Sorry for the long lag between posts, gentle reader. Trying to finish my debut novel by year’s end, with the hope that some of you will come along for the ride. In penance, and since this is the high (un)holy week of October, I will endeavor to make it up to you.
Pope Francis’s recent trip to the US put the Catholic Church back in the news for a while, but this time for mostly good reasons. As such, I figured it might be a good time to tell the story of the Miracle of the Sun, for those that don’t already know it.
As fortune would have it, October 13, 1917 fell on a Sunday. Between 30,000 and 100,000 people congregated in a field called Cova da Iria (Irene’s Cove), in Aljustrel, a small village near Fatima, Portugal. To understand why they were there, and what they were about to witness, we need to back up a bit.
The field belonged to the family of Lúcia Santos. Lúcia and her two cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto were illiterate shepherd children who often grazed their sheep there. According to their own testimony, exactly six months earlier, on May 13th, the children were allegedly visited in the field by the apparition of a woman dressed in white whom they took to be the Virgin Mary. The apparition told them to return to the field on the 13th of each month for the next six. The children returned, as instructed, and each time the Lady in White appeared to them. On one such visitation, July 13th, they were allegedly entrusted with three secrets, which Lúcia wrote down years later at the behest of the Bishop of Leiria. The first two secrets were unsealed in 1941. The first involves a terrifying vision of hell, the second is generally believed to concern the first and second world wars. The last secret, which Lúcia insisted could not be understood until much later, was recorded in 1943 but not released until 2000. Like all such holy utterances, the interpretation of these messages is the source of much debate and skepticism and ultimately provoked a demand for the formal consecration of Russia too convoluted to cover here.
The mysterious woman in white, now known as Our Lady of Fatima, promised the children she would reveal her identity to them just after high noon on October 13, 1917. She also promised a miracle for all who gathered there, “so that all might believe.”
The children told their families and local clergy what they’d seen and been told. Word spread of the prophecy, amplified by the press, and many tens of thousands gathered. For most of the morning, the sky was blanketed with clouds and a heavy rain fell and saturated the land, but just after noon the sky suddenly cleared and, according to ample testimony from the devout and skeptical alike, the sun went through a series of strange and frightening transfigurations. An Italian priest named John De Marchi spent seven years interviewing witnesses and collected hundreds of these accounts in a 1952 book called The Immaculate Heart. Small details differ but on the whole they are surprising consistent and involve the following four facets:
- The sun became opaque with a bright fiery ring, like it would in an eclipse, and then began to spin or “dance.”
- Brilliant colors shot from the sky and lit the people and the land with supranormal hues.
- Three separate times the sun seemed to dislodge from its position in the sky and careen wildly toward the earth before suddenly receding, sending many of those in attendance into an apocalyptic panic.
- The whole event transpired in approximately ten minutes. When it was over, the formerly sopping wet clothes of the crowd and the puddled, rain-swollen earth were completely dry.
Among the witnesses were professors of science and liberal “anticlerical” reporters. While skeptics continue to assert the entire thing can be explained as a mass hallucination caused by everyone looking at the sun too long, the Catholic church officially recognized the event as a miracle on October 13, 1930. Other theories involve UFOs and Sun Dogs or Parhelia.
Within three years both Jacinta and Francisco were dead, victims of the 1918 flu epidemic. They were beatified in 2000. Lúcia, on the other hand, became a nun and lived to the ripe old age of 97. Controversy remains regarding the contents, meaning, and authenticity of her third secret.