Many refer to the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917 as the greatest Marian apparition in history. Pope John Paul II called it the greatest message in recent times. Pope Benedict said it was the most significant prophecy in our times. The scope of Our Lady of Fatima’s message, the precision of her prophecies, the importance of her requests and the allure of her promised triumph have captivated the whole world. It is also the most recorded apparition. There are more pictures, testimonies, affidavits and witnesses regarding this apparition than any other.
Yet, for all this popularity, there is no complete description of the actual apparition. Even Sr. Lucy’s memoirs leave most readers wanting more details. What did she look like? How tall was she? How old did she look? What did she wear? Did she smile? Did she hold a 5-decade rosary or a 15-decade one? Did she wear jewelry? What color were her eyes and hair? Were her feet and toes visible?
This article will attempt to give a complete and most accurate description of Our Lady of Fatima as seen by Sr. Lucy, Saint Francisco, and Saint Jacinta.
First, the sources and methodology must be explained. This description will be a compilation of several sources. Each one is valuable in its own right.
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The first and main source is a collection of documents published by the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal called Documentação Crítica de Fátima, Seleção de Documentos (1917-1930). This will be designated in the footnote as DCF. This compilation contains the original documents used by the commission that looked into the veracity of the apparitions. It has the original interviews with all three children done during and after the time of the apparitions, the affidavits given by Sr. Lucy in which she described what she saw, and many others. The author translated the citations from the original Portuguese.
The second source is Fr. Thomas McGlynn’s book, Vision of Fatima (VF). This New York Dominican priest was a trained sculptor and worked with Sr. Lucia in February 1947 in the school in Sardao, Portugal, where Sr. Lucy lived. This source is a true treasure since the priest forced Sr. Lucy to describe things in detail for the purpose of carving a faithful representation of the apparition. Sadly, this is incomplete. Fr. McGlynn had to rely on interpreters who often were carried away with the excitement of the moment and forgot to translate Sr. Lucy’s words for him. In addition, Fr. McGlynn said: “There was much of the interview that I failed to record.”1
The following other books were used as secondary sources:
- MEMÓRIAS DA IRMÃ LÚCIA I written by the Sister Lucy.
- Fatima from the Beginning by Fr. John de Marchi. His interviews of people who knew the seers or were present at the apparitions are thorough and invaluable.
- Our Lady of Fatima (OLF) by William Thomas Walsh. This well-known American historian went to Fatima to interview people who knew the three children and witnessed the events. He tells the story from a trained historian’s viewpoint.
- And finally, A Pathway Under the Gaze of Mary (PW) published by the Carmel of Coimbra, Portugal. This is another excellent source since it includes Sr. Lucy’s unpublished notes.
The description will follow a methodology because the information gathered from each mentioned source is incomplete, confusing, inaccurate and, at times, seemingly contradictory. There are two reasons for this. The first is because, as the apparition progressed, the seers paid attention to more details. The second is because most interviewers had to reconstruct the interviews from memory. Except for the affidavits and official inquest, most interviews were not written down at the moment. The interviewers admit that they could not remember some things the children had said. So, an accurate description can emerge by following the historical method, which lists a set of techniques and guidelines to ascertain facts.
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The first method is cross-referencing the sources. The more a specific detail is repeated, the more certainty there is of its truth. An example of this is the constant affirmation that the apparition is made of light. There is absolutely no doubt about this detail.
The second method is chronology. The most recent statement is generally the most reliable. For example, in one interview, Saint Jacinta said Our Lady was wearing shoes. In a later one, she was no longer so sure if she was wearing shoes or socks. Likewise, in an earlier interview, Sr. Lucy thought the apparition was wearing shoes, or a foot cover, like socks. Still, in a later interview, she raised the possibility that she could not see the apparition’s toes because her feet were so bright.
The third method is the degree of certainty. A seer who is more certain about what she saw is given preference to one who is not. Picking up from the last example, since Sr. Lucy was uncertain, but the other two seers were certain the apparition was wearing something, the statement of the latter two is favored.
The fourth method is looking for context. An example is when the three children said they were frightened by her brilliance. This was repeated multiple times in the original interviews and Sr. Lucy’s affidavits. Yet, in her fourth memoir, published many years after the other documents, she said, “Our Lady’s apparition did not cause fear but surprise,” and when she mentioned running away, it was from the lightning.2
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The last method is deduction. Piecing different elements together can reveal the meaning of a confusing statement. For example, Saint Francisco said he saw a tassel. Sr. Lucy later said there was no tassel. She wore a small globe on a cord that may have looked like a tassel because it emanated bands and rays of light. For these statements to be all correct, it would mean that the bands of light had to be very fine rays, fine enough to be mistaken for tassels. The seers also mentioned how everything about the apparition sparkled or shimmered. Combining all these elements, one can have an idea of what the three children meant by her resplendence being more brilliant than the sun.
There will be no description of the crown since that was added to all the Fatima statues only after 1946. She did not appear with a crown.
