What is the Knock Shrine that Pope Francis will visit in Ireland?

Altar at Knock Shrine of Our Lady of Knock Credit Public Domain CNA The Knock Shrine. Public domain.

On Sunday, August 26, Pope Francis will become the second pontiff to visit the Knock Shrine. During his visit, the pope will visit the Apparition Chapel and pray the Angelus before returning to Dublin.

What brings two popes, and thousands of other people each year, to a small village in County Mayo in west Ireland?

On a very rainy August 21, 1879, 15 official witnesses saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, angels, and Jesus Christ (as the lamb of God) on the south gable of the town church, which was named St. John the Evangelist. For a period of about two hours, a crowd gathered to adore the apparition and to pray the rosary. Despite the rainstorm, the ground around the gable did not get wet.

The apparition consisted of the Virgin Mary, with hands uplifted in prayer, St. Joseph to her right, and St. John the Evangelist to her left, slightly turned away from the other two. John appeared to be preaching, and was carrying a book. Next to John stood an altar, and on this altar was a lamb and a cross. Angels appeared to be adoring the lamb, which was "enveloped in a heavenly light," according to witnesses.

Unlike most other Marian apparitions, the Virgin Mary was silent the entire time and did not offer any sort of message or prophesy. Some have theorized that she was silent due to the cultural changes occurring in Ireland at the time--the oldest of the 15 witnesses could only speak the Irish language, and the youngest, who was only six years old at the time, was being taught only English.

Vatican officials found the apparition at Knock to be "trustworthy and satisfactory" after two separate commissions; in 1879 and again in 1936.

Shortly after the apparition, Knock became a sight of pilgrimage. Pilgrims chipped away the original wall by taking away pieces of cement as relics. St. Pope John Paul II visited Knock Shrine in 1979 during his visit to Ireland, and St. Teresa of Calcutta visited in 1993. Several cures have been attributed to Our Lady of Knock.

Today, the Knock Shrine complex consists of a chapel on the site where the apparition occurred; a basilica, which was finished in 1976; a small museum about the history of the town and apparition; bookstores; a parish church; and fonts for pilgrims to fill containers with Holy Water. The Apparition Mosaic in the basilica is the largest mosaic of its kind in Europe.

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