A miracle of the sun in Fatima?

Stuart Forster reports on the experience of photographing a solar halo in Portugal on 13 May 2011, an experience that led pilgrims to ask if they’d seen a miracle of the sun in Fatima.

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I witnessed a remarkable event in Fatima, Portugal, on 13 May 2011. People standing close to me described what they saw as a miracle.

“A new miracle of Fatima,” uttered a woman behind me.

“Another Miracle of the Sun,” said another in an awestruck tone.

Scientifically minded folk will be inclined to explain the events of that day as a meteorological phenomenon. Sunlight reflecting on ice crystals suspended high in the sky are a cause of 22° halos. The halo-like circles of light, also known as sun halos, occur most frequently in winter.

13 May 2011 was a warm spring day. Many of the pilgrims gathered in Fatima were carrying umbrellas or wearing hats to shield themselves from the sun’s rays during the outdoor mass.

Roman Catholics gather to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Fatima, Portugal.
Roman Catholics gather to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Fatima, Portugal.

The timing of the appearance of a halo around the sun was certainly uncanny. It affirmed the faith of some who saw it. The sanctity of Fatima too.

Solar halo above a statue of Pope John Paul II in Fatima, Portugal, on 13 May 2011.
Solar halo above a statue of Pope John Paul II in Fatima, Portugal, on 13 May 2011.

13 May in Fatima, Portugal

The reason I was in Fatima to photograph the Feast Day of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament. Between 250,000 and 300,000 Roman Catholic pilgrims were expected to gather that day celebrate an outdoor mass. It’s one of the most significant days of the year in Fatima.

I adore photographing major events and cultural heritage. There’s a thrillingly unpredictable element to documenting mass gatherings of people.

Christians pray by the statue of Pope John Paul II in Fatima, Portugal, on the Feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament on 13 May 2011.
Christians praying by the statue of Pope John Paul II in Fatima, Portugal, on the Feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament on 13 May 2011.

In 1917 three local children reported a series of visions of a lady. Beginning on 13 May of that year, the monthly apparitions continued into October. They concluded with an event now known as the Miracle of the Sun.

Fatima has subsequently evolved into one of the world’s great pilgrimage sites. The city lies approximately 125 kilometres (78 miles) north of Lisbon.

Statue of Pope Pius XII in Fatima, Portugal.
Statue of Pope Pius XII in Fatima, Portugal.

Photographing at the Sanctuary of Fatima

I was moving slowly through the crowd gathered at the prayer area, photographing as I went and observing the proceedings of the service.

A video of Pope John Paul II had just been introduced. The footage was beginning to play on a big screen.

It was then that I noticed a subtle change in the light and glanced up. Remarkably, a halo ringed the sun.

Never having seen such a phenomenon, I pointed my camera into the sky and photographed it.

An unusual halo-style aura around the sun, sometimes termed a 22° halo, had pilgrims talking about new Miracle of the Sun in Fatima on 13 May 2011.
An unusual halo-style aura around the sun had pilgrims talking about new Miracle of the Sun in Fatima on 13 May 2011.

Then I thought about the significance of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima. My photograph of the sun surrounded by a halo could have been taken anywhere. I needed to show the halo-ringed sun in the context of Fatima.

To do that I sank one knee to the ground and tilted my camera to the sky. My aim was to depict pilgrims praying and using their umbrella to provide shade.

Christian pilgrims hold umbrellas to provide shade from the sun while a solar halo flares around the sun in Fatima, Portugal, on 13 May 2011.
Christian pilgrims hold umbrellas to provide shade from the sun while a solar halo flares around the sun in Fatima, Portugal, on 13 May 2011.

People around me thought I was genuflecting. I heard gasps and cries of joy. A couple of women thanked me for bringing the miraculous event to their attention. They offered rosary beads and asked if I could send them prints of my photos.

A Fatima miracle or natural phenomenon?

The halo faded just a couple of minutes after my initial shot. Was it my imagination of did it last only for the duration of the video?

