAGE
That the fears of our Lady’s good friends were not unjustified, will be made clear by a description of the events that followed. In Lisbon, during that April of 1920, some of the more unbridled opponents of Fatima, learned that a great pilgrimage to the alleged “holy place” was being organised in Torres Novas for Ascension Day. The “alarming news” was that a commemorative statue was to be set up in the Cova da Iria by all the allied forces of “stubborn superstition”. Not only did the “foolish faithful” intend to pour out of Torres Novas, but other “idiots” were to journey in wholesale lots from Lisbon by motor car, horse, and by foot. Swarms of children dressed as angels would be marching on Fatima, along with multitudes of clergymen, including, of course, the “sly, subversive Jesuits”. Indeed, by these reports, “the forces of reaction” were to stage such a parade as had never been seen by intelligent eyes before. This situation was so provoking that it prompted a letter addressed to Senhor Arthur Santos, the mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem, whose authority, as we know, extended to Fatima. Dated April 24, 1920, it reads:
Through our mutual friend, Senhor de Sousa, it has come to our knowledge that reactionary demerits in your county are preparing to canonise the deceased seer of Fatima, and so continue the disgusting religious exploitation of the people which has been set in motion. We beg you, therefore, to inform us as to what stage these manoeuvres have reached in order that we, the government, and your good self, may take such precautions as seem advisable to neutralise this shameless Jesuitical trick.
Certain that we may rely on your valuable help in this matter, we are dear Sir,
Julio Ben to Ferreira,
Secretary of the Exterior.
The mayor’s help could be relied on.34
[34. Senhor Julio Lopes, who was at that time secretary to Arthur Santos, confided to us: “As the rumour of the proposed pilgrimage began to spread around, Arthur exclaimed: ‘I must put a stop to this ridiculous fairy tale!’ I replied: ‘You won’t be able to do anything!’ He then said: ‘Not a soul shall get in there; they can’t do anything against brute force!”]
On the 30th of the month all the regedors [constables] of the county received the following circular:
For reasons of public security, you are asked to appear in the County Hall on Thursday next, May 6.
The meeting took place as arranged, and after full discussion the mayor was satisfied. On the next day, the 7th of May, Arthur Santos received a telegram from the Civil Governor of Santarem, Dr Jose Dantas Baracho:
To the Mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem
Minister Interior, decided repetition Fatima arranged for this month must be prevented. Notify organisers of procession or other religious manifestation under law which will be applied in case of non-co-operation. Disobedience to be answered for in court, after legal notice given. His Excellency determines this matter to be brought directly my attention without intermediary.
Jose Dantas Baracho, Civil Governor.
The zealous mayor lost no time, and on that same day sent instructions to his regedors:
By order H.E. Minister Interior, Fatima repetition arranged for 13th inst. to be prevented. Kindly supply at once names organisers and propagandists in your district in order that law may be applied in case of disobedience.
Suspecting, however, that his orders might not be fulfilled with proper zeal by those assistants, Arthur Santos decided to ask for troops from Santarem, and his request was promptly fulfilled.
To the Mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem
Armed municipal guard will be placed at your disposal, occupy strategic points, prevent transit Fatima procession.
Jose Dantas Baracho, Civil Governor.
And on the 12th, another telegram:
To the Mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem
According agreement made here yesterday force commandment will only prohibit religious manifestation on the spot. Strong armed guard dispatched locality.
Jose Dantas Baracho, Civil Governor.
DR FORMIGAO’S OBSERVATIONS OF OFFICIAL OPPOSITION
For a valid account of the frustrated pilgrimage of May 13, 1920, there is no better account than the one provided by Dr Formigao in the first published book:
I arrived at Vila Nova de Ourem early in the morning on May 13 last. It was pouring with rain and a thunderstorm was in progress at the same time.
When I left Lisbon there were alarming rumours about Fatima, and people said that it was useless to attempt to go there because there were official orders to prevent transit through Vila Nova de Ourem.
