Our Lady of Knock
KNOCK, 1879: LISTEN WITH YOUR HEART
Ireland is a magical land, famous for its shamrocks and harps, leprechauns, shillelaghs, and green eyed coleens with skin as white as milk. It is called the Emerald Isle, and the national color is green; Ireland is lush green, almost tropical in certain areas. The national drink is Guinness, although he’s a “damned Protestant”. Ireland is not only a country; it’s a state of mind, a way of life.
We think of the Irish people as being quite fanciful, partly because of Barry Fitzgerald, who gave us our unofficial description of what an Irishman should be, especially an Irish Pastor in the 1940’s, when he made the film with Bing Crosby, “GOING MY WAY”. We find ourselves completely beguiled by their marvelous brogues, their limericks and folk songs, their grand tales of days gone by.
However, we find that the history of this dear little country is anything but gay. These people are a contradiction of their background. Theirs has been a tale of domination and persecution from the hands of their nearest neighbor, and all in the name of Jesus. Their major problems began when Henry VIII broke from the Church of Rome, and formed the Church of England, just so he could divorce his wife. Ireland would not go along with the disgrace of Henry, and the persecution began.
The situation was at its worst when the Penal Laws were instituted in 1691. These laws were designed to destroy Catholicism in Ireland. Those who remained loyal to the Catholic Church were denied their basic rights as citizens in an effort to keep them ignorant and impoverished. Those who chose to go over to the Protestant camp were rewarded, and lived the good life. Most Irishmen remained loyal to the Church. Their faith and their loyalty, in the face of great persecution, has been the mainstay of their existence during the dark years.
There is a beautiful Church in Dublin, called “The Church of Adam and Eve”. During the days of persecution, when it was illegal to practise their religion, the Church of Adam and Eve was a pub, called the Adam and Eve Pub. Dubliners frequented this pub by the droves, especially on Sunday. Irishmen going into a pub seemed a natural enough thing to the police, so they never questioned the crowds that went into the bar. The people walked in the front door of the Adam and Eve Pub, and out the back door, to an underground Church. Mass was celebrated under the guise of bringing the family to the local pub. It’s very possible that after the Mass, they might have stopped off for a pint; as long as they were there, it would be a sin to waste the visit. They took their lives in their hands by disobeying the law in this way. But it was so important to these beautiful people, they took the chance, knowing He would protect them.
Although Ireland is a lush country, it is also very rocky. Many of the counties had very little farmable land, and yet agriculture was their main industry. The Great Potato Famine of 1845 almost dealt a death sentence to these people of faith. Between the economic situation and the persecution, many of them had to leave their homeland. They went to the New World, America, and today, there are more Irishmen, or rather people of Irish descent in the United States than in Ireland. A joke among Irishmen is that Boston should be made capital of Ireland, because there are more Irishmen living in that city than in all of Ireland.
County Mayo was one of the poorest areas in Ireland. The land was completely rocky. Those who had left the country were not aware of it, but they made it more difficult for those who remained. The work became harder, because there were fewer people to do it. The strength of solidarity was lost with the mass exodus. The morale of those who remained was very low. With the ensuing famines of 1847, 1877, 1878 and 1879, the people were devastated. All they had to hold onto was their love of their country, and their Faith. They held onto both, with a passion.
It’s necessary to give you this background to make you aware of what the Ireland of 1879 was like. We have to believe that Our Lord Jesus and Our Lady looked with great compassion on their faithful children in Ireland. The entire country was a giant Biblical Job holding onto, remaining faithful to, Jesus and Mary in the face of impossible odds.
August 21, 1879 was a rainy day in County Mayo, and particularly in the little village of Knock. The morning had given hope of a fair day; but as the afternoon progressed, the dark rainclouds gathered over the little hamlet. Winds from the east whipped up, darting back and forth, bristling through the meadows and fields. The rains began, and hammered down on the little area.
