The Miracle of the Sun (O Milagre do Sol) was an event which occurred just after midday on Sunday 13 October 1917, attended by some 30,000 to 100,000 people who were gathered near Fátima in Portugal. Several newspaper reporters were in attendance and they took testimony from many people who claimed to have witnessed extraordinary solar activity. This recorded testimony was later added to by an Italian Catholic priest and researcher in the 1940s.
The event was officially accepted as a miracle by the Roman Catholic Church on 13 October 1930. On 13 October 1951, the papal legate, Cardinal Tedeschini, told the million people gathered at Fátima that on 30 October, 31 October, 1 November, and 8 November 1950, Pope Pius XII himself witnessed the miracle of the sun from the Vatican gardens.
The people had gathered because three young shepherd children (Lucia dos Santos, Jacinta Marto and Francisco Marto) who originally claimed to have seen Our Lady of Fátima also reported seeing a panorama of visions, including those of Jesus, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and of Saint Joseph blessing the people, had predicted that at high noon the “lady” who had appeared to them several times would perform a great miracle in a field near Fátima called Cova da Iria.
According to many witnesses, after a period of rain, the dark clouds broke and “the sun” appeared as an opaque, spinning disc in the sky. It was said to be significantly duller than normal, and to cast multicolored lights across the landscape, the shadows on the landscape, the people, and the surrounding clouds. The sun was then reported to have careened towards the earth in a zigzag pattern, frightening those who thought it a sign of the end of the world. Witnesses reported that their previously wet clothes became “suddenly and completely dry, as well as the wet and muddy ground that had been previously soaked because of the rain that had been falling.” Estimates of the number of people present range from between 30,000 to 40,000 by Avelino de Almeida, writing for the Portuguese newspaper O Século, to 100,000, estimated by Dr. Joseph Garrett, professor of natural sciences at the University of Coimbra, both of whom were present on that day.
The event was attributed by believers to Our Lady of Fátima, who purportedly had appeared to the children on 13 July 1917, 19 August, and 13 September. The children stated that the Lady had promised them that she would on 13 October reveal her identity to them and provide a miracle “so that all may believe.”
The most widely cited descriptions of the events reported at Fatima are taken from the writings of John De Marchi, an Italian Catholic priest and researcher. De Marchi spent seven years in Fátima, from 1943 to 1950, conducting original research and interviewing the principals at length. In The Immaculate Heart, published in 1952, De Marchi reports that, “their ranks [those present on 13 October] included believers and non-believers, pious old ladies and scoffing young men. Hundreds, from these mixed categories, have given formal testimony. Reports do vary; impressions are in minor details confused, but none to our knowledge has directly denied the visible prodigy of the sun.”
Some of the witness statements follow below. They are taken from De Marchi’s published works:
Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws — the sun ‘danced’ according to the typical expression of the people.” ― Avelino de Almeida, writing for O Século
O Século was Portugal’s most widely circulated and influential newspaper. It was pro-government and anti-clerical at the time. Almeida’s previous articles had satirized earlier reported events at Fátima.
The sun, at one moment surrounded with scarlet flame, at another aureoled in yellow and deep purple, seemed to be in an exceedingly swift and whirling movement, at times appearing to be loosened from the sky and to be approaching the earth, strongly radiating heat.” ― Dr. Domingos Pinto Coelho, writing for the newspaper Ordem.
The silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds… The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands… people wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they.” ― Reporter for the Lisbon newspaper O Dia.
The sun’s disc did not remain immobile. This was not the sparkling of a heavenly body, for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl, when suddenly a clamor was heard from all the people. The sun, whirling, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible.” — Dr. Almeida Garrett, Professor of Natural Sciences at Coimbra University.
As if like a bolt from the blue, the clouds were wrenched apart, and the sun at its zenith appeared in all its splendor. It began to revolve vertiginously on its axis, like the most magnificent firewheel that could be imagined, taking on all the colors of the rainbow and sending forth multicolored flashes of light, producing the most astounding effect. This sublime and incomparable spectacle, which was repeated three distinct times, lasted for about ten minutes. The immense multitude, overcome by the evidence of such a tremendous prodigy, threw themselves on their knees.” ― Dr. Manuel Formigão, a professor at the seminary at Santarém, and a priest. He had attended the September visitation, and examined and questioned the children in detail several times.
I feel incapable of describing what I saw. I looked fixedly at the sun, which seemed pale and did not hurt my eyes. Looking like a ball of snow, revolving on itself, it suddenly seemed to come down in a zig-zag, menacing the earth. Terrified, I ran and hid myself among the people, who were weeping and expecting the end of the world at any moment.” — Rev. Joaquim Lourenço, describing his boyhood experience in Alburitel, eighteen kilometers from Fatima.
On that day of October 13, 1917, without remembering the predictions of the children, I was enchanted by a remarkable spectacle in the sky of a kind I had never seen before. I saw it from this veranda…” — Portuguese poet Afonso Lopes Vieira.
According to De Marchi, “Engineers that have studied the case reckoned that an incredible amount of energy would have been necessary to dry up those pools of water that had formed on the field in a few minutes as it was reported by witnesses.”
