Marian apparitions are visions or supernatural manifestations of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The experiences are accompanied by other paranormal phenomena, such as heavenly music and singing, miraculous healing, luminosities, Extrasensory Perception (ESP) and Mediumship.
Untold numbers of Marian apparitions have been reported over the centuries, but only a handful have been deemed authentic by the Catholic Church. In most sightings, a luminous lady appears and identifi es herself as Mary. She bears messages urging people to pray more and lead a more devout life; she also asks for churches and shrines to be built to her. Miraculous healings often are reported in the wake of sightings. In a number of cases, children are the percipients.
According to the Catholic Church, religious apparitions are not ghosts but are mystical phenomena permitted by God. Both corporeal and incorporeal apparitions are recognized, and are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Marian apparitions are not accepted as articles of faith, but those which are deemed authentic are celebrated.
Authentic sightings occurred in Guadalupe, Mexico in 1531; in Paris in 1830; in La Salette, France on September 19, 1846; in Lourdes, France from February 11 to July 16, 1858; in Knock, Ireland on August 21, 1879; in Fatima, Portugal from May 13 to October 13, 1917; in Beauraing, Belgium from November 29, 1932 to January 3, 1933; and in Banneaux, Belgium in 1933. Of those, the most famous and celebrated are:
In 1531, Mary appeared five times to Juan Diego, a middle-aged Aztec convert to Catholicism. The apparitions were recorded in various documents, including the Codex of Seville. The first episode occurred before dawn one morning as Juan was on his way to attend Mass:
. . . he suddenly heard a great choir, as of thousands of birds singing . . . He was enchanted and looked up to the hilltop where the music seemed to come from and saw there a shining cloud of brightness in that dusk before dawn, and started to climb up the barren rocks towards it. Suddenly the heavenly music stopped and then through the silence he heard a lady’s voice call him by name: ‘Juan, Juan Diegito’. . . . (Coley Taylor in Our Lady of Guadalupe: Marian Library Studies No. 85, 1961)
Diego then saw a woman “standing in the luminous cloud of mist, iridescent with rainbow hues.” She immediately identified herself as Mary, saying, “You must know, and be very certain in your heart, my son, that I am truly the eternal Virgin, holy Mother of the True God, through Whose favour we live, the Creator, Lord of Heaven, and the Lord of Earth.”
One another occasion, the apparition told Juan to pick flowers. Although it was a cold time of the year, he found a garden of roses at a site where no flowers had grown before. The flowers were Roses of Castile, a species not grown in Mexico at that time. Mary told him to wrap the flowers in his tilma, or cape, and take them to the bishop, which he did.
When Diego revealed the flowers and cape to the bishop and others who were present, a beautiful image of the Immaculate Conception was found to be imprinted on the cape: a woman with the sun and stars, standing on a new moon, with an angel at her feet. The style of the “painting” is not in the Maya-Toltec-Aztec tradition of the time, which resembled primitive hieroglyphics. The cape was made of ayate, a coarse fabric made of cactus fi ber, and had a maximum life span of about 30 years. Both the cape and the “painting” have lasted to the present day, and are on display in the church-shrine that was built at Mary’s request.
Specialists have examined the figure’s eyes in the “painting” and confirm what appear to be images of a man, perhaps Juan Diego, in each eye.
Pope Pius XII (1939–58) said that “on the tilma of humble Juan Diego—as tradition relates—brushes not of this earth left painted an Image more tender which the corrosive work of the centuries was marvelously to respect.”
On 18 occasions, from February 11 to July 16, 1858, 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous reportedly saw Mary in a grotto along the Gave du Pau river near Lourdes. Bernadette said she saw “a girl in white, no taller than I, who greeted me with a little bow of her head.” On one occasion, the Lady spoke, in the Lourdes dialect, and said, “Will you please come here every day for a fortnight. I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the next.” In the last apparition, the woman identified herself, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
As a result of the apparitions, Bernadette reportedly experienced trances or ecstasies, some lasting an hour. After her series of visions ceased, a spring near the site became credited with miraculous healing powers. The spring has no known natural therapeutic properties; believers attribute its curative powers to the patronage of Mary. Numerous other claims of visions and miracles proved to be spurious. The Catholic Church authenticated Bernadette’s apparitions four years later, and canonized Bernadette as a saint on December 8, 1933.
