The Miracle of the Sun October 13, 1917

When Lucia cried, “Look at the sun!” the people responded. The rain at that moment had stopped; the sun was clearly seen. There was no cloud to obscure it, yet it did not strain the eyes of any man to look on its unveiled light. The people could see that the sun was strangely spinning. It began to revolve more rapidly, more frighteningly. It began to cast off beams of many-coloured lights in all directions. Shafts of brilliant red came from the rim of the revolving star and fell across the earth, the people and the trees; and green lights came and violet and blue in mixed array. It is a story of wonder and of terror, too, as the great star challenges the discipline of all the ages it has known, and begins careening, trembling in the sky for 70,000 witnesses to see. Now, horribly, it appears to plunge from its place in the heavens and fall upon the earth. People are crying:

“I believe! I believe!”

They are shrieking, “Jesus, save us!”

They are crying, “Miracle!”

They are begging, “God forgive us our sins!”

They are praying, “Mary, save us!”

This is, of course, not our story to tell. It is the story of the 70,000 people who were there. It appears more prudent to call them in witness, than to belabour the subject ourselves. We will start with our friend, Ti Marto, who is not an excitable man.

Ti Marto:

We looked easily at the sun, which for some reason did not blind us. It seemed to flicker on and off, first one way, then another. It cast its rays in many directions and painted everything in different colours – the trees, the people, the air and the ground. But what was most extraordinary, I thought, was that the sun did not hurt our eyes. Everything was still and quiet, and everyone was looking up. Then at a certain moment, the sun appeared to stop spinning. It then began to move and to dance in the sky until it seemed to detach itself from its place and fall upon us. It was a terrible moment.

Among our friends, Maria da Capelinha has told us pretty much the same thing:

Maria da Capelinha:

The sun turned everything to different colours – yellow, blue and white. Then it shook and trembled. It looked like a wheel of fire that was going to fall on the people. They began to cry out, “We shall all be killed!” Others called to our Lady to save them. They recited acts of contrition. One woman began to confess her sins aloud, advertising that she had done this and that…. When at last the sun stopped leaping and moving, we all breathed our relief. We were still alive, and the miracle which the children had foretold, had been seen by everyone.

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Crowd scene during the miracle.

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Crowd scene during the miracle.

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Crowd scene during the miracle.

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Crowd scene after the miracle.

It must be admitted that this was not an afternoon of celestial fireworks enjoyed by simple and unlettered people predisposed to accept any flash of lightning as the Lord’s own signal. The 70,000 witnesses included believers and non-believers, pious old ladies and scoffing young men. Hundreds, from these mixed categories, have given formal testimony. Reports do vary; impressions are in minor details confused, but none to our knowledge has directly denied the visible prodigy of the sun’s unscheduled behaviour in the sky.

The special reporter for the Lisbon daily, O Dia, had this to report in the edition of October 17, 1917:

At one o’clock in the afternoon, midday by the sun, the rain stopped. The sky, pearly grey in colour, illuminated the vast arid landscape with a strange light. The sun had a transparent gauzy veil so that the eyes could easily be fixed upon it. The grey mother-of-pearl tone turned into a sheet of silver which broke up as the clouds were torn apart and the silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds. A cry went up from every mouth and people fell on their knees on the muddy ground….
The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands. The blue faded slowly, and then the light seemed to pass through yellow glass. Yellow stains fell against white handkerchiefs, against the dark skirts of the women. They were repeated on the trees, on the stones and on the serra. People wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they.