Joe Nickell notes: “Not surprisingly, perhaps, Sun Miracles have been reported at other Marian sites—at Lubbock, Texas, in 1989; Mother Cabrini Shrine near Denver, Colorado, in 1992; Conyers, Georgia, in the early to mid-1990s.” Nickell also suggests that the dancing effects witnessed at Fátima may have been due to optical effects resulting from temporary retinal distortion caused by staring at such an intense light.
Auguste Meessen, following the work done before him by the Belgian skeptic Marc Hallet, has stated sun miracles cannot be taken at face value and that the reported observations were optical effects caused by prolonged staring at the sun. Meessen contends that retinal after-images produced after brief periods of sun gazing are a likely cause of the observed dancing effects. Similarly Meessen states that the color changes witnessed were most likely caused by the bleaching of photosensitive retinal cells.Meessen observes that Sun Miracles have been witnessed in many places where religiously charged pilgrims have been encouraged to stare at the sun. He cites the apparitions at Heroldsbach, Germany (1949) as an example, where many people within a crowd of over 10,000 testified to witnessing similar observations as at Fátima. Meessen also cites a British Journal of Ophthalmology article that discusses some modern examples of Sun Miracles. While Meessen suggests possible psychological or neurological explanations for the apparitions he notes, “It is impossible to provide any direct evidence for or against the supernatural origin of apparitions.” He also notes that “[t]here may be some exceptions, but in general, the seers are honestly experiencing what they report.”
De Marchi claims that the prediction of an unspecified “miracle”, the abrupt beginning and end of the alleged miracle of the sun, the varied religious backgrounds of the observers, the sheer numbers of people present, and the lack of any known scientific causative factor make a mass hallucination unlikely. That the activity of the sun was reported as visible by those up to 18 kilometers (11 mi) away, also precludes the theory of a collective hallucination or mass hysteria.
Despite these assertions, not all witnesses reported seeing the sun “dance”. Some people only saw the radiant colors. Others, including some believers, saw nothing at all. No scientific accounts exist of any unusual solar or astronomic activity during the time the sun was reported to have “danced”, and there are no witness reports of any unusual solar phenomenon further than 64 kilometers (40 mi) out from Cova da Iria.
Pio Scatizzi, Society of Jesus, described the events of that day on Fátima, and he concluded:
The … solar phenomena were not observed in any observatory. Impossible that they should escape notice of so many astronomers and indeed the other inhabitants of the hemisphere… there is no question of an astronomical or meteorological event phenomenon… Either all the observers in Fátima were collectively deceived and erred in their testimony, or we must suppose an extra-natural intervention.
Joe Nickell, a skeptic and investigator of paranormal phenomena, claimed that the position of the phenomenon, as described by the various witnesses, is at the wrong azimuth and elevation to have been the sun. He suggested the cause may have been a sundog. Sometimes referred to as a parhelion or “mock sun”, a sundog is a relatively common atmospheric optical phenomenon associated with the reflection / refraction of sunlight by the numerous small ice crystals that make up cirrus clouds or cirrostratus clouds.
Stanley L. Jaki, a professor of physics at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, a Benedictine priest, and the author of a number of books dealing with the intersection of science and faith, suggested that the event was natural and meteorological in nature, but the fact that the event occurred at the exact time predicted was indeed a miracle.
To celebrate the day I suggest you make cozido à portuguesa. Portuguese cozido has its origins in the Beira but is loved all over Portugal. It is a rich stew that usually includes shin of beef, pork, and Portuguese smoked (or blood) sausages (morcela, farinheira and chouriço) and in some regions chicken, served with cabbage, carrots, turnips, rice, potatoes, and greens. As such it is much like the French pot-au-feu or Italian bollito misto. The important thing is to use bone in stewing beef to enrich the broth.
Here is one of my generalized recipes without quantities and with general suggestions for ingredients. Once again this is cook’s choice. Make sure you have some kind of stewing beef, pork, and sausage (preferably Portuguese). Sometimes a slab of bacon is added in place of the pork.
Cozido à portuguesa
In a large, heavy soup pot place about 2lbs/1 kilo of bone-in stewing beef and ½ lb/225g of pork. Cover with water or light beef stock. Bring slowly to a simmer, skimming scum and froth as it rises. Cover and simmer for about 2 hours. Add 1lb/450g each of potatoes, carrots, and turnips cut in large chunks plus a white cabbage quartered. You may peel the root vegetables if you wish or simply scrub them well and remove tops and tails (the way I do it). Bring the pot back to a rolling simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove about 2 pints/1liter of broth and heat it in a separate pot. Add 1lb/250g rice and cook until tender. Then add your choice of Portuguese sausages such as linguiça, chouriço, or morcela (blood sausage) to the meat and vegetables. If you cannot find Portuguese versions, any good smoked sausage will do. Cook gently for around another 20 minutes or until the vegetables are well cooked.
To serve, strain the meat and vegetables. Return the broth to the pot and keep hot. Bone the meat and shred it. Serve it on a heated platter with the vegetables, and serve the rice in a large bowl. Pour the broth into warmed soup bowls, one per diner.