The First Pilgrimage Statue and Official Persecution Begins April-May, 1920

The statue in the little chapel at the Cova da Iria was acquiring an interesting history of its own. As earlier disclosed in this narrative, it arrived in Fatima on May 13, 1920, but rather sheepishly, like some contraband, hidden under farm tools in an ox cart. The reason, of course, was the fear of its being confiscated or destroyed by the civil authorities, or by those venturesome hoodlums the authorities sometimes encouraged.

To know its history a little better we will have to go back a bit with the recollections of Maria da Capelinha:

Hardly a month had passed since the completion of our little chapel, when a gentleman named Senhor Gilbert arrived from Torres Novas and asked me, with some excitement in his voice, who had built this chapel. I did my best to explain to him how it had come about by the sacrifices and savings of the people who believed in our Lady’s appearances here, but he still looked disappointed and upset.

“My trouble is,” he explained to me, “that I promised very solemnly to help as much as I could with the first building raised on this spot. I would have given a great deal of money for building a chapel here, believe me. Why, just one month ago there was not a single stone disturbed, and now I find that the work is already done.”

I sympathised with him, of course; I told him it was a shame, but if he wanted so badly to do something, I said – well, he could contribute toward the building of a statue. “Is that right?” he said.

The idea seemed to please him very much. He said he would speak to his own parish priest in Torres Novas, and if there were no objections, he would have a statue made. This Senhor Gilbert was a great help, believe me, because it was not long before he came back and told me his pastor had no complaints about a statue, and that he would go right ahead with the arrangements.

This was a good way back – before Jacinta had gone to the hospital in Lisbon even, but this man was very sincere. He came with a sculptor several times to question the children about how our Lady had looked. Other times he came to talk with Dr Formigao, who was such a smart, good man, and such a fine friend to the children’s families. All in all it took a long time for the statue to be made. Meantime, some people came from the Quinta da Cardigo and offered us an image of Our Lady of the Rosary to place in the chapel. I said – well, it was very kind of them, but the least we could do was wait until we heard from Senhor Gilbert. It would not be fair, I said, to overlook Senhor Gilbert after all his efforts and good intentions.

I did not guess wrong, for Senhor Gilbert was a man in whom you could believe. Sure enough, the first part of May, we hear the statue is now in his house in Torres Novas, and that somehow or other it was going to get to the Cova da Iria by the 13th of May, the third anniversary of our Lady’s first appearance.

Well, it got here, all right, in an ox cart, but for a while it was not brought to the Cova, because of rumours we kept hearing that the Freemasons were planning to blow up our little chapel and kill us all. Meanwhile it was kept in the sacristy of the church, where Father Reis, who was taking Father Ferreira’s place, blessed it himself.

APRIL-MAY 1920: OFFICIAL PERSECUTION OF THE GREAT PILGRIMAGE

That the fears of our Lady’s good friends were not unjustified, will be made clear by a description of the events that followed. In Lisbon, during that April of 1920, some of the more unbridled opponents of Fatima, learned that a great pilgrimage to the alleged “holy place” was being organised in Torres Novas for Ascension Day. The “alarming news” was that a commemorative statue was to be set up in the Cova da Iria by all the allied forces of “stubborn superstition”. Not only did the “foolish faithful” intend to pour out of Torres Novas, but other “idiots” were to journey in wholesale lots from Lisbon by motor car, horse, and by foot. Swarms of children dressed as angels would be marching on Fatima, along with multitudes of clergymen, including, of course, the “sly, subversive Jesuits”. Indeed, by these reports, “the forces of reaction” were to stage such a parade as had never been seen by intelligent eyes before. This situation was so provoking that it prompted a letter addressed to Senhor Arthur Santos, the mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem, whose authority, as we know, extended to Fatima. Dated April 24, 1920, it reads:

Sir,
Through our mutual friend, Senhor de Sousa, it has come to our knowledge that reactionary demerits in your county are preparing to canonise the deceased seer of Fatima, and so continue the disgusting religious exploitation of the people which has been set in motion. We beg you, therefore, to inform us as to what stage these manoeuvres have reached in order that we, the government, and your good self, may take such precautions as seem advisable to neutralise this shameless Jesuitical trick.
Certain that we may rely on your valuable help in this matter, we are dear Sir,
Yours fraternally,
Julio Ben to Ferreira,
Secretary of the Exterior.

