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Apparition of Knock - 1879

by Amyobala Key


Statue of Blessed Virgin   

It was approximately 8 p.m., Thursday, August 21st, 1879 and the rain was pouring over the little village of Knock, Ireland, in County Mayo, in the west of Ireland. Historically, this corner of Ireland had been the center of poverty, famine, and misery. Evictions and emigration to the rest of the world were commonplace. Mary McLoughlin and Mary Byrne, returning homewards, walked beside their local church, the church of St. John the Baptist. Toward the south gable they saw three luminous figures, one of them resembling the Virgin Mary. The figures stood a little distance from the gable wall about two feet above the ground. The witnesses made the assumption that the others were St. Joseph and St. John, the Evangelist. Some reports suggest that the figures were moving, though the 1936 testimony of Mary Byrne indicated that they were immobile. The figure of St. Joseph was posed with an index finger raised, "as if he were speaking." Mary Byrne left to notify her family. Soon their neighbors had joined them, as the rain continued to fall, until there were a total of fifteen official witnesses, their ages ranging from 5 to 75. The Apparitional diorama soon included an altar with a lamb on it, in front of a cross. A boy discerned angels over the altar. There were no sounds. The Apparition lasted from 2 to 3 hours. Half a mile away, the luminous glow appeared as a globe of light to a farmer.





The 15 Official Witnesses were: Dominick Byrne Sr., 36, Dominick Byrne Jr., approx. 20, Margaret Byrne, 21, Mary Byrne, approx 29, Mrs. Margaret Byrne (widow), 68, Patrick Byrne, 16, Judith Campbell, 22, John Curry, 5, John Durkan, approx. 24, Mrs. Hugh Flatley, 44, Patrick Hill, 11, Mary McLoughlin, Archdeacon Cavanagh's housekeeper, 45, Catherine Murray, 8, Bridget Trench, Carrowmore, 74, and Patrick Walsh, approx. 65.


The old Church Witness Mary Byrne Pilgrims in the 1880s

No rain fell in the direction of the church gable, the ground remaining perfectly dry. The Blessed Virgin was clothed in white robes, with a golden rose on her forehead and a crown on her head. To her right stood the figure, identified as St. Joseph, and to her left the figure identified as St. John. Behind them was a simple altar on top of which was a cross and a Lamb, and was surrounded by "adoring" angels.

Later investigators discounted the possibility of luminous paint or "a magic lantern". A commission to study the Apparition was established by the elderly Archbishop of Tuam, Dr. John McHale, within 6 weeks of the event. Although he established that the witnesses were reliable and of trustworthy character, he could not give a conclusion either for or against the validity of the sighting. No findings were published. 57 years later, in 1936, the new Archbishop of Tuam, Dr. Gilmartin, instituted a second Commission, with three of the original witnesses still alive. The findings were positive. The witness, Mary Byrne, now Mrs. Mary O'Connell was on her death bed when she gave evidence under oath. She swore that the evidence was true, knowing that she would soon be going before her God.

The Apparition at Knock

Years later, the Church officially supported the event, and in 1979, Pope John Paul II visited Knock, on the centenary of the Apparition. It was said that images of the cross, the lamb, and the altar symbolized the death of Jesus. The fact that these images were behind those of Mary suggested that the focus was on the Blessed Virgin as the ongoing mediator with mankind. Knock has gained the status of an internationally recognized Marian Shrine. Mother Teresa visited the Shrine in June, 1993, while annually the pilgrims number more than one and a half million. Hundreds of sick and disabled pilgrims have later reported miraculous cures after their visit to the Shrine.

Note: The nature of the apparition appeared staged and artificial. The figures were two-dimensional and frozen as if in the process of interacting, but were motionless. Sceptics suggested a "Magic Lantern" (an early form of projector) had been used and this was further suggested by the bright circular light surrounding the figures. This is further suggested by the time of the event, evening, and the duration, about two hours. A Professor of Science at Maynooth College tested and concluded that the generation of the image by direct projection was impossible, but in a 1987 British television documentary it was shown that the placing of a shaving mirror under the church gable could have reflected the image in a manner as to achieve the results which the Professor had declared impossible. Also, similar appearances occurred on the same church gable on three separate occasions 1 year later.

Recreation of the Apparition






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