After a final breakfast at Conde de Ferreira Palace we checked our bags and documents, left and walked the short distance to the railway station and waited with a handful of other passengers for the train to Lisbon.
We weren’t going back to Lisbon of course but first had to go south to make a connection for a train to our next destination – Coimbra.
We were a little early but sat in the sun until departure time and then climbed on board and enjoyed the short journey to Lamarosa where we switched trains to Coimbra.
After a few stops we pulled into a station for the town and pilgrimage site of Fatima and I mention this here only because a few weeks earlier we had visited Ireland and been to the pilgrimage site of Knock which has a very similar story.
In the spring and summer of 1916, nine-year-old Lúcia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco were herding sheep and later claimed that they were visited three times by an apparition of an angel. They said the angel, who identified himself as the “Angel of Peace” and “Angel of Portugal“, taught them prayers and to spend time in adoration of the Lord.
Then, beginning in the spring of 1917, the children reported more appearances of the angel and starting in May 1917, they cranked the story up to a new level to include apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
These little children look trustworthy enough don’t you think, would they make up such a yarn? If my children came home one evening with such an unlikely tale I would tell them not to make up ridiculous stories and to forget all about it or they wouldn’t get any supper.
I confess that I am rather sceptical about these stories, I think it is something that is mostly good for tourism and rather conveniently the two boys died soon after in the flu pandemic that swept across Europe after the First World War so could answer no further questions on the matter. The Virgin Mary and her miracles were not much help to them were they!
Lúcia became a Nun and took a convenient vow of silence on the matter although she did write an account of three secrets and passed this to the Vatican for safe keeping. All have now been revealed – a vision of Hell (not difficult with a good imagination) the end of the first World War followed by a second (revealed in 1941 so a bit of hindsight might have helped) and a vague warning about persecution of Christians.
The widely reported sightings were the catalyst then for the tiny village of Fátima to quickly become a major centre of Catholic pilgrimage. Two million people visited the site in the decade following the events of 1917. In 1930 the Catholic Church officially recognised the apparition events as “worthy of belief” and granted a papal indulgence to pilgrims visiting Fátima.
Fátima today is the most visited Catholic Pilgrimage site in all of Europe, I’ll say that again – the most visited Catholic Pilgrimage site in all of Europe, with even more visitors every year than the Vatican, Lourdes or Santiago de Compostela. The most visited Catholic Pilgrimage site in the World is The Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Mexico City, where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared in the sixteenth century (yes, you’ve guessed it) to a poor peasant and estimates for annual visitation to the basilica run as high as twenty million, which is a figure getting close to the entire population of Australia.
The most religious country in Western Europe is Malta where in a survey in 2010 95% of the population said that they were practicing Catholics. Nearby Italy (where the Pope lives) only managed 74%. Portugal registered 72% and was fifth in the list. The least religious countries are all in the north where over 80% of respondents in Estonia, Norway, Denmark and Sweden all said that religion isn’t very important at all.
Interestingly this survey didn’t seem to include the Vatican State where I imagine the response would surely have been 100%.
Today many thousands of Portuguese Catholics make the pilgrimage to Fátima. The German couple at breakfast in Tomar visited one day and reported that there were eight hundred buses in the coach park all bringing visitors to the sighting of the Virgin Mary. Not all that surprising really because 2017 is the hundredth anniversary of the sighting, specifically the 13th October.
The Virgin Mary had promised a miracle for the last of her apparitions and on this date a huge crowd of possibly hundred thousand people turned up. What happened then became known as the “Miracle of the Sun”.
Various claims have been made as to what actually occurred during the event. The three children who originally said that they saw Our Lady of Fátima reported seeing a panorama of visions including those of Jesus, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and of Saint Joseph blessing the people.
According to accounts, after a period of rain, the dark clouds broke and the sun appeared as an opaque, spinning disc in the sky. It was said to cast multicolored lights across the landscape, the people, and the surrounding clouds. The sun was then reported to have careered towards the earth before making its way back to its normal position.
Could this be true, I don’t know. Maybe it was just an ordinary sunset. I keep an open mind on the matter of Marian Apparitions, does the Virgin Mary every now and again keep randomly appearing to people in remote towns and villages, maybe!
Anyway this being the hundredth anniversary of the miracle the pilgrimage town of Fátima was planning the Mother of all parties to celebrate.
After Fátima the train passed through several more towns and villages before arriving in Coimbra where we took a taxi to the city centre IBIS hotel.
I hate taxis, I am a very nervous taxi passenger, I am petrified of the metre which seems to rack up charges at an alarming rate, faster than the acceleration of an Apollo rocket on its way to the moon and I spend any taxi journey fixated upon the clock. I am almost as afraid of taxis as I am of dogs, but that is another story.
As it turned out, the journey cost less than €10 so I was panicking about nothing really and soon we had checked in, approved our room and were ready to visit the historical centre of Coimbra.
* A Marian Apparition is a reported supernatural appearance by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The miracle is often named after the town where it is reported.