Fatima didn't just begin on a day in a May. An event of import, it went back in time, apparently being prepared for, even centuries before May 13th, 1917.
It was preceded by people and events that led
up to the appearance of the Blessed Virgin to three Portuguese children:
Lucia dos Santos, Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta.
Perhaps underground drainage and the dissolving of limestone caused the subsidence of sedimentary rock, which had something to do with forming this cova.
To the physical landscape, would come something
purely spiritual, an angel would appear to the three shepherd children to
prepare their young lives and minds for the appearances of the Queen of
Heaven. On two of these occasions the angel would lie prostrate on the
ground, providing an angelic example of prayer. He asked the the children to
pray in supplication, and for pardon, reparation and the conversion of
During the 12th Century, while Portugal was still partly in Moorish hands, a Christian Knight named Gonzalo Herminguez made a foray into Muslim territory with a band of soldiers, in reprisal for captives they'd taken from his people. During this incursion, a beautiful Muslim maiden caught his eye. She was a Princess named Fatima. Gonzalo captured her, the two would fall in love, and she would convert to the Catholic and Christian faith. They would marry and she would take Oriana as her new name. They would live in a castle (then Abdegas) on an elevation of land, that Gonzalo had helped wrest from Islamic control, when he and his force of knights climbed the opposite side of the mount, disguised as olive trees. After what's been called a stunning defeat, Alfonso entrusted the fort to the captain of the knights, this same Gonzalo Herminguez.
But the couple's earthly life together would end all too soon, as she would become captive to death. Distraught and heartbroken, Gonzalo left the world, and joined the monastery of Alcobaça farther to the west. And as he did so, he bequeathed a country estate of his to the religious there. Sometime afterward, the Abbot sent him and some other monks to establish another monastic home in the nearby mountains.
Frere Michel de la Sainte Trinite gives this little summation in his book, The Whole Truth About Fatima - Science and the Facts: "Fatima, the daughter of the powerful Moslem prince of Alcacer do Sal, was captured by a crusader, Gonçalo Hermingues. When the Christian knight asked the king for her hand in marriage, she converted and was baptized under the name Oureana, from which the village of Ourem took its name. 'But the beautiful princess died young, and Don Gonçalo in his distress, gave his life to God in the Cistercian abbey of Alcobaça.' Not long after, the abbey founded a small priory in he neighboring mountains; Brother Gonçalo was sent there and took with him the remains of his dear Fatima. The place took and kept her name." It seems quite reasonable to believe that the priory Frere Michel mentioned, would likely be upon the site of the estate that Brother Gonzalo had given to Alcobaça.There's another name to mention here: it's the title of Prior. In William Walsh's Our Lady of Fatima, the historian tells of Maria Rosa, the mother of Lucia, who did not believe her daughter, and who went to see the Prior at the rectory. In Joseph Pelletier's The Sun Danced at Fatima, a footnote to the back says "Fatima formerly possessed a priory and the pastor was still called 'the Prior' or more literally "Mr. Prior,' for the Portuguese people use the word O Senhor, Mr., before the various religious titles..."
It seems very possible that the name Prior was a lingering of history, from the very priory the monks were sent to establish centuries before. It would then show more exactly where Brother Gonçalo was sent to, and likely where his wife Fatima was buried. It also would make sense that after Gonçalo died, he was buried at her side--the couple together in life, now together in their earthly place of rest.
There is another maiden who figures into the spiritual history of Portugal. Her name was Iria. Born in Tomar, legend says she would leave her house to attend Mass or pray at the sanctuary of St. Peter. It happened that a young nobleman named Britald saw her on one of these occasions and fell in love with her. He followed her and proposed to court her, but she had given herself to God. Her tutor monk also fancied her, made unwelcome advances, and when she turned him down, he quit teaching her and spread rumors. He gave her a drink to bloat her belly, and said she was pregnant. Britald learning of her supposed infidelity to chastity, became enraged and hired a soldier to kill her.