We believe the preparations made in Heaven for this glorious day, 6 days after the Feast of the Assumption, were to give honor and recognition to the faithful children of Ireland. Mary must have looked down on this land from up above and decided that the poorest, most deprived area she could find was the windswept, rock-filled land of Knock. We have to think that the howling wind and black rain clouds were Satan’s way of trying to prevent the visit from happening. By stirring up the weather, thus making it so miserable, no one would be able to go out to see Her. We can be sure he was having a fit, in anticipation of Our Lady’s visit to earth. She has always been his greatest enemy. He goes into a rage at the mere mention of her name.
She chose the side of a church, the village church in Knock. After the rains had started, one Margaret Beirne went over to lock up the church for the night. She noticed a bright light around the back of the church, and looked to see what was there. She saw what she thought were statues of Our Lady, St. Joseph, and a Bishop, standing alongside a new altar, on top of which was a statue of a Lamb with a Cross. Margaret didn’t pay too much attention to it; she left the Church, and went home, not saying a word to anyone about it.
Satan must have been whooping it up in Hell. If this girl didn’t tell anyone, no one would know about Our Lady’s visit, and consequently, no one would come. His plan might have worked. Even the priest’s housekeeper, Mary McLoughlin, passed by and noticed the apparition, but also thought they were statues. She went to the Bierne’s home for a visit. So far so good for Satan.
But at 8 o’clock or thereabouts, when Mary McLoughlin decided to go home, the older Bierne girl, Mary, decided to walk with her in the rain. So here we have two Marys, walking in the rain past the church again. When they passed the apparition, Mary McLoughlin casually mentioned that the pastor must have bought some new statues in Dublin. But the other Mary, more inquisitive, decided to take a closer look. She jumped back with a start. “They’re not statues. They’re moving. It’s the Blessed Virgin!”The two women didn’t know what to do. Mary Bierne ran home to tell her mother and brother.
Rain or no, the people flocked to the church. Fourteen people in all came to witness the gift of Our Lady’s presence on that brutal night. Their combined description of what they saw is as follows:
The entire back wall of the church was bathed in a brilliant light, which could be seen from quite a distance away. As they looked at the scene, everything was raised about two feet off the ground. There was an altar, on the top of which stood a Lamb with a Cross. The altar and the Lamb were surrounded by Angels, hovering above.
To the left of the Altar were three figures. On the left was St. Joseph; in the middle was Our Lady; to the right, closest to the Altar was St. John the Evangelist, his right hand raised, a book in his left. Our Lady was life sized. The other two were smaller.
Mary was lovely. She wore a white gown and sash. A veil flowed from the back of her head to her feet. On top of her head, above the veil, was a gold crown. Between the crown and the edge of the veil was a gold rose. She looked up towards heaven in prayer; her hands were raised to her shoulders, pointed inwards. She was almost iridescent.
At first, no one dared go very close to the images. They stood or knelt at a distance in the rain, becoming soaked, but not caring. One of the visionaries, fourteen year old Patrick Hill, gathered up courage to venture near to the apparition. He was able to get close enough to give a good description of what he saw. He could make out Our Lady’s eyes, the pupils as well as the iris. He could see the smooth texture of her milky skin. He mentioned that St. Joseph’s beard was grey. His head was bent slightly. He also saw lines on the pages of the book that St. John held. He reported that the three figures were full bodied, three dimensional, rather than images projected on the wall. He testified that they were a few feet out from the wall of the Church; but as he got too close, the images moved back, away from him. All the witnesses verified that the three figures moved during the hour and a half that they knelt before them. Patrick Hill also mentioned that he saw the wings of the angels fluttering.
Possibly because Patrick Hill had ventured so closely, and had not been struck dead by lightning, a lady gathered up enough courage to reach out to embrace Our Lady’s feet. Mary moved back, and the woman felt nothing. All the witnesses stated that, although it was raining heavily, and the wind was blowing wildly, the ground under the images never became wet, nor did the side of the church where they appeared.10
Judith Campbell was one of the visionaries. She had been adoring Our Lady and her heavenly entourage. She went back to her house at about 9 pm to see how her sickly mother was feeling. Judith found her mother lying on the floor of the house. She thought the ailing woman had died, trying to go to the church. At about 9:30, all the people who were venerating the apparition were called to the house of Mrs. Campbell. They left the scene of the apparition, and ran to the Campbell house. However, when they arrived, they found that she was not dead, but had swooned. They stayed with her for a few minutes, then rushed back to the Church. When they got there, the lights and images were gone. The apparition was over. They looked at one another. They didn’t say much; they went to their homes.