The mayor’s help could be relied on.34

[34. Senhor Julio Lopes, who was at that time secretary to Arthur Santos, confided to us: “As the rumour of the proposed pilgrimage began to spread around, Arthur exclaimed: ‘I must put a stop to this ridiculous fairy tale!’ I replied: ‘You won’t be able to do anything!’ He then said: ‘Not a soul shall get in there; they can’t do anything against brute force!”]

On the 30th of the month all the regedors [constables] of the county received the following circular:

For reasons of public security, you are asked to appear in the County Hall on Thursday next, May 6.

The meeting took place as arranged, and after full discussion the mayor was satisfied. On the next day, the 7th of May, Arthur Santos received a telegram from the Civil Governor of Santarem, Dr Jose Dantas Baracho:

To the Mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem
His Excellency,
Minister Interior, decided repetition Fatima arranged for this month must be prevented. Notify organisers of procession or other religious manifestation under law which will be applied in case of non-co-operation. Disobedience to be answered for in court, after legal notice given. His Excellency determines this matter to be brought directly my attention without intermediary.
Jose Dantas Baracho, Civil Governor.

The zealous mayor lost no time, and on that same day sent instructions to his regedors:

By order H.E. Minister Interior, Fatima repetition arranged for 13th inst. to be prevented. Kindly supply at once names organisers and propagandists in your district in order that law may be applied in case of disobedience.

Suspecting, however, that his orders might not be fulfilled with proper zeal by those assistants, Arthur Santos decided to ask for troops from Santarem, and his request was promptly fulfilled.

To the Mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem
Armed municipal guard will be placed at your disposal, occupy strategic points, prevent transit Fatima procession.
Jose Dantas Baracho, Civil Governor.

And on the 12th, another telegram:

To the Mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem
According agreement made here yesterday force commandment will only prohibit religious manifestation on the spot. Strong armed guard dispatched locality.
Jose Dantas Baracho, Civil Governor.

DR FORMIGAO’S OBSERVATIONS OF OFFICIAL OPPOSITION

For a valid account of the frustrated pilgrimage of May 13, 1920, there is no better account than the one provided by Dr Formigao in the first published book:

I arrived at Vila Nova de Ourem early in the morning on May 13 last. It was pouring with rain and a thunderstorm was in progress at the same time.

When I left Lisbon there were alarming rumours about Fatima, and people said that it was useless to attempt to go there because there were official orders to prevent transit through Vila Nova de Ourem.

For this reason, many people who had arranged to come with me did not in fact leave Lisbon, but I took a chance on it and came to see for myself how much truth there was in the reports.

On arrival I saw two ladies, one young and attractive and the other older but distinguished looking, both of whom I knew slightly. Poor things, in that torrential rain! But they did not complain, and were full of faith and enthusiasm. Their only fear seemed to be that they might be prevented from arriving at the place of the apparitions.

With great difficulty we made our way to a little inn in front of the church, and there we rested until daybreak, because it was quite impossible to get rooms.

Very early in the morning we heard a troop of horses passing, and ran to the window where we saw a squadron of Cavalry of the Republican Guard which was proceeding at a gallop in the direction of Fatima. The rumours were not, then, without foundation. We asked a servant what was in the air, but received the same reply. Nothing but rumours… rumours. But there were infantry, cavalry, machine-guns, and I know not what besides.