Her body was thrown into the Nabão River, which flows through Tomar and farther on into the Zêzere River, a tributary of the Tejo or Tagus. It was recovered incorrupt far downstream on the Tejo, near the town of Scabalis. Legend says, Christ revealed to Iria's abbot uncle, the truth about his niece and her body's whereabouts. The monks recovered it and gave her a proper burial. Regard for her became known and the name of Scabalis was changed to Santarem (for Santa Iria).
In some way her name Iria would also become associated with another place in Portugal, not far from Fatima. It would become attached to the aforementioned cova as the Cova da Iria, one account saying she probably had a hermitage there. Another states, her prayers may've "won her the courage there (bold type mine) to protect her virtue, even at the cost of her life." And yet another that the Cova da Iria was without doubt named in her honor, martyred at Tomar for her purity.
The Portuguese soil drank of her martyred blood and the Cova remembers her with its name. Geographically, the Cova is near Fatima, and the distance by air between Fatima and Tomar has been figured at 13 miles, and by winding road, at 24 miles. The Nabão River runs southward toward Tomar with its course flowing some distance east of Fatima and the Cova. So there's an unknown here and an improbable. It would seem quite unlikely that Iria was martyred at the Cova and then carried a number of miles to the east, to be thrown in the Nabão.
And a hermitage there? Defined as the habitation of a hermit or a secluded residence, it doesn't seem likely she would've lived alone as a hermit, her safety being vulnerable as a woman. A possibility might be that St. Iria had some family in the vicinity of the Cova, and they established a memorial for her after her death, to honor her.
It also seems possible over time, a remembrance of the story of Iria might've faded. And versions vary, as happens in the recollections of history.
But to this natural basin, had come a sign of holiness: the memory of this sainted maiden Iria, said to be a Galician and Portuguese variant of Irene, derived from Greek for "peace." That seems quite prophetic for what would happen there, farther off in the future, in the year 1917.
On the northern slope of the Cova were grayish green of olive trees and
the darker foliage of the evergreen, the holm oak in particular, which was
also known as carrasqueira. The sides of the cova were described as
"a gentle declivity to the oval shaped floor" where olive trees and holm oak
were scattered about. On one side there was a deserted road walled by stones
and seldom used.
It brings to mind when I was a boy on a farm in Iowa, on
one whole side of the farm was a road we called the "Dead Road," not much
used, where long ago I seem to have a memory of herding cows, grazing
in the ditches.
The father of Lucia dos Santos owned some land in the Cova and the place appealed to her. Frere Michel says in his book that on May 13th, 1917, Lucia originally was upon the path to the hamlet of Gouveia, but suddenly decided to pasture the sheep at the Cova da Iria. She had reason to believe her choice of pasture that day was providential.
With her cousins Francisco and Jacinta, she reached the hill north of the vast depression and their sheep began grazing on the furze, a yellow-flowered shrub also known as gorse. They turned to play. The distinguished historian William Walsh, said, "... they decided to make a little thicket into a house by closing up the opening to it with a wall; and they began to lug some of the stones that were lying all about, and to set them one atop another." Frere Michel also noted: "...when Our Lady appeared the children were playing at building; they were making a little stone wall around a clump of furze. At that spot remarks Canon Barthas 'in a few years they would begin building the great basilica of Our Lady of Fatima, as though our shepherds had already laid the foundations.' At the very spot that Francisco was building, the first stone was laid."
They were startled by a brilliant flash which they took to be lightning even though the sky was cloudless. They ran down the slope to shelter under a holm oak, a short distance away. There was another flash. Frightened, they then ran eastward about hundred yards, when they saw a ball of light above a little evergreen about three feet in height.
In the middle of it, they saw a lovely lady in white, whose brilliance
exceeded that of the sun, that Lucia likened to a crystal cup of clear water
penetrated by sunbeams.