The identification of the apparition as the Immaculate Conception is important to Catholicism, and has been taken by many Catholics to be heavenly confirmation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which had been defined as a Catholic dogma in 1854. The “immaculateness” of Mary is a theme of the apparitions at Guadalupe and Fatima.
At Mary’s request, a chapel was built in 1871 at the Lourdes site; it has grown to be one of the great churches of southern France.
Up to six million pilgrims visit Lourdes each year. Supervision and examination of people who claim to be healed is done by the Bureau des Constatations Medicales, established in 1882 as an independent group of doctors, which also is open to qualifi ed visiting physicians. There are documented cases of cures associated with both the waters and the site.
In 1917, after three appearances of a being who identified itself as the Angel of Portugal, Mary appeared to three children: Lucia dos Santos, 10, and her two cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, 7 and 9 respectively. The two girls saw a “young lady” and heard her speak; the boy saw her but did not hear her speak.
The children said the lady was dressed in white and stood above a small tree. She asked them to return to the same place at the same hour of the same day for six consecutive months. Tens of thousands of spectators showed up at the appointed time and place to witness the six apparitions. All but the August appearances took place at Cova da Iria, a grazing ground near Aljustrel, a village in the parish of Fatima, north of Lisbon.
At the final sighting on October 13, a crowd of 50,000 or more gathered in the rain. Mary appeared to the children and told them to build a chapel in her honor. She said she was the “Lady of the Rosary,” and that people must say the Rosary daily. Lucia saw in succession Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows and as Our Lady of Mount Carmel; St. Joseph with the Child; and Jesus as a man. Then the rain stopped, and a phenomenon now known as the “miracle of the sun” occurred. The sun appeared suddenly through a rift in the clouds and seemed to rotate, throwing off multicolored light. It appeared to plunge to the earth, giving off heat. Some in the crowd feared it was a signal of the end of the world, and panicked. Fear then gave way to awe as the sun returned to normal in the sky. The “miracle of the sun” was witnessed miles away, and lasted an estimated 10 minutes. The significance of it is not known. Photographers at the event documented the unusually fast change from wet to dry environment, but not the phenomenon of the rotating sun.
According to Mary, the purpose of her apparitions was to deliver messages to the people of the need for daily recitation of the Rosary; prayer and mortifi cation for the conversion of sinners; prayers for priests; and offering of the Holy Communion of reparation on the first Saturday of every month. In addition, all people of the world needed to be devoted to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Mother. In return for these acts, many souls would be saved; Russia would be converted; another and more terrible world war would be averted; and there would be world peace.
In 1927, the Catholic Church authorized pilgrimages to the site. In accordance with the apparition’s instructions, construction of a basilica was begun in 1928. Hospitals, hospices and other religious institutions also have been erected.
The story of the Fatima apparitions was a vehicle for a 1952 movie, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima. The film did not present the spiritual aspects effectively, but used the story as a vehicle for an anti-Communist statement.
Alleged sightings of Marian apparitions have a powerful effect on witnesses, even if the apparitions are not authenticated by the Church. Investigations can take years before a decision on authenticity is made; meanwhile, sites of apparitions continue to draw new pilgrims who hope to have miraculous experiences. Among unauthenticated sightings are the following.
Beginning April 2, 1968, and lasting approximately 14 months, more than 70 Marian apparitions and other unusual phenomena were reported in the vicinity of the St. Mary’s Coptic Church in Zeitoun, a suburb of Cairo. The first eyewitnesses were three Muslim mechanics, who reported seeing a woman dressed in dazzling white, standing on top of the central dome of the church in the late night hours. The light was so brilliant that they could not make out facial features. Others saw it, and a crowd gathered within minutes; someone recognized the apparition as Mary. The crowd shouted and the figure acknowledged by bowing. After a few minutes, it ascended rapidly into the night sky and disappeared.
The first sighting was followed by hundreds of alleged spontaneous cures of all manner of diseases and illnesses. One of the mechanics, who suffered a gangrenous fi nger and was due for surgery the next day, completely recovered.
From April 2 until August 1969, Marian apparitions occurred two to three times a week, then were sporadic for the remainder of 1969. They were most frequent on early Sunday mornings and on the 32 Marian feast days of the Coptic Church. The total number of eyewitnesses was estimated at 250,000 to 500,000.
