The Children Examined September 27, 1917

In the September days that followed the fifth apparition, Aljustrel became a kind of religious Coney Island for the eagerly pietistic and, as well, for those less reverent idlers lacking better things to do. The questions asked were for the most part irrelevant or irrational, serving no clear purpose in heaven or Portugal, except to stretch the patience of the children and their parents.

It was around this time, that the bewildered young seers acquired an intelligent, unemotional and desperately needed friend. A priest named Dr Manuel Formigao, professor at the Seminary and Lyceum of Santarem, had attended the alleged apparition of September 13. A prudent, understanding, and scholarly gentleman, he had not been much impressed with the “spiritual” aspects of what had seemed to him no more than a pious picnic. Standing about two hundred yards from the kneeling children during those moments they were reported in direct communication with the Mother of God, Dr Formigao had seen none of the remarkable phenomena reported by so many. The only odd thing he had observed was a diminution in the light of the sun, and he had been able, reasonably, to attribute this to the height of the serra.

The one thing to puncture the doctor’s sceptical reserve was the actual conduct of the children in their dramatic circumstance. Their manner, their unaffected reverence, their apparent sincerity and lack of theatrical sham – all these remained in his mind like memoranda pinned there by an angel. For this reason alone, on September 27, he returned to see them again.

A record of Dr Formigao’s first conversation with Francisco follows:

“What have you seen in the Cova da Iria during these months?”

“I have seen our Lady.”

“Where does she appear?”

“The top of an oak tree.”

“Does she appear suddenly, or do you see her coming from anywhere?”

“I see her coming from the side where the sun rises and stops on the oak tree.”

“Does she come slowly or quickly?”

“She always comes quickly.”

“Do you hear what she says to Lucia?”


“Do you ever speak to the Lady? Has she ever spoken to you?”

“No, I have never asked her anything. She only speaks to Lucia.”

“Who does she look at? At you and Jacinta or only at Lucia?”

“She looks at all three of us, but she looks longer at Lucia.”

“Did she ever cry or smile?”

“Neither, she is always serious.”

“How is she dressed?”

“She has a long dress, and over it a mantle which covers her head and falls to the edge of her dress.”

“What is the colour of the dress and the mantle?”

“It is white, and the dress has gold lines.”

“What is her attitude?”

“Like someone praying. She has her hands joined at the height of her breast.”

“Does she carry anything in her hands?”

“Round the palm and the back of her right hand she carries a rosary.”

“And what does she wear on her ears?”

“You cannot see her ears, because they are covered by the mantle.”

“Is the Lady beautiful?”

“Yes, she is.”

“More beautiful than that girl over there?”


“But there are ladies who are much more beautiful than that girl?”

“She was more beautiful than anyone I have ever seen.”

After I had finished questioning Francisco, I called Jacinta, who was playing in the road with some other children, and sitting her on a little stool at my side, I subjected her to a similar interrogation, and succeeded in obtaining complete and detailed replies as in the case of her brother:

“Have you see our Lady on the 13th of each month since May?”


“Where does she come from?”

“She comes from the sky from the side of the sun.”

“How is she dressed?”

“She has a white dress, decorated with gold, and on her head a mantle, also white.”

“What colour is her hair?”

“You cannot see her hair, because it is covered by the mantle.”

“Does she wear earrings?”

“I don’t know, because you cannot see her ears.”

“How does she hold her hands?”

“Her hands are joined at the height of her breast, with the fingers pointing upwards.”

“Are the beads in the right or the left hand?”

To this question the child replied at first that they were in the right hand, but just after, owing to a purposely captious insistence on my part, she became perplexed and confused and was not able to indicate with certainty the hand in which the Vision had held the rosary.

“What was the chief thing that our Lady told Lucia?”

“She said that we were to say the Rosary every day.”

“And do you say it?”

“I say it every day with Francisco and Lucia.”

Half an hour after this interrogation, Lucia appeared. She came from a little property belonging to her family where she had been helping with the vintage.

Taller and better nourished than the other two, with a clearer skin and a more robust, healthier appearance, she presented herself before me with an unselfconciousness which contrasted in a marked manner with the shyness and timidity of Jacinta. Simply dressed, like the latter, neither her attitude nor her expression denoted a sign of vanity, still less of confusion.

Seating herself on a chair at my side, in response to my gesture, she willingly consented to be questioned on the events in which she was the principal protagonist, in spite of the fact that she was visibly fatigued and depressed by the incessant visits and the repeated and lengthy questionings to which she was subjected.

“Is it true that our Lady has appeared in a place called the Cova da Iria?”