Thus, after over a hundred years since the apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, Portugal, the following text is an attempt to describe wholly and precisely what the three children saw.
What Our Lady Looked Like
We saw a beautiful lady dressed in white, brighter than the sun.3 She was about a meter tall.4 She seemed no older than 18 years.5 She stood atop a young holm oak tree. We were two steps away from her.6 She wore a foot cover, so her feet were not seen.7 “She radiated a light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water when the rays of the burning sun shine through it.”8 The light surrounding her was so brilliant and strong that it was impossible to look at her for long.9 The children feared the light would blind them.10 It did not hurt their eyes, but their eyesight was “not powerful enough.”11 There were bands of light emanating from her. We were astonished by her resplendence.12
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Her feet touched the leaves of the meter-tall tree but did not press down on them.13 There was no cloud around the tree.14 She wore a tunic with no collar or cuffs and was cinched at the waist.15 The sleeve of the tunic was not loose but fit snugly around Her wrists.16 She wore a white mantle bordered with a thin thread of gold that looked like a ray of sunlight.17 Both the tunic and mantle came just below the calf.18 “They were two waves of light, one on top of the other.”19 “She was all of light.” The light had various colors, tones and intensities, which made each part distinct from the other.20
There was a yellow star toward the bottom of her tunic, though Sr. Lucy did not remember how many points were on it.21 “She always had a cord with a little ball of light that fell to about the waistline.”22 The cord looked like “rays of sunlight.”23 There was no sash or visible cord drawing the waist in, but there was a break of form at the waist.24
Her hands were folded on her chest as if in prayer, with her fingers pointing up.25 She held a rosary in her right hand. The beads looked white as pearls. The chain and the crucifix were also a white light.26 The children were never sure whether she held a five or a 15-decade rosary.27 She spoke with a fine and melodious voice.28 She was not still. Her hands would open.29 In the May and July apparitions, she opened up her hands as the priest does when he prays Dominus vobiscum and a light issued forth and penetrated the children’s hearts.30 She moved about, and her clothing swayed with her.
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She looked very elegant and more beautiful than any woman the three children had ever seen. Her skin looked like “light that took on the color of flesh.”31 Her hair was not visible since the mantle covered her hairline. She leaned forward toward the children.32 She did not look about but only at the children. Her eyes were of a very dark color.33
Her expression was pleasant, serene, grave, serious, and with a hint of sadness.34 In the first apparition, Our Lady looked at Francisco with an air of reproach. Her face looked noble with faultless lines and had something supernatural or divine. The whole apparition radiated bands of light but especially around her face. She had a beauty that was impossible to describe and incomparably superior to any human beauty.35
How Our Lady Appeared and Left
Sr. Lucy said she never saw how Our Lady appeared. The flash of light would indicate that Our Lady had come. They would look up, and she was there. When asked whether the glow of light appeared before or after the Lady, she responded that it appeared almost simultaneously.36 When she left, the apparition rose serenely, going up toward the east until she disappeared in the immensity of space.37 This took longer than it takes to pray an Our Father and a Hail Mary, but not as much as a whole rosary. The light surrounding her seemed to open up a path before her in the thickness of the stars. Sr. Lucy added, “we sometimes said we saw Heaven opening.”38
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An invitation to Scrutiny or Poetry
It would have been beautiful to describe something so lovely more poetically. The marvelous apparition at Fatima deserves nothing less. However, this article is not an attempt at poetry but the contrary. The intention is to make a description precise enough to pass academic scrutiny. Thus, it may seem a poor contribution to increase devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.
However, once this description passes the review of experts, its completeness and correctness will serve as a foundation for poetry. Meanwhile, let it be a source of contemplation for innocent and pious souls. One look at the apparition was enough to turn Saints Francisco and Jacinta into great saints. Perhaps it might have a similar effect upon those who embark on a journey to contemplate a description of this Lady made entirely of light and more brilliant than the sun.
- VF, 67
- MEM, 174
- PW, 58
- DCF, 173
- DCF, 439
- DCF, 316
- DCF, 235
- PW, 58
- DCF, 235
- DCF, 235
- VF, 94
- DCF, 231
- VF, 65
- VF, 62
- VF, 63
- VF, 63
- VF, 65
- VF, 65
- VF, 101
- VF, 93
- VF, 63
- VF, 102
- VF, 101
- DCF, 321
- DCF, 56
- DCF, 56
- DCF, 35
- DCF, 31
- VF, 93
- VF, 65
- VF, 68
- DCF, 31, 164, & 173; [Author’s note: In the first two references, the children said she had black eyes. In the third, she is mentioned to have very dark eyes (“muito escuro”). Since black is not an eye color, it is more probable that the apparition had dark brown eyes, which may have looked darker in the context of the almost blinding brilliance surrounding her face. Also, Sr. Lucy’s approval of the International Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady indicates that the color of the pilgrim statue’s eyes is a sufficient representation of what she saw.
- DCF, 57
- DCF, 429
- DCF, 120
- DCF, 231
- PW, 59