The apparitions included full and partial figures in at least 10 different shapes, which bowed and waved to the witnesses; reddish clouds of sweet incense which appeared and disappeared with great rapidity; unusual lights shooting across the sky; and luminous doves or dovelike objects of silver and other brilliant colors, some of which appeared in the shape of a Christian cross. None of the apparitions was accompanied by sound. The shortest lasted about one minute, while the longest, on June 8, 1968, lasted for more than seven hours. The General Information and Complaints Department of the Egyptian Government investigated and declared it “an undeniable fact” that Mary had appeared to both Christians and Muslims.
A remote village tucked into the mountains, Medjugorje (in the former Yugoslavia) has attracted millions of pilgrims and tourists since Mary first appeared on a hill to six adolescent villagers on June 24, 1981. Four were girls and two were boys; they ranged in age from 10 to 17. For the next 18 months, there were daily apparitions to one or more of the adolescents, who came to be called the “seers” or “visionaries.” Apparitions have continued, and thousands of them have been recorded. Many have occurred in the “chapel of apparitions,” the rectory behind the St. James Roman Catholic Church in Medjugorje. Most last a few minutes, but some have lasted 20 to 45 minutes.
In addition to the apparitions, miraculous healings have been reported of a range of physical and psychological conditions, from eye diseases and vascular problems to substance addictions. Other miracles occurred nearly daily. In August 1981, mir, the Croatian word for peace, was seen written in the sky at night above the cross on the hill where Mary first appeared, now known as the Hill of Apparitions. Her silhouette has also been seen on the hill. Like the “miracle of the sun” at Fatima, the sun has been reported to either pulsate, spin hypnotically, change into a white disc or shine in a rainbow of brilliant colors. The cross behind the church has been seen to spin or disappear. On October 28, 1981, a bush spontaneously ignited on the hill. People rushed to extinguish it, but by the time they reached it, it had burned itself out, leaving no charring or burned evidence.
According to the visionaries, the purpose of the apparitions is to bring a message from Christ, which the seers could then communicate to the world. Essentially, the message is that atheists must convert and return to the ways of God, to change their lives to peace with God and with their fellow humankind. Returning to God can be achieved through peace, conversion, fasting, penance and prayer. Peace is the most important, for it makes everything else possible. Prayer is vital because faith cannot be maintained without it. Prayer must be directed to Jesus, and Mary will intercede with Him. The purpose of the supernatural events, according to Mary, is to give credence to the apparitions and underscore the importance of the message.
Mary further communicated that Medjugorje was selected because the village of about 400 families included many good believers who were capable of restoring their faith and serving as an example to other people in the world regarding the need to convert.
After their first vision, the visionaries spent at least six hours in prayer and fasted up to three times a week. They said they conversed with Mary in normal conversation tones, in their native Croatian. They learned that each of them would be given 10 secrets, after which time Mary would cease to appear to them, except on special occasions. The children did not receive their secrets at the same time; four messages were to concern humankind as a whole, while the rest would be directed to individuals or the village of Medjugorje.
As a result of the apparitions, the villagers, with few exceptions, converted and began attending daily church services.
Pilgrims who visit the church and rectory say Mary appears to them during prayer. Others report unusual experiences, such as the changing of silver rosary chains to gold. Photographs appear to show images of the figure of Jesus on the cross on the hill, Mary in prayer against the cross, Mary and Child in the sky and unnaturally originating rays of light striking across the cross. In some cases, the images are evident only after the film is developed.
By the fall of 1987, Mary was appearing on the 25th day of each month, giving messages to visionaries to spread throughout the world about the need for prayer and the need to dedicate time to Jesus. The messages support Catholic teachings; most fall into five themes: peace, faith, conversion, prayer and fasting. In 1984, Mary began giving “special messages.”
While Mary’s mission is purported to be one of peace and love, the promised 10 secrets have taken on a dark, apocalyptic thread that also often occurs in Channeling and mediumship. By 1999, three visionaries had received all 10 secrets, and three had received nine. The ninth and tenth secrets are supposed to be “very grave, having to do with the sins of the world.” Prayer and penance will help to ward off evil and war.
Only one secret was revealed to the public: that Mary would leave a visible sign on the mountain where she first appeared.
After all the secrets are given, three warnings will be given to the world. Ten days before each warning, a priest will be notifi ed so that he can fast and pray for seven days and then announce the warning that will take place in three days. The three warnings will occur in rapid succession. Those who have not converted will have little time to do so.
