An unknown light in 1938 demands our attention – even today

By Barb Ernster –

On this day that celebrates the conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, upon seeing a great light from the sky suddenly flashed around him, it is good to remind ourselves why God uses such signs. And woe to us when we fail to ask, as St. Paul did, “What shall I do?” (Acts 22:6)

Eighty years ago, in the early evening hours of Jan. 25, 1938, an unearthly phenomenon lit up the skies all over Europe and as far away as Bermuda. Thousands of Britons poured into the streets of cities and towns in wonderment and fear. Londoners thought half the city was on fire. In Scotland, peasants of the lowlands were awestruck by what they saw and feared to be an ill omen.

In Portugal, “villagers rushed in fright from their homes, fearing the end of the world” (AP dispatch). All over Switzerland, firehouses were emptied of their apparatus in response to many false alarms. In France, thousands of telephone calls asked “whether it was a fire, war or the end of the world.”

All transatlantic radio communications were interrupted and not resumed until 11:30 p.m. Even in Canada, wire services were disrupted from Winnipeg to Montreal.

“Shimmering Curtain”

What was it that stirred so many people in so many lands? One report described it as “two magnificent arcs rising in the east and west, from which radiated pulsating beams like search lights in dark red, greenish blue and purple…a shimmering curtain of fire.” Another said it was a “huge blood-red beam of light…emblazoned on the sky.” In Switzerland and Austria, it was seen as a “glow, bathing snow-clad mountains…a beautiful sight.” A “most brilliant display,” something “rarely seen in Southern or Western Europe: and of exceptional amplitude…such as has not been seen in Western Europe since 1709,” were typical comments in the press.

Despite numerous cables to The New York Times from around the world, the paper relegated the news to page 25 of its Jan. 26, 1938 issue. The reason may very well be that it was not considered unearthly at all but just an unusual recurrence of the aurora borealis.

An aurora or a warning?

After much study, scientists came to agree that this display did not fit in the pattern of an aurora borealis. An aurora is preceded by considerable sunspot activity. In this instance, there was almost nothing of the sort, only a single sunspot noticed the weekend before. Unlike the aurora, clearest in the arctic regions, this display was seen most vividly over an incredible area, as far south as Spain, Portugal and Bermuda. Moreover, while most auroras reach a height of 186 miles, some of the rays of this phenomenon reached the fantastic height of 434 miles.

In September of 1938, Dr. Carl Stoermer of the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics in Oslo, Norway, published an article in a scientific journal indicating that the incident of January 25 was of unaccountable origin and mysterious in nature. He wrote that throughout the exhibition there was a noise “similar to the sound of burning grass and brush” in contrast to the silence of an aurora borealis.

In spite of much study and investigation, scientists were unable to explain the great light that “struck fear into the hearts of millions” (F. Johnston). Rand McNally, Jr., a renowned nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II, has discovered that some of the properties of the 1938 “great light” matched almost exactly the artificial aurora created in the 1958 Johnston Island “Teak” atomic test.

“The Great Sign”

Sister Lucia, the seer of Fatima, knew the source and purpose of the great light. A Dorothean nun in a Portuguese convent at the time, she looked out the window of her cell on the night of Jan. 25, 1938, and recognized in the emblazoned sky an ominous sign from heaven.

On July 13, 1917, during the third apparition of the Mother of God at Fatima, she heard Our Lady say, “When you see a night illuminated by an unknown light, know that it is the great sign that God gives you that He is going to punish the world for its crimes by means of war, famine and persecution of the Church and the Holy Father.”

Sister would recall that Jacinta, her companion at Fatima 18 years before, while she lay dying, tortured by visions of war and death and hell, reminded her of “the light which the Lady told us would come one night before the war.” When Lucia realized that this was the great sign Our Lady had predicted, she wrote to the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon:

“War is imminent. The sins of men will be washed in their own blood. Those nations will suffer most in the war which tried to destroy the kingdom of God. Portugal will suffer some of the circumstances of war, but because of our country’s consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, she will not suffer them all.”

War was indeed imminent.

The day after the great light, Hitler took control of the German army with the intention of perpetrating one act of war after another. Little more than a month later, he marched his troops into Austria to take over that hapless nation.

When Lucia was asked about Our Lady’s prophecy that “if people did not stop offending God, another war, even worse, will begin in the reign of Pius XI” (who reigned until Feb. 10, 1939), she explained that World War II really began with the invasion of Austria, which led to the invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. Mary’s prophecy was fulfilled.

Needless to say, man learned nothing from World War I, the bloodiest war in all history, and set himself on the path to an even bloodier one. With the same pride and arrogance that brought him to war, he sought in his own way to insure the peace. Instead of turning away from sin by penance, he became more self-indulgent than ever before. His lust and greed sent soaring the rate of crime, divorce, political corruption, dishonesty in business and, one year after Our Lady’s public warning, the first capitulation of a Christian church to contraception. As Our Lady predicted, a worse war was the result.

Eighty years later, what can we take from a strange light that appeared in the sky?

Mary doesn’t use prophecy unnecessarily. She revealed at Fatima the powerful means by which war could be avoided and peace brought to our world, our nations, our homes. She pointed out that war is a consequence of sin and the way to prevent war is by penance, which is the antidote to sin. “Pray and do penance” was her constant message at Fatima. Souls are at stake.

Today, war and the threat of war is all around us. Our culture is at war. Religions and peoples in many areas of the world are at war. Divisions among races and even genders threaten our civil peace. Then there is the threat of nuclear war that could very well fulfill Mary’s prophecy at Fatima that “whole nations will be annihilated.”

The conversion of St. Paul reminds us that God doesn’t use signs in the sky frivolously. The light that blinded him was for all of us to ask what Jesus wants of us. When we all respond as St. Paul did, and as Mary asks, with true conversion, contrition for our sins, prayer, penance and a ready heart to do His will, then we will see the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and true peace in the world—the peace that can only come from Christ.

(Portions of this article were first published in SOUL Magazine, September-October, 2003, by Father Edward Atzert)

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  1. God blesss pray the Rosary

  2. Thank you for the great article on the Fatima Storm of January 25, 1938. I am writing on Fatima and have included reference to this in my writing. John Hauck, Milford, OH 01/19/2020

  3. Just finished reading The Miracle of the Sun and looked this up. Thank you for the article. Pray the Rosary God Bless.

  4. Mother Mary Pray for us, Jesus help us, save us

  5. I was Five years old when I saw the light in the sky. It was before WW 2 and my whole family was home that night. I don’t know who saw the light first but we were alerted and all of us went out side to see the beautiful colorful lights in the sky. I don’t recall being frightened

  6. Sister Lucia, the seer of Fatima, knew the source and purpose of the great light. Mary told Sister Lucia what was going to happen afterwards. The light was seen as a beautiful sight in some places, scarier in others, and Hitler started his campaign the day after the lights in the sky amazed much of the world.

    In Mary’s Lanced Immaculate Heart of Incurable Love and Truth,
    paulus of maria

  8. Today is August 31, 2021, Man definitely has not learned anything, this is why this is occurring in Afghanistan. As many people as I can tell, about this, I have. What I start with, have they ever heard about “The Miracle of the Sun”? This gets their attention, and they are fascinated, then I tell them, if people don’t believe in God after that. Then I start telling them about the three children in Fatima, Portugal, having a Marian Vision. As Christians it is our responsibility, to pass along word about God.

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