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Our Lady of Knock

Our Lady of Knock by Brenda Nippert

Artist Narrative:

Life was very tough for the people of Knock Ireland in 1879. The region had suffered greatly during a potato famine and recovery was not coming easily. In spite of hard times, the faith of the Irish people was unwavering. They were rewarded for their devotion when one rainy night in August, Mary appeared in front of the gable of the local church to give the people hope, consolation and strength. In this unusual apparition, Our Lady appeared with Saint Joseph on her right and Saint John the Evangelist with an open book and wearing a bishop's miter. To Saint John's left was an altar on which rested the Lamb of God, symbolizing Jesus. Behind the altar was a cross and angels hovered above it. All were wearing white and Mary seemed to be praying with her eyes raised to Heaven. The apparition was silent and was witnessed by 15 people from five to seventy-five in age. It rained all around, but not a drop fell on the apparition. People all over Ireland were fortified by this great gift and many miracles have happened there. Our Lady of Knock is the Queen of Ireland.

Her feast day is August 21.

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On the evening of August 21, 1879 Mary McLoughlin, the housekeeper to the parish priest of Knock, County Mayo, Ireland, was astonished to see the outside south wall of the church bathed in a mysterious light; there were three figures standing in front of the wall, which she mistook for replacements of the stone figures destroyed in a storm. She rushed through the rain to her friend Margaret Byrne's house.

After a half hour Mary decided to leave and Margaret's sister Mary agreed to walk home with her. As they passed the church they saw an amazing vision very clearly: Standing out from the gable and to the west of it appeared the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and St. John. The figure of the Blessed Virgin was life-size, while the others seemed to be neither as large nor as tall. They stood a little away from the gable wall about two feet from the ground. The Virgin was erect with her eyes toward Heaven, and she was wearing a large white cloak hanging in full folds; on her head was a large crown.

Mary Byrne ran to tell her family while Mary McLoughlin gazed at the apparition. Soon a crowd gathered and all saw the apparition. The parish priest, Archdeacon Cavanaugh, did not come out, however, and his absence was a disappointment to the devout villagers. Among the witnesses were Patrick Hill and John Curry. As Patrick later described the scene: 'The figures were fully rounded, as if they had a body and life. They did not speak but, as we drew near, they retreated a little towards the wall.' Patrick reported that he got close enough to make out the words in the book held by the figure of St. John.

An old woman named Bridget drew closer to embrace the feet of the Virgin, but the figure seemed always beyond reach. Others out in the fields and some distance away saw a strange light around the church. The vision lasted for about three hours and then faded.

The next day a group of villagers went to see the priest, who accepted their report as genuine; he wrote to the diocesan Bishop of Tuam; then the Church set up a commission to interview a number of the people claiming to witness the apparition. The diocesan hierarchy was not convinced, and some members of the commission ridiculed the visionaries, alleging they were victims of a hoax perpetrated by the local Protestant constable! But the ordinary people were not so skeptical, and the first pilgrimages to knock began in 1880. Two years later Archbishop John Joseph Lynch of Toronto made a visit to the parish and claimed he had been healed by the Virgin of Knock.

In due course many of the witnesses died. But Mary Byrne married, raised six children, living her entire life in Knock. When interviewed again in 1936 at the age of eighty-six, her account did not vary from the first report she gave in 1879.

The village of Knock was transformed by the thousands who came to commemorate the vision and to ask for healing for others and themselves. The local church was too small to accommodate the crowds. In 1976 a new church, Our Lady Queen of Ireland, was erected. It holds more than two thousand and each year more than a half million visitors arrive to pay their respects to the Blessed Virgin.

The Church approved the apparition in 1971 as being quite probable, although it has never been formally stated. The Shrine at Knock is opened year-round. In 1994 three life-sized statues were erected of Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John.

THE HAIL MARY IN GAELIC
Sé do bheath' a Mhuire, atá lán de ghrásta, tá an Tiarna leat.
Is beannaithe thú idir mná agus is beannaithe toradh do bhruinne losa.
A Naomh Mhuire, a mháthair Dé, guí orainn na peacaithe, anois is ar uair ar mbás. Amen.

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