The following day, the news had spread all over the area. A farmer, Patrick Walsh, claimed to have seen the great light from a distance. He didn’t come to the Church, but the next day, when he heard what had happened, he related what he had seen. His testimony was very important during the investigation, because it ruled out the theory of Mass Hysteria or Hypnotism. He had been nearly a mile away from the scene when he had seen the light.
Mother Mary never said a word. She didn’t look at them. This caused many problems during the investigations which followed the apparition. It just didn’t make sense for Our Lady to come, spend 3 hours with her people, and never acknowledge their presence in any way. It was very frustrating, to say the least. But again, we’re thinking in human terms, not divine. We’re trying to demand that Mary conform to our standards, rather than we to hers. We should be down on our knees in thanksgiving for anygesture she makes towards us. Indeed, her faithful people of Ireland did just that.
The Church has not yet officially approved the apparition of Our Lady at Knock. But Our Lady’s visit has been venerated so sincerely by so many of our popes, we have to believe that officially or unofficially, Mary was there. It has also become a national shrine in Ireland. Perhaps the greatest endorsement of our Lady’s visit to Knock, Ireland, came from His Holiness, Pope John Paul II in 1979, for the Centenary. He came as a pilgrim to Knock. He celebrated Mass in the Basilica, anointed the sick, and went to the Shrine to pray. He also presented to Knock Shrine a gold rose, in commemoration of the gold rose that Mary wore during her apparition.
The fact that Mary didn’t say anything during her apparition was a problem in terms of authentication. But in terms of what She may have been saying to the people of Ireland,the door is wide open. There were no tears, as at La Salette. There were no recriminations, as at Lourdes, Fatima, Banneux and Medjugorje. Mary didn’t impress on them the need for prayer, fasting and penance. In this, isn’t it possible that she recognized that their entire lives were prayer, fasting and penance? Weren’t they the suffering servants of Christ? Perhaps she was acknowledging their suffering.
There was peace and serenity at Knock. There was an altar, on top of which was the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for remission of our sins, and the Cross. We believe very strongly that this symbol, was in honor of her Blessed Son, Jesus, in the Mass, and in the Eucharist. In the Mass, we reenact, in memory of Him, the Last Supper, Calvary, and the Resurrection. We are given the Gift, the ongoing gift of the Body and Blood of Christ, for our nourishment and salvation. In the apparition at Knock, Mary, St. John, and St. Joseph were not the center of attention. They stood off to the side, while the Lamb of God, the Cross, and the Altar, captured our attention immediately. She always does this. From the days when Jesus and Mary were with us on earth, she always deferred to her Son. At all the Marian shrines in the world, she takes second place to Jesus. Knock was no different.
Another aspect of this apparition is that St. John and St. Joseph were with her. St. Joseph is Jesus’ foster father. During the life of Our Dear Lord, St. Joseph was His mentor, His teacher. They had to have been very close. Then there is St. John, beloved of Jesus. While Peter was the right arm of Jesus, His strength on earth, St. John was His heart. If Jesus ever had a brother, it would have been John. It was to John that Jesus gave His Mother. It was to His 12
Mother, through John, that Jesus gave us, the Church.
There have been reports in 1984-5-6 that Our Lady has appeared to different people in various parts of Ireland. At a little shrine devoted to Our Lady of Lourdes in Cappoquin, Waterford County, which we visited a year before the reported apparitions, Our Lady allegedly complained about the loss of faith that was being experienced by the people in Ireland. We are not going to attempt to speculate as to the veracity of these reports. We will say, however, that if they were true, they give more credence to the silent, approving apparition of Mary at Knock in 1879.
She was not upset with her Irish children in 1879. She was proud of them. She felt compassion for them. In the 100 years that have lapsed since that time, Satan has been able to accomplish something with a small box, containing a picture tube, that he was not able to accomplish with 300 years of Persecution. American television has come to Ireland, and not the best, but the worst. They are a beautiful people, for the most part. They are trying to hold on. They are still one of the few countries in the world where Divorce is outlawed.
