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Knock Shrine

Basilica Shrine of Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland
Location Knock, County Mayo
Country Republic of Ireland
Denomination Roman Catholic Latin Rite

Knock Shrine (Irish: Cnoc Mhuire) is a Roman Catholic pilgrimage site and National Shrine in the village of Knock, County Mayo, Ireland, where observers stated that there was an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist, angels, and Jesus Christ (the Lamb of God) in 1879.


  • Background 1
  • The apparition 2
    • Description 2.1
    • Church Commissions of inquiry 2.2
    • Papal blessings 2.3
  • Recent history 3
    • Purported solar phenomena 3.1
  • Parish Priest 4
  • Cultural context 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8
  • Further reading 9


As at Lourdes and Fatima the visitations occurred at a time of immense cultural, social and economic change, and occurred to people whose traditional society was under threat from social change. In the 1870s, Ireland was experiencing a period of upheaval. Some parts of the island had experienced what proved to be the last waves of a famine. This brought back memories of the Great Irish Famine of the late 1840s that had decimated the countryside. Poverty, unemployment, evictions and emigration were not uncommon.[1]

The appearance of railways brought new travel opportunities and challenges to close-knit communities, while the 1870s saw the beginnings of land reform that would change Irish rural life, reform initially fought for through mass mobilisation and sometimes violence in the Michael Davitt's Land League and through the radical political leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell. The land agent Captain Boycott, who was ostracised in 1880 on account of seeking rents from tenant farmers during a rent strike, became a worldwide cause célèbre, so creating the verb to boycott meaning "to ostracise completely", was also based in County Mayo. In a time of change, symbols like the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph (known together within Catholicism as the Holy Family) marked a reminder of stability and tradition in a society whose change many people found bewildering. Depending on whether one accepted the veracity of the accounts of apparition or the religious beliefs underpinning it, it could be seen either as a delusion by a marginalised traditional society clinging to old certainties, or, in a Catholic religious context, the appearance of the "Mother of God" to people marginalised by society to show her support and offer her comfort.

A similar apparition reported by another teenage girl at Lourdes, France, in 1858 had been well publicised across Ireland by 1879. In 1854, Pope Pius IX promulgated a bull proclaiming the feast of the Immaculate Conception for the Universal Church and brought a renewal in Marian devotion.

Visions linked to religious matters were not unknown in rural Irish faith communities, the members of which commenced to have solid religious formation. Primary education was in most cases founded and funded by local Catholics and had more doctrinal and rigorous religious content than the modern Irish primary school.

The apparition

On the evening of Thursday, 21 August 1879, at about 8 o'clock, fifteen people, whose ages ranged from five years to seventy-five and included men, women, teenagers and children, witnessed what they stated was an apparition of Our Lady, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist at the south gable end of the local small parish church, the Church of Saint John the Baptist. Behind them and a little to the left of Saint John was a plain altar. On the altar was a cross and a lamb (a traditional image of Jesus, as reflected in the religious phrase The Lamb of God) with adoring angels.[2]

Two women, passing by the church, first noticed it and summoned what would become a small crowd of 15.[3]


Altar sculpture at Knock, based on accounts of the apparition.

The Blessed Virgin Mary was described as being beautiful, standing a few feet above the ground. She wore a white cloak, hanging in full folds and fastened at the neck. The crown appeared of a golden brightness, of a deeper hue, than the striking whiteness of the robe she wore; the upper parts of the crown appeared to be a series of sparkles, or glittering crosses. She was described as "deep in prayer", with her eyes raised to heaven, her hands raised to the shoulders or a little higher, the palms inclined slightly to the shoulders. Bridget Trench "went in immediately to kiss, as I thought, the feet of the Blessed Virgin; but I felt nothing in the embrace but the wall, and I wondered why I could not feel with my hands the figures which I had so plainly and so distinctly seen".