“Yes, it is true.”

“How many times has she appeared to you?”

“Five times, once each month.”

“On what day of the month?”

“Always on the 13th, except in the month of August, when I was taken to Ourem by the mayor. In that month I only saw her a few days afterwards, on the 19th, at Valinhos.”

“People say that our Lady also appeared to you last year? Is there any truth in this?”

“She never appeared to me last year, never before May of this year; nor did I ever say so to anybody, because it is not true.”

“Where does she come from? From the east?”

“I don’t know because I don’t see her come from anywhere. She appears over the oak tree and when she goes away she goes into the sky in the direction where the sun rises.”

“How long does she stay? A long or a short time?”

“A short time.”

“Enough to be able to recite an Our Father and Hail Mary, or more?”

“A good deal more, but it is not always the same time; perhaps it would not be long enough to say a Rosary.”

“The first time you saw her were you frightened?”

“I was, so much so that I wanted to run away with Jacinta and Francisco, but she told us not to be afraid because she would not hurt us.”

“How is she dressed?”

“She has a white dress, which reaches to her feet, and her head was covered with a mantle, the same colour and the same length.”

“Has the dress anything on it?”

“You can see, in the front, two gold cords which fall from the neck and are joined at the waist by a tassel, also gold.”

“Is there any belt or ribbon?”


“Her earrings? ”

“They are little rings.”

“In which hand does she hold the rosary?”

“In the right hand.”

“Is it a rosary of five or fifteen decades?”

“I didn’t notice.”

“Had it a cross?”

“Yes, a white cross and the beads, too, were white; so was the chain.”

“Did you ever ask who she was?”

“I did, but she said she would only tell us on the 13th of October.”

“Did you ask her where she came from?”

“I did, and she told me that she came from heaven.”

“When did you ask her this?”

“The second time, on the 13th of June.”

“Did she smile sometimes, or was she sad?”

“She neither smiled, nor was she sad; she was always serious.”

“Did she tell you and your cousins to say certain prayers?”

“She told us to say the Rosary in honour of Our Lady of the Rosary, to obtain the peace of the world.”

“Did she say that many people were to be present in the Cova da Iria during the apparitions of the 13th?”

“She said nothing about that.”

“Is it true that she told you a secret that you were not to tell to anybody at all?”


“Does it only concern you or your cousins also?”

“It concerns all three of us.”

“Could you not tell it even to your confessor?”

At this question Lucia was silent and appeared confused. I judged it better not to insist by repeating the question.

“In order to free yourself from the mayor on the day he imprisoned you, did you tell him something as if it were the secret, thus deceiving him and boasting of it afterwards?”

“That is not true. Senhor Santos really did want me to reveal the secret, but I could not, and did not do so, although he tried in every way to make me do what he wanted. I told the mayor everything that the Lady had said to me except the secret. Perhaps it was because of this that he thought I had told him the secret too. I never wanted to deceive him.”

“Did the Lady tell you to learn to read?”

“Yes, the second time she appeared.”

“But if she told you that she would take you to heaven in October next, what would be the good of learning to read?”

“That is not true. The Lady never said that she would take me to heaven in October, and I never told anyone that she had said such a thing.”

“What did the Lady say was to be done with the money which the people left under the oak tree in the Cova da Iria?”

“She said that we were to make two andors and that I and Jacinta and two more girls were to carry one, and Francisco with three more boys the other, to the parish church. Part of this money was to be for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and the rest to help to build a new chapel.”

“Where does the Lady want the chapel built? In the Cova da Iria?”

“I don’t know; she didn’t say.”

“Are you glad that our Lady appeared to you?”


“On the 13th of October will our Lady come alone?”

“Saint Joseph and the Holy Child will come, and a little time afterwards the world will have peace.”

“Did our Lady reveal anything more?”

“She said that on the 13th of October she would perform a miracle so that the people can believe that she appeared.”

“Why do you often lower your eyes, instead of keeping them on the Lady?”

“Because she sometimes blinds me.”

“Did she teach you any prayer?”

“Yes, and she wants us to recite it after each mystery of the Rosary.”

“Do you know this prayer by heart?”


“Say it.”

O my Jesus, forgive us and deliver us from the fire of hell. Take all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need.

Dr Formigao returned to his seminary at Santarem, pondering seriously and prayerfully the strange case of the children of Aljustrel. For better or worse he believed them. He was convinced they told the truth, at least as they saw the truth, which did not exclude a possibility that in all their honesty, they were yet the victims of hallucination. Indeed the doctor in his charity would have allowed it altogether possible to be both virtuous and crazy.

