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Fátima 1917: What Religion Could Not Admit and Science Could Not Explain

Miracle of Sun Third Secret Fátima

[LPDS/Wombo Art]

The Portuguese national newspaper, O Século, in its edition of the October 15th, 1917 published on its front page, in the upper right, a two column news pretitled «Coisas espantosas!» («¡Amazing things!») and titled: «Como o sol bailou ao meio dia em Fátima» («How the sun danced at noon in Fátima»). The subtitle read: «As apariçoes da Virgem — Em que consistiu o sinal do céu — Muitos milhares de pessoas afirmam ter-se produzido un milagre — A guerra e a paz» («The apparitions of the Virgin — What the sign from the sky consisted in — Thousands of people claim that a miracle took place — The War and The Peace»). Next, an image with two girls and a boy accompanied by the following caption: «Lucia, de 10 anos; Francisco, de 9, e Jacinta, de 7, que na charneca de Fátima, concelho de Vila Nova de Ourem, dizem ter falado com a Virgem Maria» («Lucia, aged 10; Francisco, aged 9, and Jacinta, aged 7, who in the moor of Fátima, municipality of Vila Nova de Ourem, say they was able to speak with the Virgin Mary»).

Lucía dos Santos, Francisco Marto y Jacinta Marto Fátima Portugal
Lucía dos Santos, Francisco Marto y Jacinta Marto. [Photo: Attributed to Joshua Benoliel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

They were Lucía dos Santos and the brothers Francisco and Jacinta Marto, her cousins, the three little shepherds whom for the first time, on May 13, 1917, in a place known as Cova da Iria, in Fátima, district of Santarém ( Portugal), while they were tending a flock of sheep, a resplendent being with the face of a woman would have appeared to them, holding a rosary in her hands, telling them that she was the Virgin Mary, and who according to them would end up revealing three secrets or mysteries related to destiny of humanity during the six apparitions that took place between May 13 and October 13, 1917. Supposedly in one of them, Lucía would have asked the presence for a supernatural event to prove its authenticity, summoning her to the mentioned date of October 13.

What perhaps makes the last of these apparitions special is that it brought together thousands of people, from all social strata, believers, agnostics and atheists, being the strange phenomena that took place that day witnessed even by people of Science, who came to the place more out of curiosity than faith or religiosity. This is the case of the author of the article mentioned at the beginning, the journalist Avelino de Almeida, who was 44 years old when he covered the aforementioned event, and who began the text in a tone of clear skepticism:

When I got off, after a long trip (...) at the Chão de Maçãs station, where religious who had come from distant lands to witness the "miracle" also got off, I suddenly asked a boy from the bus transport if he had already seen the Lady. With his sarcastic smile and his slanted look, he did not hesitate to answer me:

- I only saw stones, carriages, automobiles, riding animals and people there!

Almeida also describes the atmosphere that exists in the place in the hours prior to the appearance:

Men and women are almost all barefoot (...) With a precise and measured step, they walk the dusty path, between pines and olive trees, to arrive before dark night at the place of the apparition, where, under the wind and cold light of the stars, they think to sleep, guarding the places next to the blessed holm oak - so that today they can see better.

And finally the big day came:

The sun rises, but the look of the sky threatens a storm. The black clouds accumulate precisely in the vicinity of Fatima. Nothing, however, stops those who converge there by all roads and using all means of locomotion. Luxury cars glide by, honking their horns; the oxcarts drag slowly along the side of the road (...) However, the festive air is discreet, the manners serene and the order is absolute... The donkeys walk along the shoulder and the cyclists, very numerous, do juggling to avoid colliding with the cars.

Around ten o'clock in the morning, the sky became completely cloudy and it didn't take long for it to start raining heavily. The ropes of water, struck by a strong wind, lash the faces (...) piercing the bones of the walkers devoid of hats and any other protection. But no one gets impatient or gives up, and if some take shelter under the treetops, next to the walls of the farms or in the distant houses that lean along the path, others continue the march with impressive resistance (...)

The point of the Fátima moor, where it is said that the Virgin appeared to the shepherds of the town of Aljustrel, is dominated in an enormous area by the road that goes to Leiria, and along which the vehicles that brought pilgrims and peepers. Someone counted more than a hundred cars and more than a hundred bicycles, and it would be impossible to count the different carriages that blocked the road, one of them the Torres Novas bus, inside which people of all walks of life were united.

But the bulk of the pilgrims, thousands of creatures who came from many leagues around and who were joined by faithful from various provinces, from the Alentejo and the Algarve, from Minho and from Beira, congregate around the small holm oak that, in the words of the little shepherds, the vision had chosen for its pedestal and that it could be considered as the center of a wide circle on the edge of which other spectators and other devotees accommodate themselves. Seen from the road, the whole is simply fantastic.

