Portugal City Travel Guide: Fátima
Second only to Lourdes as Europe's major pilgrimage center, the small town of Fátima with around 8,000 inhabitants, welcomes millions of devotees a year who come to pray at the site of a miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary here in 1917.
Three shepherd children had a vision of Mary, who supposedly reappeared on the 13th of each of six subsequent months calling for peace in the world.
On the day of the final apparition a crowd of over 70,000 people had gathered and claimed to witness the Miracle of the Sun, when illnesses and disabilities were cured among the onlookers. One of the children Lucia is said to have received "Three Secrets" from the Virgin.
A vast white Basilica and esplanade were completed in 1953 as a shrine for the ever growing numbers of pilgrims flocking to the town. The courtyard outside the basilica is double the size of the square in front of St. Peter's Church in Rome.
Fátima remains a strange mix of devotion and commercialism with shops selling a mind-boggling array of religious souvenirs to visitors.
Fatima is at its busiest during the major annual pilgrimages of May 12-13 and October 12-13.
Development is ongoing at Fatima and many new museums and places of interest are being built in the town.
Sacred Places in Fatima
The plain and simple, Capelinha das Aparições (Chapel of the Apparitions), now contained within a larger, protective building, is located at the exact point of the apparitions, which occurred over an oak tree.
A marble pillar and case enclosing an image of the Virgin Mary are within the church. The crown of the Virgin contains the bullet that was removed from Pope John Paul II after an attempt on his life in 1981, coincidentally on May 13, the anniversary of the first apparition in Fatima. Pope John Paul II claimed that his survival was due to intervention by the Virgin and he came to Fatima to give his thanks in 1987.
The huge, white Basilica de Nossa Senhora do Rosário de Fátima was completed in 1953 after work started in 1928. Inside the Neoclassical church are the tombs of Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco - the three children who saw the apparition of Mary. Jacinta (1919) and Francisco (1920) perished young in the Spanish flu epidemic but Lucia was to become a Carmelite nun and lived in a convent in Coimbra until her death in February 2005, also on the 13th of the month.
The spire of the church rises to 65 meters and the front of the church is flanked by colonnades facing the huge square. The interior includes stained glass windows depicting the events of the Marian apparitions. There are 15 altars within the church mirrowing the 15 mysteries of the rosary.
The Basilica de Santissima Trindade (Basilica of the Holy Trinity), at the other end of the massive square, is a contemporary building consecrated in 2007.
The huge basilica, designed by Greek architect Alexandros Tombazis, is one of the largest Catholic churches and can hold 8,500 worshippers. The sculpture of Christ Crucified outside the church is by German artist Robert Schad.
The ground floor of the Basilica of the Holy Trinity holds temporary exhibitions of the permanent collection of objects dedicated to the apparitions at Fátima. Exhibits range from historic religious artifacts to the rosaries, walking sticks and sandals of pilgrims to Fátima, to the pen used to write the Secrets of Fatima and the eyeglasses of Lucia.