The influence that Marian apparitions, also known as the Virgin's apparitions, have imposed upon the Catholic Church over the 19th and 20th centuries is undeniable. For decades, the visions described by anonymous people, normally from humble origins and with little cultural background, have created waves of devotion and pilgrimage to specific locations.
Halfway between superstition and the overall separation from the Catholic Church, this phenomenon hasn't ceased to find popularity among a great number of believers who feel apprehended by the mysterious occurrence. From the hundreds of Marian apparitions documented throughout history, here's more on some of the most important.
We call "apparitions" the vision that one or more people claim to have experienced at a specific location of a figure with a sacred, human form. The most common are the ones with the Blessed Virgin Mary (or Marian revelations), which as the name points out, mainly revolve around visions of Virgin Mary.
Marian apparitions have a long road behind them in the history of the Catholic Church, but the Church has only admitted to a few, and after intense investigation. It should also be noted that this acknowledgement doesn't imply that it becomes part of the Truth of the Catholic faith. The Church merely considers them "private revelations", that is, submitted to the subjective beliefs of those faithful to the Church.
The main reason for this is that, for the Catholic Church, faith is in our spirit, not our senses; the apparition of any sacred figure does not replace faith, it only confirms it. What matters to the Catholic Church is the belief without the need to see.
Still, manifestations usually have common features: the vision possesses a halo of light around the Virgin, and sometimes even music, colours and smells; the witness is engulfed in a special vibration and a mystic elevation that takes it away from what's human and common; the apparition usually conveys a message to the witness.
This last part is very important: in order for an apparition to be embraced by the Church, the most important thing is for the Marian messages not to contradict official beliefs. The content of the Virgin's messages is closely examined by experts.
In the history of the Catholic Church, the number of Marian apparitions has raised to over a thousand, considering that just over a hundred had been documented by 1400. From all of them, certain names have engraved their name in history as faithful locations and the most apt for Marian apparitions.
One of the first great milestones of Marian apparitions dates back to 1531 in Mexico, during the years of the Spiritual Conquest, right after the Spanish settlers' arrival. Father Juan Diego belonged to one of the first Christian indigenous families that constantly sprouted around town.
At age 53, while walking down the path he usually took from his village to the nearest church, he heard an uncommon melody. When he raised his glance towards the light coming from the sky, he saw the Virgin: she commanded him to build a temple to worship her.
After several apparitions and still not believed by Bishop Zumárraga, the Virgin became visible through a flower bouquet given to the parish himself, and this marked the beginning of the building process of what still remains as a pilgrimage location: the Guadalupe Basilica.
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Between February 11 and July 16, 1858, a poor illiterate 14-year-old girl called Bernadette Soubirous claimed to have seen Virgin Mary up to 18 times. One of history's most popular Marian apparitions occurred in a cave on the Massabielle path, west of Lourdes.
During every apparition, the Virgin left messages for little Bernadette to be shared with the rest of men. In those Marian messages, there was a sense of encouragement to the penitence of sinners, an austere life, the enforcement of prayer and the building of a worshipping temple.
Before the eyes of non-believers, the Virgin ordered the child to dig up on dry land until a water spring sprouted. Soon, from that hole came a powerful source of water which is nowadays a pilgrimage location for millions of believers.
When Bernadette uttered the last words pronounced by this mysterious figure ("I am the Immaculate Conception"), the Catholic Church approved of the mystery, because that was recent terminology that the child couldn't ever know about.
The apparitions of the Virgin at the Medjugorje Sanctuary in Bosnia and Hercegovina are much more recent. The first year inscribed is 1981, when six teenagers claimed to having seen the Virgin. Rather than a pilgrimage location, Medjugorje has become a mystical phenomenon: every year thousands of people claim to experience trance, healings and several miracles there.
While in other areas apparitions are exceptional and nothing short of a miracle, at Medjugorje there is a tremendous frequency to them, because this town is considered a model for Christian life: the Virgin is constantly sending messages about rules to the behaviour of men. Every now and then, someone claims to have received the last message of Medjugorje.
