Today is the Anniversary of The Apparition of Our Lady of Knock. Ora pro nobis.
The humble people of the Knock of 1879, hidden away in the West of Ireland, could not possibly have foreseen the climax of that day in August, when throughout the day the very elements seemed to be at war. Tradition has it that Knock had been blessed by St. Patrick, that he had prophesied that one day it would be a holy place, but the people were scarcely thinking of that as they looked out at the rains that beat furiously down upon their little village of a dozen houses.
On a rainy August night in 1879, a parish charwoman Mary McLoughlin in the humble farming village of Knock, Ireland finished her duties and locked the church door behind her. Then she had a chat with a family that lived in the thatched-roof house next door.
At about eight o’clock, accompanied by Bridget, the older teenaged daughter of the family, she left for home. As the two women walked past the Church of Saint John the Baptist’s gabled stone wall, something caught their attention.
For there, on the back wall, a window had opened to another world.
The cleaning lady gasped and dropped to her knees. Bridget ran to fetch her family and neighbors. Within minutes, fifteen villagers gathered to peer through this apparent window in time and space which had, inexplicably, opened before their eyes. Their ages ranged from five years to seventy-five and included men, women, teenagers and children.
For two hours the Knock people were transfixed as an apparition of Our Lady, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist glowed from the south gable end of the small parish church. Behind the saints stood an unadorned altar. On the altar was a cross and a lamb standing, with a sword piercing it. The lamb was facing West, surrounded by adoring angels.
The entire tableau glowed with a white light, and none of the figures moved or spoke. The villagers prayed the Rosary together in the pouring rain. Bridget said she “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”.
Later, the witnesses reported that the ground under the apparition remained completely dry. Afterwards, however the area became wet and the gable darkened as the figures faded from sight.
Among the witnesses were Patrick Hill and John Curry. As Patrick later described the scene: ‘The figures were fully rounded, as if they had a body and life. They did not speak but, as we drew near, they retreated a little towards the wall.’ Patrick reported that he got close enough to make out the words in the book held by the figure of St. John.
The next day a group of villagers went to see the priest, who accepted their report as genuine; he wrote to the diocesan Bishop of Tuam; then the Church set up a commission to interview a number of the people claiming to witness the apparition. Within seven weeks a Commission composed of eminent ecclesiastics from the surrounding district was set up by the Archbishop of Tuam to investigate the event. The diocesan hierarchy was not convinced, and some members of the commission ridiculed the visionaries, alleging they were victims of a hoax perpetrated by the local Protestant constable!
Eventually, the result of their deliberations, after taking the testimony of the witnesses, was that ” the testimony of all, taken as a whole, was trustworthy and satisfactory.” This declaration on the part of men to whom the witnesses were known, and who were qualified to pass judgment, is in itself an evidence by no means negligible. Not a single one of the original witnesses of the apparition ever doubted or recanted, not one of them ever denied the original testimony given, and the witness who first saw the apparition re-affirmed on her death-bed in 1936 her testimony of 1879. When her statement was read over to her, she made the following remarkable addition: ” I make this statement on my death-bed, knowing I am about to go before my God.” She was then an aged woman. But with her dying breath she affirmed the truth of what she had seen.
Two years later Archbishop John Joseph Lynch of Toronto made a visit to the parish and claimed he had been healed by the Virgin of Knock.
In due course many of the witnesses died. But Mary Byrne married, raised six children, living her entire life in Knock. When interviewed again in 1936 at the age of eighty-six, her account did not vary from the first report she gave in 1879.
A second commission, after compiling reports of hundreds of cures and taking further testimony from two of the surviving witnesses, reaffirmed this conclusion in 1936, finding in it nothing contrary to our faith.
Since then four popes have honored the Knock Shrine which, thanks in large part to the efforts of Monsignor Horan, now includes the Church of our Lady Queen of Ireland on the site to accommodate all the visitors! Pope John Paul II designated this wonderful house of worship as a basilica during his visit to Knock in 1979.
As at the shrine devoted to another more famous apparition at Lourdes, miraculous cures continue to take place at Knock. Pilgrims have left Knock renewed spiritually as well as physically over the years. Their faith has been strengthened in prayer there.
The village of Knock was transformed by the thousands who came to commemorate the vision and to ask for healing for others and themselves. The local church was too small to accommodate the crowds. In 1976 a new church, Our Lady Queen of Ireland, was erected.
The Church approved the apparition in 1971 as being quite probable, although it has never been formally stated. The Shrine at Knock is opened year round. In 1994 three life-sized statues were erected of Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John.
Image: REGINA Staff