Yet he did not think they were crazy; and he did not believe they had lied. Consistent with the priestly responsibility he felt, he resolved to visit the children at least once more before the scheduled “miracle” of October 13. He travelled as far as Vila Nova de Ourem by train and completed the journey to Fatima by horse-drawn carriage. He arrived too late to question the children, and for that reason spent the night with a family named Goncalves. Manuel Goncalves, the eldest son of the house, and a man of bright good sense, was able to supply him with information about the families of the children. Happily this dialogue has been preserved and is presented intact.

Dr Formigao is the first to speak:

“Have the parents of these children a good name? Are they respectable, decent living people?”

“The parents of Jacinta and Francisco are very good people, profoundly religious and well thought of by everybody. Lucia’s father is not a churchgoer, but he is not at all a bad man. On the thirteenth of June some of his more disreputable friends succeeded in making him drunk in the hope of getting him to commit some folly or other in the place of the apparitions, and although he had allowed his daughter to go to the place as usual, he ordered the other people off, as proprietor of the ground where the oak tree grows. When the people saw that he was drunk, they took no notice of his order, but a man pushed him so that he fell to the ground. The mother is a pious hard-working woman.”

“What do the inhabitants of Fatima think of the children’s affirmations? Do they believe them? Do they think they are lying, or perhaps victims of a hallucination?”

“At first the people did not want to go to the Cova. No one believed the children. On the 13th of June, the day of the second apparition, there was a feast in the parish in honour of Saint Anthony. In the Cova there were only about seventy people at the time of the apparition. The parents of Jacinta and Francisco had gone in the morning to Porto de Mos for the so-called ‘Fair of the thirteenth,’ with the intention of buying oxen and returning at night. In their absence the house filled up with people who wanted to see the children and question them. At present a large proportion of the people think that the children are speaking the truth. For my own part I am convinced of this.”

“On the days of the apparitions are there extraordinary signs? Many people claim to have seen them.”

“The signs are very numerous. In August almost everyone who was present saw them. A cloud came down on the oak tree. In July the same thing was seen, and there was no dust. The cloud seemed to sweep the air clean.”

“Were there any other signs?”

“In the sky, near the sun, there were some white clouds which turned successively bright red (the colour of blood), pink and yellow. The people themselves turned this last colour. The light of the sun sensibly diminished in intensity, and in July and August a noise was heard.”

“Is it possible that anyone could have induced the children to play a hoax?”

“That would be impossible!”

“Have many people come from outside to talk to the children?”

“Innumerable people from all parts.”

“Do they accept the money which is offered them?”

“They have accepted something from people who insist, but they do not accept it willingly.”

“Are there people in Fatima who have been close to the children during the apparitions?”

“In July, Jacinto Lopes da Amoreira and Manuel de Oliveira from this village of Montelo, were near them.’

“What does Lucia do during the apparitions?”

“She says the Rosary. When she speaks to the Lady she speaks loudly. I myself heard her in June, because I was near her. Some people say that they heard the sound of the reply.”

“Is the place of the apparitions much frequented on the other days?”

“Yes, many people go there, especially on Sundays, and mostly at night. People come from far and near, even more from outside the parish. They say the Rosary and sing hymns in honour of our Lady.”

After this conversation Dr Formigao went to Aljustrel, where he found Lucia helping a mason who was repairing the roof. He has also noted that the following interview was attended by four responsible witnesses.

Dr Formigao:

As soon as she saw me, she greeted me respectfully. Her mother appeared at that moment, and willingly consented to my questioning her daughter again. First, however, I asked her [Maria Santos] a few questions, among which the following may be of interest:

“I think that you have a book called Short Mission, which you sometimes read to your children. Is that so?”23

“Yes, I have read it to my children,” said Maria Santos.

“Have you ever read about the apparition of La Salette to Lucia or to the other children?”

“Only to Lucia and the family.”

“Did Lucia ever speak about the apparition of La Salette, or show in any way that the story had made a great impression on her mind?”

“I don’t remember her ever having mentioned it.”

[23. Dr Formigao had in mind the possible “suggestive” influence of this book.]

Now Dr Formigao resumes his questioning of Lucia:

“You told me some days ago that our Lady wanted the money given by the people to be used for the parish church for two andors. How are these to be obtained, and when are they to be taken to the church?”
“They must be bought with the money which is given on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.”

“Do you know for certain where our Lady wants the chapel in her honour to be built?”

“I don’t know for certain, but I think she wants the chapel in the Cova da Iria.”