A general offensive seemed to be in progress, but against what, in the name of God! No one knew, said the woman. One thing was certain; from Ourem no one could go to Fatima. Transport was available and in great demand at $40.00 a cart, but all were eventually dispensed with to the intense annoyance of the owners, good Republicans all. They could not see why peaceful citizens should be prohibited from an excursion which suited them so well.

In Tomar, it seemed, the same prohibition was in force, also in several other districts whose authorities had forbidden the departure of vehicles.

While we were talking, a young man, owner a of a printing press in Lisbon, and shortly afterwards Dr da Fonseca, a lawyer, who was defending a client in the local court, came up to us. We asked them if they knew anything. No more than we did apparently. People were being allowed to go as far as Fatima but no further. At about that time the rain stopped and I went out into the road where I watched the passage of carts and cars, trucks, foot-folk and horsemen – a regular excursion!

I wondered to what purpose all the prohibitions had been. I had expected to see nobody and yet here was this constant stream of men, women and children.

There were huge charabancs drawn by mules, filled with people roaring with laughter, laughing apparently at the mayor whom I could see in the middle of the road looking uncomfortable in a straw hat with a forced smile on his lips. There were carts decorated with flowers… motor cars blowing their horns, grand-looking carriages, modest dog carts… men and women on foot, soaked to the skin and covered with mud, dripping with water, but happy, smiling. All this unfolded before me like a long cinema film. Where did all these people come from? From all parts, but mostly from Torres Novas I was told. And what was the mayor doing flitting about in his straw hat? What new development was about to unfold? It was all most entertaining!

I wanted to go to Fatima with all speed but there was Mass to be thought of. After Mass, I lunched in great haste and set off on the steep road which winds uphill from Ourem to Fatima.

Coming the other way was a car travelling at speed, in which I caught a glimpse of rifles, fanning out menacingly. It was the mayor and his escort! “He’s up to no good,” observed a lad pedalling uphill on a bicycle. After climbing for an hour and a half we neared Fatima, and the rain began to fall again. At last we entered the little square facing the church. Everywhere we saw carts, carriages and cars parked. A great crowd of people, numbering thousands, was blocking the square and the church.

In the middle of the road a force of infantry and cavalry of the Republican guard was preventing the people from passing, or completing the remaining one and three quarter miles which separate Fatima from the Cova. I asked some bystanders whether anyone had in fact passed. Until midday, I was told, everyone had gone through, but then the mayor had arrived and forbidden it.

I asked the commandant whether one might go through, but he informed me politely that he had allowed people to pass until the mayor had given orders to the contrary. He was very sorry, but he had to obey orders. I went back and mingled with the enormous crowd which was gathered inside the church and on the porch, sadly commenting on the affair, and unable to understand what threat to public order could possibly exist in the Cova da Iria and not in Fatima, since the people were the same. It was perfectly ridiculous, everyone agreed.

Many people tried to get through the fields without being seen, climbing walls and other obstacles, and managed to arrive at the place of the apparitions, counting themselves fortunate to kneel there and say the Rosary. Perhaps it was this which put the government in peril!

Inside the church at Fatima, Father Cruz was delivering sermons and leading the Rosary, while many people were going to confession. A blind woman who had come at the cost of much sacrifice from Aveiro was leaning on the arm of a friend in the pouring rain which had begun again. She made no complaint, but on the contrary entrusted herself with great faith to God, and began walking toward the church.

A bearded individual, who told me he was a doctor, was explaining the providential reasons for the prohibition, to a crowd which had gathered round him. According to him, people had begun to turn the place into a sort of fair with music, etc., and obviously our Lady did not want this. She had appeared in a deserted place precisely because she wanted to be loved and venerated in spirit and truth, without accompaniments more reminiscent of the less edifying festas. Prayer and penance alone were what she wanted, therefore by this prohibition the authorities were all unconsciously satisfying the desires of our Lady!

The rain began to fall torrentially again, and everyone tried to find shelter underneath carts or on the porch of the church, which was already crammed to capacity.

