By Larry Peterson
On the northwestern coast of Ireland sits County Mayo, and within that green, lush county lies what was once the Knock Parish Church. Today the name of this place has been elevated; it is now known as The Shrine of Our Lady of Knock for it was here that The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared on the night of August 21, 1879.
It was pouring down rain that evening when Mary McLoughlin, the parish housekeeper, looked out the window of the kitchen and noticed a mysterious light illuminating the stone wall. Even through the pouring rain, the light was visible and so were three figures standing in front of the wall. Mary thought they were the replacement statues for the ones destroyed by a storm a year or so earlier. Somewhat frightened, Mary ran through the rain to her friend Margaret Byrne’s house.
Mary stayed about a half hour and then decided to leave. Margaret’s sister, also named Mary, agreed to walk with her. As they passed the church, an amazing sight was clearly visible to the two women. They were sure they were seeing the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, and St. John. To the left of St. John was an altar and on the altar was a lamb. Behind the altar was a cross and on each side of the altar but above it were adoring angels. Mary Byrne ran home to tell her family.
Word quickly spread and soon fifteen people were kneeling in the pouring rain praying the Rosary. They ranged in ages from six to seventy-five and even though they were soaked to the skin, not a drop of rain fell on the vision they were watching. Witnesses said the Blessed Mother stood erect with her eyes toward heaven and that she wore a large white cloak hanging in folds; on her head was a large gold crown.
Unlike the apparitions of Our Lady at Lourdes, La Salette, and Fatima where Our Lady spoke to the seers, at Knock she remained silent. Nothing was said nor was a word spoken. Everyone present at the apparition saw the apparition and they all attested to the same thing about the unspoken word.
The next day a group of villagers went to the local priest and told him the story. He believed them and contacted the Bishop of Tuam. The Bishop set up a commission to interview the people who had witnessed the vision. The hierarchy was extremely doubtful that what they were hearing was true. They even considered the possibility that the local Protestant constable had orchestrated a hoax to make the Catholics look ridiculous.
The people, however, were not so skeptical, and pilgrimages to Knock began in 1880. Two years later none other than Archbishop John Joseph Lynch of Toronto, visited the site and claimed he had been healed by the Virgin of Knock. That was quite a lofty endorsement.
Most of the witnesses passed on but Mary Byrne married and raised six children while living her entire life in Knock. Interviewed again in 1936, when she was eighty-six, her account was the same as it was back in 1879.
The appearance of Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John, at Knock, transformed the quiet village as thousands now came to commemorate the vision and ask for healing from Our Lady. In 1976 a new church, Our Lady Queen of Ireland, was erected and it holds more than two thousand people. It needs to be enlarged as more than a half-million visitors come to Knock each year.
Inquiries set up by the local Bishop, and the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland formally approved the apparitions as worthy of devotion and Pope St. John Paul II, sealed it all when upon his visit in 1979, he called his stop the ultimate goal of his pastoral visit to Ireland.
Our Lady of Knock, pray for us.