Miracle at Fatima

Stanley L. Jaki. God and the Sun at Fatima. Real View Books, 1999 


Stanley Jaki’s books have long impressed me. They are invariably so erudite that, even if you disagree with him, you can’t help but learn many facts and insights from reading him. The news that he had come out with a book on Fatima was especially welcome. The literature I had seen on it always had a sensationalistic attitude and there was absolutely no care to sift fact from fiction. Jaki has done this immense task.

We finally find gathered here the first-person testimonies of people present at the miracle of the sun on 13 October 1917. They are given a first-rate dissection along standard historical principles – the earliest accounts are given greatest weight, the credentials of the witnesses are assessed, the differences are scrutinised with an eye to their possible utility or harm in understanding what happened. He offers spirited commentary over earlier interpretations and offers a hypothesis about what may have happened that day.

One feature Jaki repeatedly points out about the event is that while it is undeniable that tens of thousands were present, there was an embarrassing indifference among Fatima devotees to gather testimony of the miracle concerning the sun. A commission studying for 8 years the Marian apparitions of the children looked into the credentials of the trustworthiness of the children, their parents, and relatives, but contained not one word on the miracle involving the falling sun. The Voice of Fatima devoted to spreading the message of Fatima published hundreds of issues in the 1930s but barely mentioned the solar miracle in any of its issues.

One of the first books devoted to Fatima has the unlikely seeming title of The Miraculous Cloud of Fume. The author was obsessed by some wisps of smoke present at the various apparitions that he deemed beyond natural explanation. This baffling inattention and silence on what is now regarded as one of the most puzzling mysteries in the museum of Fortean oddities – it has even been improbably called the greatest UFO case of all time – drives Jaki to distraction. Isn’t it the duty of all responsible intellectuals to ascertain the facts of an event? Gather the witnesses, push for details, probe, get the precise meanings of what they said. Little of this happened.

It was decades before any concerted push for testimony was made and by then time had eroded its value. Formulaic expressions had crystallized memories of the event to some extent and false details slipped in. One witness, 14 years after the event, said he saw the sun zigzagging. Jaki notes this witness had been only seven at the time of the event. None of the earlier accounts bear this out. Yet this account was picked up by popular writers over others and led to misimpressions. Some ufologists will recall that this detail was picked out as so like “the falling leaf effect” that Fatima must really have been a UFO. Late witnesses testified the clouds cleared away and the event happened in a blue sky. Earliest accounts however repeatedly said that clouds were present and that one could look directly on the sun because a diaphanous layer of cloud veiled it. The reticence to probe the event probably baffles Jaki more than most people because of his scholarly scruples.

One need not be a cynic to think that the miracle was unnerving to modern sensibilities. Many people in the crowd feared the sun had detached itself from the firmament and was falling to the earth. Some dropped to their knees in prayer, fearful the sun was falling and that it was the end of the world – the Bible’s collapse of the powers of heaven. From the comfort of hindsight, this was pure foolishness. The sun obviously did not rush towards Earth that day. It was a misimpression confined to a small region of Portugal.

If you start thinking about this too much it looks like the miracle is, to some degree, a gigantic illusion and not something you might want to attribute to a loving, benevolent God. It does not help that Lucia, the child visionary, stated the Lady took that occasion to proclaim the Portuguese expeditionary force in France would return home soon. That did not happen either.</ a image>Rare Halos, Mirages, Anomalous Rainbows. Some of the miracle recalls things like jumping halos, bishop’s rings, and kaleidoscopic sun displays. Indeed Corliss himself very briefly mentions Fatima in his Kaleidoscopic Suns section. I’m inclined to think varying populations of ice crystals or other aerial impurities account for the illusion of movement along the line of sight. The rotating rays of the display sound like maybe crepuscular sun shadows of high clouds above the mist layer. Such clouds were mentioned in an early account.

Jaki was uncomfortable over Strangfeld’s suggestion that the spinning sun was related to the physiology of the retina, but the observation seems perfectly sound and applicable. At a certain level of brilliance just before the light becomes uncomfortable, the retina does process the sun’s light in a manner that makes it appear to spin. I can’t say I really understand it, I only know from personal experience it is true. This also makes more sense of those instances of people who later said they saw repetition of the miracles at other times. If they were thinking just in terms of being able to watch the sun spin without averting the eye, such repeat performances are easily believed. The motions of the sun described in the early accounts may be interpretable in terms of a mix of autokinesis, autostasis, and surrounding cloud motion. Jaki believes that the meteorological nature of the solar miracle does not detract from its miraculous character. Miracles in the Bible probably result from God working through natural laws rather than in violation of them.