“What did she say that she would do in order that people might believe?”

“She said that she would perform a miracle.”

“When did she say this?”

“She said it several times, but once, during the first apparition, I asked her.”24 “Are you not afraid of what the people will do if nothing extraordinary happens on that day?”

[24. One of the slips which Lucia occasionally makes and which are easily explained, as we have said, by the continual and ceaseless interrogations which everybody considered they had the right to impose.]

“I am not at all afraid.”

“Do you feel something inside you, some force which draws you to the Cova da Iria on the 13th of each month?”

“I feel I want to go there, and I should be sad if I didn’t.”

“Did you ever see the Lady make the sign of the cross, pray, or tell the beads?”


“Did she tell you to pray?”

“She told me to pray several times.”

“Did you see the signs which other people said they saw, such as a star, or roses falling from the Lady’s dress?”

“I didn’t see a star nor any other signs.”

“Did you hear any noise or an earthquake?”

“No, I heard nothing.”

“Can you read?”

“No ”

“Are you learning?”


“Then you are not doing what our Lady wants?…”25

Lucia did not reply to this.

“When you tell the people to kneel and pray is it the Lady who tells you to?”

[25. Lucia did not wish to blame her mother who had said: “What does it matter to our Lady if you can read or not!”]

“No, it is not the Lady. I tell them to.”

“Do you always kneel when she appears?”

“Sometimes I kneel, sometimes I stand.”

“When she speaks is her voice sweet and agreeable?”


“How old is the Lady?”

“She looks about fifteen years old.”

“What colour is the rosary chain?”


“And the crucifix?”

“White too.”

“Does the veil cover the forehead of the Lady?”

“It does not cover it; you can see her forehead.”

“Is the light which surrounds her very beautiful?”

“More beautiful than the most brilliant light of the sun.”

“Did the Lady ever greet you with her head or with her hands?”


“Did she ever laugh?”


“Does she usually look at the people?”

“I never saw her look at them,”

“Do you hear the voices and the cries of the people while you are talking to the Lady?”


“Did the Lady ask you in May to come back every month until October to the Cova-da Iria?”

“She said we were to come back from month to month on the 13th for six months.”

“Do you remember your mother reading a book called Short Mission, where there is a story of an apparition of our Lady to a girl?”


“Did you think much about this story, or speak about it to other children?”

“I never thought about this story, and I never talked about it to anyone.”

After hearing Lucia, Dr Formigao went to Senhor Marto’s house, and in his presence, and before some of his daughters, he questioned Jacinta:

“Did the Lady tell you to say the Rosary?”



“When she appeared the first time.”

“Did you hear the secret or was it only Lucia who heard?”

“I heard too.”


“At the second apparition on Saint Anthony’s day.”

“Is the secret that you will be rich?”


“That you will be good and happy?”

“Yes, it is for the good of all three of us.”

“Is it that you will go to heaven?”


“Can you tell the secret?”

“I can’t.”


“Because the Lady said we were not to tell it to anyone.”

“If the people knew it, would they be sad?”


“How did the Lady have her hands?”

“She had them stretched out.”


“Sometimes she turned the palms up to heaven.”

“In May did the Lady say she wanted you to go to the Cova da Iria again?”

“She said she wanted us to go there each month until October, when she would say what she wanted.”

“Has she light round her head?”


“Can you look easily at her face?”

“No, because it hurts my eyes.”

“Do you always hear well, what the Lady says?”

“Last time I couldn’t hear everything, because of the noise the people were making.”

Then came Francisco’s turn:

“How old are you?”

“Nine years old.”

“Do you only see our Lady, or do you also hear what she says?”

“I only see her. I can’t hear anything she says.”

“Has she light round her head?”


“Can you look well at her face?”

“I can look, but only a little because of the light.”

“Has her dress some decoration?”

“It has some cords of gold.”

“What colour is the crucifix?”


“And the chain of the rosary?”

“White, too.”

“Would the people be sad if they knew the secret?”


Dr Formigao had gone as far as he chose to go. It was too much for him. In the face of such calm and candid testimony, it was not possible for his own scepticism, or any ghost of it, to thrive any longer. It would be for Mary, the Queen of Heaven, to confirm with her signature the story of these children, or else, by her non-intervention on October 13, to reject as nonsense, all the wonders they had claimed: In October I will perform a miracle so that everyone can believe.

It was exciting salesmanship, whether spoken by the Virgin Mary, or dreamed by her impatient little champions. People are devoted to miracles, anyhow, and a good, resounding one, rates almost as high in the popular taste as finding a million dollars in a shoe box.