For this reason, many people who had arranged to come with me did not in fact leave Lisbon, but I took a chance on it and came to see for myself how much truth there was in the reports.
On arrival I saw two ladies, one young and attractive and the other older but distinguished looking, both of whom I knew slightly. Poor things, in that torrential rain! But they did not complain, and were full of faith and enthusiasm. Their only fear seemed to be that they might be prevented from arriving at the place of the apparitions.
With great difficulty we made our way to a little inn in front of the church, and there we rested until daybreak, because it was quite impossible to get rooms.
Very early in the morning we heard a troop of horses passing, and ran to the window where we saw a squadron of Cavalry of the Republican Guard which was proceeding at a gallop in the direction of Fatima. The rumours were not, then, without foundation. We asked a servant what was in the air, but received the same reply. Nothing but rumours… rumours. But there were infantry, cavalry, machine-guns, and I know not what besides.
A general offensive seemed to be in progress, but against what, in the name of God! No one knew, said the woman. One thing was certain; from Ourem no one could go to Fatima. Transport was available and in great demand at $40.00 a cart, but all were eventually dispensed with to the intense annoyance of the owners, good Republicans all. They could not see why peaceful citizens should be prohibited from an excursion which suited them so well.
In Tomar, it seemed, the same prohibition was in force, also in several other districts whose authorities had forbidden the departure of vehicles.
While we were talking, a young man, owner a of a printing press in Lisbon, and shortly afterwards Dr da Fonseca, a lawyer, who was defending a client in the local court, came up to us. We asked them if they knew anything. No more than we did apparently. People were being allowed to go as far as Fatima but no further. At about that time the rain stopped and I went out into the road where I watched the passage of carts and cars, trucks, foot-folk and horsemen – a regular excursion!
I wondered to what purpose all the prohibitions had been. I had expected to see nobody and yet here was this constant stream of men, women and children.
There were huge charabancs drawn by mules, filled with people roaring with laughter, laughing apparently at the mayor whom I could see in the middle of the road looking uncomfortable in a straw hat with a forced smile on his lips. There were carts decorated with flowers… motor cars blowing their horns, grand-looking carriages, modest dog carts… men and women on foot, soaked to the skin and covered with mud, dripping with water, but happy, smiling. All this unfolded before me like a long cinema film. Where did all these people come from? From all parts, but mostly from Torres Novas I was told. And what was the mayor doing flitting about in his straw hat? What new development was about to unfold? It was all most entertaining!
I wanted to go to Fatima with all speed but there was Mass to be thought of. After Mass, I lunched in great haste and set off on the steep road which winds uphill from Ourem to Fatima.
Coming the other way was a car travelling at speed, in which I caught a glimpse of rifles, fanning out menacingly. It was the mayor and his escort! “He’s up to no good,” observed a lad pedalling uphill on a bicycle. After climbing for an hour and a half we neared Fatima, and the rain began to fall again. At last we entered the little square facing the church. Everywhere we saw carts, carriages and cars parked. A great crowd of people, numbering thousands, was blocking the square and the church.
In the middle of the road a force of infantry and cavalry of the Republican guard was preventing the people from passing, or completing the remaining one and three quarter miles which separate Fatima from the Cova. I asked some bystanders whether anyone had in fact passed. Until midday, I was told, everyone had gone through, but then the mayor had arrived and forbidden it.
I asked the commandant whether one might go through, but he informed me politely that he had allowed people to pass until the mayor had given orders to the contrary. He was very sorry, but he had to obey orders. I went back and mingled with the enormous crowd which was gathered inside the church and on the porch, sadly commenting on the affair, and unable to understand what threat to public order could possibly exist in the Cova da Iria and not in Fatima, since the people were the same. It was perfectly ridiculous, everyone agreed.
