Fatima Shrine (Sanctuary of Fatima) and Luz Houses
For many devout Catholics, pilgrimage to Christian holy shrines would rank high in their wish list and the Fatima Shrine (or the Sanctuary of Fatima) would definitely be on the list. I was brought up in a Catholic mission and was always fascinated by the tale of the Fatima Shrine. When an invitation to visit Fatima was extended to us last year, it was Godsend. It would fulfil a childhood dream. This is a travel article to the Fatima Shrine and Luz Houses as part of our tour of Central Portugal. It is the 1st of 2 posts of our journey to Central Portugal.
The Three Seers
On 13 May 1917, three little shepherds, Lucia de Jesus aged 10, her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto aged 9 and 7 were tending their sheep in the little hamlet of Cova da Iria in the town of Fatima.
They came from a devout Catholic family and after praying with the rosary at midday, as was their custom, they saw a brilliant light. Thinking that it was lightning they decided to go home. Just as they were going down the hill another flash lit up the place and this time they saw on top of a holm oak tree “a Lady more brilliant than the sun from whose hands hung a white rosary”. Our Lady spoke to the children and advised them of the importance of prayers and she invited them to return to the same place on five consecutive months on the 13th day at the same hour. She was to appear to them six times. The children obeyed and returned on the 13th day of June, July, September and October. They could not go back on 13th August as the authorities detained them for interrogation for causing a national sensation. They were known as the “Three Seers”.
They were later released and the holy apparition appeared to them again on 19th August in Valinhos, near their village of Ajustrel. The republican government at the time were strongly anti clerical and had suppressed the power of the church. Convents, churches and monasteries were pillaged and looted and many nuns and priests were persecuted. It was the darkest period of Portugal with economic failure, political turmoil and anarchy verging on the brink of civil war. It was unsafe for any religious community. When news of the apparition rocked the country, the secular authority attempted to suppress the news but it was of no avail.
Our Lady came with a message from God with warnings and predictions of doom and gloom of wars (including the outbreak of World War II), famine, the persecution of Christians, the menace from atheist Russia and communism and disharmony in the world unless God’s commands were obeyed through prayers and repentance.
She showed them the vision of hell where sinners were suffering and they could only be salvaged if people prayed for their souls. She gave them three secret messages to be revealed to the world at a given time. Our Lady also predicted the early deaths of Francisco and Jacinta who both died of Spanish flu few years after the apparition.
The sole survivor of the seers, Lucia, became a Carmelite nun and died in 2005 aged 97. She wrote down in detail the phenomenon of the apparition including the three secret messages of which two had already been revealed but the third secret message has yet to be revealed by the Vatican.
The Holy Fatima Shrine
Whether you are a believer or sceptic, you cannot fail to be in awe by the Shrine of Fatima when you visit the place. The first impression is the vastness and whiteness of the place gleaming in the sunlight and even in the rain. The magnificent Basilica of Our Lady of The Rosary of Fatima forms the core of the Fatima Shrine. It began construction in 1928 in a neo classical style and was consecrated in October 1953.
The splendid façade consists of a sweeping colonnade with a flight of steps that lead to the main portico. A 65m-tall bell and clock tower dominates the building with a glorious crown of bronze weighing 7,000kg topped by a cross that illuminates at night creating an image of heavenly aura in the dark. There are various statues of the Virgin Mary in different dedication. At the niche of the spire overlooking the square is the statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary standing at 4.73m high and weighs 14 tons.
At the entrance of the Basilica is a huge statue of Our Lady of Fatima, said to be the most accurate likeness of Our Lady sculptured by an American priest Father Thomas McGlynn who spent some time with Lucia. She related to him the vision of the face of the Virgin Mary in the apparition. Inside the church are paintings depicting religious events while scenes of the apparition are portrayed on stained glass.
In a quiet corner of the Basilica lie the tombs of Jacinta, Lucia and Francisco, which are venerated by many devotees offering prayers and contemplate in solemn devotion. I observe two elderly ladies who have walked on their knees all the way from the top of the square on a concrete path of about 200m long, deep in prayer without showing any sign of fatigue or pain energised by their deep faith. It is common for devotees to travel to the Shrine on their knees or walk from long distance to show their devotion, do penance or to come for healing.
At a corner of the Shrine, there are votive body parts made of wax that represent the afflicted parts of a person who would burn the chosen wax parts and be symbolically cured of his or her illness. It is a kind of faith healing. The Fatima Shrine provides this service free of charge but a donation would be appreciated.
Candlelight procession at the Fatima Shrine
That evening we return to the Shrine in the rain to observe the nightly candlelight procession of devotees as they congregate to pray at the Chapel of Apparition, the focal point of the Shrine. This chapel is the location where the children saw the apparition. A marble pillar holding the statue of the Virgin Mary marks the exact spot. Millions of devotees visit this sacred spot to spend time deep in prayers every year.
The rain miraculously stops when the service in different languages ends and about a thousand people form a procession holding lighted candles parading round the square with the statue of the Virgin Mary and a big cross held high above the crowd. It is a divine spiritual sight to behold with the multitude of candlelight glowing en mass in the dark like a thousand twinkling stars.
The Modern Basilica of the Fatima Shrine
Across the square stands the modern Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, a glorious piece of architecture marvel in a circular shape supported only by two extended arms of structure at the grand entrance stretching to the back. It was completed and consecrated in 2007. The interior is minimalist with modern interpretation of religious symbols including the modernist sculpture of Christ on the cross on the main altar.
The acoustic is skilfully engineered to avoid echoes of voices and footsteps in the church. The 8,633-seat Basilica was built to accommodate the increasing number of visitors and tourists. The shrine attracts over 4 million visitors a year and over a million every 13 May and 13 October commemorating the first and last sighting of the Virgin Mary to the children. One of the interesting monuments in the compound is a piece of the Berlin Wall, which was demolished in 1989. It symbolises the “grateful memorial to God’s intervention for the fall of communism as promised in Fatima”.
It has been a touching spiritual homage to one of the holiest shrines in the world complemented by our amazing accommodation at Luz Houses near the Shrine. It is an eco-friendly homestead of heritage chic set in a mystical forest within a short walking distance to the Sanctuary in the path of pilgrims’ journey to the shrine in the olden days.
A delightful team helmed by the owners Pedro and his wife Ana supported by very helpful and friendly staff runs the place to make guests feel at home. A magical cave in the compound has been converted into a gorgeous spa. There is an air of spiritual tranquillity in the Zen-like atmosphere perhaps from the divine energy emanating from the Fatima Shrine.
As I leave Fatima, I cast my mind back to my memorable experience at the shrine and Our Lady’s words to the children ring in my ears: “Pray the rosary everyday in order to obtain peace.” In this troubled time of wars and suffering in the world today, perhaps we should all join in prayer for peace whatever religion you may follow. Amen.
Visit www.centerofportugal.com for further information of Central Portugal. For a tailored-made tour of Central Portugal, contact www.madomistours.pt. TAP Portugal flies directly from London Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester to Lisbon 60 times a week; return fares starting at £121 including all taxes and surcharges. For further information, visit www.flytap.com or call +44 (0)345 601 0932.
Further information on Luz Houses – A Luxury Boutique Hotel – www.luzhouses.pt http://www.luzhouses.pt/
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