Jan and Cora Gordon and the Pilgrimage to Fatima

Reading about the pilgrimage of Pope Francis to Fatima in Portugal today, I was reminded of the journey Jan and Cora Gordon made there in 1933, 84 years ago. A gallery of illustrations made by the Gordons during this journey can be seen here.

It is today 100 years since three children reported seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary while tending sheep. Two of the children (Jacinta and Francisco Marto) died in the 1918-1919 European influenza pandemic. The third, Lucia de Jesus dos Santos, died in February 2005.

The Gordons had timed their visit in 1933 to be able to participate in the Fatima pilgrimage honouring the vision seen on May 13, 1917. "We had hurried our departure from London to reach Portugal before the 13th May. For on that date each year a remarkable pilgrimage takes place, celebrating an event, from what can be gathered, seems to be the best-authenticated account of a genuine miracle than can be offered." However, they noted that, "Catholic miracle experts are tempted to look on the occurrences at Cova da Ira with a reserved judgment."

After an uncomfortable night-time car journey to a farmhouse near Fatima, the Gordons arrived just in time to occupy the room that had been booked for them. Slightly later arrivals slept on bunks in the barn.

Even in those days, the crowds were vast, regularly topping 30,000. "The actual site of the miracle lay in a large, bowl-shaped depression to the north of the main street. Now in the blue darkness the whole of this big hollow was filled with twinkling and clustering lights, like a convocation of glow-worms. There were literally thousands of candles.."

They progressed with the crowds towards the "miraculous fountain, a circular building, from which the healing water pours through fifteen spouts, signifying the fifteen mysteries of the rosary" and then on to a large stone altar, "hollowed like a basin, into which the pilgrims were throwing the ends of their candles and tapers ..."


Fatima, Portuguese Somersault (pg 164)


The Gordons observed that "religion and superstition in Portugal often go back apparently to the most primitive beliefs and practices of the folk; and here we had, not only a most convenient way of getting rid of candle ends - always something of a problem after a big procession - but possibly also a burning sacrifice, echo perhaps of the vestal fires of ancient Rome."

The procession completed, the Gordons made their way through "literally acres of [sleeping] people, all fitted together with the intricacy of a jig-saw puzzle."

They found that "The drink shops were doing a steady trade, though for the number of people there was remarkably little drunkenness. This was undoubtedly due to the fact that most here had really come for devotional purposes, and Fatima was filled with an atmosphere of spiritual elation more positive than anything we have felt of its kind, something like the sudden spiritual bond that people felt at the declaration of the War."

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