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Our Lady of Fatima

January 5, 2017

 

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of Fatima is one of the several names given the Blessed Mother

following the appearance of an apparition to three children from the village of Fatima in Portugal in 1917. Called the Queen of Peace, the apparition and its associated relics have been credited with miraculous events, initiating a call to global prayer and spreading a message of peace. The apparition has been depicted by several artists around the world, with the one most accurately capturing the spirit of the event having been carved by Portuguese sculptor Guilherme Ferreira Thedim in 1949, as described to him by Lucia Santos one of three children who saw the apparition at Fatima. The statue, which is in Trinidad and Tobago and which has been authenticated by the Arte and Patrimonie Fatima in Portugal, is delicately plastered in the gentle hues that adorned our Lady, as she hovered above a Holm Oak tree where she was revealed to the seers. At eight and a half feet, the carving rises from a pale pink soufflé of cloud speckled with green leaves representing the Holm Oak. The freestanding figure is draped in an ivory robe the gentle folds of which are accentuated by a gold pattern that extends along the edges of her veil. Our Lady of Fatima leans tenderly forward, palms pressed together in prayer with her head inclined slightly to the left. The statue’s base is said to contain a sample of soil from the spot at Cova da Iria and remnants of the Holm Oak where she appeared.

 

The Miracle of the Sun

 

Since 13th May 1917, the Feast of Fatima, the three shepherd children claimed that they had

seen an apparition of the Blessed Mother that would appear on the 13th of every month, except for August, when she appeared on the 19th. On 13th July of the same year, the children are said to have prayed for a miracle that would inspire others to believe. At a phenomenal event known as the Miracle of the Sun, eyewitnesses present at Cova de Iria on 13th October 1917 recount a sudden clearing of the cloudy sky and the roar of exclamations as the crowd, estimated to be between forty and one hundred thousand, turned from the place where the apparition stood to look at the sun. In 1984 Dr. José Maria de Almeida Garrett, a professor of Natural Sciences at Coimbra, Portugal recounted what he saw for publication in the Novos Documentos de Fatima: the sun, a clear, sharp edged disc whirling in place turned blood red and appeared to advance threateningly toward the place where he stood. Professor Almeida Garrett, a scientist, also noted that the sun gleamed brilliantly without hurting the sight and at first coloured the environment in an amethyst light that would eventually dim to a shade of old yellow damask. Others claimed that the sun was surrounded with a scarlet flame or that it was enveloped in a gauzy grey light. All accounts agree on the swift whirling movement that lasted several minutes.

 

The Seers

 

In the year after the sightings an influenza epidemic of 1918 claimed the lives of the two

younger children, Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Despite apparent foreknowledge of their deaths, both children lived for several months after the October 13 apparition, continuing to make Eucharistic devotions as they had been instructed to do by an angel. Francisco died on April 4, 1919 while his sister developed devastating lung condition and endured an operation in which two of her ribs were removed without anaesthesia due to the poor condition of her heart. In her agony, Jacinta is said to have borne her suffering bravely, claiming that it would help to convert many sinners. She died alone on February 19, 1920. Lucia Santos, the child who spoke with Our Lady of Fatima and the only one to survive childhood, joined a convent and was later known as Sister Lucia de Jesus and the Immaculate Heart. 

 

Lucia and the Artist

 

To those who had seen and would believe, the Miracle of the Sun was attributed to Our Lady of Fatima, an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But there were also those that believed

without seeing. Among them was Guilherme Ferreira Thedim. Guilherme and his brother Jose

were both sculptors committed to the creation of sacred art. Jose was arguably more prolific

than his younger brother, gaining some degree of notoriety with his first work, the Virgen del

Rosario when he was 37 years old. Today, his Pieta is the centrepiece of the Chapel of

Apariciones in Lisbon. While Jose experienced immediate renown, Guillherme’s journey was

more complex. Diagnosed with a stomach ailment as a young man, he abandoned his studies at the seminary and joined his brother to work on the Virgen del Rosario. He would later carve

works that can be found Santa Cruz de Bispo, Lavra, and Lece da Palmiers in Portugal. He is also credited with the 1961 Saint Therese of Lisieux. As accomplished as he was, it is Guilherme’s collaboration with Sr. Lucia de Jesus for which he is remembered. Her memoirs serve as the primary testimony of the event and has been referenced by countless religious scholars. Having communicated most closely with the apparition, her detailed description informed and inspired the artist to create the image of Our Lady of Fatima out of oak. Their intensive correspondence would eventually result in Guilherme being one of the only persons authorized by the Catholic Church to communicate directly with her. It is from Sr. Lucia that the artist learned the details of the apparition’s appearance including her height and what she wore the colour of her clothes, skin, eyes and her expression.

 

Journey of Peace

 

The artist would ultimately carve ten statues, seven of which have been lost to history. Of the

three that are accounted for, one is held in the Thedim Museum in Portugal and one can be found in the Azores. The third statue, the only one to contain remnants of the Holm Oak at the

apparition site, the only true relic, now belongs to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Carved in 1949, it travelled from Portugal in the 1950s and came to rest, first at the Rosary Apostolate in Dublin, Ireland and then to the city of Dundalk where it adorned the Rosary Centre. It is said that at each leg of the journey, the 499-pound statue was borne by both common men and the Knights of Columbus who, side by side, carried her on foot, anxious to be in its miraculous presence. During the 1980s, Fr. Keenan, the priest charged with the care of the statue, began the process of finding a permanent home for Thedim’s Queen of Peace. His efforts would spark the quest that would ultimately lead her to Trinidad and Tobago. Today, the Archbishop’s Appeal unveils this statue to the people of Trinidad and Tobago: a symbol of peace to the nation and call to unity among its people. The Appeal has begun fundraising efforts to establish a permanent home for the Fatima statue that will be 68 years old in 2017. The project is also significant since it coincides with the centennial of the apparition at Fatima. When it is complete the proposed pilgrimage site, an outdoor location where the relic can be venerated by the public, will be the final step in the Queen of Peace’s passage from the hands of the faithful in Fatima, Lisbon, Dublin and Dundalk to the heart of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

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