In 1871, Our Lady appeared in Pontmain, a small village in north-western France. Eight years later, in 1879, she appeared in Knock, a village in north-western Ireland. Both the apparitions of Pontmain and of Knock took place in the evening for about three hours and no words were spoken.
In 1871, Our Lady brought hope and encouragement to the people in Pontmain during the Franco-Prussian War. In the 1870s, County Mayo, where Knock was located, had suffered great distress. Land reform efforts had provoked heated controversy and even violence, while scattered famines recalled the fearful times of Ireland’s Great Hunger. Our Lady came from heaven in 1879 to give hope to her children in Ireland in a time of distress and comforted them in sorrow.
Just before the apparition began, the parish priest of Knock had completed a series of one hundred Masses for the souls in Purgatory whom the Virgin Mary wished to help release.
In the evening of August 21, 1879 Mary McLoughlin, the housekeeper of the parish priest of Knock, was astonished to see a mysterious light at the outside south wall of the church. There were three figures standing in front of the wall, and Mary thought they were replacements of the stone figures destroyed in a storm. She rushed through the rain to her friend Margaret Byrne's house. After a half hour, Margaret's sister Mary agreed to walk home with her. As they passed by the back of the church, they saw a vision very clearly.
The vision was described as follows: “Our Lady was wearing a large, brilliant crown and clothed in white garments. On her right was Saint Joseph, his head inclined toward her and on her left Saint John the Evangelist. To the left of Saint John was an altar on which stood a cross and a lamb.”
Flying around the altar were several angels. Mary Byrne ran to tell her family while Mary McLoughlin gazed at the apparition. Soon a crowd of fifteen parishioners were there reciting the rosary and witnessing the apparition.
It was daylight when the apparition began, but the weather changed and it began to rain heavily. However, the area surrounding the apparition was unaffected, and the ground remained dry as long as the vision lasted. Some villagers, who did not see the vision, reported seeing a very bright light illuminating the area surrounding the church.
In the vision, Saint Joseph wore white robes and stood on the Virgin’s right, Saint John the Evangelist wore a mitre, and appeared to be preaching as he held a book in his left hand.
Patrick Hill, one of the visionaries, said, 'The figures were fully rounded, as if they had a body and life. They did not speak but, as we drew near, they retreated a little towards the wall."
John Curry, another visionary, said, "It appeared to me that they were alive, but they didn’t speak. One of the women there, Bridget Trench, kissed the Blessed Virgin’s feet and tried to put her arms around the feet but there was nothing there but the picture. I saw her do that. The figures were life-size and I will remember them till I go to my grave."
As the news of the apparition spread, pilgrims flocked to the site. Numerous cures were reported. Those who were cured left their crutches and canes at the site. In the fall of 1880, a statue of Our Lady of Knock was erected. At the end of 1880, some 300 cured people had been recorded in the diary of the parish priest.
soon, the local parish church became too small for the pilgrims. In 1976, a new church, Our Lady of Ireland, was erected. This new church holds more than two thousand people. Today, the site is the main national Marian shrine in Ireland.
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