Miracles began to take place at Knock as early as ten days after the Apparition. A young girl, Delia Gordon, had experienced deafness and pain in her left ear. While visiting the place of the Apparition, her mother put a small piece of cement from the wall of the church, into her ear. Afterward, during the Mass, Delia experienced an excruciating pain in her ear. It was followed by complete healing of her deafness; the pain never returned. She lived out her life in good health. When she died in 1930, in San Francisco, California, the same piece of cement which her mother had placed in her ear in 1879, was buried with her.
In A Centenary issue of the Miracle of Knock, by Fr. Tom Neary, 687 cures are chronicled from 1879 to 1880, the span of a year. Our Lady used the faith of the people and the cement or grouting from the back wall of the Church as a means of healing. This presented a slight problem to the Pastor of the Church. Every pilgrim who 13
came to Knock wanted some of the gravel or cement. This meant that the walls would have to come tumbling down; there was just so much material there. Wooden planks were put up, so that the cement could not be pulled off the walls, in an effort to save the Church from being ripped apart by zealous pilgrims.
From the days when Our Lord Jesus walked the earth, spiritual healings were more important than physicalcures. He told the people “Your sins are forgiven.” before He said “Take up your mat and walk”. The same applies to the healings at Knock. For every account of physical cures, there are twice as many reports of conversions, reconciliation, and return to the Church and the Sacraments. Our Lady was able to touch her children through this apparition. She wanted the lost sheep back, and back they came.
The people of Ireland had been waiting for hundreds of years for a sign. Knock became that sign. In a very short period of time, the floodgates were opened. Pilgrims poured into Knock by the thousands, and tens of thousands. At first they were from Ireland, but very quickly, the rest of the British Isles followed suit. Then Europe began to come, pilgrims from France, Italy, Germany, and finally, a pilgrim group carrying a large flag with the Stars and Stripes emblazoned on it from the United States. The world was paying tribute to Mary at this special place.
One has only to go to Knock Shrine to be aware of the devotion of the people of Ireland to Our Lord Jesus and His Mother Mary. Every parish in the country makes at least one Pilgrimage a year to this shrine. There is such reverence here! The great number of pilgrims outgrew the little shrine area in the original church, and in back of the church where Our Lady appeared to the people. A resplendent church was built to accommodate the pilgrims, which was later raised to the level of a Basilica.
There is a grand Mass every day, a healing Mass. All the sick are anointed at that time. There is never ending faith and hope at the Shrine. Our Lady never said a word to the visionaries at Knock, yet they know just what she wants here. Every day there is the Stations of the Cross. People can pray the Stations inside the main Basilica, or at the shorter Way of the Cross, between the old Church and the Basilica. There is PERPETUAL ADORATION OF THE EUCHARIST in a special Chapel, as well as monthly all night vigils. How were these dear people able to hear and act on the words of Our Lady if she said nothing to them? Why has Knock Shrine become a worldwide place of Pilgrimage, of healings and conversion?
The people Our Lady chose to gift with her presence at Knock were simple people. It’s hard to believe that they could have made up such a story, and if they had, why didn’t they embellish it with great conversations with Mary, as many other reported visionaries have claimed? One of the greatest hindrances to the authentication by the Church of the Apparition of Mary at Knock was that she said nothing. But did she really say nothing? Again, we find ourselves limiting my dear Lady to human equation. The only means of communication we know are sounds that go from the mouth to the ear to the brain. But is that the only way to speak to people? What about words that go from one heart to another, one spirit to another spirit?
How did these dear people know to put cement or gravel from the walls of the church on the affected parts of their bodies? Who told them to institute Healing Masses, Eucharistic Adoration, the Way of the Cross, and All Night Vigils? I believe it was Mary. She speaks to all of us at various times in our lives. Don’t wait to hear with your ears. Your ears may be stuffed with the world’s wax. Listen with your heart. And when you feel a very special presence trying to reach you, you can be sure she is talking to you. She loves you very much. Trust her.
About the Authors:
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.”