And the little shepherds? Lucía, 10, the seer, and her little companions, Francisco, 9, and Jacinta, 7, have not yet arrived. Their presence is indicated perhaps half an hour before the one indicated as the apparition. They lead the girls, crowned with flowers, to the place where the portico is located. The rain falls incessantly but no one despairs. Laggard cars come to the road. Groups of friars kneel in the mud and Lucia asks, orders the umbrellas to be closed. The order is transmitted, which is immediately obeyed, without the slightest reluctance. There are people, many people, as if in ecstasy; moved people, on whose dry lips the prayer was paralyzed; stunned people, with their hands clasped and their eyes bubbly; people who seem to feel, touch the supernatural...

Milagro del Sol Fátima 13 Octubre 1917

Milagro del Sol Fátima 13 Octubre 1917
[Photo: Judah Ruah, for the news paper O Seculo, published the 1917-09-29 on the news paper Illustracao Portugueza, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

«The star looks like a matt silver plate and it is possible to stare at the disk without the slightest effort. It doesn't burn, it doesn't blind»

At this point, the weather seems to turn around:

The girl claims that the Lady has spoken to her once more, and the sky, still dark, suddenly begins to lighten overhead; the rain stops and the sun will flood the landscape with light (...)

The old time is by which this multitude is governed, which dispassionate calculations of cultured people and totally alien to mystical influences compute thirty or forty thousand creatures... The miraculous manifestation, the announced visible sign is about to take place - say many pilgrims... And then everyone witnesses a unique spectacle that is impossible to believe for those who did not witness it. From the top of the road, where the cars are crowded and many hundreds of people remain, who did not dare to step on the muddy ground, the entire immense crowd is seen turning towards the sun, which appears free of clouds, at its zenith. The star looks like a matt silver plate and it is possible to stare at the disk without the slightest effort. It doesn't burn, it doesn't blind. It would appear that an eclipse is taking place. But lo and behold, a colossal scream emerges, and the nearest onlookers are heard yelling: Miracle, miracle! Wonder, wonder!

Before the dazzled eyes of those people, whose attitude transports us to Biblical times and who, pale with astonishment, with their heads uncovered, look at the blue, the sun trembled, the sun had never had sudden movements regardless of all cosmic laws - the sun "danced", according to the typical expression of the peasants... Perched on the running board of the Torres Novas bus, an old man whose stature and whose physiognomy, sweet and energetic at the same time, recall those of Paul Déroulède, he recites, facing the sun, in a resounding voice, from beginning to end, the Creed. I ask who he is and they tell me that Mr. João Maria Amado de Melo Ramalho da Cunha Vasconcelos. Then I see him addressing those around him, who do not take off their hats, vehemently imploring them to uncover themselves before such an extraordinary demonstration of the existence of God. Identical scenes are repeated at other points and a woman screams, bathed in agony and almost suffocating crying: What a pity! There are still men who do not discover themselves before such a stupendous miracle!

And then they wonder if they saw and what they saw. Most confess that they saw the tremor, the dance of the sun; Others, on the other hand, claim to have seen the smiling face of the Virgin herself, swear that the sun turned on itself like a wheel of fireworks, which descended almost to the point of burning the earth with its rays... There are those who say they saw it change color successively...

«It is up to the experts to pronounce on the macabre dance of the sun»

De Almeida continues with the narration of the environment after the inexplicable meteorological event that has just occurred before the eyes of those gathered there with the sun as the protagonist:

It's close to three in the afternoon.

The sky is swept by clouds and the sun follows its course with the usual splendor that no one dares to face head-on. And the shepherds? Lucía, who is talking to the Virgin, announces with theatrical gestures, on the lap of a man, who is taking her from group to group, that the war will end and that our soldiers will return... This news, however, does not increase the joy of those who hear it. The heavenly sign was everything. There is an intense curiosity to see the two girls with their crowns of roses, there are those who try to kiss the hands of the "little saints", one of whom, Jacinta, is more ready to faint than dance, but what everyone wanted - a sign from heaven - was enough to satisfy them, to root them in their coalmen faith. Street vendors offer portraits of children on postcards and other bills that represent a soldier of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps "thinking of the help of his protector for the salvation of the Homeland" and even an image of the Virgin as a figure of the vision...

That was a good business and certainly more pennies went into the pockets of the vendors and the alms chest of the little shepherds than into the outstretched and open hands of the lepers and the blind who, jostling with the pilgrims, launched their heartbreaking cries in the air...

