Some friends recently returned from Ireland where they visited the Marian shrine of Knock. I am completely unfamiliar with this shrine. Did Our Lady appear there as she did at Lourdes and Fatima?
Our Lady did appear at Knock, in County Mayo in the northwest of Ireland. The apparition took place on August 21, 1879, at about eight in the evening and lasted for at least an hour and a half. This was 21 years after the apparitions to St Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858.
The apparition in Knock was witnessed by 15 people ranging in age from five years to 75. They included men and women, teenagers and children.
In addition to Our Lady, the people also saw St Joseph and St John the Evangelist standing on either side of her, outside the south gable end of the small chapel in Knock.
Behind the three figures in the apparition was a plain altar on which was a cross and a lamb, with angels adoring the lamb.
These figures, as they were seen then, are now depicted in statues in the Apparition Chapel, built to enclose the site of the apparition, abutting the original chapel, which still stands.
Our Lady was seen as very beautiful and standing a few feet above the ground, wearing a white cloak hanging in full folds and fastened at the neck.
On her head was a bright crown which appeared to be of gold. She was seen to be deep in prayer with her hands raised and her eyes looking up to heaven.
One of those who saw her went up to kiss Our Lady’s feet but she felt nothing but the wall of the church, wondering why she could not feel what she could see so clearly.
St Joseph, also wearing white robes, stood to the left of the Blessed Virgin, and appeared with his head bowed towards her. St John the Evangelist stood to the right of Our Lady, also dressed in a long robe and wearing a mitre.
The people thought this must be St John since he appeared in the same pose as a statue of him in a chapel at Lecanvey, near Westport in County Mayo.
He appeared to be preaching, slightly turned away from Mary and Joseph, and he held a large open book in his left hand. To his right was the altar with the lamb and the cross.
When the apparition first appeared word quickly spread so that others came as well to observe it. They stood in the pouring rain, some of them praying the Rosary.
Although it was still light when the apparition began, it became completely dark as the time passed, and nonetheless the figures could always be seen clearly as if lit up by a white light.
They did not seem to move in any way. What is more, in spite of the drenching rain, the ground around them remained dry. When the apparition ceased the ground became wet.
Unlike the apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima, there was no message as none of the figures spoke. Some six weeks after the apparition, on October 8, 1879, the Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr John MacHale, established an ecclesiastical commission to investigate the apparition.
All the visionaries testified as to what they saw on the evening of August 21 and the members of the commission were satisfied that their evidence was trustworthy.
They were also satisfied that there was no natural explanation for the apparition and that there was not the slightest suspicion of fraud.
At a second commission of inquiry in 1936 the surviving witnesses confirmed the evidence they had given to the first commission.
The apparition immediately attracted the interest of the international media, with journalists going to Knock from as far away as Chicago.
Even Queen Victoria asked her government to send her a report about the event. Over the years there have been numerous cures and favours granted through the intercession of Our Lady of Knock, and many people have left their crutches and walking sticks behind, as they have at Lourdes.
Knock has become one of the most popular shrines in Europe, visited each year by over 1.5 million pilgrims. The nine-day novena in August attracts 10,000 pilgrims every year.
In 1974 Pope Paul VI blessed the foundation stone for the Basilica of Our Lady, Queen of Ireland, at Knock and in 1979 Pope John Paul II visited the shrine to commemorate the centenary of the apparition.