A blistering attack has been launched by the manager of Knock Shrine against thousands of pilgrims who stampeded and left the place “in a terrible state” on Sunday in the hopes of seeing an apparition of the Virgin Mary.

Pat Lavelle, manager of the County Mayo shrine, said, “Our basilica was left in a terrible state afterwards. It was anything but holy or reverent. There was food and drink spilled inside, chairs turned upside-down, the carpets were soiled and even worse than that.”

Eyewitness Michael Commins, a local newspaper reporter, said it was as if panic suddenly gripped pilgrims in two chapels at the back of the huge basilica dedicated to Our Lady.

Commins said, “All the ingredients were present for a human catastrophe. A stampede the likes of which has never been seen in Knock took place within the confines of two of the chapels, and there was genuine fear that serious injuries or worse could be the end result of the unprecedented surge.”

Up to 15,000 people had gathered from all over Ireland for an apparition of Our Lady which had been predicted by Joe Coleman, a self-proclaimed “visionary” from Ballyfermot, Dublin.

Coleman has claimed that the Blessed Virgin has been visiting him for a number of years. Three weeks prior to last Saturday -- on October 11 -- more than 5,000 pilgrims gathered at Knock following an earlier prediction that there would be an apparition. Many then said they believed there was an apparition because they could see the sun shimmering and changing color, as well as dancing in the sky.

Last Saturday, Coleman and another “visionary,” Keith Henderson, knelt in the front row of a packed basilica. They claimed Our Lady appeared to them at 3 p.m., although there was a sense of anti-climax among the rest of crowd, most of whom looked constantly upwards with their cameras and mobile camera phones at the ready.

Hundreds left disappointed. One man, a native of Knock, scoffed at what he said resembled the “pagan art of sun worship.”

Then suddenly, at 3:20 p.m., the precise time that the Blessed Virgin had supposedly appeared three weeks earlier, there was a blitz of mobile phone messages from those outside and shouts that the sun had been seen dancing close to the basilica. Men, women and children rushed to get a glimpse.

Commins wrote in the Mayo News, “Never have I witnessed a more dangerous situation at any crowd gathering in my life. There was pandemonium for close on three minutes as people literally jumped across seats in a mad rush to the back of two of the chapels. A sense of terror gripped many as the stampede continued and it was a miracle in itself that no one was seriously hurt.

“Outside, thousands gazed towards the wintry sun which every now and again was making its way through the clouds. Many claimed to see the sun dance, others say they witnessed the host and other sightings. Some claimed they saw a golden ball of beautiful light over the old apparition church move across to the basilica and shroud the processional square in a golden haze.”

Meanwhile, Coleman was driven away, insisting that Our Lady had appeared to him but that he wouldn’t reveal her message until later.

Then, on Monday he said the apparition told him that she hoped her message of peace would be “given around the globe in different ways” to all her faithful.

Coleman also said she told him, “Thank you for responding to my call. I am so happy. I smile on this day 31st October 2009 at my beloved Knock. I wish to thank all the people who came today to pray, to give thanks to my beloved Father God the Almighty.

“I am the Immaculate Heart, mother of all my children, mother of all God’s children. I am the Immaculate Conception. I am Queen of the Heavens. I am Queen of the Earth.

“I will glorify my father’s name through prayer from the people who come to pray. I ask for conversion many times. I ask for peace. I ask for prayers every day for my son’s apostles. I pray that they will listen. I pray and I ask for unification of the faith across the globe. I pray that this message has been listened to. That it has been given around the globe in different ways to all my faithful.”

“I thank all my children today for responding. I will visit one day soon on the 5th day of the Holy Month. Peace be with you, my children.”

Coleman’s fellow “visionary” Henderson said Our Lady told him, “I love all my children unconditionally with my immaculate heart, especially all my priests who are not listening to my call. I ask all my children to pray for my priests. Pray. Pray. Pray.”

Both men added that Our Lady told them she would again appear on December 5 at the end of a recitation of the rosary at 3 p.m. when she “will make herself known to everybody who comes with an open heart.”

Tuam Archbishop Michael Neary, whose diocese includes Knock, has been critical of Coleman and his followers and has implied that he believes that the only time Our Lady did appear at Knock was 130 years ago when she was seen by a group of “humble, honest people.”