In the journal, O Seculo, which we have previously described as Portugal’s most influential newspaper – pro-government in policy, and avowedly anticlerical, the following extract was published under the by-line of Avelino de Almeida:

From the road, where the vehicles were parked and where hundreds of people who had not dared to brave the mud were congregated, one could see the immense multitude turn toward the sun, which appeared free from clouds and in its zenith. It looked like a plaque of dull silver, and it was possible to look at it without the least discomfort. It might have been an eclipse which was taking place. But at that moment a great shout went up, and one could hear the spectators nearest at hand shouting: “A miracle! A miracle!”
Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bareheaded, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws – the sun “danced” according to the typical expression of the people.
Standing at the step of an omnibus was an old man. With his face turned to the sun, he recited the Credo in a loud voice. I asked who he was and was told Senhor Joao da Cunha Vasconcelos. I saw him afterwards going up to those around him who still had their hats on, and vehemently imploring them to uncover before such an extraordinary demonstration of the existence of God.
Identical scenes were repeated elsewhere, and in one place a woman cried out: “How terrible! There are even men who do not uncover before such a stupendous miracle!”
People then began to ask each other what they had seen. The great majority admitted to having seen the trembling and the dancing of the sun; others affirmed that they saw the face of the Blessed Virgin; others, again, swore that the sun whirled on itself like a giant Catherine wheel and that it lowered itself to the earth as if to burn it in its rays. Some said they saw it change colours successively….

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Front page feature in the ‘O Seculo’ – the rationalist newspaper.

Another, and entirely responsible witness of the great event in the Cova da Iria, was Dr Almeida Garrett, of Coimbra University, who in response to a request by Dr Formigao, recorded the following:

I was looking at the place of the apparitions, in a serene, if cold, expectation of something happening, and with diminishing curiosity, because a long time had passed without anything to excite my attention. Then I heard a shout from thousands of voices and saw the multitude suddenly turn its back and shoulders away from the point toward which up to now it had directed its attention, and turn to look at the sky on the opposite side.
It must have been nearly two o’clock by the legal time, and about midday by the sun. The sun, a few moments before, had broken through the thick layer of clouds which hid it, and shone clearly and intensely. I veered to the magnet which seemed to be drawing all eyes, and saw it as a disc with a clean-cut rim, luminous and shining, but which did not hurt the eyes. I do not agree with the comparison which I have heard made in Fatima – that of a dull silver disc. It was a clearer, richer, brighter colour, having something of the luster of a pearl. It did not in the least resemble the moon on a clear night because one saw it and felt it to be a living body. It was not spheric like the moon, nor did it have the same colour, tone, or shading. It looked like a glazed wheel made of mother-of-pearl. It could not be confused, either, with the sun seen through fog (for there was no fog at the time), because it was not opaque, diffused or veiled. In Fatima it gave light and heat and appeared clear-cut with a well-defined rim.
The sky was mottled with light cirrus clouds with the blue coming through here and there, but sometimes the sun stood out in patches of clear sky. The clouds passed from west to east and did not obscure the light of the sun, giving the impression of passing behind it, though sometimes these flecks of white took on tones of pink or diaphanous blue as they passed before the sun.
It was a remarkable fact that one could fix one’s eyes on this brazier of heat and light without any pain in the eyes or blinding of the retina. The phenomenon, except for two interruptions when the sun seemed to send out rays of refulgent heat which obliged us to look away, must have lasted about ten minutes.
The sun’s disc did not remain immobile. This was not the sparkling of a heavenly body, for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl. Then, suddenly, one heard a clamour, a cry of anguish breaking from all the people. The sun, whirling wildly, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge and fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible.
During the solar phenomenon, which I have just described in detail, there were changes of colour in the atmosphere. Looking at the sun, I noticed that everything around was becoming darkened. I looked first at the nearest objects and then extended my glance further afield as far as the horizon. I saw everything an amethyst colour. Objects around me, the sky and the atmosphere, were of the same colour. An oak tree nearby threw a shadow of this colour on the ground.
Fearing that I was suffering from an affection of the retina, an improbable explanation because in that case one could not see things purple-coloured, I turned away and shut my eyes, keeping my hands before them to intercept the light. With my back still turned, I opened my eyes and saw that the landscape was the same purple colour as before.
The impression was not that of an eclipse, and while looking at the sun I noticed that the atmosphere had cleared. Soon after I heard a peasant who was near me shout out in tones of astonishment: “Look, that lady is all yellow!”
And in fact everything, both near and far, had changed, taking on the colour of old yellow damask. People looked as if they were suffering from jaundice, and I recall a sensation of amusement at seeing them look so ugly and unattractive. My own hand was the same colour. All the phenomena which I have described were observed by me in a calm and serene state of mind, and without any emotional disturbance. It is for others to interpret and explain them.