At this moment I saw a Republican guard dealing out blows right and left on some peaceful peasants who were sadly surveying the scene from under their umbrellas. surprised by the entirely unexpected attack, they fled without knowing why they had been set upon. Somebody went up to the guards to ask the reason for this They complained that a man had tried to force a way through, and that when they prevented him he threatened them, and in the confusion that followed, the innocent suffered with the guilty as is the way of the world.

After this explanation, and order having been restored, I began to talk to some peasants and prudently advised them not to make any attempt to pass, adding that there would be great merit in obeying orders however unjust, provided there was nothing against conscience in doing so. Then one of the guards said to me with the utmost sincerity:

“If you only knew, sir, how I dislike this duty. I obey orders because I have to, but believe me, I hate it in my heart. I am religious myself, and I cannot understand why these poor people should be prevented from going to the Cova to pray. It’s enough to upset a man. I have a sister whose life was saved by Our Lady of Fatima!”

As he said this a drop of water rolled down his cheek, most certainly not from the rain which poured and dripped from his waterproof hood.

After this I went to the presbytery whose veranda, designed in the old Portuguese style, was being assaulted by those trying to find shelter from the weather. Here I saw one of the ladies who had been my companions in the morning, and she confided to me in a whisper that she was going to find her way to the Cova by a secret path through the fields. I saw her set off in the soaking rain and mud, delighted at the idea that she was going to get the better of the modern Herods in the government.

At last our coachman warned us that the road was bad, and that we ought to leave soon. We performed our last devotions, said our farewells and returned to Ourem, and thence to our home.

At the station, while we were waiting for the train, we met many people from different parts of the country who were returning home as we were. We saw the blind lady from Aveiro with a companion from Oporto, both of whom, in spite of being soaked to the skin, and in poor health, were none the less in splendid spirits. I saw a friend who was a jeweller in Lisbon, and many other people from the capital.

A respectable business man, apparently a Republican, poured forth his invective upon the mayor of Ourem because he prevented the progress of the countryside and obstructed legitimate trade.

“He’s a fool,” he exclaimed. “Just think of how much the cab men of Tomar and Torres Novas must have lost today!”

Senhor Arthur Santos, the mayor of Vila Nova de Ourem and its surrounding precincts, was not without his admirers, and accordingly, two days later, received this communication:

Sir,
The Portuguese Federation of Free-thought tenders you its profound sympathy in the action, so well in accord with Republican sentiments and free-thought, which you have taken with regard to the pretended miracle of Fatima whereby Jesuit and clerical reaction are trying to exploit popular ignorance. Certain that you will appreciate the extent of our admiration for your manner of procedure, we remain,
Most faithfully yours,

To this epistle, on June 5th, His Honour replied:

To the Portuguese Federation of Freethought

Largo do Intendente, 45. Lisbon.

I acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 15th and thank you for your congratulations which are however unmerited.

On May 13, thanks to the foresight of the Republican government, under that great patriot and illustrious citizen, Antonio Maria Baptista, reaction suffered a complete reverse, while the projected parade, whereby the ignorance of illiterate people was to be exploited once again, was brought to nothing, together with the new attack which was being prepared against the Republic.

However, these authentic enemies of the Republic and promoters of Fatima are not yet entirely disarmed, for they propose to transfer with all their pomps, the body of an unfortunate child and pretended intermediary of the Virgin, who died in Lisbon, to another tomb. They also still make use of a so-called seer, Lucia, an ailing child of thirteen years, in order further to exploit the ignorance of the people.

But such absurd projects can have no effect while a government such as we have at present, and associations such as the Federation of Freethought, fulfil their august mission, which is to combat lies and defend liberty.

The mayor also wrote to the regedor of Fatima:

I beg to inform you that in future no religious parade of any kind may take place in your parish without the knowledge of my administration. Kindly notify the parish priest and the promoters of any religious manifestation of my orders and inform me personally of any incident of a superstitious nature which may occur in connection with the so called miracle of Fatima.