So, too, Fatima. The proof of the miraculous nature of the October 13 event was that the child visionaries predicted there would be a miracle at the time they predicted. It was the reason tens of thousands of people had gathered in the Cova de Iria. It would have been a bit more impressive had they said in advance that the miracle would involve the sun. One of those present had expected the stars would become visible; another who witnessed the miracle didn’t realize it was supposed to be a miracle.

Still, one can’t deny there is an element of coincidence in the timing of this meteorological marvel that provokes an element of wonder. When one looks back on it though, the meaning is elusive. What is really served in a powerful being sending an illusion of the falling sun to terrify and inspire awe in a mass of faithful and unfaithful listeners to the message of Mary? Miraculous cures have a pragmatic dimension easier to revere. Whatever disagreements one may have with Jaki’s opinions, it must be said without reservation that this is a valuable state-of-the-art history of the solar miracle that has no peer. Anyone who writes about the Fatima solar miracle in the future without citing this book can be dismissed. -- Reviewed by Martin Kottmeyer, from Magonia Supplement 29, July 2000.



After publication of the above article, Magonia Supplement received the following letter from Joaquim Fernandes, Center for Transdisciplinary Study on Consciousness, University Fernando Pessoa, Porto, Portugal:

I wish to make the following comments about Martin Kottmeyer’s review of God and the Sun at Fatima (1999), by Stanley L. Joki.

I wish to inform Martin of these new data in the cause of scientific truth. The book cited is a too belated critical version on the Fatima events: as a Portuguese historian with my colleague Fina d’Armada we published in 1982 a first 460-page volume – The Fatima Apparitions and the UFO Phenomenon – with the first non-apologetic analysis of the phenomena which occurred in 1917. At least, you would accept that we have a better knowledge of our sources and language and, during six years of intensive research, we did not conduct a distant study of foreign documents but a profound and systematic reading of the ORIGINAL and official records at the Sanctuary, the only true sources we can trust to reconstruct the full picture.

The book by Jaki is based on the religious documents edited in 1992 and 1999 by a Catholic commission committed to it. Based on what?

The original documents among those we can trust and others produced over the years by Lucia dos Santos after her monastic seclusion: that was how the so exciting “Third Secret” was born as result of a long period of advice and influence by . . . the Jesuits. Who else?

It’s a pity that the Portuguese language could not until now be used by the researchers and critics. In the Fatima case we found dozens of “essays” repeating “ad nauseam” third-hand reports full of errors, misinterpretations and exaggerations. As Martin noted and we agree. All these sold like solid and original research!

I think you agree also that we are in a better position to tell the Fatima story. There are here, without any doubt some elements that can be very usefully compared with the UFO-like phenomena of our urban and spatial cultures. Certainly it’s true. But we are in a position to discuss and observe some ideas and hypotheses presented by Martin which not fit with physical data and minimal aspects obtained from our filed research: we went to the living witnesses themselves and also the personal literature where we dug out interesting material concerning the “solar phenomenon” 13 October 1917.

We verify the following new data:

The witnesses who reported physical sensations and psycophysiological effects were all within a frame of an area near the “contact spot” at Cova da Iria, which was some 70 metres wide by 100 metres long. We were able to select 100 first-hand witness reports and among these a lot of people who described the “solar” phenomenon were WITHIN that area. At the precise moment of the “solar object” fall – STRAIGHT DOWN TO THE HEIGHT OF A TREE – the cited witnesses on the spot noticed: a) intense and sudden heat; b) sudden drying of their clothes which were made very wet by the previous rain; c) a few reports of healing of people in the cited area.

The “solar phenomenon” was observed by independent witnesses NOT included in the crowd at Cova da Iria, but at four distant spots of the region, far enough, 15, 20 and 30 km away, not to know what was going on at that very moment at Cova da Iria. We have some reports which denied that was the Sun falling from the sky, but another body or object, since those people insisted that the Sun never came down!

The “halo hypothesis” proposed by Menzel perhapscould be evaluated by authorised witnesses among the crowd. Could it explan all the three kinds of effects cited above? Could a halo spin down and return up the same way showing different features in its dimensions? Where is the scientific literature which could verify these complex paths? I would very much like to get this infornation.

I guess we are all honest and sincere seeking the truth. But the truth can not be so simple and sure.

I advise that we are not UFO fanatics or ET militants. We are following strictly historical and scientific methods.We have recognised work here in Portugal and what we need is new ideas from foreign scientists and thinkers, not easy speculations constructed with distorted and manipulated data or biased interpretations based on Catholic dogmas and background.

I hope these remarks will contribute to a new perspective on these extraordinary events under specific sociological and cultural conditions from time to time.

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