A common objection to Christianity is the supposed lack of miracles that take place in our time. The Bible documents numerous miracles, and there is compelling evidence that the Resurrection is a real historical event (which, by itself, should satisfy the open mind and heart). But there are miracles in our time as well.
What if I told you that 70,000 people witnessed a supernatural event? That this event took place in western Europe in the 20th Century? That it was documented by newspapers at the time, including those opposed to the Church?
The Miracle of the Sun should be enough to convince the most hardened skeptic that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, the son of Mary and the son of God, and that to worship and sing his praises is to do what is right and proper.
The Virgin Mary appeared to three young children – Lucia Santos, Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto – on six occasions between May and October of 1917, in the rural parish of Fatima in Portugal. At the time, Lucia was ten years old, Francisco nine, and Jacinta seven. The apparitions occurred at the Cova da Iria field owned by Lucia’s family, where the three children were pasturing their sheep.
The first apparition occurred on May 13, 1917. Mary told the children she would return five more times, always on noon on the 13th of the month. While Lucia wanted to keep the apparitions private, little Jacinta could not help sharing the news with her family. Word quickly spread throughout the village, and with each appearance of Mary the crowds grew larger. The apparitions were proceeded (in Lucia’s words) by “lightning in a clear sky.” While the crowds who began to gather could not see Mary, they saw the lightning, and recognized that something supernatural was occurring.
During Mary’s third appearance (July 13, 1917), she told the children that in October she would “perform a miracle so that all may believe.” By Mary’s fifth appearance (September 13, 1917), the crowd had grown to 30,000 people, and an estimated 70,000 came to Fatima on October 13, 1917, when the miracle would take place.
The Miracle of the Sun is described in the Lisbon daily newspaper O Seculo in its October 15, 1917 edition. The Portuguese monarchy had been overthrown in 1910, when the anti-clerical First Republic was established. Five days after assuming office, the new government suppressed all convents, monasteries and religious orders. All residents of religious orders were expelled and their goods were confiscated. (1) As its name suggests, O Seculo strongly supported the new government and opposed the Church. With that context, here is description of the Miracle of the Sun from O Seculo’s reporter:
“From the road, where the vehicles were parked and where hundreds of people who had not dared to brave the mud were congregated, one could see the immense multitude turn toward the sun, which appeared free from clouds and in its zenith. It looked like a plaque of dull silver, and it was possible to look at it without the least discomfort. It might have been an eclipse which was taking place. But at that moment a great shout went up, and one could hear the spectators nearest at hand shouting: ‘A miracle! A miracle!’
Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bareheaded, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws—the sun ‘danced’ according to the typical expression of the people.
People then began to ask each other what they had seen. The great majority admitted to having seen the trembling and the dancing of the sun; others affirmed that they saw the face of the Blessed Virgin; others, again, swore that the sun whirled on itself like a giant Catherine wheel and that it lowered itself to the earth as if to burn it in its rays. Some said they saw it change colors successively….” (2)
O Dia, another secular Lisbon daily, described the Miracle of the Sun in its October 17, 1917 edition:
“At one o’clock in the afternoon, midday by the sun, the rain stopped. The sky, pearly grey in color, illuminated the vast arid landscape with a strange light. The sun had a transparent gauzy veil so that the eyes could easily be fixed upon it. The grey mother-of-pearl tone turned into a sheet of silver which broke up as the clouds were torn apart and the silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds. A cry went up from every mouth and people fell on their knees on the muddy ground….
The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands. The blue faded slowly, and then the light seemed to pass through yellow glass. Yellow stains fell against white handkerchiefs, against the dark skirts of the women. They were repeated on the trees, on the stones and on the serra. People wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they.” (3)
There are numerous other eyewitness accounts of the events of that day. Moreover, not all who observed the miracle were in Fatima when it occurred. The account below comes from a child named Ignacio Lorenco, who witnessed it from Alburitel, a village eleven miles from the field of Cova da Iria where the crowd was gathered:
“I was only nine years old at this time, and I went to the local village school. At about midday we were surprised by the shouts and cries of some men and women who were passing in the street in front of the school. The teacher, a good, pious woman, though nervous and impressionable, was the first to run into the road, with the children after her.
Outside, the people were shouting and weeping and pointing to the sun, ignoring the agitated questions of the schoolmistress. It was the great Miracle, which one could see quite distinctly from the top of the hill where my village was situated—the Miracle of the sun, accompanied by all its extraordinary phenomena.
I feel incapable of describing what I saw and felt. I looked fixedly at the sun, which seemed pale and did not hurt the eyes. Looking like a ball of snow revolving on itself, it suddenly seemed to come down in a zigzag, menacing the earth. Terrified, I ran and hid myself among the people, who were weeping and expecting the end of the world at any moment.
Near us was an unbeliever who had spent the morning mocking at the simpletons who had gone off to Fátima just to see an ordinary girl. He now seemed to be paralyzed, his eyes fixed on the sun. Afterwards he trembled from head to foot and lifting up his arms fell on his knees in the mud, crying out to our Lady.
Meanwhile the people continued to cry out and to weep, asking God to pardon their sins. We all ran to the two chapels in the village, which were soon filled to overflowing. During those long moments of the solar prodigy, objects around us turned all the colors of the rainbow. We saw ourselves blue, yellow, red, etc. All these strange phenomena increased the fears of the people. After about ten minutes the sun, now dull and pallid, returned to its place. When the people realized that the danger was over, there was an explosion of joy, and everyone joined in thanksgiving and praise to our Lady.”
The local bishop opened a canonical investigation of the miracle in November 1917, and Bishop Jose de Silva officially declared the miracle “worthy of belief” on October 13, 1930. (4) The two younger children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, died at an early age, as our Lady had told them, in 1919 and 1920. Lucia dos Santos lived a long life, as Mary predicted, to “establish devotion in the world to my Immaculate Heart.” Lucia died in 2005. (5) Francisco and Jacinta were canonized by Pope Francis on May 13, 2017, one hundred years to the day after Mary first appeared to the three shepherd children. (6)
For further reading:
EWTN has an excellent summary of the events at Fatima from 1916-1917.
See also Father John de Marchi’s detailed account of The True Story of Fatima.
- The full text of the October 15, 1917 article in O Seculo can be found here http://livingfatima.com/how-the-sun-danced-at-noon-in-fatima/