You may be assured the quotations here supplied from the testimony of actual witnesses represent the general impression of the countless number of people we have interviewed. Looking back, there does seem to be an oversupply of doctors. It should be made clear that Dr Garrett is not a physician, but a university professor. Dr Formigao, as earlier explained, is a priest, and his doctorate was gained in philosophy, at Rome. Both are esteemed, responsible men. But in consideration of whether or not the great commotion at Fatima that day represented the work of heaven, or a general optical illusion, it is comforting to call as a witness Dr Domingos Pinto Coelho, who happened to be, of all convenient things, an eminent eye specialist.

The following is from his report in the newspaper Ordem:

The sun, at one moment surrounded with scarlet flame, at another aureoled in yellow and deep purple, seemed to be in an exceedingly fast and whirling movement, at times appearing to be loosened from the sky and to be approaching the earth, strongly radiating heat.

On the evening of that same October 13, Father Manuel Pereira da Silva wrote to his friend and colleague, Canon Pereira de Almeida (don’t let the confusion of baptismal and surnames defeat you), the following description:

The sun appeared with its circumference well defined. It came down as if to the height of the clouds and began to whirl giddily upon itself like a captive ball of fire. With some interruptions, this lasted about eight minutes. The atmosphere darkened and the features of each became yellow. Everyone knelt even in the mud….

The impressions of Father da Silva are especially interesting because he had been bitterly and outspokenly sceptical of the entire affair. Faith then hit him with such impact that he vowed, perhaps in reparation for his cynicism, never again to indulge his happy taste for wine. Whatever his motive, it was a promise the good father kept.

While writing this book we met Senhor Alfredo da Silva Santos, who was attending a retreat for professional men. Knowing that Senhor Santos had been present on the day of the solar prodigy, we asked what he was able to recall:

On the day before, I was in the Cafe Martinho, in Lisbon, when my cousin, John Lindim, from Torres Novas, entered and said to me:
“Everyone is going to Fatima tomorrow. There seems to be something extraordinary in the air, and we are all full of curiosity to know what it is all about.”
“I will go with you,” I told him.
We made our arrangements, and went in three motor cars on the early morning of the 13th. There was a thick mist, and the car which went in front mistook the way so that we were all lost for a time and only arrived at the Cova da Iria at midday by the sun. It was absolutely full of people, but for my part I felt devoid of any religious feeling. When Lucia called out: “Look at the sun!” the whole multitude repeated: “Attention to the sun!” It was a day of incessant drizzle but a few moments before the miracle it stopped raining. I can hardly find words to describe what followed. The sun began to move, and at a certain moment appeared to be detached from the sky and about to hurtle upon us like a wheel of flame. My wife – we had been married only a short time – fainted, and I was too upset to attend to her, and my brother-in-law, Joao Vassalo, supported her on his arm. I fell on my knees, oblivious of everything, and when I got up I don’t know what I said. I think I began to cry out like the others. An old man with a white beard began to attack the atheists aloud and challenged them to say whether or not something supernatural had occurred.
“Well,” we asked him, “truthfully now – do you think it could have been a case of collective suggestion?”
He laughed and shook his head. “No,” Senhor Santos said, “the only collective thing I can remember that day was the rain that soaked all of us through to our bones.”

Actually, this hypothesis of mass hallucination suffers decisive defeat from an incontrovertible fact: the phenomenon was observed not only at Cova da Iria, but by people who were substantial distances away from there, and by no means in receptive spiritual moods. The Portuguese poet, Alfonso Lopes Vieira, observed the bright display – from a distance of nearly 25 miles:

Senhor Vieira recalls:

On that day of October 13, 1917, without remembering the predictions of the children, I was enchanted by a remarkable spectacle in the sky of a kind I had never seen before. I saw it from this veranda….

