When I hear the word shrine I think of a few candles, pictures and maybe some cuddly toys that have been gathered together and that are generally small areas intent on being an improvised place of respect, like at a lamp-post or a wall.
So when we arrived in Fatima to check out the shrine on this world-famous pilgrimage site, I can hand on my heart say I was not expecting what appeared in front of us.
If, like me, you’re not up to date on Catholic history and how the absolute absurdity of Fatima came about then here’s a brief break down for you..
In 1917 three shepherd children had a vision of the Virgin 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.
The basilica is relatively contemporary inside but is beautiful nonetheless. To the left and right of the altar are individual shrines to the brother and sister that first saw the apparition and to my surprise had a good few people waiting to say their piece, as it were. Maybe they were just following suit to this guy…
What struck me the most though was what was waiting to be seen out the back of the basilica.
To put this in perspective, Fatima is a small town with 8,000 residents and the courtyard outside the basilica is twice the size of the one out the front on St Peter’s Church in Rome. It seems slightly over the top for a small town in Portugal, right? Maybe not so much, considered millions of people come to visit this pilgrimage site every year and is considered one of the most important Catholic shrines in the world to the Virgin Mary.
And what’s more, people eat it up! They believe so hard that the day we were there, there was a woman on her knees crawling around the altar as penance for sins she believes she had committed. We asked at the information desk about this odd action and how many times she had to do it. It depends entirely on the individual and how badly they believe they have sinned, so for all we know she could still be there now… naughty girl!
Jokes aside, whether you sort of, kinda, semi believe or like me you’re merely fascinated, Fatima is somewhere you have to see for yourself. A mix of pure devotion and commercialism and as crazy as and almost as unbelievable as this place and back story is, the shrine is a magnificent work of art that really does need to be admired no matter what.
Distance travelled so far: 3,839 km
Days away: 121