Solar halo or a new Miracle of the Sun in Fatima, Portugal? The sun bursts through Robert Schad's High Cross (Cruz Alta) sculpture.
Solar halo or a new Miracle of the Sun in Fatima, Portugal? The sun bursts through Robert Schad’s High Cross (Cruz Alta) sculpture.

As the mass ended the halo reappeared around the sun. This allowed me to photograph it above the High Cross and Pope John Paul II sculptures.

Solar halo over the statue of Pope John Paul II in Fatima, Portugal.
Solar halo over the statue of Pope John Paul II in Fatima, Portugal.

The timing of the halo’s appearance seemed remarkable.

Are you a meteorologist and able to provide an explanation in layman’s terms? If so, please leave a comment below.

Did you witness the solar halo of 13 May 2011? What’s your take on what happened that day?

Solar halo or miracle of the sun in Fatima, Portugal? The phenomenon appears above a sculpture of Pope John Paul II by Czeslaw Dzwigaj.
What’s your view of what happened in Fatima, Portugal, on 13 May 2011? A halo-like phenomenon appears above a sculpture of Pope John Paul II by Czeslaw Dzwigaj.

The visions of Fatima

On 13 May 1917 Lucia dos Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marta reputedly saw a vision of a lady while tending sheep at Cova da Iria. The resplendent lady asked the youngsters to pray and return on the 13th of the following month.

A pilgrim shuffling towards the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal.
A pilgrim shuffling towards the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal.

The three children duly returned. So too did the lady. She reappeared in subsequent months, until October.

Golden statue of Jesus Christ with arms outstretched in Fatima, Portugal.
Golden statue of Jesus Christ with arms outstretched in Fatima, Portugal.

After reporting the vision, officials prevented the youngsters from being present on 13 August 1917. Nonetheless, the lady appeared six days later and promised a miracle on 13 October.

Sign pointing towards the Sanctuary of Fatima, the place of worship known in Portuguese as the Santuário de Fátima.
Sign pointing towards the Sanctuary of Fatima, the place of worship known in Portuguese as the Santuário de Fátima.

Miracle of the Sun in Fatima

The Ilustração Portuguesa newspaper reported that a crowd of thousands gathered on the autumn day in 1917. Eyewitnesses testified to witnessing a phenomenon that became known as the Miracle of the Sun. Some of the onlookers reported that the sun appeared to fall towards the earth. Others said it danced in the sky for around 10 minutes, changing colours as it did so.

Roman Catholics gather to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament by the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima.
Pilgrims gather to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, on 13 May, by the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima.

Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco reported seeing another vision of the lady on 13 October 1917. The female is reputed to have revealed her identity as the Lady of the Rosary, the Virgin Mary, and requested a chapel to be built in Fatima. Three secrets were also revealed to the children, who shared them with representatives of the church.

Solar halo above Fatima, Portugal, on 13 May 2011. It is seen behind Robert Schad's High Cross (Cruz Alta) sculpture.
Solar halo above Fatima, Portugal, on 13 May 2011. It is seen behind Robert Schad’s ‘High Cross’ sculpture.

Legacy of the Miracle of Fatima

Investigations into what happened took place in the years that followed. On 13 October 1930 the Bishop of Leiria authorised veneration of Our Lady of Fatima.

The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, known as the Basílica de Nossa Senhora do Rosário in Portuguese, in Fatima, Portugal.
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, known as the Basílica de Nossa Senhora do Rosário in Portuguese, in Fatima, Portugal.

Of the three children, only Lucia grew into adulthood. She became a nun and lived until 2005. Jacinta and Francisco died during the influenza pandemic, known as the Spanish Flu, that swept the world after World War One.

A Portuguese flag flies above pilgrims gathered in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima on 13 May 2011.
A Portuguese flag flies above pilgrims gathered in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima on 13 May 2011.

The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary was consecrated in 1953. The place of worship stands at the place where the three children claim to have had the visions. Also known as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima, it has become one of the world’s most significant Marian shrines. It draws around four million pilgrims every year.

