Fatima, in the heart of the Portuguese way of being

Many are the topics we can share with those who visit us. However, there are themes that, such as Fatima that by their nature or because of their history and social background, need more time to get the message across than we usually have.

The sequence of events during 1917, which had its high points in the apparitions reported by the three young shepherds, are essential and straightforward to tell.

However, by only mentioning those events, one cannot explain Fatima’s importance for the country.

Fatima goes beyond the belief, or not, in the events with the so-called young shepherds, and goes beyond the Catholic Church. It is very revealing of Portuguese culture.

I will then relate, in a chronological manner, the events that I consider essential in this case, and I will also write about some other essential side matters.

But, before I go on, I want to make a contract with whoever will read this article.

It is a simple contract, with few clauses but which I think will benefit both the reader because it will reassure him about some issues, and it will also give me more peace of mind to be able to develop this text.

So the contract is as follows:

    • I am a Catholic. I will do everything in my power to remove my religious convictions from this text. In return, I ask you to remove your prejudice against my beliefs, if any.
    • In this site, I usually write about a great diversity of subjects, and I always try to do it as rigorously as possible, confronting various sources and producing my text. In this case, a good part of the article will be of opinion, and another part will be facts.
    • To simplify the account, I will sometimes identify as a phenomenon cases the Catholic Church calls miracles, apparitions, or cures. This practice says nothing about my convictions on the subject.

Now that we have a contract to read this article, we can proceed.

For ease of reading, I will divide this text into blocks:

    • Who were the little shepherds?
    • The relevant places to begin understanding Fatima.
    • Before the apparitions of Fatima – notes on chronology.
    • During the apparitions of Fatima – notes on chronology.
    • After the apparitions of Fatima – notes on chronology.
    • Fatima, my personal notes.

Between the end of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century, Portugal underwent profound and fascinating transformations. However, in this account, I will not deviate from the central theme that is Fatima, and I will only point out occurrences that had significance for this theme.

Anyway, still within the context of Fatima, there are matters I will have to leave out of this. Covering a more extensive number of angles will result in a massif work.

Who were the three little shepherds?

The apparitions, or phenomena, were witnessed by three children who were out in the fields shepherding their cattle.

These three children were Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia, often identified as the three young shepherds. They were the central protagonists in this story.

In 1917, the year in which the apparitions of Fatima took place, the young shepherds were just children. Lucia was 10 years old, Francisco 8 years old, and Jacinta 7 years old.

Lucia was the cousin of brothers Francisco and Jacinta.

As it was usual at that time and in that place, children spent the day with the cattle. They did not go to school, and therefore they could neither read nor write.

The three of them came from very humble families. They lived from agriculture and lived in Valinhos, a small village next to Aljustrel.

Aljustrel, Fátima, and Cova de Iria are three villages about two kilometers apart, and geographically, their locations draw a triangle on the map.

Francisco Marto was born in 1908. He was 8 years old at the time of the first apparition and died in 1919 even before his 11th birthday after five months of suffering caused by the Spanish flu.

Jacinta Marto was born in 1910. She was 7 years old at the time of the first apparition and died in 1920 before turning 11. Also infected with the Spanish flu, she spent long periods on various hospitalizations, but, in the end, she could not resist the severity of the illness.

Lucia dos Santos (Sister Lucia) among the three little shepherds she had the most extended life. Lúcia survived the Spanish flu and dedicated herself to religious life. She was born in 1907 and died in 2005 at the age of 97. At the time of the first apparition, she was 10 years old.

The relevant places

Fatima is about 130 km north of Lisbon, and today one can get there in about 1h30m by car. However, in 1917, it took about a full day to do that.

Fatima had no more than 50 houses, and Aljustrel, a village two kilometers from Fatima, and where three little shepherds were born, would have no more than 30 homes.

Cova da Iria, where today we find the shrine of Fatima and the Chapel of the Apparitions, is also two kilometers from Fatima and Aljustrel. 

It was here that the Apparitions of Fatima took place.

Here, Lucia’s father had a piece of land where the little shepherds used to take the sheep and goats to graze every day.

Valinhos is a small village next to Aljustrel. This is where the little shepherds lived.

The Chapel of the Apparitions is located in Cova da Iria and is the oldest building in that area. It was built in 1919 on the site of the Holm oak tree was, and the apparitions were recorded.

