A short guide on Fátima and its significance

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While the population in Portugal of self-declared Catholics has been slowly declining the last decades, the country still remains largely Catholic or Catholic affiliated. In fact, Portugal has a rich history of “friendship” with the Catholic Church, contrary to what happens in England, Germany and even France (one cannot forget the Western Schism that took place in the 14th century). As such, one shouldn’t feel surprised with the huge number of Catholic-related heritage, events, saints, traditions and everlasting legacy. Even if not a believer, one cannot help but feel amazed with the presence of the Catholic religion in Portugal nowadays and throughout our history.

Perhaps of the most recent and well-known religious event in Portugal took place roughly 102 years ago in 1917 in Fátima, when history says the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared a number of times in front of three little shepherds: Lúcia, Jacinta and Francisco. This event transformed the then mostly isolated and rural town, into a major pilgrimage center of the entire World, drawing nearly 9 million pilgrims every year. Just as a benchmark, the “Camino de Santiago” hosts about 300.000 pilgrims each year.



So what really happened?

On May 13th, while going home with a flock of sheep, the three children claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary. The Virgin told them that she would reappear to everybody on the 13th in the next six months, the last time being on October 13th (In front of 70.000 people: the well-known miracle of the Sun). According to their recount, the figure of the Virgin Mary was “brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal goblet filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun.”



The Virgin Mary requested a number of things, the most important being prayer in the form of a rosary in order to tackle the then ongoing 1st World War. The Virgin Mary also revealed other things, most notably what would be known to the World as the Secret of Fátima, composed by 3 different parts and which Lúcia, one of the 3 shepherds, revealed throughout the years in written form:

1st Part – A vision of Hell: “Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form (…)”. While this interpretation of Hell seems almost a caricature, the Church later interpreted this mostly as a warning then as the actual representation of Hell. Most scholars tend to believe that the Hell revealed to the Shepherds was mostly their own interpretation of it.

2nd Part -The end of WWI and the request of Russia to be consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary: “The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pope Pius XI.” Although scholars tend to place the beginning of WW2 in 1939 with the invasion of Poland by Russia and Germany (after the death of Pius XI), the truth is that war had been raging since 1937 in China-Japan and since 1938 with Austria’s annexation by Hitler’s 3rd Reich. The last part of the statement, however, is shrouded in controversy, with the statement predicting the election of Achille Ratti as Pope as well as his chosen name of Pius XI. The reason for the controversy is that the statement was only disclosed in 1941, years after the Pope’s death.

3rd Part – 20th-century persecution of Christians and the failed assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II: “Penance, Penance, Penance!’. And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father”. On May 13th 1981, on the anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin Mary, Pope John Paul II suffered a failed assassination attempt, he later revealed the last part of the secret and stated that his survival was due to our Lady of Fátima.



For the obvious reasons, there are many critics of the miracle of Fátima, even inside the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, one cannot deny the spiritual aura that envelops Fátima nowadays. The pilgrimage that happens throughout the year, but especially in May, is the living proof of that!

The sanctuary is a place of peace and tranquility that invites you to sit, close your eyes and obliterate all of your problems and conscientiousness, even if you aren’t a believer. As such, ever since the apparitions and with the release of the secret of Fátima, this quiet little town has become of the World’s top centers of religious tourism. May 13th is considered the busiest day of the Sanctuary, as you can observe from the candle procession that takes place later in the night.



There are plenty of site-related attractions to visit. However, don’t stick only to the town of Fátima. There’re other things you can visit in the nearby area which that are of historical significance for Portugal, perhaps being the Monastery of Batalha the most important one. Here’s a small guide on Fátima and around:


In Fátima (Sanctuary and nearby)

  • Visit:
    • Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fátima & the Basilica of the Holy Trinity
    • The chapel of apparitions: Built in 1919, this Chapel was built on the site where the Virgin appeared to the three little shepherds.
    • The 3 little shepherds houses in Aljustrel.
  • Do: Participate in one of the candle procession that happens throughout the year
  • Eat: Tia Alice (5min driving from the sanctuary)
  • Sleep: There’s plenty of options in the town center. You can also seek refuge in one of the pilgrim inns such as the Dominicans nuns or the Capuchins.
  • Prepare your Fátima visit and stay: official site



Outside Fátima

  • Visit: Batalha Monastery, Alcobaça Monastery, Óbidos town, city of Tomar.
  • Do: Explore the nearby Serras de Aire Natural Park and do a walking tour of the caves.
  • Eat: Solar dos Amigos, António Padeiro, Chico Elias.



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