It welcomes 4 million worshippers every year.
Because that’s why we travel! When the little town of Fátima ascended to become the world’s fourth largest pilgrimage site, it was an indication that traveling is ultimately learning about different cultures and religions.
How to get there.
Fátima is situated between Porto and Lisbon. From Porto by car, it’ll take less than 2 hours to reach Fatima, from Lisbon it’s a little over an hour. Ask your hotel in either city, they can assist with local bus schedules. Fátima is known for its iconic Sanctuary of Fátima, which is the world’s fourth largest pilgrimage site. Some devout believers even walk all the way from Lisbon, which is 80 miles away.
The city of Fátima is home to 8,000 people, but its religious buildings welcome close to 4 million people every year, according to The Spokeman-Review. For many Catholics, Fátima is a significant journey. The experience of holding lighted candles across holy grounds twice as large as Rome’s St. Peters is utmost peaceful and healing.
Where did the name come from?
Once you arrive, the information center can provide the background story of Fátima, named after a Moorish princess who was kidnapped by a knight. After she fell in love with her kidnapper, Fátima converted to Christianity in order to marry him. The Sanctuary of Fátima is the city’s main landmark, it also includes shrines where many events of the apparitions occurred.
How it all started…
It began during World War I, in 1917 when three children – Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta – were looking after sheep when Mary appeared in the sky, standing in front of an oak tree to signify that peace would eventually arrive. For the following five months, Mary would arrive to deliver the same message of peace on the 13th day of every month.
Despite that many doubted the children’s stories, 70,000 people gathered around the oak tree in pouring rain. When the sun unexpectedly came out, the words “God’s fiery signature” also appeared in the sky.
Why would you care if you’re not Catholic?
After the Vatican officially recognized the Virgin of Fátima in 1930, many worshippers have arrived every year to pray and meditate. If you’re not Catholic, however, the entire esplanade is so massive that it’s still worth every minute of your visit. It faces the main basilica with a fountain in the middle, it contains holy water which the pilgrims can bring home. There’s a long marked pathway where pilgrims can advance toward the chapel on their knees.
In addition to the main Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, you’ll also visit: Chapel of the Sacred Lausperene, Chapel of the Apparitions where Mary appeared, the oak tree, and a list of other monuments. The Basilica, however, was only completed in 1953. The Neoclassical architecture is embellished with Mary of the Rosary on the outside, along with Stations of the Cross shown in mosaics. Above, there are four statues of Portuguese saints. Walk up the ivory steps, the bishop’s chair leads an outdoor altar for open-air Mass.
Step foot inside the basilica, you’ll witness large Latin letters asking Mary,
“Queen of the Holy Rosary of Fátima, pray for us.”
In 2007, a new Church of the Holy Trinity was completed to hold 9,000 people. Pope John II inaugurated the construction with a stone from St. Peter’s actual tomb from the Vatican. The new church’s circular form represents multinationalism, including: the Greek architect, the German orange iron crucifix in the front, a Slovenian mosaic mural, and an Irish crucifix at the altar.
If you’re visiting on a quiet day, it’ll be difficult to fathom the incredible crowds gathering here every 12th and 13th day of each month from May – October. On days of worship, Fátima welcomes 100,000 people who move on their knees, holding candle lights.
What happened to the three children?
Francisco and Jacinta both died in the 1918 influenza pandemic that infected 500 million people around the world. But Lucia was eventually converted by Mary, and lived as a nun for the rest of her life. In 2005, she passed away at 97 years old.
If you witness a candlelight procession during your visit, why not participate and walk the grounds in meditation. Fátima may be the holy soil for those who believe, but look up at the 200-foot spire. Its golden crown and cross-shaped crystal against the sunlight beaming upon your sight. It’s hard not to have faith in light of grace and belief.
Photos: Wendy Hung