The town of Fatima in Portugal is most famous as the site where the Blessed Virgin Mary, or Our Lady of the Rosary, as she is known in the country, was said to have appeared as a vision to three shepherd children in 1917. Lucia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marta had these visions of Our Lady of Fatima on the thirteenth of each month from May to October, culminating in the phenomenon wherein the sun “danced” in front of 70,000 witnesses joining the three children in the field of Cova da Iria, where a chapel now stands to commemorate the apparitions.
Once a very poor town, Fatima is now home to a very grand Basilica with an esplanade larger than that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and fifteen altars for each mystery of the rosary. Construction of the Basilica began in 1928 and was consecrated in 1953. A painting depicting the first vision to the three children is found above the high altar and the statues of four saints dedicated to the rosary are found in the four corners.
There are more statues of saints found on the plaza in front of the Basilica, crowned by a grand statue of the Blessed Virgin as a centerpiece, depicted by Fr. Thomas McGlynn as the vision that the children must have seen in 1917. The main attraction of the Basilica is that it is the resting place of the three children, Francisco and Jacinta, who passed away in 1919 and 1920 respectively, and Lucia, who lived a long life as a nun and passed away in 2005 at the age of 97.
Religious tourism is what sustains the economy of Fatima. Over four million devotees visit Fatima each year especially on the thirteenth of every month. Processions ensue on the evenings of these pilgrimage days with the masses carrying brightly-lit torches. Fatima was formerly a village and although there are now many shops and commercial stalls selling religious items to tourists the town has not lost its old charm. As much as there are tourists here mainly for curious sightseeing there are just as many who are on a religious pilgrimage as proven by the multitudes found kneeling in prayer in any of the town’s famous churches.
Aside from the holy monuments and buildings which provides for the needs of the visiting religious devotees another point of interest is the shrine dedicated to the Berlin Wall. Our Lady of the Rosary was said to have given the three children three secrets during one visit the second of which was the foretelling of the rise and fall of Communism. A piece of the Berlin Wall stands in the sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin, a concrete slab 11 feet tall and 3 feet wide, symbolic of the unfolding and manifestation of the Lady’s second secret. There is also an ethnographic museum that you can visit as well as the houses of Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta.
Fatima is only 135 km from Lisbon and the easiest and fastest way to arrive at Fatima is by taking the bus from the Sete Ros station. The trip will take about 1 hour and a half. You could also opt to take one of several guided tours, choosing either a day package for Fatima alone or package trips that include the neighboring towns. A popular day trip ties in visits to the quaint fishing village of Nazaré and the beautiful medieval town of Obidos.
A typical detailed itinerary would look like this: A tour of Fatima in the morning, with excursions to the Basilica and other points where Our Lady and an angel was said to have appeared to the three children, as well as visits to their homes; a tour of Nazaré after lunch, where you can see fishermen drying their day’s catch on the beach alongside skimpily clad sunbathers; then an exploration of Obidos’ cobbled streets and whitewashed houses toward the late afternoon. Visits to the nearby Batalha monastery and attendance of mass in one of these chapels may be fit into the agenda.
Of course, staying at Fatima is also an option, as there are several hotels, inns and hostels that accommodate the many pilgrims that visit the sanctuary all year round.