There’s Something About Mary

UPDATE: She’s still at it! There are reports from Nigeria that the Miracle of the Sun occurred again there recently. On October 13, 2017, in Benin City, Nigeria. The bishops of the country had held a re-consecration service of Nigeria to the Virgin Mary when the event took place. After the celebration, when the sun came out after a heavy downpour, 53 bishops, “a thousand priests, two thousand religious and about 55 thousand faithful” supposedly saw it changing color and “dancing”.

While this needs to be confirmed, the date, the occasion, and the downpour are the same as what happened at Fatima. It will be interesting to see if there are any reports surfacing that indicate that it wasn’t the sun moving and  giving off the colors,  but a “silver disk”.

A century ago, either the greatest Marian apparition or the largest UFO mass sighting ever happened near a small village in Portugal. The appearances of a being now known as Our Lady of Fatima 1 climaxed on October 13, 1917 with a spectacular display in the heavens witnessed by a crowd of over 70,000 . Everything involved was instantly interpreted from the first report on in terms of Catholic religiosity, but close examination of the events shows that many bear some uncanny resemblances to many other modern high-strangeness events.

A sudden white flash in the heavens announced her first appearance. The entity appeared to the children as a veiled young woman in a golden-edged white gown, decorated with golden stars on the breast and hem. She appeared standing amid one of those glowing clouds over a small bush.

More visions followed on a monthly basis and others soon became interested, including suspicious and hostile secular authorities. No one other than the children ever clearly saw the Lady. However, during later apparitions, the sun dimmed noticeably, the branches of the tree bent as if supporting a weight, and a humming sound was heard. “A loud report like the explosion of a rocket was heard at the end of the apparition, and at the same time a beautiful white cloud was seen to rise from the tree and move towards the east.” (Emphasis added.)

Interestingly enough, a few months before the October Revolution brought the Bolsheviks to power, the Lady supposedly promised that if her requests for prayer and sacrifice were heard “Russia would be converted and there would be peace.” In the decades to come, countless little old ladies would take to their rosaries in that belief. And somehow, it appeared to eventually work.

The police locked the children up to prevent them from attending in August at the time set by the Virgin. She appeared to them at another place the next week when they were again alone with their flock but was apparently not happy about it. Here is the account of the next encounter according to the great French UFO expert, Jacques Vallee:

The fifth meeting was September 13. There were a number of witnesses, and they could see the “sphere of fire” used by the entity to come to the place of the meeting. According to the very words of the Reverend General Vicar of Leiria, who was one of the witnesses the lady came in an “aeroplane of light,” an “immense globe, flying westwards, at moderate speed. It irradiated a very bright light.” Some other witnesses saw a white being coming out of the globe, which several minutes later took off, disappearing in the direction of the sun. 2

Some said a shower of strange flakes, like snow or rose petals, which vanished before they reached the ground or could be caught, followed this. But the best was still yet to come. The Lady had promised a grand miracle in October and she certainly delivered a spectacular show. Indeed, at the final encounter exactly one month later, a crowd of some 70,000 people, including both clergy and scientists, witnessed the famous “miracle of the sun.”

One of the latter, a Prof. Almeida Garrett of Coimbra University, later wrote:

It was raining hard, and the rain trickled down everyone’s clothes. Suddenly, the sun shone through the dense cloud which covered it: everybody looked in its direction. It looked like a disc, of a very definite contour. It was not dazzling. I don’t think that it could be compared to a dull silver disc, as someone said later in Fatima. No. It rather possessed a clear, changing, brightness, which one could compare to a pearl. This is not poetry. My eyes have seen it. This clear-shaped disc suddenly began turning. It rotated with increasing speed. Suddenly, the crowd began crying with anguish. The sun, revolving all the time, began falling towards the earth, reddish and bloody, threatening to crush everybody under its fiery weight. (Emphasis by Vallee.) [2]

The disk, described as spinning and shooting off colors “like a Catherine’s wheel” firework, plunged at the Earth three times according to some witnesses before retreating back behind the clouds. Newspaper photos of the crowd showed the mass of people cringing in fear and astonishment from something seemingly sunwards above them. The spectacle, seen by some miles away, completely validated the children’s claims. The Virgin’s wishes for specific prayers and devotions to her that she expressed to them were widely broadcast — and obeyed.

Many skeptics, such as atheists, Masons, and educated men, were among the witnesses of the so-called “Miracle of the Sun“, and from their accounts (and the original, unedited recollections of the three shepherd seers) emerge details that don’t fit into the comfortable, established, traditional picture of how the Virgin should look and act. For one thing, along with a whirling silver disk mistakenly identified as the Sun, some people saw stars, others spinning silver disks, flying crosses, the sky dimming, weird colored flashes of light. The Lady didn’t really look like the traditional image of Mary, according to the earliest reports of the seers. In fact, Lucia, the oldest seer, did not identify the being as the Blessed Virgin Mary. Neither did the vision herself, either. The devout populace simply assumed she could be no-one else.