The lady's face was serious, and her hands were
folded at her breast, her fingers upward.
A Rosary was hanging down from her
Her tunic hung down to her feet, as did her mantle, which seemed
to have a golden edging.
On the day of her first appearance, on May 13. 1917, Joseph Pelletier tells us in The Sun Danced At Fatima, that Lenin ordered his mounted henchmen to carry out what he calls "a series of acts of violence that will eventually end in the triumph of Communism in Russia." They ride to a Roman Catholic church where 200 children are having catechism. The horsemen charge through the door, down the aisle and go over the Communion rail. They unleash their fury on the altar, after which they turn down the side aisles, destroying statues. Then they charged and killed some of the children.
Yet on that same day, as if giving the world a hopeful sign, a man whose "name means peace and who has chosen for his episcopal coat of arms the dove and the olive branch of peace" is consecrated bishop in Rome at St. Peter's Basilica. His name was Eugenio Pacelli who would become Pope Pius XII and would "do so much to spread the message of Fatima."
There is something else that has arisen as a problem in the world, tied to Fatima, the name of the favorite daughter of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. The date of the 13th of the month draws something of a comparison to a situation in the Book of Esther, wherein the Jewish people were under grave threat in Persia, marked for slaughter on the 13th of the month of Adar. Today Israel is under a grave threat from Iran, also known as Persia, and whose main religion by a vast majority is Islam.
Muhammad's daughter Fatima is to be admired for her charity and one might
cite Chapter 109 of the Koran for tolerance, that is not the whole of
what's in the Koranic text. We've had our own leaders
reportedly citing Chapter 5, verse 32, of the Koran to show Islam is
peaceful. The verse says in part, "On that account we ordained for the
children of Israel that if any one slew a person ― unless it be for murder
or spreading mischief in the land voice voice
― it would be as if he slew the whole
people: and if one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the
Yet in the very next verse 5:33 ― close enough to be
― it speaks of crucifixion and severing limbs on
opposite sides. That's not only violent but gruesome!
Yet even an ordinary person can pose a threat: take Reem Raiyishi a Gazan
mother of a one- and a three-year-old who blew herself up at an Israeli
checkpoint, killing four Israelis. She was pictured holding a rifle in one
hand and the Koran in the other. In a videotape, she says, " It was
always my wish to turn my body into deadly shrapnel against the Zionists and
to knock at the doors of heaven with the skulls of Zionists."
As I write this, from what I'm aware of, I don't have a sense that from the great cause of the Consecration came a great effect, seen as such. We still have a lot of conflict in the world. I don't know that we should pat ourselves on the back very much. I wonder if the world would be in such a mess as it is in today, had the message of Fatima been better responded to.
Let us remember what was said in 1917 after the shepherd children were captured on the 13th of August and threatened with being boiled in oil. When Mary appeared a few days later on the 19th, at a rocky field called Valinhos, she spoke to the children of what they went through. She told them that the miracle in October would've been greater if they had not been mistreated. As notable as it was, it was a miracle diminished!
Francis Johnston, an authority on Fatima, tells of it in his book
Fatima -The Great Sign (1979).
He wondered whether the miracle would
have lasted longer, and whether it would have been seen all over Portugal,
Spain or France, benefitting the cause of world peace. He goes on to say,
"We shall never know. All we do know is that the actions of one evil man,
Arturo Santos, have endangered the lives of everyone living today.
underlines a deep truth, frequently ignored today. Each sin committed in the
world adversely affects everyone else, just as each merit gained favourably
affects all others."
In Signs and Symbols or Christian Art, it says the rainbow is a "symbol of pardon and of reconciliation given to the human race by God." There is hope for us in the very name of the Cova da Iria where Mary appeared.
that God laid the groundwork for Fatima back in time.
It's for us to make good
use of the days alloted
to us, responding in time.
Copyright © 2005 - John Riedell - All