Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Knock (An Cnoc in Irish, meaning The Hill; now more generally known in Irish as Cnoc Mhuire, "Hill of (the Virgin) Mary") is a small town in County Mayo in Ireland where Catholics believe that on 21 August 1879 the Virgin Mary, together with St Joseph and St John the Evangelist, appeared to local people. In the 20th century it became one of Europe's major Roman Catholic Marian shrines, alongside Lourdes and Fatima. One and a half million pilgrims visit the Shrine annually. It was visited by Pope John Paul II, a supporter of devotion to the Virgin Mary, in 1979.
On 21st August 1879, Miss Mary McLoughlin, 45, housekeeper to Archdeacon Kavanagh, went to the nearby cottage of Mrs Mary Byrne at about 7 pm. On the way she passed by the south gable of the parish church. "On passing by the chapel, and at a little distance from it, I saw a wonderful number of strange figures or appearances at the gable; one like the Blessed Virgin Mary, and one like St. Joseph; another a bishop; I saw an altar." Miss McLoughlin thought that possibly the Archdeacon had been supplied with the figures from Dublin or elsewhere, and passed on to the home of the widow Margaret Byrne and her children, where she said nothing initially.
After half an hour, Mary McLoughlin returned to the church with Miss Mary Byrne, 29, to lock up the church, they beheld the vision. Mary Byrne went to fetch her brother Dominick Byrne , 20. He was resting at the time after working in the fields - he worked as assisstant to Archdeacon Kavanagh. Shortly after she sent a little girl, her niece, Catherine Murray, 8, who was staying with them, running back to fetch her mother, Mrs Margaret Byrne, and her sister Miss Margaret Byrne, 21.
The Byrnes alerted some of their neighbours to the apparition. Dominick Byrne ran to the home of his cousin, Dominick Byrne (Senior) who came, as did Patrick Hill, 13; and a servant boy, John Durkan, 24; and a little boy called John Curry, six years old. Dominick Byrne also called to the house of Patrick Byrne, 16 who came and saw the apparition. Mary Byrne called to the home of Judith Campbell, 22, who also witnessed the apparition, as did Bridget Trench, 74 or 75 years old, who gave a vivid account of the apparition in Irish.
Two other people also witnessed the apparition,although they did not realise its signicance until later. Mrs Hugh Flatley, 44, who happened to pass by the church at 8 pm and thought the parish priest "had been ornamenting the church, and got some beautiful likenesses removed outside." Patrick Walsh was working on his land around 9 pm some half a mile from the church: "I saw a very bright light on the southern gable end of the chapel; it seemed to me to be a large globe of golden light; I never saw, I thought, so brilliant a light before; it appeared high up in the air above around the chapel gable and it was circular in appearance; it was quite stationary, and it seemed to retain the same brilliancy all through."
Details of the apparition
On the evening of 21st of August, 1879, fifteen people whose ages ranged from five years to seventy-five and included men, women, teenagers and children, witnessed what they claimed was an apparition of Our Lady, her husband St Joseph, and St John the Evangelist at the south gable end of the local small parish church, the Church of St John the Baptist. Behind them and a little to the left of St John was a plain altar. On the altar was a cross and a lamb (a traditional image of Jesus, as reflected in the religious phrase The Lamb of God ) with adoring angels.
The Blessed Virgin Mary was described as being life size, standing about two feet above the ground. She wore a white cloak, hanging in full folds and somewhat loosely around the shoulder, and fastened at the neck. She wore a crown, and over the forehead and where the crown fitted the brow, a beautiful rose. The crown appeared brilliant, and of a golden brightness, of a deeper hue, inclined to a mellow yellow, than the striking whiteness of the robe she wore; the upper parts of the crown appeared to be a series of sparkles , or glittering crosses. Patrick Hill, who crossed into the church-yard saw the eye-balls with iris and pupils in each. She was described as "deep in prayer", with her eyes raised to heaven, her hands raised to the shoulders or a little higher, the palms inclined slightly to ths shoulders. Bridget Trench "went in immediately to kiss, as I thought, the feet of the Blessed Virgin; but I felt nothing in the embrace but the wall, and I wondered why I could not feel with my hands the figures which I had so plainly and so distinctly seen"
St Joseph, also wearing white robes, stood on the Virgin's right hand. His head was bent forward from the shoulders towards the Blessed Virgin in respect. He appeared somewhat aged with grey whiskers and greyish hair.
St John the Evangelist stood to the left of the Blessed Virgin. He was dressed in a long robe and wore a mitre. He was partly turned away from the other figures. He appeared to be preaching and he held open a large book in his left hand. His right hand was raised with the index and middle fingers straight and the ring and little fingers bent double, with the thumb placed against the hoints of them next the tips.
To the left of St John was an altar with a lamb on it with a cross standing on the altar behind the lamb. Around the altar angels hovered the whole time, their wings fluttered.
Those who witnessed the apparition stood in the pouring rain for up to two hours reciting the Rosary, a traditional Catholic prayer. When the apparition began there was good light, but although it then became very dark, witnesses could still see the figures very clearly - they appeared to be the colour of a bright whitish light. The apparition did not flicker or move in any way.The witnesses reported that the ground around the figures remained completely dry during the apparition although the wind was blowing from the south. Afterwards, however the ground at the gable became wet and the gable dark.
Church Commissions of inquiry
An ecclesiastical Commission of inquiry was established by the Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr. John MacHale. The Commissions final verdict was that the testimony of all the witnesses taken as a whole is trustworthy and satisfactor. At a second Commission of inquiry in 1936, the surviving witnesses confirmed the evidence they gave to the first Commission.