But whoever, whatever, the “Lady” was, she certainly gets around. There have been over a dozen appearances in modern times, validated by Catholic and other churches, and many more – such as Medjugorge – which have not been officially approved but draw countless pilgrims anyway. And she keeps coming back, as a recent apparition to schoolchildren in India shows.

Why? What is it about the world’s most renowned teenager with a dubious pregnancy that draws such devotion? Perhaps part of it is her connection with other divine mothers through the ages. It’s no secret that Mother Mary’s image with the Christ child seated in her lap is drawn from Egyptian sources that depicted Isis and Horus the same way. Her churches have regularly been planted on sites sacred to goddesses around the world. Many images of her have also appeared miraculously, the Virgin of Guadalupe being the most famous, prompting the foundation of churches and festivals in her honor.

Veneration of Mary started early. Though there is nothing in the Bible to indicate where, when, or how Jesus’ mother died, but early on many thought her to be so pure and special, she could not be allowed to decay. So she was “assumed” to have been taken from her grave, despite all the early references being bogus. Like her son Jesus,  the patriarch Enoch, and the prophet Elijah, she is thought to have her physical body there in Heaven. Like her son, she is now regarded as  the “Immaculate Conception” – the only natural human born without sin, too.

Devotion to Mary grew to such an extent that in 431, in the First Council of Ephesus – held in the city with the greatest Temple of Artemis, the virgin huntress, in the entire Greco-Roman world – Mary was declared to be the “theotokos” – the Mother of God. While the meaning was carefully restricted by theologians to be merely an honorific, simple believers have pushed the concept much further. “Maryolatry” is still condemned  as idolatry or even demon-worship in many Protestant sects. In some Catholic circles, however, Mary is considered to be a co-savior or “Mediatrix of all graces” almost on a par with her son.

There were prophecies involved, too, that remain controversial to this day. The Church isolated Lucy, the sole surviving seer, all her life, and she dutifully said what was expected during the few occasions she was allowed.

The children were supposedly given other visions on these occasions and others, all thoroughly Catholic — the Sacred Heart, the baby Jesus. They were shown even hell itself and in July, the Lady predicted the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second — the first two of the famous “secrets of Fatima.” The next war would be heralded by “a night illumined by an unknown light” which Lucy later thought referred to an extraordinary transcontinental display of the aurora borealis on the night of January 25-26, 1938. Her so-called “Third Secret” foretold the apocalypse, or maybe just the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, who attributed his survival to the Lady’s intervention.

Whatever the ultimate truth about Mary, whether her appearances are those of Jesus’ mom, a benign manifestation of Mother Earth or a feminine archetype, they generally seem to be beneficial in their outcomes, despite the suspicions of fundamentalists. The Lady mainly advocates penance and the virtues – and as seen above, may even have helped spare us from World War III (so far). And she has a reputation of reaching out even to doubters and sinners, too.

Mary among the clouds
Our Lady of Light

I, too, have had inexplicable experiences related to Mary. After I escaped further molestation by a priest, which ironically took place in a church named after Our Lady of Fatima, I remained pious for years. In eighth grade, I would even say the Rosary during lunch-hours during Lent and often had mystical reveries. All I can recall are indescribably feelings of being coddled by a divine love.  With puberty, and doubts, I drifted away from the Church and the “ecstasies” ceased.

Then, once I was ordained, I decided to decorate my chapel with a painting I did. It was of a beautiful statue of the Virgin I saw at Santa Fe’s Loretto Chapel of Our Lady of Light. Not the best artwork but I could do no better.  Yet, when I hung it on the wall that windless morning, I found myself suddenly surrounded by a sudden scent of roses. It was a perfume as powerful as it was brief. Such graces are common in Marian literature, but it’s the only time I’ve ever experienced it. I wonder about it still.

As my sainted mother once said, “While St. Peter is examining sinners at the Pearly Gates, Mary is hauling them up over the walls with her rosary.” God knows we need a loving mother like that to watch over us. Now perhaps more than ever.


[1] Otherwise unattributed quotes in this section are from Our Lady of Fatima: Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, published by the Benedictine Convent of Perpetual Adoration, Clyde, Missouri, 1950.
{2} Vallee, Jacques, UFO’s in Space: Anatomy of a Phenomenon, Ballantine Books, New York, 1965, p. 205.
[3]  Ibid., p.207.