The Sanctuary of Fatima, its official name is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima. It is located at Cova da Iria, it is the largest building in the area, and it should be the most photographed building in Fatima. The first stone was laid in 1928, but the Basilica was inaugurated only in 1953.

Before the apparitions of Fatima – notes of chronology

    • 1908, 1 Feb – The royal family crossed Terreiro do Paço Square in Lisbon. They came from a stay in Vila Viçosa, Alentejo. In the carriage, the four members of the royal family, King D. Carlos I, Queen D. Amélia, the heir son D. Luís Filipe and the youngest son D. Manuel. Two men approached from the carriage, Manuel Buiça, and Alfredo da Costa, and shot the king and the oldest prince.
    • 1908, 6 May – At the age of 18, D. Manuel II was acclaimed king. During the monarchic regime, the Monarchy and the Catholic Church formed a unique political entity. 
    • 1910, 5 Oct – Implantation of the Republic that meant the end of the monarchic regime and the beginning of the republican administration. Teófilo Barga becomes the first President of the Portuguese Republic and the period called the First Republic begins. This government had a strongly anticlerical policy.
    • 1911, 20 Apr – The Law of Separation between the State and the Church is published. All cults are declared free, is forbidden the teaching of Christianity in schools, and the assets of the Catholic Church were nationalized. Consequently, relations with the Holy Church were cut off.
    • 1916, 9 Mar – Germany declares war on Portugal after German cargo ships were seized on national territory, following an English request. Until July of that year, Portugal took more than 70 German cargo ships.
    • 1917, 30 Jan – The 1st Brigade of the Portuguese Expeditionary Corps (CPE) departs commanded by Colonel Costa Gomes, bound for Flanders. The actual participation of Portugal in the First World War begins.
    • 1917, 8/10 Mar – Start of the Russian Revolution. February Revolution and Petrograd tumults.
    • 1917, 4 Apr – The first Portuguese soldier was shot down at the front of the First World War, where about 10,000 soldiers died from the approximately 200,000 men mobilized at some point.
    • 1917, 9 Apr – The CEP suffers heavy casualties at the Battle of La Lys.

Note: the secrets of Fatima will involve Russia, so it was essential to mention related events in this country.

During the Fatima apparitions – notes of chronology

    • 1917, 13 May – The three young shepherds claimed to have seen a woman in white on a holm oak tree. During this apparition, there was more interaction between the woman in white and Lucia, and less with the other two little shepherds, there were differences in that interaction. Lucia reported having had words about the end of the war. The lady in white scheduled apparitions for the 13th of the following months.
    • 1917, 13 Juni – The phenomenon was beginning to be known in the vicinity. Dozens of people came to the place, and the apparition was again witnessed by the children. The accounts of other people present are ambiguous.
    • 1917, 13 July – On this date, the reports of “secrets of Fatima” begin. On the spot, apart from the little shepherds, there may have been between 1000 and 2000 people.
    • 1917, 13 Aug – The little shepherds were retained by the Administrator of Vila Nova de Ourém and by a priest and could not be at Cova da Iria. There may have been 5000 people with ambiguous reports.
    • 1917, 13 Sept – The phenomenon, having already been reported in newspapers, is beginning to be known to the general population. About 30,000 people attended the site. Reports say they saw Lucia talking to someone invisible.
    • 1917, 13 Oct – Close to 100,000 people may have participated at Cova da Iria on this previously announced date. There was the phenomenon of the “sun dance,” which is described by very diverse people.

Note: the three secrets of Fatima can be found here .