Many people tried to get through the fields without being seen, climbing walls and other obstacles, and managed to arrive at the place of the apparitions, counting themselves fortunate to kneel there and say the Rosary. Perhaps it was this which put the government in peril!
Inside the church at Fatima, Father Cruz was delivering sermons and leading the Rosary, while many people were going to confession. A blind woman who had come at the cost of much sacrifice from Aveiro was leaning on the arm of a friend in the pouring rain which had begun again. She made no complaint, but on the contrary entrusted herself with great faith to God, and began walking toward the church.
A bearded individual, who told me he was a doctor, was explaining the providential reasons for the prohibition, to a crowd which had gathered round him. According to him, people had begun to turn the place into a sort of fair with music, etc., and obviously our Lady did not want this. She had appeared in a deserted place precisely because she wanted to be loved and venerated in spirit and truth, without accompaniments more reminiscent of the less edifying festas. Prayer and penance alone were what she wanted, therefore by this prohibition the authorities were all unconsciously satisfying the desires of our Lady!
The rain began to fall torrentially again, and everyone tried to find shelter underneath carts or on the porch of the church, which was already crammed to capacity.
At this moment I saw a Republican guard dealing out blows right and left on some peaceful peasants who were sadly surveying the scene from under their umbrellas. surprised by the entirely unexpected attack, they fled without knowing why they had been set upon. Somebody went up to the guards to ask the reason for this They complained that a man had tried to force a way through, and that when they prevented him he threatened them, and in the confusion that followed, the innocent suffered with the guilty as is the way of the world.
After this explanation, and order having been restored, I began to talk to some peasants and prudently advised them not to make any attempt to pass, adding that there would be great merit in obeying orders however unjust, provided there was nothing against conscience in doing so. Then one of the guards said to me with the utmost sincerity:
“If you only knew, sir, how I dislike this duty. I obey orders because I have to, but believe me, I hate it in my heart. I am religious myself, and I cannot understand why these poor people should be prevented from going to the Cova to pray. It’s enough to upset a man. I have a sister whose life was saved by Our Lady of Fatima!”
As he said this a drop of water rolled down his cheek, most certainly not from the rain which poured and dripped from his waterproof hood.
After this I went to the presbytery whose veranda, designed in the old Portuguese style, was being assaulted by those trying to find shelter from the weather. Here I saw one of the ladies who had been my companions in the morning, and she confided to me in a whisper that she was going to find her way to the Cova by a secret path through the fields. I saw her set off in the soaking rain and mud, delighted at the idea that she was going to get the better of the modern Herods in the government.
At last our coachman warned us that the road was bad, and that we ought to leave soon. We performed our last devotions, said our farewells and returned to Ourem, and thence to our home.
At the station, while we were waiting for the train, we met many people from different parts of the country who were returning home as we were. We saw the blind lady from Aveiro with a companion from Oporto, both of whom, in spite of being soaked to the skin, and in poor health, were none the less in splendid spirits. I saw a friend who was a jeweller in Lisbon, and many other people from the capital.
A respectable business man, apparently a Republican, poured forth his invective upon the mayor of Ourem because he prevented the progress of the countryside and obstructed legitimate trade.
“He’s a fool,” he exclaimed. “Just think of how much the cab men of Tomar and Torres Novas must have lost today!”
Senhor Arthur Santos, the mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem and its surrounding precincts, was not without his admirers, and accordingly, two days later, received this communication:
The Portuguese Federation of Free-thought tenders you its profound sympathy in the action, so well in accord with Republican sentiments and free-thought, which you have taken with regard to the pretended miracle of Fatima whereby Jesuit and clerical reaction are trying to exploit popular ignorance. Certain that you will appreciate the extent of our admiration for your manner of procedure, we remain,
Most faithfully yours,
To this epistle, on June 5th, His Honour replied:
To the Portuguese Federation of Freethought
Largo do Intendente, 45. Lisbon.
I acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 15th and thank you for your congratulations which are however unmerited.
On May 13, thanks to the foresight of the Republican government, under that great patriot and illustrious citizen, Antonio Maria Baptista, reaction suffered a complete reverse, while the projected parade, whereby the ignorance of illiterate people was to be exploited once again, was brought to nothing, together with the new attack which was being prepared against the Republic.
However, these authentic enemies of the Republic and promoters of Fatima are not yet entirely disarmed, for they propose to transfer with all their pomps, the body of an unfortunate child and pretended intermediary of the Virgin, who died in Lisbon, to another tomb. They also still make use of a so-called seer, Lucia, an ailing child of thirteen years, in order further to exploit the ignorance of the people.
But such absurd projects can have no effect while a government such as we have at present, and associations such as the Federation of Freethought, fulfil their august mission, which is to combat lies and defend liberty.
The mayor also wrote to the regedor of Fatima:
I beg to inform you that in future no religious parade of any kind may take place in your parish without the knowledge of my administration. Kindly notify the parish priest and the promoters of any religious manifestation of my orders and inform me personally of any incident of a superstitious nature which may occur in connection with the so called miracle of Fatima.
Meanwhile the faithful patrons of our Lady, prizing dearly the statue donated by Senhor Gilbert, suspected with good reason that serious hazards lay before them.
Maria da Capelinha continues her informal history of both the statue and the shrine:
We were so afraid of some profanation, but at the same time we were longing to be able to venerate a statue of our Lady in the very place where she had appeared. One day Senhor Gilbert came and said that he thought it would be a good idea to veil over the niche so that people would think the statue was already there. Then we could see if anything untoward happened. So I put a veil over the niche and everyone thought that our Lady was behind it. Nothing at all happened. So Senhor Gilbert brought the statue and put it in the niche.
Months passed, and there began to be new rumours that the statue was to be stolen and the chapel burned down. So we thought it would be better to take the statue to my home and bring it to the chapel every morning. It must have been about the end of October, when my husband brought our Lady to our home in Moita. We arranged a little altar in the sitting room, and put the statue on it with two oil lamps burning.
MARCH 6, 1921: THE CHAPEL IS BLOWN UP
Maria da Capelinha continues:
We were perfectly right to be afraid, for on March 6 of the next year we heard a terrible explosion during the night. The Freemasons had placed four bombs in the chapel, and a fifth by the tree where our Lady appeared. The roof was blown off, but the bomb by the tree did not explode.
We wanted to repair the chapel at once but the bishop said we were not to do so till he gave permission. This made us very sad. It depressed us very much to see the chapel in such a state and we didn’t like to stay by it. We used to go there, say our prayers, and come away again. The people used to come to our house instead and pray by the statue. Among them were Dr Marques and Dr Formigao. People used to kneel by the door and pray. There were always people there and our Lady answered them just the same, so that people would have more faith. I was very happy to have the statue of our Lady in my house. But now, Father, it upsets me to see people getting worse and worse.
On the 13th, a great many people gathered to take the statue in procession to the Cova da Iria. We had no andor for the statue but everyone wanted a turn at carrying it. There were many promises to do this, and so each one carried it a little way. We sang and prayed as we went, and when we arrived there, we spent the afternoon at our devotions and had a procession; then we returned to my house. Oh, what happy times those were! As our Lady passed, the people knelt in the road as they do for the Blessed Sacrament. It was beautiful in those days to see so many people thinking only of holy things. There was so much prayer, in fact we would spend a whole day from early morning onward in our Lady’s company.
Many came to fulfil their promises and light candles; others came to ask for certain graces, but everyone went away happy.
MIRACLES OF FAITH
Maria da Capelinha continues:
A poor woman from Tomar took earth away from here to make infusions and cure sick people because in those days there was no water. They dug up the earth near the tree and rubbed the sick with it. Some people ate it and were better afterwards. Sometimes, even ladies would rub it on their well-dressed little children without minding the dirt!