The dispersal is done quickly, without difficulty, without a shadow of disorder, without the need for any guard patrol to intervene. The pilgrims who leave the fastest, running along the path, are the ones who arrived first, on foot and barefoot, with their shoes on their heads or hanging from poles. They go, with their souls in lausperene, to bring the good news to places where there were people who did not come. And the priests? Some attended the place, smiling, lining up more with curious spectators than with pilgrims avid for heavenly favors. Perhaps one or the other could not hide the satisfaction that so often appears on the faces of the winners...

It is up to the experts to pronounce on the macabre dance of the sun that today, in Fatima, made hosannas burst from the chests of the faithful and naturally impressed, as trusted people assured me, free-thinkers and other people without religious concerns who came to the now famous moor.

«The sun, conserving the speed of its rotation, detaches itself from the firmament and advances sanguinely over the earth, threatening to crush us»

One of those free-thinkers that the journalist alludes to at the end of his article could well be the lawyer José Maria de Almeida Garrett, at that time a young man trained in Law at the University of Coimbra, also present that day in Fatima with his wife. Almeida Garrett would point out:

The celestial vault was covered in cirrus clouds, with patches of blue here and there, but the sun sometimes stood out in tears of clear sky. The clouds that ran lightly from west to east did not obscure the light (which did not hurt) of the sun, giving the easily understandable and explainable impression of passing behind, but sometimes those flakes, which came white, seemed to take, gliding before the sun, a diaphanous shade of pink or blue.

It is wonderful that, for a long time, one can gaze at the star, a blaze of light and an ember of heat, without pain in the eyes and without a blinding glare on the retina. This phenomenon, with two brief interruptions in which the ferocious sun threw its most dazzling and brilliant rays, and which made you look away, must have lasted about ten minutes. This pearly disc had the vertigo of movement. (...) It turned on itself at dizzying speed.

Suddenly, a cry of anguish is heard from all those people. The sun, conserving the speed of its rotation, detaches itself from the firmament and advances sanguinely over the earth, threatening to crush us with the weight of its igneous and enormous load. They are seconds of terrifying impression. During the solar event, which I have been describing in detail, there were changing colors in the atmosphere.

Avelino de Almeida himself would write again about his experience in Fatima that October 13, 1917 after a couple of weeks. Thus, in the publication Ilustração Portuguesa (Portuguese Illustration) it could be read on October 29 his article O Milagre de Fátima/The Miracle of Fátima (Carta a alguém que pede um testemunho insuspeito/Letter to someone who requests a testimony beyond suspicion), from which the following fragment is extracted:

And, when I no longer imagined that I was seeing something more impressive than that noisy but peaceful crowd, animated by the same obsessive idea and moved by the same powerful longing, what did I still see that was truly strange in the Fatima moor? The rain, at the preannounced hour, stops falling; the dense mass of clouds breaks up and the astro-king -a disc of matte silver- appears in full zenith and begins to dance in a violent and convulsive dance, which many people imagined as a serpentine dance, so beautiful and resplendent colors successively covered the solar surface... Miracle, as the people shouted; natural phenomenon, as the wise say? I don't care now to know, just tell you what I saw... The rest depends on Science and the Church...

More than a century has passed since those apparitions and all kinds of questions remain open. Considering the context of that time, it seems that two major and well-defined groups came together when facing these events. That of the believers, who with greater or lesser intensity, find in their faith and religion an explanation for the events of Fátima, where today one of the most important places of pilgrimage for those who profess the Catholic faith continues to be found, visited annually by millions of people. And it is that the Roman Church, how could it be otherwise, quickly took control not only of what happened around the three little shepherds, but even, according to certain researchers, of the life of Lucía, since Francisco and Jacinta would die prematurely from pneumonia and as a result of the flu in 1919 and 1920, respectively. Regardless of beliefs, a question comes to mind spontaneously considering that in less than two years after the apparitions, both children died: Why didn't the miracle occur precisely to avoid their death?

The other group would be made up of both skeptics and those who, even assuming that something extraordinary happened in the sky of Fatima on October 13, 1917, should have more of a natural than a supernatural explanation. Thus, at first, not a few attributed the dance of the sun to a possible eclipse, although no astronomical observatory recorded any phenomenology in this regard that day. There are also those who prefer to speak of a crowd previously and duly suggested as an explanation for the strange behavior of the sun and the clouds. And it is that, according to the descriptions of Avelino de Almeida and José Maria de Almeida Garrett, if the protagonist of the anomalous phenomenology was really the sun, it would have defied the universal laws of the cosmos in terms of its movements, as well as temporarily mutated its physical appearance. And not only that, what catastrophic consequences could occur in the entire solar system if its main star "danced"? And without forgetting the fact of keeping your gaze fixed on it for a long time without the usual glare and blindness caused by doing so for a few seconds.