After the apparitions of Fatima – notes on chronology

    • 1917, 7 Nov – Assault on the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. It is the beginning of the October Revolution, Bolsheviks take over strategic points in Petrograd.
    • 1917, 5 Dec – Another military uprising in Lisbon. This time it results at the beginning of the presidential and authoritarian regime imposed by Sidónio Pais, who was called the “President-King”.
    • 1918, 9/10 Jul – Sidónio Pais re-states diplomatic relations with the Holy See.
    • 1918, 9 Apr – The CEP suffers heavy casualties at the Battle of La Lys.
    • 1918, 11 Nov – The Armistice of the First World War is signed.
    • 1918, 14 Dec – Sidónio Pais is murdered, which causes a significant impact on the country. Fernando Pessoa will praise him posthumously with the poem “President-King”.
    • 1919, 4 Apr – Francisco Marto dies, he is the first young shepherd to die.
    • 1919, 15 Jun – The Chapel of the Apparitions is built.
    • 1920, 20 Feb – Jacinta Marto, sister of Francisco Marto, dies.
    • 1921, 13 Oct – Authorisation to celebrate Mass in the Chapel of the Apparitions.
    • 1922, 6 Mar – The Chapel of the Apparitions is attacked by radical anticlericalists. The Chapel is reconstructed.
    • 1926, 28 May – Coup d’état ending the disastrous period of the First Republic, where Portugal had forty-five Governments and nine Presidents in sixteen years. The Military Dictatorship was imposed, followed by a regime called “Estado Novo” (New State), which lasted 48 years.
    • 1928, 13 May – The first stone for the construction of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary (Fatima) was laid.
    • 1953, 13 Oct – The works of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary are finished.
    • 2005, 13 Feb – Lucia dies at 97 years of age.

Note: the secrets of Fatima will involve Russia, so it was essential to mention related events in this country.

Fatima, my personal notes

The Fatima phenomenon occurred at a particular moment in the history of Portugal when there was a tremendous widespread resentment towards the anticlerical measures implemented at the beginning of the First Republic.

Please bear in mind that, although the Republican faction succeeded in overthrowing the Monarchy and imposed a secular state, it was made up of people from an urban environment and who represented a small minority of the population.

The rest of the country’s population consisted overwhelmingly of profoundly Catholic and illiterate peasants. They did not share these secularist ideals.

To reinforce the idea of populations’ displeasure, for the troops sent to the front it had to be given religious support, which was a fundamental part of their culture, but which, at the same time, made no sense in the political context of the time.

It seems to me that there was a fertile ground for a phenomenon with the characteristics of Fatima nature to take hold.

But I do not mean that this could have been the work of the Church, not at all. As a matter of fact, the apparitions of Fatima took place at a time of severed relations between the State and the Holy See. Because of this, the Church was very fragile in Portugal.

It should be noted that in the case of Fatima, the central protagonists were three illiterate children. They had no connection with the outside world beyond their limited geographical area. Words like Russia were not part of their vocabulary.

When these apparitions occurred, the Church was very cautious in dealing with this issue. The Church took two years to authorize a place of worship for Our Lady of Fatima, which happened with the Chapel of the Apparitions and later the Basilica.

Nor can we invoke obscure interests in these children, and even their parents, who knew little or nothing more about the world than the humble reality that surrounded them.

In the short life of the two brothers Marto, there was little more than much suffering after the Apparitions, and Lucia, who had a longer life, dedicated her existence to religious life without material goods.

What about the scheduled phenomena?

There are not only believers stating they saw the apparitions. You can find all combinations, believers that couldn’t see anything but also nonbelievers reporting they saw the lady in white and the sun phenomenon.

Towards Fatima, there were always very diverse positions. There are defenders, and their respective publications, of all possible theories.

The massive popular support for the Fatima apparitions confirmed Portugal as a Catholic country at the time. Any different ideas that might exist would be confined to urban minorities.

The growth of the phenomenon, the construction of the Basilica, the appearance of shops near the enclosure, the popularity, the sacrifices made by penitents and pilgrims, and the dissemination of information which many refer to as propaganda, have been subjects of debate, discord, criticism, and veneration from day one.

Of course, there is much more to say about Fatima. Still, I think that here I conclude my aim with this text, which is to give a context and a starting point for those who visit Fatima or want to know more about it.

Not developed in this text, there is the subject “the secrets of Fatima”. Because I think it is a subject that can be dealt with in a separate text, I will leave it for later.

Visiting Fatima does not imply adherence to the cult. 

Fatima represents an opportunity to better know the deepest and most intimate reality of Portuguese culture.

I can say that Fatima, and all its history, is a synthesis one of the complex ways of being of the Portuguese.

Have a pleasant visit,

David Monteiro

Fatima, Portugal
in the heart of the Portuguese way of being
Fatima, Portugal
in the heart of the Portuguese way of being
Fatima, Portugal
in the heart of the Portuguese way of being
Fatima, Portugal
in the heart of the Portuguese way of being
Fatima, Portugal
in the heart of the Portuguese way of being

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