Do You See What I See?
August 21, 1879: Mary, Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist appear to fifteen people. The apparition included a plain altar behind and to the left of Saint John. The altar held a cross and a lamb (a traditional symbol of Jesus Christ) as well as adoring angels. The witnesses were at a small parish church in County Mayo in Ireland. The Blessed Virgin Mary was described as beautiful and standing a few feet above ground. She wore a white robe and a golden crown. She was said to be deep in prayer with eyes cast to the heavens and her hands slightly raised to shoulder height in supplication. Saint Joseph was also wearing a white robe. He was to the right of Mary and his head was bowed and inclined toward her. Saint John was to Mary’s left and he wore a mitre (a bishop’s headdress) and was turned away from the others. He held a large book in his left hand.
The group witnessing the event ranged in ages from five to 75 and included men, women, and children. One of the witnesses approached the vision with the intent of kissing Mary’s feet, but when she reached out, found only rock and was confused that her hand couldn’t feel what her eyes saw. The group stood in the pouring rain for two hours, reciting the Rosary, a Catholic repetitive prayer. The vision began at around 8 PM, still light in Ireland in the summer. As time wore on, it grew darker, but the apparition remained clearly visible. While the viewers were wet with rain, the ground beneath the vision remained dry.
The village of Knock, Ireland had been going through a dramatic changes their normal everyday life. The waves of the Famine that struck Ireland had not yet fully played out. Poverty, unemployment, and evictions were not uncommon. Railways were new and brought travel opportunities as well as challenges to close knit communities. The 1870s were also the time of the beginnings of the land reforms which would change rural life, sometimes through violence as in the Land War. In times of stress, change, and upset, reminders of the stability of religion were helpful to the masses. Whether or not the vision was as a delusion by marginalized folks, the religious underpinnings of the society were concrete.
Today, rather than just the simple church which stood there (and still stands) there is a shrine built at the site. There is a tapestry depicting the apparition in the Knock Basilica. Each Irish diocese makes an annual pilgrimage to the shrine and in August there is a novena (nine days of prayer) which attracts about 10,000 visitors. In 1979, Pope John Paul II visited the shrine and celebrated Mass there (making the church as Basilica). Mother Teresa of Calcutta also visited the shrine in 1993. The shrine has been a local pilgrimage site for over 100 years, but became a national destination in the last quarter of the 20th century partly due to Monsignor James Horan’s major rebuilding of the site.
Our visions begin with our desires. – Audre Lorde
The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams, but in active charity and in willing service. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It is one of the blessings of this world that few people see visions and dream dreams. – Zora Neale Hurston
Illusions of grandeur are not the same as visions of greatness. – Edwin Louis Cole
Also on this day: USA = 50 States – In 1959, Hawaii was admitted to the United States of America as the 50th state.
The Prophet – In 1931, Nat Turner led a slave rebellion.
Stolen Smile – In 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre.
Jarvis Island – In 1821, Jarvis Island was discovered.
Adding Things Up – In 1888, William Burroughs patented an adding machine.
* “Knock Shrine” by Paul Cowan – http://www.flickr.com/photos/paultcowan/210379562. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Knock_Shrine.jpg#/media/File:Knock_Shrine.jpg