For Roman Catholics particularly the Marian Devotees, Portugal is synonymous to Fatima. It is a dream destination, a pilgrimage site that has to be visited at least once in a lifetime. Though it is not as famous as the Holy Land or the Vatican it is just as revered and just as spiritual.
Location & Brief History
2495-401 Fatima, Portugal
14.6825° N 120.9807° E
Fatima is located in the Central West of Portugal in the municipality of Ourem and the district of Santarem.
Fatima came to be known today as an important site of Marian Apparition due to its history that dates back to as early as spring of 2016. The actual apparition culminated a year later on the 13th of May 2017 in Cova da Iria whereby the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared to three shepherds namely Lucia dos Santos, Jacinta and Francisco Marto.
The apparition occurred 6 times over the period of 6 months, which commenced with the sun miracle. The final event was witnessed by approximately 70000 people. While the Virgin Mary appeared to the three children, she only communicated with Lucia. Transcript of the said conversation can be found here. To summarize the conversations, three secrets have been relayed: the end of World War I, the passing of Jacinta and Francisco, and the assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II. Virgin Mary also urged the people to pray the rosary, asked them for repentance and build a chapel where she appeared.
The story lives on even after the completion of the apparition. During the Spanish Flu pandemic Francisco died in 1919, followed by Jacinta a year later. Lucia became a nun and lived on until 2005 when she was 97 years old. Francisco and Jacinta were beatified in May 13, 2000 and canonised a century after the first apparition.
How to get to Fatima
Fatima is about 128 km from Lisbon or 169 km from Porto. Reachable by car, bus or train. Driving is the fastest and the most comfortable way. Car rental are reasonably priced and the best option if you wish to see more of Fatima apart from the shrine. Private Transfers are also available but cost more. Via Train is not that practical as the station is far from the site and not as accessible. Bus is the most inexpensive and our preferred way. It is operated by Flixbus, RenEX, CitiExpress or Rede Expressos Busses. It can be taken from Lisbon in Oriente or Rossio. Buses are widely available and have frequent schedule during the day.The drop off from the bus station in Fatima is a short walk to the Shrine of Fatima. You can book your ticket online (which is highly suggesed on peak days), but on slow days which we came, we purchase our ticket straight from the bus station without any problems.
For budget travellers, a day trip to Fatima can be as inexpensive as you want it to be. Restaurant and souvenir shopping can be skipped if you are on a really tight budget and you can just worry about the bus fare.
Money Saving Tip: Instead of dining in a restaurant, drop by the supermarket Pingo Doce. It is located a few minutes from the shrine. There are a variety of inexpensive meals, pre-packed foods, bread and of course pastel de nata. My personal favorite is Pastel de bacalhau.
When to Visit
The Sanctuary of Fatima is a year round destination and open 24 hours. Appointments are not required nor is there a fee to visit. Some days are more special than others specifically the 13th day of the Month when the apparition occurred. The 13th of May and the 13th of October are particularly packed with devotees and pilgrims. Added special religious events are scheduled on the said days including processions and vigils. As for me, visiting Fatima on a regular weekday is much more up my alley. I have found it to be a much more spiritual and personal experience. With less people I was able to enjoy the solitude more, pray ardently and quietly. I was with my Creator without the external frenzy.
You can visit Fatima for a day trip. If you opt to stay longer, there are hotels, hostels, restaurants around the area.
What to do at the Sanctuary
No matter what time of year you decide to visit, religious ceremony is being conducted and you can make your rituals as personal as you want it to be.
1. Pilgrimage Itinerary
If you want a guided pilgrimage itinerary, there are pamphlets (in various languages) throughout the sanctuary to guide you on your religious journey.There is a suggested route/pilgrimage. But I always feel like going here is a personal pilgrimage so do so at your own pace at your own desire.
1. High Cross
The pilgrimage pamphlet suggests a route station that starts at this 24 meter cruxifix.
2. Little Chapel of the Apparitions
Originally built in 1919 as per the instruction of Virgin Mary as this is the actual location where the apparition occurred.
As such this is one of the most significant structure in the sanctuary.
3. Water Mirrors
As per the pilgrimage pamphlet "these mirrors, are the image of baptismal condition, a light in which we see God and vice versa".
4. Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament
This chapel is made primarily for Eucharistic Adoration whereby a small white host (Blessed Sacrament) is placed over the altar.
5. Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary Fatima
Built in 1928. The remains of the three shepherds lay to rest in this basilica. This is also the site where the children were playing prior to seeing light.
2. Candle Lighting
Candles of various sizes and shapes are available for purchase. Donation can also be made via card as there are POS available in the area. If you come during the lean days lighting candles is pretty easy. When its crowded it gets a bit more challenging. The candle are is not big enough to accommodate hordes of people. As such people are even advised to either add it in the pyre or leave it on the box where it will be later on lighted by church personnel.
3.Attend mass, Go for Confession
Mass is conducted regularly and so does confession. Check below for schedule.
4. Check out the Museum
The museum has an array of exhibition, most notable of which is Mary's crown that has one of the bullets that hit Pope John Paul II during the assassination attempt in 13 May 1981.
Be mindful of the time, so you don't miss the chance to see it like we did. So for your reference, below it the museum's schedule.
Museum of the Sanctuary of Fatima (Fatima Light and Peace Exhibition)
Tuesday – Saturday (9:00 to 12:00pm & 2:30 to 5:30 pm)
Sundays & Holidays (9:00 to 12:00 pm & 2:30 to 4:30 pm)
Closed on Mondays, May to October AM, December 24 PM, Christmas & NewYear
Fee: 2 euro
Museum of Aljustrel
April to October ( 9:00 am to 1:30 pm & 2:30 to 7:00 pm)
November to March (9:00 am to 1:00 pm & 2:00 to 6:00 pm)
This is actually the shepherds houses in the village of Aljustrel, which is approximately 30 minutes walk away from the shrine. To make it as authentic as possible their houses are maintained in its original form/state.
You can also check out a fragment of the Berlin Wall that has been on display at the Fatima site.
5. Souvenir Shopping
If you want memento to commemorate your visit to Fatima check out the shops outside. There are souvenirs, magnets, rosaries and others for purchase.
While I don’t practice Catholicism on a regular basis, I do consider myself highly spiritual. I went to Fatima because of my beliefs. For me the experience was spiritual, emotional and special. It was a personal journey that I wanted and needed to do for myself.
For the cynics and doubtful, Fatima is a mythical, fantastical place borne out of imagination. A phenomenon (Miracle of the Sun) that later on can be easily explained by science. Having said that, this place also hold a mystery for them – a place that has to be visited to prove their perceived truth and debunk the believers. For the faithful this is a miraculous site.
Believer or not, religious or otherwise, the place vibrates with spirituality and a source of peace for the restless, an escape for the grieving, hope for the hopeless and respite for the struggling.
So while I’d recommend going to Fatima, I would say that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. For those without religious affinity tied to Fatima this place will most likely come of as ‘blah’. Also, if you are just a curious tourist, you are expected to act as with respect to uphold the sanctity of the place of adoration.
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