Throughout history witnesses have been reporting incidents of a divine nature. From all over the world there have been numerous accounts, from apparitions of our Lady, to statues that shed tears of water or blood, to stigmata that replicate the wounds of Jesus. Are these messages of divinity sent to us from heaven? What do they mean?
Stigmata of Padre Pio
Many people think that these messages have a grim meaning, that humanity is rapidly descending towards hell. And that these are warnings to humanity, a call to a collective holiness. God is telling us to take action and reform our lives before it's too late. How should we respond? We must pray and we must walk the path of holiness so that every step is a step towards heaven. Humans, ignore these warnings at your own peril!
But could messages of divinity be channelled to us in this manner? Some apparitions are visual while others are both visual and verbal. Either way they have certainly captivated and influenced a huge audience with positive effect in many ways such as greater works of charity, greater empathy, greater prayer. Could the Blessed virgin Mary have appeared to us? And how does she select her sites to visit? There are hundreds of Marian apparitions, with about 300 investigated by the Vatican. But of all Marian apparitions investigated only 12 have been approved. Some of the approved apparitions are....
Guadalupe in Mexico, Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, Knock in Ireland.
So who carries out the investigations to approve the apparitions? The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Are they impartial or biased? Surely it would be in their own interests to approve a certain number of apparitions thereby reinforcing the message that they advocate.
And there certainly appears to be a disproportionate amount of young, poor, and uneducated people that are the subject of apparitions. Why would more of the educated and wealthier class not be involved. Maybe this is a message in itself, i.e. God is saying to the more affluent that the poor are more worthy of visitation than the affluent, or perhaps these are the people most in need of a morale boost.
Do other religions have visions? Perhaps the best know was when the Angel Gabriel appeared to the prophet Mohammed for the first of many apparitions in the year AD 610, and proceeded to dictate the Quran which formed the basis for the Islamic world as we know it today. Muhammad had been meditating in a cave on Mount Hira (Cave of Hira) near Mecca when the Angel appeared and passed on the first of many revelations over many years. Born out of this was the Quran, the sacred book of Islam which gives divine guidance from Allah on social, ethical and moral behaviour.
Do Apparitions defy scientific explanation? Do we have any hard evidence that apparitions are real? Will there be apparitions in the age of digital cameras? Perhaps not, on purpose, as there would be world panic!
What about the studies carried out by Professor Ricardo Castanon, a Neuropsycophysiologist who specialises in understanding the brain and human behaviours. He has studied visionaries, stigmata, and lacrimations - weeping statues. In Cochabamba, Bolivia, he took a sample from the left eye of a weeping statue which was then genetically sampled in a laboratory which determined that there was human DNA present in the sample!
On August 21, 1879, almost thirty people witnessed an apparition at the gable of a church in Knock village in the west of Ireland. The apparition took the form of three figures, Our Lady, St Joseph and St John the Evangelist standing a little distance out from the gable wall and a foot or two above the ground and enveloped in a white light. To their left appeared an altar with a large cross and a lamb, with angels hovering overhead. The apparition lasted for two hours throughout which the witnesses stood in reverence, in the pouring rain reciting the rosary until the apparition eventually disappeared.
Knock Shrine - Ireland
Six weeks after the apparition an official Commission by the church was set-up to investigate the phenomenon and fifteen witnesses ranging from five to seventy-five years of age were depositioned. The Commission's conclusion was that the testimonies presented were 'trustworthy and satisfactory' and for the most part consistent with one another. What does this mean? Well it strongly suggests that the witnesses were telling the truth, all fifteen of them, that they actually saw three spiritual entities, Our Lady, St Joseph and St John the Evangelist at a church gable in Knock in 1879!
In 1936 a second Commission of enquiry was set up. The three surviving witnesses of the apparition confirmed their testimonies and the church were happy to reach the same conclusion as the first Commission of enquiry. In 1979, the 100th anniversary of the apparition, Pope John Paul II visited Knock to further rubberstamp the Vatican's recognition of the events 100 years previous and helping to turn Knock shrine into a major world pilgrimage site.
Fact or Fiction?
The so-called 'Magic Lantern' theory was put forward by sceptics to explain the apparition. It claims a type of projector was used to project the images onto the gable wall. Could this be possible?
Well it is thought that the Lourdes apparition of 1858 was known throughout Ireland in 1879 but surely up to thirty people, despite some of them being related, could not contrive such a scheme and maintain their stories until the end of their lives.
In fact why wait two hours in the pouring rain, why not get the 'contrived' apparition over in a much shorter space of time? Also, people unexpectedly came upon the apparition, so are we to assume that as these people arrived they were taken into confidence and sworn to secrecy and joined in on the fabricated story, the 'conspiracy'.
And were the conspirators able to swear children to an oath of secrecy and we are expected to believe that children stood steadfast with their story and were unshakable throughout their childhood not to mention their adulthood? Very unlikely.
And here are some other points to ponder.
- Surely an old-fashioned projector wouldn't fool up to thirty people for two hours, after all, most of the witnesses were adults. Were there such projectors in Knock in 1879, or anywhere in the world that could accomplish this?
Also a projector implies a two-dimensional image on the gable, but according to Patrick Hill's statement
'the figures were full and round as if they had a body and life'.
Also, when referring to St. Joseph, Patrick Hill stated 'I noticed his whiskers, they appeared slightly grey'. Mary Byrne (29 at the time) also referred in her testimony as St. Joseph 'as somewhat aged, with grey whiskers and greyish hair'. So are we to assume there was the capability to produce the 'colour' grey on specific parts of the projected image in 1879?
In referring to St John, Patrick Hill stated 'I came so near that I looked into the book'. This suggest three dimensional figures to me. Though it must be noted he was just eleven years of age at the time.
Also in referring to the angels Patrick Hill stated 'I saw their wings flutter'. Could projectors in 1879 project motion?
Investigations carried out in 1880 by a reporter for the London Daily Telegraph newspaper also seem to rule out a projector been involved. His rationale was based on the lack of a suitable location for the projector to be used while also being out of sight of the witnesses. The two possible locations were behind a four foot high dilapidated wall or at a nearby schoolhouse. But at least one witness passed by the wall and would surely have spotted a projector and the schoolhouse had no window on the gable facing the church gable.
And surely a beam of light from the projector would be spotted, especially as it grew dark, and then easily tracked back to the source. And remember it was daylight when the apparition was first seen - so this would require a strong projected image and a strong beam.
Also, the pouring rain would surely have interfered with the beam of light resulting in a changing projected image and making the beam of light easily visible.
Mary Byrne was one of the witnesses. At the second commission of enquiry she confirmed under oath that the testimony she had given to the first commission of enquiry was correct. At this stage she was 86 years of age and on her death-bed. She added
'I am perfectly clear about everything I have said and I make this statement knowing I am about to go before my God'. It seems there were no doubts in what she had seen in 1879.
Do we know for sure if the witnesses were aware of Lourdes and this could have influenced them in some way? How did they recognise the 3 figures? How well were the 15 cross examined. Did all stories corroborate or did they conflict each other?