By Lydia O’Kane
On the 21st August 1879 fifteen people in the village of Knock in the West of Ireland witnessed an Apparition that would change their lives. For two hours in the pouring rain they watched as Our Lady, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, a Lamb and cross on an altar at the gable wall of the Parish Church appeared to them.
The villagers recalled seeing a beautiful vision of Mary with a white cloak and crown while St Joseph was also wearing white while standing on the right of the Blessed Virgin.
Following the apparition an ecclesiastical Commission of inquiry was established that same year which found the testimonies of those who witnessed the scene to be sound and trustworthy.
Nearly 140 years on from that well documented event, the place of the apparitions is now a National Shrine and Basilica honouring Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland which welcomes thousands of pilgrims every year.
Pope John Paul II at Knock
One such pilgrim was the first Pope to come to Ireland, St John Paul II who visited the Marian Shine one hundred years after the apparition on a rainy autumn day in 1979.“ In words to the villagers of Knock and the people of Ireland, he said, “Queen of Ireland, Mary Mother of the heavenly and earthly Church, a Mháthair Dé, keep Ireland true to her spiritual tradition and her Christian heritage. Help her to respond to her historic mission of bringing the light of Christ to the nations, and so making the glory of God be the honour of Ireland.”
For the Rector of the Shrine, Fr Richard Gibbons , the apparition scene links in very well with the upcoming World Meeting of Families which will take place from August 21st to 26th and describes Pope Francis’ visit to the Shrine as a “moment of personal devotion” both to Our Lady and to St Joseph.”
He also calls the apparition “unique”, adding that ”it’s one of the most sophisticated and complex witnessed”.
Knock Shrine today
Over the last few year this National Shrine has undergone a radical overhaul that has seen a project called “Witness to Hope” being launched” which includes faith renewal and retreat programmes throughout the year.
Asked about what pilgrims experience when they come to Knock, Fr Gibbons says that the feedback they get is that, “people want that sense of peace, but also a sense of where they can engage in a very normal way with renewing their spirituality and their faith”.
In addition to the day to day activities, the Shrine has its own archive which documents events that occurred at the time. In a heartwarming story Fr Gibbons recalls that only recently the remains of the youngest visionary John Curry were found in New York in a paupers grave in Long Island. With the help of Cardinal Timothy Dolan his remains were transferred to Old St Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.
As the people of Knock remember the 1979 Papal visit and await the arrival of Pope Francis, the Rector comments that the visit of a Pope gives a sense of what we belong to, that the Church is bigger than ourselves, it’s bigger than Ireland and that we are part of a worldwide community…” The visit, he says, “gives a lift”… adding that, “we hope that Knock will play an enormous role in the renewal of the Church in the country as well, and the renewal of faith.”