Starting from the day after the events, by a reporter who cannot possibly be accused of partiality in this matter and for a good reason! We refer to Avelino de Almeida, the chief editor of "O Seculo," the large "liberal" anticlerical and masonic daily of Lisbon. He writes,From the road, where the carriages were crowded together and where hundreds of persons had stayed for want of sufficient courage to advance across the muddy ground, we saw the huge crowd turn towards the sun which appeared at its zenith, clear of the clouds. It resembled a flat plate of silver, and it was possible to stare at it without the least discomfort. It did not burn the eyes. It did not blind. We would say that it produced an eclipse. Then a tremendous cry rang out, and the crowd nearest us were heard to shout: "Miracle! Miracle! ... Marvel! ... Marvel!" Before the dazzled eyes of the people, whose attitude transported us to biblical times, and who, dumb-founded, heads uncovered, contemplated the blue of the sky, the sun trembled, it made strange and abrupt movements, outside of all cosmic laws, "the sun danced", according to the typical expression of the peasants ...Attacked violently by all the anticlerical press, Avelino de Almeida renewed his testimony, fifteen days later, in his review, 1'"llustrafa Portuguesa." This time he illustrated his account with a dozen photograph of the huge ecstatic crowd, and repeated as a refrain throughout his article: I saw...I saw...I saw. And he concluded fortuitously: Miracle, as the people shouted? Natural phenomenon, as the experts say? For the moment, that does not concern me, I am only saying what I saw... The rest is a matter for Science and the Church.
Saturday, October 13, begins for the pilgrims, as a walk of penance because it had rained the whole preceding night. Now, this almost sudden change of weather, with the dusty roads transformed into muddy quagmires by a pelting rain, causing to replace abruptly, for a day, the sweetness of autumn with the biting rigors of winter, did not succeed in moving them, to make them give up or despair.
From dawn, our reporter relates, visibly impressed by that calm courage, groups looming up again, intrepid individuals who pass through, without stopping for a moment, the small town, whose silence is broken by the chant of hymns intoned by feminine voices in harmony which contrasts with the roughness of the men ... The sun rises, but the aspect of the sky is threatening. Some black clouds accumulate, precisely from the Fatima side. Nothing however holds back the pilgrims who, from all roads and by all means of locomotion, flock in that direction ... Some small bells on a chain tinkle; we see here and there a cart decorated with palms. However, the festive atmosphere is discreet; the general manner is grave, the order perfect ... Towards ten o'clock, the sky is covered completely and a heavy rain begins to fall. The downpour, whipped by a bitter wind, beating against the face, inundates the gravel roads, and pierces to the bone those who did not take the precaution of carrying an umbrella or some other means of protection from the bad weather. But no one becomes impatient nor gives up following the road...
The Great Number of Pilgrims and Their Testimony
How many were assembled at the Cova da Iria?
The maximum estimate was from Dr. Almeida Garrett, and was proposed some months after the event. It estimates the spectators at more than one hundred thousand. In "O Seculo" of October 15, Avelino de Almeida wrote: The crowd, by the unprejudiced calculations of cultivated persons very new to mystical influences, was estimated at thirty or forty thousand people. In his article of October 29, he corrected his first estimate: On October 13, according to the calculations established by people free from every prejudice, some fifty thousand people were gathered on the moor of Fatima. A neutral newspaper, the "Primeiro de Janeiro", also estimated the crowd at fifty thousand individuals. We can therefore say, with a quasi-certainty, that this figure is a minimum; that is why the majority of historians propose as probable the presence of a crowd of seventy thousand witnesses.
In comparing the numerous accounts of witnesses, we can distinguish the diverse aspects and the result of the astounding phenomena established by all. For each one of them, it would be possible to line up some ten pages of witnesses which would constitute in themselves an impressive book.
Here is the first marvellous fact described by Dr. Almeida Garrett: It must have been 1:30 p.m. when there arose at the exact spot where the children were, a column of smoke, fine and bluish, which extended perhaps two meters above their heads and evaporated at that height, phenomenon, perfectly visible to the naked eye, lasted for a few seconds. Not having noted how long it lasted, I cannot say whether it more or less than a minute. The smoke dissipated abruptly, and after some time, it came back to occur a second time, then a third time ...
The Sudden Stoppage of the Rain
Whereas the low and heavy sky had a very dark color, laden with moisture, released an abundant long lasting rain, during the time of the apparition, the rain stopped totally. Abruptly the sky cleared: The sun triumphantly pierced the thick bed of clouds hiding it until then, and shone intensely. (Dr. Almeida Garrett). This abrupt change of weather took all the eyewitnesses by surprise: It was a day of heavy and continuous rain. But a few minutes before the miracle, it stopped raining. (Alfredo Silva Santos)
The Vision of the Sun Without Burning the Retina
Suddenly I heard the uproar of thousands of voices, and I saw the whole multitude spread out in that vast space at my feet... turn their backs to that spot where, until then, all their expectations focused, and look at the sun on the other side ... I turned around too, toward the point commanding their gazes, and I could see the sun like a very clear disc, with its sharp edge, which gleamed without hurting the sight ... It could not be confused with the sun seen through a fog (there was no fog at that moment), for it was neither veiled, nor dim. At Fatima, it kept its light and heat, and stood out clearly in the sky, with a sharp edge, like a large gaming table. The most astonishing thing was to be able to stare at the solar disc for a long time, brilliant with light and heat, without hurting the eyes, or damaging the retina. (Dr. Almeida Garrett).