Subsequent sociologists, while neither accepting nor disputing what had allegedly occurred, but seeking to understand its cultural context, noted the timing of the events: how as at Lourdes and Fatima the "visitations" occurred at a time of immense cultural, social and economic change, and occurred to people whose traditional society was under threat from dramatic change. In the 1870s, Ireland was undergoing a period of dramatic upheaval. Some parts of the island had experienced the last waves of what proved to be a minor Famine but which nevertheless brought back memories of the Great Irish Famine of the late 1840s that had decimated the countryside.
The appearance of railways brought new travel opportunities and challenges to closeknit communities, while the 1870s saw the beginnings of land reform that would change Irish rural life, reform initially fought for through mass mobilisation and sometimes violence with organisations like Michael Davitt's Land League and through the radical political leadership of Charles Stewart Parnell. (The infamous Land Agent Captain Boycott, whose communal ostracisation on account of his treatment of local tenantry in the late 1870s became a worldwide cause celebré and which gave the English language the verb to boycott meaning "to ostracise completely", was based in County Mayo only a few mile from Knock.) In a time of change, symbols like the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph (known together within Catholicism as the Holy Family) marked a reminder of stability and tradition in a society whose change many people found bewildering. Depending on whether one accepted the validity of the apparation or the religious beliefs underpinning it, it could be seen either as a delusion by a marginalised traditional society clinging to old certainties, or, in a Catholic religious context, the appearance of the "Mother of God" to people marginalised by society to show her support and offer her comfort.
It has often been said that it was no coincidence that the Virgin Mary chose to appear in Knock while Archdeacon Kavanagh was the parish priest. Widely considered a very holy priest, he was appointed parish priest of Knock-Aghamore in 1867, and was about 58 at the time of the apparition. He died in 1897 and is buried in the Old Church.
The pilgrimage site
The growth of railways and the appearance of local and national newspapers fueled interest in what had up to then been a small Mayo village. Reports of "strange occurrences in a small Irish village" were featured almost immediately in the international media, notably The Times (of London). Newspapers from as far away as Chicago sent reporters to cover the Knock phenomenon, while Queen Victoria asked her government in Dublin Castle to send her a report about the event. In later years Catholic nationalists used the apparition to symbolically challenge Queen Victoria and her descendants' position in Ireland using for Our Lady of Knock the title Queen of Ireland.
Though it remained for almost 100 years a major Irish pilgrimage site, it established itself as a world religious site in large measure during the last quarter of the twentieth century, largely due to the work of its longterm parish priest, Monsignor James Horan . Horan presided over a major rebuilding of the site, with the provision of a new large Basilica (the first in Ireland) alongside the old church, which could no longer cope with visitor numbers. In 1979, the centenary of the apparition, Pope John Paul II, himself a devotee of Mary, visited Knock Shrine and stated that it was the goal of his Irish visit. On this occasion he presented a Golden Rose, a seldom bestoyed token of papal honour and recognition.
Most controversially of all, Msgr. Horan secured from Irish Taoiseach Charles J. Haughey millions of pounds of state aid to build a major airport near Knock. The project was condemned by critics in the media and the opposition, one of whom spoke of building the airport of a "foggy, boggy hillside". Contrary to the critics' expectation however, Knock Airport (now known as Horan International Airport after the late Monsignor who founded it) became a commercial success, drawing not just pilgrims as passengers but also becoming the air-gateway for the entire Connacht region.
Conservative Catholics, critical of Ireland's embracing the liberal agenda in the 1990s (including the introduction of divorce and the decriminalisation of homosexuality), have used ceremonies at Knock to campaign on issues to do with "family life", abortion and contraception. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, on a visit to the Shrine in June 1993 spoke on the issue of abortion, as has conservative family values politician Dana Rosemary Scallon and visiting religious leaders from around the world.
Knock Shrine now attracts over one and a half million visitors annually and is the west of Ireland's major visitor attraction.
In the early 2000s, roadnames indicating Knock began carrying the Irish language transation An Cnoc instead of the commonly used name Cnoc Mhuire. The Irish Placenames Commission asserted that An Cnoc was more historically accurate; Knock is now outside of the Gaeltacht (the areas where Irish is spoken as a vernacular), but when the use of Irish was more widespread the town was referred to as An Cnoc. Since approximately the 1920s/1930s, though, the name Cnoc Mhuire has been used in devotion to the Virgin Mary. After the issue was discussed in the Dáil (the Irish parliament), it was agreed that the folk translation of Cnoc Mhuire would be used, but that the affair should not be used as a basis to make further unrestricted changes to Irish translations of placenames.
The prayer to "Our Lady of Knock – Queen of Ireland"
A number of prayers are associated with Knock. One of the most widely known is the following:
Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, you gave hope to your people in a time of distress and comforted them in sorrow. You have inspired countless pilgrims to pray with confidence to your Son, remembering His promise: "Ask and your shall receive, seek and you shall find." Help me to remember that we are all pilgrims on the road to heaven. Fill me with love and concern for my brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those who live with me.Comfort me when I am sick or lonely or depressed. Teach me how to take part ever more reverently in the holy Mass. Pray for me now, and at the hour of my death. Amen. Our Lady of Knock, pray for us.
- Blessed Virgin Mary
- Marian apparitions
- Knock Marriage Bureau
- Our Lady of Knock
- Republic of Ireland
- Roman Catholic Church
- I saw Our Lady by Tom Neary: contains the evidence given by the witnesses to the first ecclesiastical Commission of inquiry, together with contemporary media reports and interviews.
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