Saint Joseph, also wearing white robes, stood on the Virgin's right hand. His head was bent forward from the shoulders towards the Blessed Virgin. Saint John the Evangelist stood to the left of the Blessed Virgin. He was dressed in a long robe and wore a mitre. He was partly turned away from the other figures. He appeared to be preaching and he held open a large book in his left hand. To the left of St. John was an altar with a lamb on it with a cross standing on the altar behind the lamb.[1]

Those who witnessed the apparition stood in the pouring rain for up to two hours reciting the Rosary, a series of traditional Catholic prayers. When the apparition began there was good light, but although it then became very dark, witnesses could still see the figures very clearly – they appeared to be the colour of a bright whitish light. The apparition did not flicker or move in any way. The witnesses reported that the ground around the figures remained completely dry during the apparition although the wind was blowing from the south. Afterwards, however the ground at the gable became wet and the gable dark.[4]

Church Commissions of inquiry

Marian apparition, Alexandr Ivanov

An ecclesiastical Commission of inquiry was established by the Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr. John MacHale, on 8 October 1879. The Commission consisted of Irish scholar and historian, Canon Ulick Bourke, Canon James Waldron, as well as the parish priest of Ballyhaunis and Archdeacon Bartholomew Aloysius Cavanagh. Depositions of witnesses were taken in the ensuing months. The deliberations of the Commission, referred only to the occurrence on 21 August 1879, which omitted "subsequent phenomena," and as a result, there exists no official record for events that occurred after that date.[5]

The evidence which was the Commission's duty to record, satisfied all the members and was deemed trustworthy. Among the considerations were whether the apparition emanated from natural causes, and whether there was any positive fraud. In the first cited particular, it was reported that no solution as from natural causes could be offered; and in the second consideration, that such a suggestion had never, even remotely, been entertained.[5]

The Commission's final verdict was that the testimony of all the witnesses taken as a whole is trustworthy and satisfactory. At a second Commission of inquiry in 1936, the surviving witnesses confirmed the evidence they gave to the first Commission.[2]

The growth of railways and the appearance of local and national newspapers fueled interest in the small Mayo village. Reports of "strange occurrences in a small Irish village" were featured almost immediately in the international media, notably The Times (of London). Newspapers from as far away as Chicago sent reporters to cover the Knock phenomenon, while Queen Victoria asked her government in Dublin Castle to send her a report about the event.

A number of cures and favours are associated with visitors to Our Lady of Knock’s Shrine and those who claim to have been cured here still leave crutches and sticks at the spot where the apparition is believed to have occurred.[6]

Each Irish diocese makes an annual pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine and the nine-day Knock novena attracts ten thousand pilgrims every August.[7]

While the original church still stands, a new Apparition chapel with statues of Our Lady, St Joseph, the lamb and St John the Evangelist, has been built next to it. Knock Basilica is a separate building showing a tapestry of the apparition.[6]

The complex incorporates five churches including the Apparition Chapel, Parish Church and Basilica, a Religious Books’ Centre, Caravan and Camping Park, Knock Museum, Café le Chéile and Knock House Hotel. Services at the Shrine include organised pilgrimages, daily Masses and Confessions, Anointing of the Sick, Counselling Service, Prayer Guidance and Youth Ministry.[8]

Papal blessings

  • On All Saints’ Day, 1945, Pope Pius XII blessed the banner of Knock from St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and decorated it with a special medal.
  • On Candlemas Day in 1960, Pope John XXIII presented a special candle to Knock.
  • On 6 June 1974, the foundation stone for the Basilica of Our Lady, Queen of Ireland, at Knock, was blessed by Pope Paul VI.
  • On 30 September 1979, Pope John Paul II visited the shrine to commemorate the centenary of the apparition. During that historic visit, the Pope addressed the sick and nursing staff, celebrated Mass, established the shrine church as a basilica, presented a candle and the Golden Rose to the shrine and knelt in prayer at the apparition wall.[6]

Recent history

Mother Teresa of Calcutta visited the Shrine in June 1993.[9]

Ireland's National Eucharistic Congress was held at the Marian Shrine in Knock over 25 and 26 June in 2011. An estimated 13,000 pilgrims attended.[7]

On 7 April 2012, the village of Knock hosted a major Christian rave organised by the Knock Rave Foundation. The holy show coincided with the feast of Easter and featured the very best of Trance, Acid House, Dubstep and Christian Techno.[10]

Though it remained for almost 100 years a major Irish pilgrimage site, Knock established itself as a world religious site in large measure during the last quarter of the twentieth century, largely due to the work of its longtime parish priest Monsignor James Horan. Horan presided over a major rebuilding of the site, with the provision of a new large Knock Basilica (the second in Ireland) alongside the old church. Horan secured from Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey millions of pounds of state aid to build a major airport near Knock. The project was condemned by critics in the media. At the time the Irish economy was in depression with massive emigration. Contrary to the critics' expectation however - and with the advent of low-fare and discount airlines - Horan International Airport (now known as Ireland West Airport Knock) became a commercial success, drawing not just pilgrims as well as passengers, but also becoming the air-gateway for the whole of Connacht.

