You may not have heard of the town of Fatima, Portugal, located about 70 miles north of Lisbon. While the city only has a population of 11,000, thousands more make a pilgrimage to Fatima each year. This year even more pilgrims are expected to flock to Fatima since it is the 100 year anniversary of the events that started it all.
Since we were so close, we thought might as well make our own Fatima pilgrimage and learn what all the fuss is about. Let me tell you the story of Fatima and explain why you should visit Fatima when you are in Portugal.
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The Story of Fatima
I was curious to know why a Fatima Portugal pilgrimage became so popular, so I read more about Fatima’s history. Between May and October of 1917, three young children, Lucia Santos and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, reported visions of the Virgin Mary on the 13th day of each month at approximately noon.
Mary urged the children to do penance and to make sacrifices to save sinners. She also explained to the children that war is a punishment for sin. Mary warned that God would further reprimand the world for its disobedience by means of war, hunger and the persecution of the Church. Additionally, Lucia said that the Lady asked them to say the Rosary every day, reiterating many times that the Rosary was the key to peace.
At first, no one believed the children and they faced ridicule. Their parents and city officials asked them to retract their story, but the children stood their ground. During the last apparition on October 13th, 1917, there were 70,000 people present. The Lady told them that she was the “Lady of the Rosary” and that a chapel was to be built in her honor.
Today, Fatima attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, particularly on the pilgrimage days in May and October. The large torch-lit processions in the evenings are particularly impressive, often lead by Cardinals and Bishops. Some pilgrims will even walk all the way from Lisbon to Fatima and do the last portion of the walk on their knees. May 13th, 2017 will be the 100 year anniversary of the first apparitions of Mary in Fatima and Pope Francis will make a Fatima trip. (Read more about Pope Francis’s visit to Fatima here)
Jacinta and Francisco both died at a very young age. Lucia devoted her life to God and became a nun. She lived to be 97. On February 13, 2008 (the third anniversary of her death) Pope Benedict XVI announced that in the case of Sister Lúcia he would waive the five-year waiting period before opening a cause for beatification, a step toward canonization.
Churches of Fatima
The spiritual center is a large plaza, known as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, with impressive churches at each end. Everything is white and on a sunny day like when we were there it is really bright. First, we went inside the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, which was built in 2007 to help accommodate the crowds. The exterior of this Fatima Catholic church is a very modern design. The building is round, with very impressive wooden doors. The main attraction inside is the beautiful mosaic at the altar.
Next, we visited the Chapel of the Apparitions, located where the Virgin Mary appeared back in 1917. A marble pillar and enclosed case, with the image of the Virgin Mary, marks the exact location of the Marian apparitions. The chapel is a small open-air space and when we were there it was pretty crowded.
Then we went to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. Just like the Sanctuary of Fatima, the dominating color inside the church is white. It felt much smaller than I expected it to be. Now I can understand why they needed to build another church to hold the crowds.
At the front of this Fatima church, you can visit the graves of the three children. Lucia’s grave is on the right side of the altar and her cousins, Jacinta and Francisco, are buried on the other. All three of the graves had beautiful flowers. It was moving to see the graves, especially since Jacinta and Francisco died so young.
If you go to the Visitor Center, close to the Chapel of the Apparitions, you can get a brochure that includes a schedule of the services in the Fatima churches.
Other Things to Do in Fatima
There is more to see when visiting Fatima than just the churches. Some people make a pilgrimage to Fatima Portugal just for the holy water, which supposedly can even cure illnesses. You get the holy water from a fountain in the center of the square. We both tasted a little bit of the holy water from Fatima and splashed it on ourselves. Many people bring bottles and fill them up to take the Fatima water away.
It was also interesting to see that there is a section of the Berlin Wall in Fatima. This segment is here placed as a monument to God’s intervention for the fall of Communism as promised at Fatima. Architect J. Carlos Loureiro designed the monument and it was inaugurated on the 13th. of August 1994.
You can also visit the children’s homes just on the outskirts of Fatima town. We decided to do a quick drive-by since it was not very far away from the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima. The children came from very humble roots, as the houses were small. If I would have had more time, I would have loved to go inside.
How to Get to Fatima Portugal
You can do a Lisbon to Fatima day trip since you don’t have to travel very far. The distance from Lisbon to Fatima is only 70 miles, but Fatima is not the easiest town to get to. The closest train station is located 20km from the town, so if you wanted to travel to Fatima by train you would still need to take a taxi from the train station.
You could also take a bus from Lisbon to Fatima. The buses to Fatima depart from Sete Rios and you can check the schedule here.
The best way to get to Fatima from Lisbon or Porto is to drive. It’s also helpful to have a car to when you visit Fatima so you can easily go to the area where the children lived.
Tours to Fatima
If you are not comfortable driving, you might want to consider a Lisbon to Fatima tour. It would be a great way to learn more about the story of Fatima. You can find both half-day and full day Fatima Portugal tours. There are also tour options that include visits to other nearby cities, like Obidos. Click here to check out all the Fatima tour options from GetYourGuide.
Where to Stay in Fatima
We visited Fatima as a stop on our Portugal road trip, so we did not stay overnight, but there are some good accommodation options for all budgets if you would like to spend a night or two.
If you are looking for a upscale hotel in Fatima then check out the Dom Goncalo Hotel & Spa. It’s only a 10 minute walk from the Sanctuary. The hotel has a sauna, Turkish bath, hot tub, indoor heated pool, and library in the lobby. Read more reviews on Tripadvisor here or check price and availability here.
Those looking for a more affordable Fatima hotel may like the Santa Maria Hotel. This hotel also has a meditation room and its own chapel. The terrace on the 4th floor has views of the sanctuary. It’s also very close to the Sanctuary and guest also rave about the cleanliness and the hotel staff. Read more reviews on Tripadvisor here or check price and availability here.
Whether you decide to visit Fatima for a day, on a tour, or for a few days, I think you will find the city moving. Regardless of your religious beliefs, the story is uplifting and the churches are impressive. After spending a short time in Fatima, I could see why it is a popular destination for pilgrims.
Have you visited Fatima or another pilgrimage site?
Expert Tips for Your Portugal Pilgrimage
- If you plan on going the 13th of the month between May and October, especially in 2017, prepare for large crowds and plan ahead.
- The best way to get to Fatima is to drive. If you want to travel from Lisbon to Fatima by train, you would need to get a taxi from the train station as it is 20 km away. If you don’t want to drive, consider taking a tour from Lisbon to Fatima.
- Bring bottles so you can take home some of the Fatima holy water.
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