Maria da Capelinha continues:
A poor woman from Tomar took earth away from here to make infusions and cure sick people because in those days there was no water. They dug up the earth near the tree and rubbed the sick with it. Some people ate it and were better afterwards. Sometimes, even ladies would rub it on their well-dressed little children without minding the dirt!
In Alqueidao there was a girl who had been paralysed for seven months. Her parents did not have her treated, and she was very poor. One day Our Lady of Fatima appeared to her and told her that she would cure her if her mother would go to the Cova and take some earth from under the oak tree and eat some of it during a novena. It all happened as our Lady had said, and the girl was perfectly cured.
Another time I saw a man from Torres Novas in tears near the big oak tree. I went and asked him what was the matter, and he told me his story. He had had an open wound in the leg for twenty-four years which was always full of pus and prevented him from working or even moving. The wound absolutely refused to heal, and he said to me:
“My wife came to Fatima and took away some earth to make an infusion to wash my wound with. I did not want her to do this because the wound needed cleanliness and the mud would certainly make it worse. But my wife, who had great faith, said that many people had been cured with the earth, and although I had no faith at all in God nor any religion, she insisted so much, that at last I let her have her way. Every day for nine days she washed the wound with that mud and each day it healed a little more, until at the end of the novena it was perfectly cured. I burst into tears, took off the bandages and came here on foot although I couldn’t move before!”
Another time it was a consumptive from Tomar, also an unbeliever. His wife told him that they would go to Fatima or at least make a novena and drink an infusion of the earth under the tree where our Lady had appeared. But he wouldn’t hear of anything of the kind. His wife insisted so much that in the end he consented to drink the infusion, though without faith or devotion. In spite of this, our Lady cured him, and in a few days he was strong and healthy again.
From this time people came every day to get the earth for their sick. We dug it up in spoonfuls, and the people took it away in their handkerchiefs or in paper bags. On the 13th we would give out two or three sackfuls of earth from an open trench by the tree of the apparitions. At night we filled up the trench again with earth from somewhere else.
A series of seemingly miraculous cures that sheer cynicism and derision could not dispel, did much to increase devotion at the Shrine of Fatima in those early days.
Maria da Capelinha tells us:
They came from everywhere with their afflictions and their miseries. Even before Jacinta died, and before the chapel was even begun, I remember them coming with their troubles and their sicknesses. It was the time of the influenza that was so bad, and one day Friar David, from Saint Caterina’s came to give the first sermon ever delivered at the Cova. Everyone was so worried about the influenza and so many were already afflicted. We took our own saints in the procession – Saint Lucy, I remember, Our Lady of the Rosary, and other statues. Friar David, a wise and good man, looked at the people then.
“This is all very well, my children,” he said, “but such a devotion is worth nothing without the important thing – amendment of life!”
Yes, Jacinta herself was there that day, very weak with her sickness, and the people were weeping in sorrow over this epidemic. Our Lady heard the prayers they offered, Father, because from that day on, we had no more cases of influenza in our district. From then on, as you might expect, the devotion grew greater, and after the chapel was built, there were thousands and thousands who came, even though there was not one drop of water in the place for them.
This lack of water continued until October 12, 1926, when the bishop of Leiria made his first visit to the Cova da Iria. Seeing the total aridity of the place, the bishop assigned to Senhor Carreira, the husband of Maria da Capelinha, the chore of opening a well.
By Maria’s account:
At first we thought of trying to open it about eighty yards from the chapel, near a fig tree, but in the end it was the suggestion of Senhor Jose Alves that was followed. Dr Marques dos Santos the prior of Saint Caterina’s was there, along with the Vicar of Olival.
“I am sure it is no use digging a well at this spot,” Jose Alves said.
“Then where would you suggest?” the Vicar asked him.
“Right there,” Jose replied, and he pointed to the place where the Cova was deepest. “Even after a month without rain, your reverence, there is always some moisture and some reeds growing there.”
Well, the work began, and when we had hardly worked half a day, we hit rock.
