Astounding Things!: How the Midday Sun Danced at Fatima

An excerpt of Avelino de Almeida’s firsthand account of the Miracle of the Sun, published on October 15th, 1917, in O Século’s daily edition

Translated by John Nahrgang


O Século was founded in 1881 as an organ for the anticlerical Republican Party. By 1917, Avelino de Almeida was an editor and star reporter, and was sent on special assignment to cover the anticipated Miracle of the Sun.

OURÉM (PORTUGAL), October 13th

Upon disembarking, after a delayed trip, at around four o’clock in the afternoon at Chão de Maçãs station in Ourém, where religious people coming in from faraway lands were also exiting carriages in order to be present at the “miracle”, I asked a boy from a charabanc by the road if he had already seen the Lady. With a sardonic smile and a crooked look, he didn’t hesitate in his response: “Here I’ve only seen rocks, carriages, cars, horses and people!”

On the road, we come across the first groups of wanderers that continue in the direction of the holy site, for more than twelve well-measured miles. Men and women go almost entirely barefoot…At a sure and measured pace, they tread along the dusty road in order to arrive before night’s end at the apparition site.

At daybreak, new groups of intrepid wanderers appear and move through the village, not stopping for an instant.

The sun comes out, but the sky signals the threat of a storm. Black clouds build up precisely around the area of Fatima. Nothing yet deters those who converge there from all roads and avail themselves of all types of locomotion…the luxury automobiles, the animal carts, the large wagons, the Victorian carriages, the closed carriages, the two-wheeled horse-drawn wagons.

People taking shelter under their umbrellas, surrounding the site of the miracle.

By ten o’clock, the sky becomes completely cloudy and without delay it begins to rain, and rain hard. Sheets of rain batted around by a rough wind punish faces, soaking the road and drenching to the bone travelers deprived of head coverings or any other protection.

The shrubland around Fatima, where it is said that the Virgin appears to shepherd children of the hamlet of Aljustrel, is dominated to a great extent by the road that runs to Leiria, and along it are affixed the vehicles that drove pilgrims and spectators there. In addition to the body of pilgrims, thousands of people from many miles around, faithful who have come from various [Portuguese] provinces, congregate in the vicinity of the small holly oak tree. Seen from the road, the sight is simply fantastic.

And the little shepherds? Lucia, ten years old, a visionary, and her little companions, Francisco, nine, and Jacinta, seven, still have not arrived. Their presence is signaled maybe a half-hour before the time that was indicated as coming from the apparition. The girls, crowned with flowers, head to the site in which the portico is erected. The rain falls incessantly but nobody loses patience. There are many people, as if in ecstasy; people deeply moved, on whose dry lips prayer is paralyzed; astonished people, with immobile hands and watery eyes; people who seem to feel, to touch the supernatural.

The child affirms that the Lady spoke to them more than once, and the sky, still menacing, begins, suddenly, to clear up overhead; the rain stops and it is affirmed that the sun is going to inundate the countryside, the sun that the cold morning sadly took away.

The hour advances…The miraculous manifestation, the announced visible sign is about to produce itself… And then a spectacle makes itself present, unique and unbelievable to anyone not a witness to it. From the summit of the road, the entire immense multitude is seen turning towards the sun, which presents itself free from the clouds, in its zenith. The star resembles a plate of opaque silver and it is possible to stare at the disc without the most minimal effort. It doesn’t burn; it doesn’t blind. It may be said to be an eclipse in progress. But a colossal uproar suddenly arises, and the spectators that are closest are heard to yell:

Miracle, miracle! A marvel! A marvel!

To the amazed eyes of those people, who, pale with astonishment and with heads uncovered, face the blue sky, the sun trembled, the sun had never-before-seen brusque movements beyond all cosmic laws – the sun “danced”, according to the typical expression of the peasants. And, later on, some ask others if they saw it, or what they saw. The majority confesses to have seen a trembling or dancing of the sun, but others declare to have seen the smiling face of the Virgin herself, and swear that the sun spun around like a wheel of fireworks, that it descended almost to the point of burning the earth with its rays… There are those who say that they saw it successively change color…

Lucia, ten; Francisco, nine, and Jacinta, seven, who claim to have spoken with the Virgin Mary in the shrubland of Fátima, a town of the region of Ourém’s Vila Nova.

It’s close to three o’clock in the afternoon. The sky is swept of clouds and the sun continues its course with the habitual splendor that nobody dares to face directly. And the little shepherds? Lucia, the one who speaks with the Virgin, announces in dramatic fashion and with manly bearing while being transported from group to group that the war will end and that our soldiers were going to return… Even such news does not increase the jubilation of those who listen. The celestial sign was everything. There is an intense curiosity to see the two girls with their garlands of roses, and there are those who try to kiss the hands of the “little saints”, one of whom, Jacinta, is more inclined to faint than to dance, but the reason everybody was yearning to touch her — the sign from heaven— was sufficient to satisfy them, to root them in their simple and naive faith.

It still remains for the competent ones to apply judgment to the macabre dance of the sun that, today in Fatima, made hosannas explode from the chests of the faithful and left people naturally moved – this is what reliable people assure me, freethinkers and other people without concerns for religious nature, about those who flocked to this already celebrated shrubland.

Avelino de Almeida

                    A group in which an old blind man is perhaps hoping to regain his sight.

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