Crowds at the annual novena
The holy site
Knock Basilica is possibly the greatest visitor attraction in Mayo, enticing upwards of one million pilgrims each year, writes Joan Geraghty
BEAUTIFUL Knock Shrine is a home from home for so many followers of Catholicism and Christianity right around the world, who flock here again and again to engage with its peaceful religious nature and beauty. The sick and disabled also make ongoing pilgrimages to Knock in the hope of receiving a cure.
The origin of Knock’s devotion is the claimed apparition of Our Blessed Lady with St Joseph and St John on August 21, 1879. The event was subjected to the most exhaustive Church inquiries and subsequently, in 1936, before the last of the witnesses to the apparition died, two tribunals found the evidence of witnesses upright and trustworthy.
The number of extraordinary cures and favours associated with Knock from the earliest years promises continuing growth for this holy pilgrimage site. Many miracles 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 all those years ago. Belief in Knock’s healing power remains firm with followers right around the world.
Among the million-plus pilgrims now visiting Knock Shrine annually, many come as part of organised groups between May and October. Throughout the rest of the year, private pilgrimages take place on a daily basis – with young and old finding great solace from taking time out to pray and meditate in Knock’s welcoming surroundings. Pilgrims are cared for by a thousand voluntary helpers, the Knock Shrine Stewards and Handmaids.
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. Many invalids visit all the time and there are daily processions and Stations of the Cross for pilgrims. In recent times, a statue of St Theresa and a Folk Museum have been erected.
The shrine grounds and chapels at Knock make it a place of great beauty, conducive to prayerfulness and peace.
The Apparition at Knock
On August 21, 1879, two local women, Mary McLoughlin and Mary Beirne, were returning home in the rain. On passing the rear of the Knock village church, they saw a miraculous sight. Our Lady, St Joseph and St John the Evangelist appeared at the south gable of the church. Mary was dressed in a large white cloak, fastened at the neck, with her hands and eyes facing upwards in prayer towards Heaven. She wore a brilliant crown with a gold rose.
St Joseph stood on her right hand side with his head bowed and inclined towards Our Lady. He too wore white robes.
St John the Evangelist stood on her left hand side, wearing a bishop’s regalia. He carried a book in both hands, which he had raised up, as if in preaching mode.
To the right of the three figures there was a large plain altar, on which was standing a lamb. Behind the lamb a large cross could be seen. Angels were seen hovering around the lamb.
It is said that over the course of the two hours the apparition lasted, the two women called other passers-by to them to witness the spectacle. A total of 15 official witnesses were recorded and the group recited the Rosary.
The sick and weary began making pilgrimages to the shrine in their thousands and the tradition continues up to today. Reports are ongoing of sick and disabled pilgrims believing they have received cures at Knock. Claims average 20 to 30 each year, but none has yet been investigated by Church authorities.
Four Catholic Popes have sanctioned their blessing of Knock over the years. 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, which he regarded as one of the most outstanding shrines devoted to Our Lady.
On June 6, 1974, the foundation stone for the Basilica of Our Lady, Queen of Ireland, at Knock, was blessed by Pope Paul VI.
Most recently, Pope John Paul II visited the shrine on September 30, 1979 to commemorate the centenary of the apparition. Hundreds of thousands of people from all around Ireland celebrated the occasion with huge excitement and this personal pilgrimage by the head of the Catholic Church inspired an even greater devotion to the Shrine and endorsed the indelible seal of Vatican approval. 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.
The Annual Novena
A nine-day Novena in honour of Our Lady takes place in August every year and up to 100,000 pilgrims from Ireland and all over the world come at various stages during this time to participate in prayer and listen to spiritual teachings. The Annual Novena was established in 1977 by the then parish priest of Knock, Monsignor James Horan, RIP.
August was selected as the appropriate month to focus attention on the devotion of Mary, as the feast day of Our Lady of Knock is August 21 while the feast of the Assumption is August 15. The pilgrimage season is not limited to just August 14 – 22, as planned visits by groups take place from May each year. The last Thursday of each month is also especially dedicated to invalids and a Mass with Anointing of the Sick is concelebrated.
Another annual highlight is the Padre Pio Mass in September, which attracts up to 15,000 pilgrims each year.