Many have closely watched what is considered a fraud, but many believers continue to listen Medjugorje's last message on a daily basis: the last registry of it dates back to August 2, 2018.
The Marian apparitions of Fatima (Portugal) began in 1917, when three shepherds between the ages of 6 and 10 claim to have seen the Virgin at the Cova da Iria, close to Fatima, while herding their sheep. Despite the lack of belief from locals, the children came back several times and apparitions occurred over and over.
In one of them, the Virgin predicted the death of Francisco and Jacinta, two of the shepherds, who indeed died because of the Spanish flu. What was new about Fatima's case is that, aside from the usual Marian messages encouraging penitence, prayer and perfecting the spirit, they intertwined with prophecies of wars and calamities.
On October 13, 1917, about 17,000 people claimed to have been direct witnesses of the "miracle of the great Sun", from which the Church made Fatima a worship site. Throughout the decades, it has been a place for believers and even Roman Popes to go on pilgrimage.
The Marian revelations of Our Lady of Laus have been some of the most recent to get the Church's recognition (October 4, 2008), despite them dating back to 1664 and being the longest over time: they lasted for 54 years.
Benoite Rencurel was a teen whose father's early death had forced her and sentenced her to misery and illiteracy. In 1664, she was roaming around the French Alps, when she was visited by the Virgin. During this series of apparitions, she conveyed a message of peace and reconcilement.
After a month of absence, she summoned Benoite to the Chapel of Bon-Rencontre, and ordered her to build a temple to convert sinners. During the following 54 years, the Virgin appeared to Benoite, to assist her when conveying the message to the crowds of believers coming there.
Spain, being the heart of the Catholic Church, could not be left out, and it has also been the location of several Marian apparitions. These are some of the most well-known ones.
The story of the apparition of Virgen de la Cabeza dates back to the arrival to Spain of Saint Euphrasio, disciple to Santiago Apostle and bishop to Andújar, who brought an effigy of the Virgin with him. When Arabs conquered the south of the Peninsula, her believers hid away her effigy in the most unreachable mountaintops of Sierra Morena.
However, in 1227, after the Reconquest of Spain, there came a shepherd from Colomera (Granada) called Juan Alonso de Rivas. He claimed to have been summoned by strange lights and an incessant toll of bells, which brought him to the sacred effigy. The shepherd brought it down to Old Saint Mary's church, which nowadays remains a pilgrimage location, and as a proof of the Truth, the Virgin made a miracle and healed the arm of the one-armed shepherd.
It is considered the oldest of Marian apparitions, more specifically in 40 A.D., when the Virgen del Pilar appeared before Santiago Apostle. The Church admitted to the mystery, and in her honour, a column was built from which, according to history, Santiago saw the Virgin.
The apparition occurs amidst the relentless attempts of Santiago Apostle to evangelise the Peninsula. Therefore, in times of despair, he asked for a miracle from heaven. The Virgin appeared to him to convey the message that, as long as the pillar where she remained erect was standing, there would still be faithful Christians in Spain.
What's special about the apparition of Virgen del Pilar is that it isn't documented. It is part of oral tradition, and when it occurred, the Virgin Mary remained alive on Holy Land.
According to records, on June 18, 1961, four girls saw a great beacon of light that announced the arrival of the Virgin Mary. This thunder strike is connected to the apparition of St. Michael Archangel. On July 2, at 8:30 pm, she appeared before these girls at San Juan de Garabandal, a town near the Cantabrian Mountains.
The four girls claimed to have received the Virgin at a far-off pillar, and in the following apparitions after that, they received Eucharist from St. Michael Archangel himself. The special thing about the Garabandal miracle is that, for years, there were pictures and recordings of the more than 2,000 sessions where these children entered a trance.
The Virgin commanded them to spread the Word of God and the importance of men coming closer to her child, Jesus Christ. She also revealed a supposed end of the world.