“What happens now?” the priests wanted to know.
“Now we blast the rock,” was our reply, and we went to get the things we would need. Afterwards the water came up with great abundance, even though we did not finish the well. It remained like that, unfinished, until the following year.
Whether or not this water appeared in the Cova da Iria miraculously, it would have been difficult to dissuade the people of the serra from their conviction that another wonder had risen in their midst.
Jose Alves testifies:
They came here with their bottles and their pitchers which they filled and took home for their sick to drink and to wash their wounds in. Everyone had the greatest faith in our Lady’s water, and she used it to cure their wounds and their pains. Never did our Lady perform so many miracles as at that time. I saw people with terrible legs that were running with pus, but when they washed themselves with the water they were able to leave their bandages behind, because our Lady had cured them. Other people knelt down and drank that earthy water, and were cured of serious internal diseases.
It does seem, examining not this fragment of evidence, but the total record, that Mary the Queen of Heaven, does have a way of scoffing at the hygienic fears of the meticulous, working her wonders with elements that would almost certainly, on a natural level, bring nothing but further infection and new complications to people already sick. Understandably, at the Cova da Iria, those officials responsible for the public health, became in time seriously alarmed. In July of 1927, a new mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem, Senhor Antonio Pavilon, sent this communication to the regedor of Fatima:
My attention has been called by the Subdelegate of Public Health in this county, to an open ditch of water which Manuel Carreira of Moita has dug in the Cova da Iria. This water is used by persons suffering from exterior and interior diseases in such a manner that I have resolved to call the said Carreira, with yourself as intermediary, before the administration of this county, and call upon him to cover this ditch which is an immediate danger to public hygiene. Will you kindly inform me without delay as to what can be done in this case?
Mayor Pavilon, however, had reason to know that this particular regedor was a gentleman strongly disinclined to interfere in the matter. For this reason he travelled to Fatima himself, taking with him the Sub-delegate of Public Health, Dr Joaquim Francisco Alves. They visited the Cova da Iria, and then had a talk with the local pastor, Father Ferreira, who recalls the conversation:
“The place is disgusting,” Dr Alves declared. “It must be covered over at once. It’s a disgrace to the parish.”
“Faith never hurt anyone,” I replied. “It is already a miracle that such dirty, impure water has not once done any harm to those who drink it.”
But neither the seriously worried mayor, nor the sub-delegate, was in the business of miracles. They impressed on Father Ferreira that if the well was not covered promptly he would be held accountable for any illnesses that occurred through this neglect. Father Ferreira said nothing, but was distressed by the affair. After all, if the town regedor did not dare offend the religious sensibilities of the people, how was he, their parish priest, to persuade them they were doing anything wrong? Consequently, a whole year later, Mayor Pavilon found himself submitting once more, an official reminder to the Sub-delegate of Public Health:
It appears that the well in the Cova da Iria continues to remain open, constituting a menace to public health and sanitation, in view of the fact that the said water is full of dirt and microbes. I, therefore, request your advice on the matter, and await your suggestions for the destruction of this ditch, which I am determined to effect as soon as possible.
Eventually, and perhaps quite properly, the bishop of Leiria directed that the well be deepened and covered. This work was carried out under the supervision of the mayor, Father Ferreira, and the Sub-delegate, Dr Alves, who had heard alarming reports that the water had been poisoned. In time, however, and for reasons not clear to us, Dr Alves declared the water to be entirely drinkable. Excepting only the Chapel of the Apparitions, the fountain that rises above the well is the oldest of the structures we are able to see today within the Sanctuary of the Cova da Iria.
Let’s not make the mistake of assuming them ten cents a dozen in this or any year, but the author himself has been present at almost every conceivable kind of physical cure at Fatima. We who have had the privilege of living close beside the Cova da Iria do not face the problem of merely believing in Mary’s powers of intercession. By God’s infinite gift we are enabled to know them, and to understand the actual slightness of physical prodigy when it is placed against the harvest of souls our Lady has come to gather for her Son.