May 13 in Portugal is kind of a big deal if you’re even slightly religious. This is the day where we celebrate the anniversary of Nossa Senhora de Fátima’s first of six reported appearances to three shepherd children in 1917.
The children — Lúcia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto (10, 9, and 7 years old, respectively) — were herding sheep near their home in Cova da Iria when suddenly, as Lúcia described it, a lady who called herself “Lady of the Rosary” appeared “brighter than the sun shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal ball filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun.”
The Lady told the children to do penance and “Acts of Reparation,” and to make sacrifices to save sinners. The three children, according to this EN Academic article, subsequently “wore tight cords around their waists to cause themselves pain, performed self-flagellation using stinging nettles, abstained from drinking water on hot days, and performed other works of penance and mortification of the flesh.”
On top of that, Lúcia said that the lady had asked them to pray to the rosary every day as it was key to personal and world peace, which was timely considering that this message was delivered amidst World War I, in which Portugal took part. It was later said that the Lady told the children that she would be taking Jacinta and Francisco to heaven soon.
They died of the Spanish Flu just three years later.
And it keeps getting better.
Over the course of her six appearances, said to have taken place each time on the 13th of the month, (and once on the 15th) the Lady told the children three secrets, now known as the Three Secrets of Fátima, none of which were divulged until later.
Meanwhile, as crowds began to appear in what is now known as Fátima, the anticlerical Freemason administrators began to believe that the growing fame of the Lady was politically disruptive. So they threw the three children in jail and threatened them with burning hot oil if they didn’t spill the beans. Lúcia reportedly offered to ask the Lady for permission to share the secrets with the interrogator and otherwise kept her mouth shut.
The next time the children saw Nossa Senhora was on July 13, when she promised that a miracle would take place on her last apparition in October. This is known as the “Miracle of the Sun” of the “Sun’s Dance,” where a crowd of roughly 70,000 people gathered at the Cova da Iria witnessed the sun beginning to change colors and rotate like a wheel. Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta reportedly saw lovely images of the holy family and a saint or two.
No movement or other phenomenon of the sun was registered by scientists at the time.
In addition to the dancing sun, the Lady made a prophecy that “a great sign in the night sky [would appear] which would precede a second great war.” Fast forward to January 25, 1938, when an aurora borealis appeared all over the northern hemisphere, making it the widest aurora since 1709. Just over a month later, Hitler seized Austria.
During the twenty-one-year gap, meanwhile, Lúcia shared the first two of Fátima’s secrets. The first was an in-depth, horrifying, gruesome vision of hell. In her third memoir, Lúcia describes seeing “a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze…amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repulsive likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent.”
The second secret, in essence, was instructions on how to save souls from Hell and convert the world to the Christian faith.
But it goes a bit deeper than that— Nossa Senhora gets a smidge political.
According to Lúcia, the Lady said, “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illuminated by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”
Lúcia joined the Dorothean Order and reportedly saw Mary in private visions periodically throughout her life. She later joined the Discalced Carmelite order in a monastery in Coimbra before passing away at 97 years of age on February 13, 2005. A year later her remains were moved to Fátima, where they were enshrined in the basilica next to the sepulcher of her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto who, consequently, were beatified (the last stage before sainthood) in 2000.
All’s well that ends well?