Photographs with people covering their foreheads and looking down

Another fact that draws attention is the absence of photographs of what happened in the sky, despite the fact that photographers such as Judah Ruah, also an Electronic Engineer, who precisely accompanied Avelino de Almeida for the occasion, were at the scene. All the photographs that have come to light are related to the reactions of the crowd gathered there. Who knows. Perhaps that day those other photographs were taken, but their fate is unknown. In any case, in some of the images it may be seen those who appear in it with their hands on their foreheads as a visor during the supposed miracle of the sun, which would indicate that, as usual, it is impossible to hold the gaze towards the sun without some kind of protection. And other people can even be seen looking directly at the ground.

It is also curious that the supposed Marian apparitions seem to be reserved only for the three little shepherds, and not for a large crowd, which on October 13, 1917 seems to have been the object of an attempt to impress it with a prodigious act. It is to be assumed that the majority of people, being more or less believers, and even atheists, who went to Cova da Iria on that date did so with the initial conviction that, more than a miracle of the sun, they would also have the option of seeing the same thing that the three little shepherds had said they saw in previous apparitions: a beautiful and resplendent being with the face of a woman, who claimed to be the Virgin Mary. That is, people did not go there to see the sun dancing, but to see the Virgin Mary.

UFO phenomenon behind the apparitions and the dance of the sun?

These apparitions took place in 1917. That is to say, just 30 years before the incident in Roswell (New Mexico, USA) in 1947, a place where an alien ship with its crew members supposedly crashed, unleashing from that date the fever for the UFO phenomena, something that until then had remained taboo within society, and being any slightest hint of rearing its head discredited by both religion and science, labeling whoever dared to touch the matter as a true nutcase. But the passing of decades, together with the concealment and misinformation on the part of governments on the matter, ended up causing a real tsunami that, to this day, has led an innumerable list of researchers and curious people to turn into everyday life all that revolves around the possibility of the existence of intelligences outside planet Earth much more advanced than humans. Therefore, those who have tried to find an extraterrestrial explanation for what happened on the heights of Fátima on October 13, 1917 could not be missing.

We may never know what really happened, but at least with this article we want to highlight the testimony of two non-religious people, a journalist and a lawyer, who with more or less skepticism left us valuable testimony of what they supposedly saw that October 13, 1917 above their heads, together with thousands of people, in Cova da Iria. There are those who, however, and in this case coming from the ecclesiastical world, are clear about what happened, or rather what never happened at Fátima. We are referring to the Portuguese Mário de Oliveira, a Catholic priest, author of two controversial books on this matter, Fátima nunca mais and Fátima S.A., in which he not only denies Marian apparitions, but rather denounces the big business set up by the Catholic Church taking advantage of the events of 1917.

Santuario de Fátima en Portugal
Sanctuary of Fátima.
Santuario de Fátima en Portugal
Sanctuary of Fátima.
Capilla Apariciones Santuario Fátima Portugal
Chapel of Apparitions.

«How is someone who does not exist as a mythological figure going to appear?»

Thus, in an interview with the digital newspaper El Español in 2017, Oliveira is clear that what happened in Cova da Iria between May 13 and October 13, 1917 was «a fraud (...) a little theater devised by members of the clergy of Ourém. The main victims of this lie were the three little shepherds, who were used as actors in this episcopal production. The existing documentation makes it very clear that the clergy manipulated these three very young children (...) to put on a show with international diffusion». He even goes further by asking himself «how is someone who does not exist, or at least does not exist as a mythological figure, going to appear? There was Mary, mother of Jesus, but the mythology that has been created around her figure is an insult to her memory and human intelligence. It is an insult to Jesus himself.» The priest believes that anyone who analyzes the documents made available by the Sanctuary of Fatima, as well as the Memoirs of Sister Lucia, «supposedly» written by her, «will see that it is a crude farce.»

The miracles of Fatima, «a perfect instrument» to regain power and influence

Regarding the supposed Miracle of the Sun, Oliveira has no doubt that «it is obvious that the sun did not dance in Fatima in 1917 (...) It is shameful that the Church continues to talk about this supposed event, clearly impossible on a scientific level». Regarding what could have motivated the Catholic Church to promote and make profitable this «fraud», Father Oliveira argues that «the Portuguese Church was in a very bad state in 1917: since its establishment in 1910 the Republic had worked to reduce the power of the Portuguese clergy and secularize the country. One of the first laws to be enacted after the arrival of the Republic was the nationalization of huge parcels of episcopal land and the suppression of many of the ancestral privileges of the clergy, whose political and economic influence had been enormous up to that time. The diocese of Leiria, in particular, had lost many faithful and was increasingly impoverished. The miracles of Fatima were a perfect instrument to obtain the funds that were sought to restore ecclesiastical properties and get the people to return to worship. On a national level, the alleged apparitions gave the Church the relevance it needed in its crusade against the Republic».