In Alqueidao there was a girl who had been paralysed for seven months. Her parents did not have her treated, and she was very poor. One day Our Lady of Fatima appeared to her and told her that she would cure her if her mother would go to the Cova and take some earth from under the oak tree and eat some of it during a novena. It all happened as our Lady had said, and the girl was perfectly cured.
Another time I saw a man from Torres Novas in tears near the big oak tree. I went and asked him what was the matter, arid he told me his story. He had had an open wound in the leg for twenty-four years which was always full of pus and prevented him from working or even moving. The wound absolutely refused to heal, and he said to me:
“My wife came to Fatima and took away some earth to make an infusion to wash my wound with. I did not want her to do this because the wound needed cleanliness and the mud would certainly make it worse. But my wife, who had great faith, said that many people had been cured with the earth, and although I had no faith at all in God nor any religion, she insisted so much, that at last I let her have her way. Every day for nine days she washed the wound with that mud and each day it healed a little more, until at the end of the novena it was perfectly cured. I burst into tears, took off the bandages and came here on foot although I couldn’t move before!”
Another time it was a consumptive from Tomar, also an unbeliever. His wife told him that they would go to Fatima or at least make a novena and drink an infusion of the earth under the tree where our Lady had appeared. But he wouldn’t hear of anything of the kind. His wife insisted so much that in the end he consented to drink the infusion, though without faith or devotion. In spite of this, our Lady cured him, and in a few days he was strong and healthy again.
From this time people came every day to get the earth for their sick. We dug it up in spoonfuls, and the people took it away in their handkerchiefs or in paper bags. On the 13th we would give out two or three sackfuls of earth from an open trench by the tree of the apparitions. At night we filled up the trench again with earth from somewhere else.
A series of seemingly miraculous cures that sheer cynicism and derision could not dispel, did much to increase devotion at the Shrine of Fatima in those early days.
Maria da Capelinha tells us:
They came from everywhere with their afflictions and their miseries. Even before Jacinta died, and before the chapel was even begun, I remember them coming with their troubles and their sicknesses. It was the time of the influenza that was so bad, and one day Friar David, from Saint Caterina’s came to give the first sermon ever delivered at the Cova. Everyone was so worried about the influenza and so many were already afflicted. We took our own saints in the procession – Saint Lucy, I remember, Our Lady of the Rosary, and other statues. Friar David, a wise and good man, looked at the people then.
“This is all very well, my children,” he said, “but such a devotion is worth nothing without the important thing – amendment of life!”
Yes, Jacinta herself was there that day, very weak with her sickness, and the people were weeping in sorrow over this epidemic. Our Lady heard the prayers they offered, Father, because from that day on, we had no more cases of influenza in our district. From then on, as you might expect, the devotion grew greater, and after the chapel was built, there were thousands and thousands who came, even though there was not one drop of water in the place for them.
This lack of water continued until October 12, 1926, when the bishop of Leiria made his first visit to the Cova da Iria. Seeing the total aridity of the place, the bishop assigned to Senhor Carreira, the husband of Maria da Capelinha, the chore of opening a well.
By Maria’s account:
At first we thought of trying to open it about eighty yards from the chapel, near a fig tree, but in the end it was the suggestion of Senhor Jose Alves that was followed. Dr Marques dos Santos the prior of Saint Caterina’s was there, along with the Vicar of Olival.
“I am sure it is no use digging a well at this spot,” Jose Alves said.
“Then where would you suggest?” the Vicar asked him.
“Right there,” Jose replied, and he pointed to the place where the Cova was deepest. “Even after a month without rain, your reverence, there is always some moisture and some reeds growing there.”
Well, the work began, and when we had hardly worked half a day, we hit rock.
“What happens now?” the priests wanted to know.
