The real secret of Fatima

There is a letter from a nutcase in the Daily Telegraph today. And this is news? you murmur. Well, yes, because it is not about Europe, or gays, or fox-hunting, but the Marian apparitions at Fatima in 1917. The last of the three children involved died last week, and Mr William Keenan, of Bramhall in Cheshire, felt that the paper’s obituary had not given proper credit to their account.

As someone who spent 11 years researching the story of Fatima, I wanted to add some important details about Sister Lucia and what happened during the final vision of October 13 (Obituaries, Feb 15).
It had been pouring with rain for several days and the area was a mudbath; the 50,000 people present were soaked to the skin. The clouds parted and the sun began to spin and change colour, and then hurtle towards the earth. The vast crowd were terrified. They thought the end of the world had come and threw themselves on their knees in the mud and prayed fervently. When the sun returned to its normal place in the heavens, these thousands got to their feet, rejoicing. It was then they found their drenched clothes were dry and the mud had all dried up.

The Fatima thing fascinates me because the people who believe in it are committing themselves to belief in a very much greater hallucination than they realise. If what the story claims is true, and the sun really did zoom towards the earth (or, as we suspiciously educated types might put it, the earth zoomed towards the Sun) then the truly remarkable hallucination is the belief of the rest of the world that nothing happened. Imagine a perturbation of the Earth’s orbit big enough to change the size of the sun in the sky. We’re told that it miraculously dried the mud and clothes of the pilgrims. Is that all? The miracle is that it didn’t boil the oceans dry and crash the moon back into the dry bed of the Pacific ocean. The miracle is that all life was not annihilated (except, perhaps, at Fatima).

Such global catastrophes reoccur in the modern American fantasies of the Rapture. But Fatima is supposed to have already happened. There are meant to be 50,000 eye witnesses to the dancing sun. It follows that the billion or so people alive in 1917 who didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary were themselves the victim of a gigantic Divinely organised hallucination. How odd of God to go to all that trouble, and leave the First World War progressing undisturbed. Nor is it just the people. Not one feather from one sparrow trembled as the earth was wrenched out of its orbit and hurled half way across the solar system and back in a couple of hours.

Of course, they don’t really believe this, because they don’t really believe that the Sun is a physical object. These stories are to be understood in the context of a peasant child’s universe, like the one about god making the Sun stand still for Joshua. What makes this odd, though, is that the same people who will claim to believe in the physical reality of Fatima will also claim that the physical reality of the resurrection is as certain and persecute those Christians who might doubt it.

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