“Look at the beautiful figures…They’re not statues…it’s the Blessed Virgin!”
Eight years later, on the evening of August 21st, 1879, Our Lady appeared again. This time it was in the village of Knock, a remote hamlet in the west of Ireland. Father Cavanagh’s housekeeper, Mary McLoughlin, was on her way to visit a friend at about 8:30 in the evening.
As she passed the church of St. John the Baptist, she was astonished to see the exterior south wall of the church bathed in a mysterious light. She noticed three figures were standing atop an altar in front of the wall, outside the church.
Mary thought the priest had purchased additional statues, as he was wont to do, and placed them there for storage. Even though it seemed to be a bit strange, she continued on to see her friend, Margaret Byrne. Later, she would discover that two other parishioners noticed the same thing, remarking: ‘Another collection; God help us!’
Then, shortly after talking to Margaret, Mary decided to leave. Margaret’s sister, Mary Byrne, agreed to walk home with her and they both left together in the rain. As they neared the church, Mary cried out: ‘Look at the beautiful figures. When did the priest put those statues at the gable?’
As they got closer they saw that the mysterious light was now extraordinarily brilliant and surrounded both the gable wall and the figures standing there. One stated: ‘They’re not statues, they’re moving; it’s the Blessed Virgin!’
An Unspoken Message
On the altar were a cross and a Lamb, a traditional image of Jesus. All the figures were to the left of the Lamb; Mary was between St. Joseph and St. John, the Evangelist.
The figure of the Blessed Virgin was life-size and a bit larger than the other two. They all stood several feet above the ground and a little away from the gable wall. It was the most amazing thing they had ever seen.
The Blessed Virgin was very beautiful. She wore a white cloak which hung in full folds that were fastened at the neck. The crown on her head appeared brilliant; it was a golden brightness, but with a deeper hue than the brilliant whiteness of the robe she wore.
The upper parts of the crown appeared to be a series of sparkles, or glittering crosses. Also, she was described as being deep in prayer, with her eyes raised to Heaven. Her hands were raised to the shoulders or a little higher, with the palms inclined slightly to the shoulders.
St. Joseph was wearing white robes; he stood on the Virgin’s right with his head bent forward from the shoulders, towards the Blessed Virgin. St. John, the Evangelist, was dressed in a long robe and wore a miter. He was to the left of the Blessed Virgin, partly turned away from the other figures.
He appeared to be preaching while holding a large open book in his left hand. To the left of St. John was the altar with a lamb on it. There was a cross standing on the altar behind the lamb.
When the apparition began, there was good light but, even when it became very dark, those gathered there could still see the figures quite clearly. They appeared to be the color of a bright whitish light. The apparition did not flicker or appear to move in any way.
While Mary McLoughlin gazed at the apparition, Mary Byrne ran to tell her family. Soon, a crowd gathered and everyone who stayed saw the apparition. They stood in the pouring rain for up to two hours, reciting the rosary.
They reported that, even though the wind was blowing from the south, the ground around the figures remained completely dry during the apparition; yet, they noticed that the ground at the gable was very wet. The vision lasted for about three hours, then faded, and was gone.
One of the witnesses, Bridget Trench, said: “I went in immediately to kiss the feet of the Blessed Virgin; but I felt nothing in the embrace but the wall, and I wondered why I could not feel the figures which I had so plainly and so distinctly seen.”
For whatever reason, Father Cavanaugh, the parish priest, did not come out to see the apparition; his absence was a disappointment to the villagers. The following day a group of them went to see the priest. He accepted their report as genuine and he dutifully reported the events to the diocesan bishop of Tuam.
The Church then set up a commission to interview a number of the people who claimed to witness the apparition. Among the original witnesses was Patrick Hill, who described the scene: “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.”
Patrick reported that he got close enough to make out the words in the book held by the figure of St. John. Others out in the fields, some distance away, saw the strange light around the church. Two years later, Archbishop John Joseph Lynch, of Toronto, made a visit to the parish and claimed he had been healed by the Virgin of Knock.
In due course many of the witnesses died. Mary Byrne married, raised six children, and lived her entire life in Knock. In 1936, shortly before her death at age 86, she was interviewed again. Her account did not vary from the first report she gave in 1879.
She declared: “I am going before my God. I saw the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and St, John. I can see it as plain as can be.” Even though the Church approved the apparition as being quite probable by 1971, it has never been formally acknowledged by the Church.
The village of Knock was transformed by the thousands who came to commemorate the vision; they also came to ask for healing for themselves and for others. The local church was too small to accommodate the crowds and, in 1976, a new church, Our Lady, Queen of Ireland, was erected; it holds over two thousand people.
In 1979, on the centenary of the apparition, the personal pilgrimage of Saint John Paul II gave Our Lady of Knock the indelible seal of the Vatican’s approval. This inspired an even greater devotion to the shrine.
Then, in June, 1993, Mother Teresa of Calcutta visited the shrine. Each year, approximately one and a half million pilgrims visit the shrine to pay their respects to the Blessed Virgin.