An interesting document has been left by the late Father Inacio Lourenco, a priest from Alburitel, a village about eleven miles from Fatima. We have ourselves taken the trouble to verify his recollections with many of his surviving parishioners, and especially with the school teacher, Dona Delfina Lopes, to whom he refers.

Here is Father Lourenco’s report:

I was only nine years old at this time, and I went to the local village school. At about midday we were surprised by the shouts and cries of some men and women who were passing in the street in front of the school. The teacher, a good, pious woman, though nervous and impressionable, was the first to run into the road, with the children after her.
Outside, the people were shouting and weeping and pointing to the sun, ignoring the agitated questions of the schoolmistress. It was the great Miracle, which one could see quite distinctly from the top of the hill where my village was situated – the Miracle of the sun, accompanied by all its extraordinary phenomena.
I feel incapable of describing what I saw and felt. I looked fixedly at the sun, which seemed pale and did not hurt the eyes. Looking like a ball of snow revolving on itself, it suddenly seemed to come down in a zigzag, menacing the earth. Terrified, I ran and hid myself among the people, who were weeping and expecting the end of the world at any moment.
Near us was an unbeliever who had spent the morning mocking at the simpletons who had gone off to Fatima just to see an ordinary girl. He now seemed to be paralysed, his eyes fixed on the sun. Afterwards he trembled from head to foot and lifting up his arms fell on his knees in the mud, crying out to our Lady.
Meanwhile the people continued to cry out and to weep, asking God to pardon their sins. We all ran to the two chapels in the village, which were soon filled to overflowing. During those long moments of the solar prodigy, objects around us turned all the colours of the rainbow. We saw ourselves blue, yellow, red, etc. All these strange phenomena increased the fears of the people. After about ten minutes the sun, now dull and pallid, returned to its place. When the people realised that the danger was over, there was an explosion of joy, and everyone joined in thanksgiving and praise to our Lady.

The evidence mounts that for the devout, the pagan, and the coolly in-between, it must have been an exciting afternoon. Decide as you will whether the power of God or the faulty eyesight of 70,000 is responsible for this chapter of contemporary history. Believe only that we, who are reporting it here, lived for more than seven years within sight of the Cova da Iria, and have yet found no one to confound or deny with just reason, the events of this memorable day.

Perhaps less dramatic than the visible acrobatics of a heavenly body ninety million miles removed from earth, was another phenomenon we have not yet emphasised. In that hectic noontime, while the great star hung in cloudless clarity, the people, who had been drenched and soggy with the pelting, unremitting rain, were suddenly and completely dry – their shoes and stockings, their skin and their clothes, as though the Lady of the Rosary had invoked the power of some new machine. You’ll pardon our conviction that it was the power of her Son, from whom all grace and lesser powers proceed.

We’ll close this chapter by quoting from a pastoral letter on the apparitions written in 1922 by D. Jose Alves Correia da Silva, the bishop of Leiria:

The solar phenomenon of October 13, described in newspapers of the time, was of a most marvellous nature and caused the deepest impression on those who had the good fortune to witness it.
The children had foretold the day and the hour at which it would occur. The news spread rapidly throughout Portugal, and in spite of bad weather, thousands and thousands of people congregated at the spot. At the hour of the last apparition they witnessed all the manifestations of the sun which paid homage to the Queen of heaven and earth, more brilliant than the heavenly body itself at its zenith of light.

This phenomenon, which was not registered in any astronomical observatory, and could not, therefore, have been of natural origin, was witnessed by people of every category and class, by believers as well as unbelievers, journalists of the principal daily papers and even by people miles away, a fact which destroys any theory of collective hallucination.26

[26. Critical Note on the Miracle of the Sun.]