The Following is a translation of an article which was written in the secular Portugese newspaper O Seculo on October 15, 1917. It gives an account of the miracle of the sun.
How the Sun Danced at Noon in Fatima!
The apparitions of the Virgin—What was the sign in the sky? —Many thousands of people claim that a miracle took place— The war and peace
(Sub-headings under the main headline)
Lucia, 10 years old, Francisco, 9 and Jacinta, 7, who claim to have spoken with the Virgin Mary in the heath of Fatima, municipality of Vila Nova de Ourém.
(Caption under the photograph of the shepherd children)
Ourém, October 13th
Upon arriving, after a long journey, around 4:00 p.m. at the “Chão de Maçãs” station, where many religious people coming from distant villages to witness the “miracle” also disembarked, I suddenly asked a small boy from the carriage if he had seen the Lady. With a sarcastic smile and looking sideways, he did not hesitate in responding to me:
“I only saw rocks, carriages, automobiles, horses, and people there!”
Due to a simple mistake, the carriage that should have brought Judah Ruah and me to Ourém did not arrive, so we courageously decided to walk about 10 kilometers to the town, since there was no room for us in the stagecoach and the carts that awaited passengers had long been booked. On the way, we saw the first groups of people walking in the direction of the holy place, which was more than 20 kilometers away.
Almost all the men and women are barefoot. The women carry on their heads small bags with shoes on top, while the men lean on thick walking sticks and are prudently armed with an umbrella. They are, in general, oblivious to what is going on around them, highly inattentive to the surrounding countryside and their fellow-travelers, as if immersed in a dream, praying the Rosary in a sad melody. One woman begins with the first part of the Hail Mary, the salutation; her companions, in chorus, continue with the second part, the supplication. Walking in step and in rhythm, they step on the dusty road, between pine trees and olive groves, to arrive at the site of the apparition before nightfall, with plans to sleep under the cold starlight in order to secure the places closest to the holy holm oak tree and have a better view today. Upon entering the town, local women who had been infected by the virus of skepticism in the area, jokingly comment on the topic of the day:
“So are you going to see the saint tomorrow?”
“Not me. If only she would come here!”
And they laugh with pleasure, while the devout pilgrims continue on their journey, indifferent to everything that is not related to the purpose of their pilgrimage. In Ourém, only due to extreme kindness can one find lodging. During the night, the vehicles of all sorts arrive at the town square, transporting believers and the curious, including elderly ladies dressed in black and weighed down by their age, but eyes sparkling with the ardent fire of faith that invigorated them to courageously abandon the comfort of their home for a day. At daybreak, new groups of pilgrims emerge unafraid and go through the village, without stopping for an instant. Their silence is broken by strong, harmonious female voices intoning hymns, in stark contrast with the crudeness of the people.
The sun rises, but the sky’s appearance is threatening. Black clouds hover right over Fatima. However, nothing deters those who use all pathways and means of transport to gather there. Luxurious automobiles rapidly glide and honk their horns; ox carts drag on one side of the road; various open-air carriages, and carts with makeshift seats are packed to capacity. Almost everyone brings modest food provisions with them, as well as a ration of straw for the animals that have valiantly fulfilled their task, which the “Poverello” of Assisi called our brothers. One or another bell collar tinkles and a wagon-cart is decorated with greenery, but the festive atmosphere is generally discreet, people are composed, and there is absolute order. Small donkeys trot on the edge of the road, and the numerous cyclists work wonders in order to avoid colliding with the carts.
Around 10:00 a.m., the sky was completely overshadowed by the clouds, and it was not long before it began raining heavily. Swept by rough winds, the heavy rains lash faces, drench the macadam pavement, and penetrate into the bones of those walking without an umbrella or other form of protection against the weather. But no one becomes impatient or gives up from continuing, and if some find shelter under trees, by farm walls, or in the remote houses that are seen on the way, others continue marching on with an impressive determination. Of note are some women whose dresses cling to their bodies as a result of the violent and persistent rain, appearing as if they just got out of the bath!
A large stretch of the area in the heath of Fatima, where it is said that the Virgin will appear to the shepherd children from the village of Aljustrel, is fronted by the road that leads to Leiria, along which were parked the vehicles that brought the pilgrims and curious spectators. Someone counted over a hundred automobiles and over a hundred bicycles, and it would be impossible to count the various carts and carriages that blocked the road, one of them being a bus from Torres Novas, inside of which people of all social classes were grouped together.
But the bulk of the pilgrims, thousands of people that came from many kilometers around the area, along with the faithful from various provinces in the country, gathered around the holm oak tree, which, according to the shepherd children, the vision will choose for its pedestal, and which could be considered as the center of an large circle, at whose edge other spectators and devotees settle. Seen from the road, the gathering is simply fantastic. Many of the prudent country bumpkins, sheltered under enormous umbrellas, combine the consumption of their meager packed meals with spiritual conduct involving sacred hymns and the recitation of decades of the Rosary.