“Now we blast the rock,” was our reply, and we went to get the things we would need. Afterwards the water came up with great abundance, even though we did not finish the well. It remained like that, unfinished, until the following year.
Whether or not this water appeared in the Cova da Iria miraculously, it would have been difficult to dissuade the people of the serra from their conviction that another wonder had risen in their midst.
Jose Alves testifies:
They came here with their bottles and their pitchers which they filled and took home for their sick to drink and to wash their wounds in. Everyone had the greatest faith in our Lady’s water, and she used it to cure their wounds and their pains. Never did our Lady perform so many miracles as at that time. I saw people with terrible legs that were running with pus, but when they washed themselves with the water they were able to leave their bandages behind, because our Lady had cured them. Other people knelt down and drank that earthy water, and were cured of serious internal diseases.
It does seem, examining not this fragment of evidence, but the total record, that Mary the Queen of Heaven, does have a way of scoffing at the hygienic fears of the meticulous, working her wonders with elements that would almost certainly, on a natural level, bring nothing but further infection and new complications to people already sick. Understandably, at the Cova da Iria, those officials responsible for the public health, became in time seriously alarmed. In July of 1927, a new mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem, Senhor Antonio Pavilon, sent this communication to the regedor of Fatima:
My attention has been called by the Subdelegate of Public Health in this county, to an open ditch of water which Manuel Carreira of Moita has dug in the Cova da Iria. This water is used by persons suffering from exterior and interior diseases in such a manner that I have resolved to call the said Carreira, with yourself as intermediary, before the administration of this county, and call upon him to cover this ditch which is an immediate danger to public hygiene. Will you kindly inform me without delay as to what can be done in this case?
Mayor Pavilon, however, had reason to know that this particular regedor was a gentleman strongly disinclined to interfere in the matter. For this reason he travelled to Fatima himself, taking with him the Sub-delegate of Public Health, Dr Joaquim Francisco Alves. They visited the Cova da Iria, and then had a talk with the local pastor, Father Ferreira, who recalls the conversation:
“The place is disgusting,” Dr Alves declared. “It must be covered over at once. It’s a disgrace to the parish.”
“Faith never hurt anyone,” I replied. “It is already a miracle that such dirty, impure water has not once done any harm to those who drink it.”
But neither the seriously worried mayor, nor the sub-delegate, was in the business of miracles. They impressed on Father Ferreira that if the well was not covered promptly he would be held accountable for any illnesses that occurred through this neglect. Father Ferreira said nothing, but was distressed by the affair. After all, if the town regedor did not dare offend the religious sensibilities of the people, how was he, their parish priest, to persuade them they were doing anything wrong? Consequently, a whole year later, Mayor Pavilon found himself submitting once more, an official reminder to the Sub-delegate of Public Health:
It appears that the well in the Cova da Iria continues to remain open, constituting a menace to public health and sanitation, in view of the fact that the said water is full of dirt and microbes. I, therefore, request your advice on the matter, and await your suggestions for the destruction of this ditch, which I am determined to effect as soon as possible.
Eventually, and perhaps quite properly, the bishop of Leiria directed that the well be deepened and covered. This work was carried out under the supervision of the mayor, Father Ferreira, and the Sub-delegate, Dr Alves, who had heard alarming reports that the water had been poisoned. In time, however, and for reasons not clear to us, Dr Alves declared the water to be entirely drinkable. Excepting only the Chapel of the Apparitions, the fountain that rises above the well is the oldest of the structures we are able to see today within the Sanctuary of the Cova da Iria.
Let’s not make the mistake of assuming them ten cents a dozen in this or any year, but the author himself has been present at almost every conceivable kind of physical cure at Fatima. We who have had the privilege of living close beside the Cova da Iria do not face the problem of merely believing in Mary’s powers of intercession. By God’s infinite gift we are enabled to know them, and to understand the actual slightness of physical prodigy when it is placed against the harvest of souls our Lady has come to gather for her Son.