Purported solar phenomena

In October 2009, Knock received national attention when many people reported observing "miraculous" solar phenomena similar to the Miracle of the Sun widely believed to have occurred at the time of the Fatima apparitions. The phenomena had been "prophesied" by self-proclaimed Dublin-based mystic Joe Coleman. a few weeks earlier. The reports were met with scepticism. Archbishop Michael Neary said such events were "to be regretted rather than encouraged".[11]

When the pilgrims had left the shrine after this event, the manager had to call in industrial cleaners to remove the rubbish left, including spilt food and drink.[12] He also said that he would review whether gatherings would be allowed, citing health and safety issues as one problem.[12]

In December 2009, an ophthalmologist from University Hospital Galway issued a warning that there had been a significant spike in the number of cases of solar retinopathy "all of them linked to events at Knock", with the observed patients having had "a significant reduction in their vision". The reports of people having observed the sun "dancing in the sky" were characterised as merely "sort of a cheap trick" caused by the extremely bright sunlight: "If you stare at the sun for long enough you're going to get some visual disturbances." The warning about the dangers of staring directly at the sun continued: "Not only will you get reduced vision but also a condition called metamorphopsia".[13]

Parish Priest

The parish priest at the time of the apparition was The Very Reverend Bartholomew Aloysius Cavanagh, who was also Archdeacon of the diocese.[14] Widely considered a holy priest in spite of his siding with landlords against the growing Land League movement, he was appointed parish priest of Knock-Aghamore in 1867, and was about 58 at the time of the apparition. He died in 1897 and is buried in the Old Church.

Cultural context

An Irish anthropologist, Dr Peter Mulholland, took Coleman's 'visions' and prophesies as a case study and 'Exploring a range of explanatory theories, he highlights the interaction of social context, family structure and the Catholic tradition in generating the kind of quotidian life experiences that have sustained "magical devotionalism" and facilitated the spread of New Age healing beliefs and practices' in modern Ireland.[15][16]

See also


  1. ^ a b "The Apparition at Knock", Knock Shrine Association of America
  2. ^ a b "The Story of Knock", Knock Shrine
  3. ^ [3]
  4. ^ The Story of Knock
  5. ^ a b Carey, F. P. "Knock and its Shrine" (PDF)., 2012. Retrieved 12 May 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c Geraghty, Joan. "Knock Shrine, the holy site", Mayo News, 18 July 2012
  7. ^ a b "Ireland: new Parish Priest for National Shrine at Knock", Independent Catholic News, 3 February 2012
  8. ^ "Knock Shrine", Tourism Ireland
  9. ^ "Knock, Ireland's National Marian Shrine", Mayo, Ireland
  10. ^ "Knock Rave on Easter Saturday | Music | News". Hot Press. Retrieved 2014-03-22. 
  11. ^ "'"Archbishop enters row over Knock 'sun miracle. Irish Independent. 27 October 2009. 
  12. ^ a b Shrine staff forced to clean up mess left by Knock pilgrims, John Cooney, Irish Independent, 3 November 2009
  13. ^ Eye fears over holy shrine 'visions', BBC News, 2 December 2009.
  14. ^ [4]
  15. ^ "Ireland's New Religious Movements - PDF Sample". Retrieved 2014-03-22. 
  16. ^ 'Marian Apparitions, the New Age and the FÁS Prophet' by Peter Mulholland. In Ireland's New Religious Movements, Olivia Cosgrove, Laurence Cox, Carmen Kuhling and Peter Mulholland (eds) 2011

External links

  • Official website of Knock Shrine
  • The music for the song "Lady of Knock"

Further reading

  • John MacPhilpin. The Apparitions and Miracles at Knock. PJ Kennedy. 1904
  • Sister Mary Francis Clare. Three Visits to Knock. PJ Kennedy. 1904
  • Neary, Tom, I Saw Our Lady.

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