Statue of the Virgin Mary on the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Fatima, Portugal.
Statue of the Virgin Mary on the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Fatima, Portugal.

A large outdoor prayer area stands between the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary and the circular Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity. Pilgrims gather on the square for masses on 13 May and 13 October.

Roman Catholics celebrate mass on the feast day of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament at Fatima, Portugal. Between 250,000 and 300,000 pilgrims attended the outdoor mass on 13 May 2011.
Roman Catholics celebrate mass on the feast day of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament at Fatima, Portugal. Between 250,000 and 300,000 pilgrims attended the outdoor mass on 13 May 2011.

Outdoor mass in Fatima

On 13 May 1967, the fiftieth anniversary of the children’s first vision, around one million pilgrims gathered in Fatima. Pope Paul VI said mass and led prayers for peace. He was accompanied to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima by Lucia.

Statue in Fatima, Portugal, a sculpture by Joaquim Correia depicting Pope Paul VI praying.
Statue in Fatima, Portugal, depicting Pope Paul VI praying. The sculpture is by Joaquim Correia.

A century on from the first of the visions, Pope Francis canonised Jacinta and Francisco. Approximately half-a-million pilgrims were present in Fatima for the ceremony on 13 May 2017.

Roman Catholics gather to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Fatima, Portugal.
Roman Catholics gather to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Fatima, Portugal.

Map of Fatima, Portugal

The map below shows central Fatima. Zoom out of the map to view the Fatima’s location in central Portugal.

Google Map of Fátima in Portugal. 
 



Accommodation in Fatima, Portugal

Seeking a hotel in Fatima, Portugal? Search for accommodation in Fatima via Booking.com:



Booking.com

Travel to Fatima

British Airways and TAP Air Portugal operate flights between London and Lisbon Portela Airport.

See the UK Government website for official Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) advice about travel to Portugal.

Enjoy rail travel? It’s worth noting that Fatima Station is approximately 19 kilometres east of Fatima. Buying a train ticket to Estação Ferroviária de Chão de Maçãs-Fátima will mean you need to take a bus or taxi to reach the pilgrimage site. Buses stopping outside of the railway station run to Fatima.



An intercity bus service operates between the Sete Rios Bus Station in Lisbon and Fatima Bus Station (known in Portuguese as the Terminal Rodoviário de Fátima). The journey takes around 80 minutes.

Hiring a car and driving to Fatima gives you the freedom to explore points on interest along the route.



Sign setting out ground rules for behaviour in Fatima, Portugal.
Sign setting out ground rules for behaviour in Fatima, Portugal.

Books about Fatima and Portugal

Planning a trip to Fatima? You may enjoy reading the following books about the pilgrimage site and travel books on Amazon:

Jean Heimann’s book Fatima: The Apparition That Changed the World:

 

Deidre Manifold’s Fatima: The and the Great Conspiracy:

 

Fatima for Today: The Urgent Marian Message of Hope:

 

Marianna Bartold’s Fatima: The Signs and Secrets:

 

Lonely Planet’s guidebook to Portugal:

 

The Rough Guide to Portugal, a travel guide with a free e-book:

 

Pinterest pin for Go Eat Do's blog post about seeing a solar halo above Fatima, Portugal, on 13 May 2011.
Use Pinterest and pin Go Eat Do’s blog post about seeing a solar halo above Fatima, Portugal, on 13 May 2011.

Further information

Find out more about the famous Portuguese pilgrimage site on the Shrine of Fatima website.

Discover things to see and do in Fatima and elsewhere in the country on the Visit Portugal website.



Stuart Forster, the author of this post, is an award-winning travel writer who spent two years living in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city. Stuart has written about Portugal for publications including National Geographic Traveller, The Huff Post and Traveller. He is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers.

Illustrating photographs are by Why Eye Photography.

 

Thanks for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post about the Miracle of the Sun in Fatima, Portugal. If you’re planning a trip to Portugal you may find useful travel ideas in my post about 48 hours in Lisbon.

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