The first Marian apparition at Fátima.
Of the hundreds of appearances of the Virgin Mary reported to the Church throughout history, only twelve (though some sources say fifteen) are officially recognized by the Vatican. The earliest of these was in Guadalupe, Mexico in 1555 and the most recent was in Rwanda in 1982. One of the most famous of them all and, certainly the most public, was a series of apparitions that occurred in 1917 to three Portuguese peasant children in Fátima.
In the spring of 1916 Lucia dos Santos (age 9) and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto (ages 7 and 6) were herding sheep on a field known as Cova da Iria when they claimed to have been visited three times by an angel who instructed them in prayer and worship. On May 13, 1917 the children were in the same field when they beheld an apparition of a shining lady, whom they identified as the Virgin Mary, in an oak tree. The vision said she had come from heaven and would return in the same place and time on the thirteenth day of the coming months. During these visits the children were given three secrets. The first was a vision of Hell; the second was a prediction of war; and the third was kept private by Louisa, but was eventually written down and conveyed to the pope.
News of these apparitions leaked out and caused considerable controversy. Crowds gathered at the spot, though they saw, at first, nothing of what the children claimed to see. At one point the three youngsters were arrested and threatened with torture if they did not reveal the secrets, but they resisted. The apparition had promised that at her final visit in October she would produce a miracle that would cause many to believe. On October 13, 1917 before a crowd numbered in the tens of thousands, the sun seemed to behave erratically. In the words of one observer: “Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws – the sun ‘danced’ according to the typical expression of the people.” This “Miracle of the Sun” was widely reported in the media and Fatima became a site of massive pilgrimage.
Both Jacinta and Francisco soon perished in the great influenza epidemic but Louisa became a nun and lived until the ripe old age of 97, dying in 2005. Pope John Paul II credited Our Lady of Fatima for saving him from an assassination attempt. On his pilgrimage to the site, he left the bullet that was extracted from his body and it now rests in the crown of the Virgin’s statue in the chapel. In 2017, Pope Francis announced the canonization of Jacinta and Francisco after miracles had been attributed to their intercession. Lucia is also on the path to sainthood.