The Miracle of the Sun
In July, August and September 1917, three Portuguese shepherd children claimed that a miracle was going to happen at midday on October 13th. Thousands of people gathered in the Cova da Iria fields near Fátima on the day to witness the event. Estimates of the number of people vary between 10,000 and 100,0001,2.
Much to the surprise of local skeptics and media, the crowds did indeed witness a strange event.
After a period of rain, the clouds apparently broke to reveal the Sun spinning and moving towards the Earth in a zig-zag pattern. Witness reports included the following claims:
- The Sun was surrounded by a halo or flame that changed color.
- The Sun "danced" in a mad whirl about itself.
- The Sun gave off an abnormal amount of heart.
- Wet clothes became suddenly dry.
- Multi-colored flashes of light leapt from the Sun.
- The Sun was pale, perhaps silver or light blue, and could be looked at directly without harm to the viewer.
The event was also witnessed by crowds and individuals at different locations.
No definitive explanation has ever been offered. Without doubt something happened—the sheer number of unconnected witnesses is ample evidence. Mass hallucination is not an acceptable explanation, due to the nature of the various sightings. The phenomena cannot be ascribed to any astronomical event—there were none at the time.
Possible explanations include:
- A cloud of stratospheric dust may have made the Sun easy to look at and appear to change color3.
- An atmospheric phenomenon known as a sundog (AKA parhelion or mock sun) would account for many of the observed effects, although there is doubt over whether the atmospheric conditions at the time could have produced a sundog.
- Expectation may have influenced many people into seeing what they wanted to see. Although this does not account for the people who were not expecting to se anything, it may explain some of the more dramatic accounts of the event.
The event was officially accepted as a miracle by the Roman Catholic Church on 13 October 1930.
2. De Marchi 1952a:177
3. "The Miracle of the Sun at Fátima", Journal of Meteorology, UK, Vol 14, no. 142, October, 1989