«The Sanctuary is a money making machine»

Regarding the three little shepherds, according to Oliveira, in addition to being used and manipulated, «the clergy are responsible for the deaths of Francisco in 1919 and Jacinta in 1920. The priests encouraged the children to practice absolutely crazy mortifications and penances. Their prolonged fasts – which included abstaining from drinking water in the middle of summer – made them physically weak, unable to resist the epidemics of the time. They died of pneumonia and pleurisy, respectively, without the 'miraculous' Lady of Fatima helping them. It is a crime against humanity that has gone unpunished.»

Oliveira believes that everything that surrounds Fátima «is a business that is very good for the State since it generates many millions of euros. The Sanctuary is a money making machine. It's nauseating: its only mission is to promote religious tourism, to attract people in the name of a toxic faith, based on lies. Today the entire area of the Sanctuary, and the businesses scattered throughout the village, are created to take advantage of the poor who come there. It is well known that many of them serve to launder money.»

«I feel Catholic and Human, quite different from feeling Apostolic or Roman»

Finally, when asked how he manages to maintain his faith in the Catholic religion, the priest answers:

I always wanted to be a priest, and when I was ordained on August 5, 1962, I took vows to be one for life. This subject does not make me doubt that I am a priest and a journalist, a man of faith, of Jesus, a believer in his word and his policies. My faith is maintained because I understand that being a Catholic is recognizing that God lives within each one of us, a common factor among all human beings. I feel Catholic and Human, quite different from feeling Apostolic or Roman.

Rivers of ink have flowed about the events of 1917 in Cova de Iria, and matters of faith aside, there is something that is manifestly clear, that it is not a vision but a reality, and that, like the sun when you look at it fixedly, does not only blinds the sight but the soul. We are referring to the tourist business set up around the Sanctuary of Fátima, to which millions of people from all over the planet have been coming every year for many decades, leaving their money there, and taking in exchange a reaffirmation of their faith, in the best case, a mere visit of pleasure in others and a who knows very well what in the rest.

Santuario de Fátima en Portugal

In the Sanctuary you can also observe scenes of the most irrational, such as the one starring those who understand faith as a quantitative rather than a qualitative demonstration. Thus, you can see people with a good number of candles of various thickness and length under their arms, which are transferred to a kind of barbecue; in reality it is a wall from whose base flames arise. The first thing you think is that the person stuffed with candles, once there, will begin to light them one by one, to later distribute them among companions. But not. With some exceptions, the set of candles is deposited suddenly on the fire - who knows if the huge amounts of melted wax are reused-.

Jacinta Marto Fátima Portugal
Jacinta Marto.

If a Virgin Mary appeared at Fatima in 1917, she was seven years old and her name was really Jacinta. This idea comes to mind every time I contemplate the glow of her innocence and her angelic face in her photographs.

And we do not want to end this article without referring to its title, taken in part from the book The Secret of Fátima, written by the Portuguese historians Joaquim Fernandes and Fina d'Armada, who for the first time in 1978, that is to say, more than 60 years after the events, they had access to original documents on the apparitions extracted from the archives of the sanctuary, initiating a long investigation, later collected in the aforementioned book, in whose back cover can be read:

Whatever the truth, the Fatima apparitions were not properly investigated until sixty years later. The original records of the case remained locked away in custody for six decades in secret files inside the sanctuary. The celestial secrets within these archives held a great enigma, something that religion could not admit and science could not explain...


Carlos Fiolhais (2017). A ciência e o "milagre do sol". Fátima, Portugal: Santuário de Nossa Senhora do Rosário de Fátima
Avelino de Almeida (1917). Como o sol bailou ao meio dia em Fátima. Lisbon, Portugal: O Século
Avelino de Almeida (1973). O milagre de Fátima (Carta a alguém que pede um testemunho insuspeito). Leiria, Portugal: Voz da Fátima
Aitor Hernánderz-Morales. "El cura portugués que no cree en Fátima: 'Los pastorcillos fueron manipulados, las apariciones son mentira'". El Español, 29 November 2022, https://www.elespanol.com/reportajes/20170512/215478955_0.html]