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On the 21st of August, 1879, Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist  are said to have appeared at the south gable of Knock Parish Church. A total of 15 people, young and old alike, claimed to have witnessed the apparition.

Since the 21st. of August, 1879, controversy has raged as to what, if anything, happened at the outside of the south gable wall of the little Parish Church at the village of Knock in South-East Mayo.

 A group of locals, 15 in all and ranging from 11 years of age to 65 years, claimed to have witnessed an apparition of Mary, the Mother of God, accompanied by St. Joseph and St. John the Evangalist.

All gave very vivid accounts of what they said they saw; St. Joseph stood to the right of Mary and St. John, who held an open book in his left hand with his right hand raised as if giving a sermon, stood to her left.  To St. John's left was an altar on which a lamb was seated and around which a group of angels flew or hovered.

A  white light shone on the scene so bright that it could be seen by others more than two miles away who wondered what it was.

This extraordinary scene lasted for all of two hours during which the heavenly group remained in position without speaking a single word and although there was relentless, pouring rain at the time the ground around the heavenly group appeared quite dry.

After about two hours the apparition slowly faded away.....

 Such was the story told by the 15 who claimed to have seen this extraordinary sight. Their story was checked by an Episcopal Commission later that year and by another one in 1936 which interviewed those members still surviving. To their deathbeds all maintained the same version of events; none are known to have altered their stories in any way.

The Commission of '36 was sufficiently impressed by the stories of the survivors for Knock to be granted the status of an official Marian Shrine, along the lines of Fatima and Lourdes. Such status means that the Church recognises the place as a special place of worship of Mary, Mother of God. This stops a little short of stating unequivocally that Mary did appear there miraculously but then it hardly could be expected to go that far in regard to any of the other named places either, could it?

Such then is the argument presented for holding the view that the Apparition at Knock was genuine.

Sceptics, and they have been numerous, would not hold to this line of thought.....

 1879 was one of the worst years since the Famine. The weather was dreadful and the crop yields were the lowest for many years. Evictions were again on the increase and, to cap it all, an outbreak  of fowl-pest disease was decimating the poultry that so many household depended on for "pin" money- a supply of ready cash to buy odds and ends.

Knock was as desolate and as depressed a place as could be found in all of Co. Mayo and possibly the stress brought on by poverty, hunger and fear for the future led to a mass outbreak of hallucination.

Others claimed that the "Apparation" was a holographic trick; some smart-alec had gotten hold of a new-fangled "magic lantern" ( a projector, to you and me) and was shining it on the gable wall. Hence the fact that the "visitors" did not speak.  While I adopt the open mind approach, this one does not gel with me- why keep the lamp shining for all of two hours when 5 minutes would have sufficed and in any case I do not think that technology was advanced enough in 1879 for someone to have a magic lantern in his/her possession in Knock, Co. Mayo and especially one with an interrupted two-hour long power supply!

The argument about over-stressed minds suffering mass hallucinations strikes me as being more credible. (Hold on! I am not taking sides here - don't shoot the messenger, folks!)

Mass-sightings of the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Eastern Europe at the outbreak of World War One spring to mind. Recall also that there was mass hysteria in modern-day Ireland,  less than 20 years ago,  when mass sightings of statues of the Blessed Virgin moving about  were being reported all over the land.**

 Again, this was a time of stress for many, as we were at the bottom ogf an economic recession at the time. After a couple of years, as the economy improved, the statues began to settle down again! ( I kid you not. Busloads of people used to descend on little villages and hamlets to witness such happenings)

First one was claimed at a village  called Ballinspittle in Co. Cork.  A little girl had gone into the local church to pray one night and went racing home to mammy to tell her that the Blessed Virgin's statue had moved. Mammy ran to investigate and she too "saw" the movement. Neighbours were summoned and.. ..

Well, you can guess the sequel.

Busloads of gawpers began to descend on Ballinspittle for the nightly perambulations. Farmers began charging £5 or more to allow car and bus parking and local shops and businesses had a bonanza.

Soon, other villages and hamlets began to have "Apparitions" of their own and there was danger for a while of severe traffic congestion as more moving statue locations came on stream.

The Church in Ireland never did claim that any of those incidents were genuine but rather adopted a "wait and see" policy. Eventually the mass sightings began to dwindle in number and finally ceased. The whole episode has been consigned to history in an embarrassed sort of way. But, it DID happen and shows how susceptible to delusion the human mind can be.

Was this what really happened at Knock in 1879?

Believers in the Apparition at Knock would give a resounding negative answer.

 For one thing none of the original 15 ever deviated from the original account, even at death's door. Whether or not anything of the paranormal variety did occur, no one can question the sincerity of the people assembled there on that evening.

 The Church was sufficiently impressed by the witnesses' accounts to grant the place official recognition as a Marian Shrine.

  The scores of crutches, walking sticks and other artefacts of disability left behind  at the shrine bear testimony to the numbers who claim to have received miraculous relief after visiting the place. Are reported cases of "miracle cures" really explainable as a form of hypnosis or mass self-delusion? There have been an awful lot of them, spread over many, many years..

The argument will go on but one thing is certain. Knock retains a great hold on the minds of Irish people everywhere and the numbers flocking there to pray, reflect or just to take a break from the normal chores of daily life continue to grow.

In 1979, coinciding with the centenary celebrations at Knock shrine, the Pope visited Ireland and preached at the new basilica. Several hundreds of thousands gathered there to hear him speak. The parish priest of Knock was one Monsignor James Horan,** whose monumental drive and energy had overseen the construction of the basilica.

In the wake of the visit, Monsignor Horan decided that to cater for the crowds of the future, Knock needed an international airport.

How this was achieved , in spite of political in-fighting between the major political parties in the land, merits a future feature, I guess.

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Apparition at Knock; Fact or Fiction?

The Church as it would have appeared in 1879.