And then we witnessed a unique spectacle, the reporter of "O Seculo" remarked in similar vein, an incredible spectacle, unbelievable if you did not witness it. From above the road... We see the immense crowd turn towards the sun, which appeared at its zenith, clear of the clouds. It looked like a plate of dull silver, and it was possible to stare at it without the least discomfort. It did not burn the eyes. It did not blind. One might say that an eclipse had occurred. (Article of October 15, 1917) The people could look at the sun as we look at the moon. (Maria do Carmo)
Suddenly, the heavenly body began to tremble, to shake with abrupt movements, and finally to turn on itself at a dizzying speed while throwing out rays of light, all colors of the rainbow: The sun turned like a fire wheel, taking on all the colors of the rainbow. (Maria do Carmo) It appeared like a globe of snow turning on itself. (Father Lourenco) The pearl-like disc had a giddy motion. This was not the twinkling of a star in all its brilliance. It turned on itself with impetuous speed. (Dr. Almeida Garrett) At a certain moment, the sun stopped and then began again to dance, to spin; it stopped again, and began again to dance. (Ti Marto) It is indeed therefore a triple "dance of the sun" which thousands of witnesses affirm, having contemplated it for several minutes.
The sun took on all the colors of the rainbow. Everything assumed those same colors: our faces, our clothes, the earth itself. (Maria do Carmo) A light, whose colors changed from one moment to the next, was reflected on the people and on things, notes Dr. Pereira Gens.
We suddenly heard a clamor, relates Almeida Garrett, like a cry of anguish of that entire crowd. The sun, in fact, keeping its rapid movement of rotation, seemed to free itself from the firmament and blood-red, to plunge towards the earth, threatening to crush us with its fiery mass. Those were some terrifying seconds. I saw the sun turn and it seemed to descend. It was like a bicycle wheel. (John Carreira) The sun began to dance and, at a certain moment, it appeared to detach itself from the firmament and to rush forward on us, like a fire wheel. (Alfredo da Silva Santos) I saw it perfectly descending as if it came to crash on the earth. It seemed to detach itself from the sky and rush toward us. It maintained itself at a short distance above our heads; but that sort of attack was of very short duration ... It seemed very near the people and it continued to turn in the opposite direction. (Maria do Carmo) From those thousands of mouths, relates the engineer Mario Godinho, I heard shouts of joy and love to the Most Holy Virgin. And then I believed. I had the certainty of not having been the victim of a suggestion. I had seen the sun as I would never see it again.
Everyone Had Dry Clothes
A last astonishing fact: all those people, who were for the most part soaked to the bone, verified with joy and amazement that they were dry. The fact is attested to in the canonical process.
The Vision of the Solar Prodigy at a Distance
A marvellous thing, the phenomenon could be admired from beyond Fatima. And even some perfectly credible witnesses, who were very far away from the Cova da Iria, related having seen the unprecedented spectacle of the dance of the sun, exactly like the thousands of pilgrims gathered around the holm-oak.
In the small village of Alburitel, situated eighteen or nineteen kilometers from Fatima, the whole town was able to enjoy the vision of the solar prodigy. The testimony frequently quoted is that of Father Inacio Lourenco, because it is the most detailed. But what he relates having seen, all the good villagers, questioned by the investigators, confirmed seeing it in exactly the same way.
In October, I will perform a miracle, Our Lady had sovereignly declared on July 13. And on October 13, it was at Her efficacious gesture that the marvellous "dance of the sun" began: Then, opening Her hands, She made them reflect on the sun, and as She rose, the reflection of Her own light continued to be projected on the sun itself.
Thus, the magnificent miracle, it is She Who promised it, Who announced it three months in advance, and at Her gesture the miracle was fulfilled. That is the reply of the Queen of Heaven to the instant supplication of Her shepherd: I would like to ask You to tell us Who You are, and to perform a miracle so that all may believe that You are appearing to us. A response surpassing all expectations and one of such magnitude, of such splendor, that no one would dare to dream it possible.
The witnesses of the event were indeed innumerable, their testimonies agree and we are flooded with the documents they have left us.
In the first place, the numerous accounts conveyed appeared at once in the Portuguese press. It is noteworthy that the first to provide testimony were the anticlerical reporters. The three articles of Avelino de Almeida, the one of October 13, immediately before the event, the other of October 15, edited at Vila Nova de Ourem on the evening of the 13th, and a third article of October 29, merit a special mention. In spite of the jeering tone and Voltairian irony which inspire in part the first article, in spite of the expected anticlerical tones which still appear in the article of the 15th. These texts from a reporter of talent, one who, besides, is honest and conscientious, are historical documents of prime importance. But he was not the only one to relate the facts, for other reporters were present at the Cova da Iria.
Next there were the official investigations. In November, 1917, at the request of Bishop de Lima Vidal, who was then directing the diocese of Lisbon, the Parish Priest of Fatima led his investigation and questioned several witnesses of the parish. Unfortunately, he transcribed only... four depositions!
The investigations of the historians fortunately compensated for those negligences of the official investigators. Since Father Formigao, who obtained from Dr. Jose Maria de Almeida Garrett, professor at the Faculty of Sciences of Coimbra, a very thorough account, the most scientific report in our possession, all the top historians went to question the witnesses. Father da Fonseca, in order to verify the points disputed by Father Dhanis; Father De Marchi, Canon Barthas, Father Dias Coelho and Father Richard.
In 1977, to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the last apparition, it was still possible to assemble in Fatima more than thirty persons who had been present at the solar prodigy and who could reveal their memories.
Thanks to those numerous testimonies, it is possible to reconstruct a precise running commentary, allowing us to relive, hour by hour and minute by minute, this decisive day, assuredly one of the most important in the history of the world.