The Catholic Church’s position on Medjugorje is that supernatural apparitions and revelations have not been affirmed. Private pilgrimages are permitted as long as they are not taken as authentifi cation of events.
In 1998, a Scientific study was done on the visionaries at the request of the Parish Offi ce of Medjugorje. It was concluded that none of the visionaries Demonstrated any pathological symptoms such as trance interference, dissociative interference or loss of reality interference, and that their states of ecstasy were not hypnotically induced.
In 1983, Nancy Fowler, a registered nurse who now lives in Conyers, Georgia, began having trouble with Demons. Fowler, a Catholic, had quit attending Sunday Mass due to the schedule of a new job. She saw grotesque, shadowy forms and doubted her sanity. She gave up her weekend job, returned to Mass and found a priest who exorcized most of the Demonic harassment.
One night she awakened to see a vision of a cross of white light on the ceiling. A disembodied voice told her she was a prophet and to open the Bible. She randomly opened it to Jeremiah 1:5, which says, “The Lord said to me, I chose you before I gave you life, and before you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations.”
Fowler then began receiving instruction and guidance from a voice, which she identified as the Lord. In 1987, she tried to end the mystical experiences. Rather than end, they increased in magnitude. Fowler perceived a silent, full-length apparition of Jesus on February 27. This was followed by clear, audible interior voices that gave religious instruction, and on November 30, an other vision of Jesus. Jesus began making daily appearances to her.
Also during 1987, Fowler experienced angels and Mary. Initially, Mary was a voice. Fowler felt guided to visit Medjugorje in October. She saw an apparition of Mary in 1988. Mary’s visits to her then increased in frequency. Fowler also has been visited by apparitions of Satan, who appears in various beautiful and terrifying guises.
Mary’s visits are often preceded by a bird singing outside the Fowler home. In a burst of light, she appears in Fowler’s living room near a statue of Mary. She is smaller than life size, about 3 feet tall, and holds the infant Jesus. Mary’s messages range from personal ones to ones of global significance. Her main themes are prayer, reading the Gospels and conversion.
In 1990, Mary began giving special messages through Fowler to the United States on the 13th of each month, a significant day, she has said, because the apparitions at Fatima ended on October 13, 1917. Mary says her requests at Fatima have not been done. The visits on the 13th of each month were received in a special room in the nearby home of Bob Hughes, whose property better accommodated the crowds. During the messages, graces were given to the crowd, many of whom reported paranormal or mystical experiences of their own, such as the smell of roses and visions.
On June 13, 1993, Fowler was subjected to medical and Scientific tests while she was having an apparition of Mary. Her brainwaves corresponded to the delta levels of deep sleep. She also registered a significant drop in electrical conductivity of her skin, showing deep relaxation. There was no evidence of psychiatric disturbance.
In 1994, Fowler announced that Mary would end her 13th messages for the United States, but her presence would remain. Jesus also continued to manifest himself to her.
The Catholic Church has made no inquiry into the Conyers apparitions. Clergy are prohibited from officially participating in any activities. Private pilgrimages are permitted. In 1992, Fowler was discouraged from speaking in Catholic churches about the apparitions, on the grounds that it would give the appearance of official authentication.
The Catholic Church remains very cautious about investigating any reported Marian apparitions. The overwhelming majority of them fade away over time. At the end of the century and the millennium, apparitional sightings had risen dramatically around the world, perhaps reflecting fears and concerns about “the end times.” Mary’s message of redemption has a broad appeal.
Arintero, Juan. Mystical Evolution in the Development and Vitality of the Church Vol. I. St. Louis: B. Herder, 1949. Attwater, Donald. A Dictionary of Mary. New York: P.J. Kennedy, 1960. Christian, William A., Jr. Apparitions in Late Medieval and Renaissance Spain. Princeton: University of Princeton Press, 1981. “The Conyers Story.” Available online. URL: https:// www. conyers.org/story1.htm. Downloaded on Oct. 11, 1999. DeVincenzo, Victor. “The Apparitions at Zeitoun, Egypt: An Historical Overview.” Journal of Religion and Psychical Research 11, no. 1 (1988): 313. Hancock, Ann Marie. “Signs and Wonders of Her Love.” Venture Inward (Sept./Oct. 1988): 12–15. “Medjugorje, a Short History.” Available online. URL: https://www.medjugorje.org/history.htm. Downloaded on Oct. 11, 1999.