No one is afraid to dig their feet in the soggy clay in order to have the joy of viewing the holm oak tree up-close, above which a rugged arch was built with two waddling lanterns. Groups alternate in singing the praises of the Virgin Mary; and a terrified hare crossing the scrubland distracts the attention of only a half-dozen boys who catch and beat it to death.
And the shepherd children? Lucia, ten years old, the visionary, and her small companions, Francisco, nine years old, and Jacinta, seven years old, have still not arrived. Their arrival takes place about a half-hour before the indicated time of the apparition. The little girls are crowned with flowers and brought to the spot where the arch was erected. Rain falls steadily, but no one loses hope. Carriages with latecomers arrive. Groups of the faithful kneel in the mud, and Lucia asks them—orders them—to close their umbrellas. The order is transmitted, and obedience is immediate, without the slightest reluctance. There are people, many people, who appear as if they are in ecstasy; people emotionally moved, whose dry lips have become paralyzed in prayer, people stupefied, with folded hands and sparkling eyes—people who seem to feel, to touch the supernatural.
The child claims the Lady spoke to her one more time, and the sky, still dim, suddenly begins to clear; the rain stops, and it appears as if the sun is going to flood the countryside with light that the wintry morning had made dreary.
Solar time is what guides this crowd, which numbers thirty or forty thousand, according to unbiased estimates of sophisticated people who are not swayed by mystical influences. The miraculous manifestation, the visible sign that was announced is about to take place, assures many of the pilgrims. Then a unique spectacle is seen, unbelievable for those who did not witness it. From the top of the road, where the carriages were parked and where many hundreds of people stood who lacked courage to step in the mud, one could see the immense crowd turning toward the sun, which appears free from all clouds and at its zenith. The sun resembles a dull, silver plate and itis possible to look at it without the least effort. It does not burn, nor blind. It seems as if an eclipse is taking place. But then an immense clamor erupts, and one can hear the spectators who are closer, shouting:
“Miracle, Miracle! A Marvel! A Marvel!”
Before the dazzled eyes of the people—whose emotion takes us back to biblical times and who are fearfully pallid, their gaze fixated upon the blue sky as the sun pulsates [with] never-before-seen tremulous movements, defying all laws of gravity—the sun danced, according to the typical expression of the peasants. Standing at the top of an omnibus from Torres Novas was an elderly man, whose stature and physical appearance are reminiscent of Paul Deroulede [French politician and poet of the 19th and early 20th centuries], reciting the Creed from beginning to end in a loud voice while looking at the sun. I ask who he is, and I am told it is Mr. João Maria Amado de Melo Ramalho da Cunha Vasconcelos.
I saw him afterward going up to those around him who still had their hats on, vehemently imploring them to uncover before such an extraordinary demonstration of the existence of God. Identical scenes are repeated elsewhere, and a woman, gasping and bathed in tears of distress, cries out:
“How deplorable! There are still men who do not uncover before such a stupendous miracle!”
People then begin to ask each other if and what they had seen. Most people admit seeing the sun tremble, dance; others, however, declare having seen the smiling face of the Blessed Virgin, swear that the sun spun on itself like a Catherine wheel, that it lowered itself almost to the point of burning the earth with its rays… Some say they saw it change colors successively.
It is almost three in the afternoon. The sky is cloudless, and the sun continues on its course with habitual splendor that no one dares to gaze at head-on. And the shepherd children? Lucia, who speaks with the Virgin, announces, with flowing hand gestures while being carried in the arms of a man who transports her from group to group, that the war will end and that our soldiers would be returning. However the jubilation does not increase among those who hear her. The celestial sign was everything. There is an intense curiosity in seeing the two small girls with their wreath of roses; there are those who attempt to kiss the hands of the little saints, one of whom, Jacinta, looks more like she is going to faint than dance; but that which everyone was looking forward to—the sign from heaven—was enough to satisfy them and radicalize them in their blind faith.
Street vendors offer pictures of the children on postcards, as well as other cards that depict a soldier in the Portuguese Expeditionary Force thinking about the help of his protectress for the salvation of the country, and even an image of the Virgin Mary as being the figure in the vision. That was good business, and certainly more money entered into the vendors’ pockets and the alms boxes for the shepherd children than into the outstretched hands of the lepers and the blind who, while jostling with the pilgrims, raised up their piercing cries…
The dispersing of the crowd takes place rapidly, without difficulty or disorder, and without the need for a police patrol to oversee it. The pilgrims who are the first to leave were the ones who first arrived, walking barefoot with their shoes on their heads or hanging on their sticks. They go with their soul in a state of continual praise, bringing the Good News to the villages that had not been completely deserted [because of so many people who made the journey to Fatima]. And the priests? Some showed up, smiling, mingling more with the curious spectators than with the pilgrims eager for celestial favors. There were perhaps a few who did not manage to conceal the satisfaction often betrayed by the faces of the triumphant.
It remains to be seen what competent people will say about the macabre dancing of the sun in Fatima today that caused Hosannas to explode from the hearts of the faithful and left a deep impression on them—not leaving indifferent, either, the free thinkers and other not moved by any particular religious impulse, who went to the now-famous heath.
Avelino de Almeida