For the August 21 anniversary of the famed 1879 apparition of the Virgin Mary in Knock, Co. Mayo, up to 150,000 people from all over Ireland are making a pilgrimage to the site of the apparition for prayers, workshops and seminars. It will be the 135th annual Novena; this year's theme is 'Witness to hope,' and will focus on honoring the 15 local witnesses of the 1879 apparition, as well as highlight the hope and prayers for the renewal of the church in Ireland.
As a deeply Catholic country, Ireland has had many claims of apparitions over the centuries.
Today the most famous four are headed by Knock, County Mayo, which is now a major church shrine. The other three, while not as well known, also have devoted followers.
Knock, County Mayo, 1879
On the evening of 21 August 1879, fifteen people whose ages ranged from five years to seventy-five and included men, women, teenagers and children, witnessed what they claimed to be an apparition of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist at the south gable end of a local small parish church, the Church of Saint John the Baptist. Behind them and to the left of Saint John was a plain altar. On the altar was a cross and a lamb (a traditional image of Jesus, as reflected in the religious phrase The Lamb of God) with adoring angels.
The Virgin Mary was described as being very beautiful, standing a few feet above the ground. She wore a white cloak, hanging in full folds and fastened at the neck. The crown appeared brilliant, and of a golden brightness, of a deeper hue than the striking whiteness of her robe. The upper parts of the crown appeared to be a series of sparkles, or glittering crosses. She was described as "deep in prayer," with her eyes raised to heaven, her hands raised to the shoulders with her palms inclined slightly. One of the fifteen witnesses, Bridget Trench, "went in immediately to kiss, as I thought, the feet of the Blessed Virgin; but I felt nothing in the embrace but the wall, and I wondered why I could not feel with my hands the figures which I had so plainly and so distinctly seen.”
Ballinspittle, County Cork, 1985
In the summer of 1985, Ballinspittle, County Cork received international attention when locals claimed to have witnessed a statue of the Virgin Mary moving spontaneously. As news of the phenomenon spread, thousands of pilgrims and spectators flocked to the site of the statue. Many of the visitors claimed that they observed similar movements. The Catholic clergy in Ireland maintained a neutral stance regarding the authenticity of the claims. The phenomenon was never scientifically confirmed.
Dungloe, County Donegal, 2009
Hundreds of people flocked to a rural shrine in west Donegal in October 2009 amidst reports of a weeping statue as well as crosses in the Dungloe night sky.
The event had been predicted by a Dublin-based faith healer and clairvoyant, who claims to have regular visions and messages. Fourteen people gathered on at the Kerrytown shrine outside Dungloe, and shortly after 8 o'clock, they reported seeing crosses flash in the sky.
Those that gathered said they were stunned by apparition, which reportedly went on for an hour. John Boyle, a local man from Ardara, said:
"It was amazing. I am still on an emotional high. All but one person seemed to see the same thing."
The alleged apparition began with crosses in the sky, and then those in attendance gazed at the white statue of the Virgin Mary which began to change form.
"She appeared to have a human head and she turned and she looked at people. She looked at the children who were at the front."
Inchigeela, County Cork,1985
Rosemary O’Sullivan was eleven years old when she said she first saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary on August 5, 1985, when she and her friend Marie Vaughan bicycled to the Grotto in Gortaneadin, Co. Cork. She said Mary called her “Rose,” and continued to appear to her frequently for six months. Her last reported sight of the apparition was on August 13, 1986.
The girls simultaneously saw the glowing, human-like figure of an exceedingly beautiful young lady whom they immediately knew was the Virgin Mary.
Frightened yet fascinated, they hurried to Rose’s house on their bicycles and related their experience to Rose’s sister Mary. Mary advised them to return to the Grotto again. They did this the next day, and while praying with the rosary, the Virgin Mary appeared again, and this time gave them a one-word message: “Peace.”
*Originally published in May, 2011.