Fatima Pilgrimage: The Story of the Sanctuary

The Basilica of the Holy Trinity

Fatima is still a relative newcomer in the world of pilgrimages. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima is built on the site of a vision of the Virgin Mary as recently as 1917. She appeared to three shepherd children and gave them what has since become known as the three secrets of Fatima.

Since then, a Fatima Pilgrimage is considered a must-do for many devotees and the town has become one of the most important religious sites in the world.

In this post, we will share the story behind why this site is as special as it is today and what you can find there.

An apology: Due to an unfortunate accident while repairing my computer, I was devastated to find out I managed to delete almost all of my Fatima pictures. Just the one of the candle-shaped like a pair of boobies survived. So with the exception of that photo (something to look forward to), the rest is a combination of stock images and ones from Flickr.

Where is Fatima?

Fatima is a town in central Portugal located 88 miles (142 km) north of Lisbon and 105 miles (170 km) south of Porto.

Th Virgin Mary is at the centre of any  Fatima pilgrimage
Image credit – Our Lady of Fatima International Pilgrim Statue via Flickr / CC BY-SA

How to get to Fatima

For in-depth information, please read our post that is specific to the best ways to get to Fatima, but here is a brief overview.

Bus to Fatima

If you are visiting Fatima during the main Fatima pilgrimage days then I would certainly recommend getting a bus rather than driving. Tens of thousands of worshippers visit Fatima on the 13ths on May and the 13th October every year, parking is a nightmare.

If you decide to get the bus, they can be booked up to 30 days in advance (book early) on the Rede Expressos website. 

Drive yourself

If you are visiting outside of these dates, then driving yourself is the easiest way. It offers the most flexibility and you can explore the wider region as well.

Hiring a car in Portugal is relatively cheap and all of the major companies are there as well as some local one. Be sure to get insurance as Portuguese drivers don’t take as much care as I have seen elsewhere and dents are easy to pick up.

Also, know that the motorways have an extensive toll network, so be sure to speak to your rental company about how you can get set up to pay for the auto tolls.

Fatima Tours

If you want to remove all the stress and worry, you may want to consider an organised tour. There are many options for full and half day tours on Get Your Guide. Below are some of the best tours to Fatima I could find on the site.

Note: If you decide to book a tour after clicking to the website from one of my links, I do make a commission at no cost for yourself. If you would like to know more about my affiliate partners and why I choose them, please read my affiliate information page.

If you want to see some more options for tours of Fatima, check out the wide selection of Fatima tours on Get Your Guide.

Train to Fatima

It is possible to get the train, however, I would not recommend it. The station is about 20kms away from Fatima so you will need to get a taxi or a regional bus to finish your journey. 

However, if you are undertaking a Fatima pilgrimage but don’t fancy the full 27-hour route from Lisbon, this could be a good midway alternative.

Fatima pilgrimage: The Basilica of the Rosary
Image credit – Konrad Marciniak via Flickr / CC BY-SA

So, What is Fatima all about?

Once just a small Portuguese town in the middle of the countryside, in the last 100 years, Fatima has shot to fame and become one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Catholicism as a centre of religious celebration and tourism in Portugal.

The town itself is nothing too much to shout about, just a pretty average town with close to 10,000 year-round inhabitants. However, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima is what people come for and it is certainly a sight to behold. 

It is a huge religious complex made up of many buildings and statues, but before we take a close look at the parts you can visit that make up the site, let’s start with a little background about what happened to make this place so special.

The Our Lady of Fatima Story

Many religious sites are built upon places that claim to have had a spiritual event or apparitions. Other famous examples could be the crying Virgen in Lourdes, France or the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, where the Virgin Mary appeared above the River Ebro. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima is no different, although its story is rather more modern.

The story goes that on the 13th of May in 1917, three shepherd children saw a lady shining “more brilliant than the Sun” in the Cova de Iria, then just a field near Fatima. She told the children that she would reappear to them on the 13th of the next six months before vanishing.

Over the coming months, she visited, but would only ever communicate through the children. As the word spread of these apparitions, each month more pilgrims would come leading up to the 13th October, when over 70,000 people turned up and the event, now known as The Miracle of the Sun, took place. It was on this date that all those people saw the sun dance in the sky and Mary revealed the three “Secrets of Fatima” to the shepherd children.

Two of the secrets were disclosed in one of the children’s memoirs. The first was a vision of Hell and the second predicted the end of world war 1. The third secret didn’t actually go public until the year 2000 and is still talked about as to whether the whole of it was revealed. It relates to the persecution of Christians.

Whether you believe that something special did happen here, or that the visions were an overactive childish imagination, it became the catalyst for the building of one of the most important sites in Catholicism.

Nowadays, the most important dates in Fatima are the 13th of May and the 13th of October. They related to the first and the final apparitions and are the dates that most people make their pilgrimage to the site.

So now you know why the site exists, let’s talk a bit more about what you can visit when you are there. 

Basilica of the Holy Trinity

Approaching the Basilica of the Holy Trinity from behind
The Basilica of the Holy Trinity from behind. Vitor Oliveira from Torres Vedras, PORTUGAL / CC BY-SA

The first building we saw as we entered the religious complex from the parking area was the Basilica of the Holy Trinity. It is unlike anything I have really seen before.

It was started in 2004 and took two years to build. It is a simple, modern design with space for over 8000 people inside.

Approaching from behind it seems more like a stadium or events arena. The tall white walls give nothing away as they rise above you. There are no windows or clues as to what hides inside this large circular building until you make it all the way round to the other side to find the entrance.

While it is certainly striking, it feels more like a functional building rather than something that was built to be a decadent symbol of Catholicism. The furnishings inside are also all relatively modest and simple.

Inside the Basilica of the Holy Trinity

During our visit there were no events or mass happening so there was a spooky silence that filled the room, lots of people moving about, but no noise apart from the odd embarrassing squeak from me as my shoes gripped the polished floor. However, I can imagine when this place has quite a vibe.

Fun fact: The first stone laid in the building of the Basilica of the Holy Trinity came from a marble fragment of Apostle Peter’s tomb, located under the basilica in Rome. It was donated by Pope John Paul II on 9 March 2004.

The Prayer Area

The view as you leave the Basilica of the Holy Trinity

The Basilica of the Holy Trinity opens up into the huge main square of the Sanctuary of Fátima, so large it can hold twice as many pilgrims as St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. During celebrations, this square is packed with people.

In the centre stands the Monument of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a larger bronze statue atop a pillar with 4 taps around it dishing out Holy Water.

Worshipers crawling in prayer. Image credit – jellybeanz via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

One thing you may come across in the Prayer Square is worshipers crawling, or walking on their knees between the Basilica of the Holy Trinity and the Chapel of the Apparitions. They are praying to the Virgin for help or thanking her for the help received.

Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary

Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary
Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary

At the far end of that square is the prettiest building of the complex and the one you will likely see in the photos, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary.

The basilica was built between the years of 1928 to 1953 with the stand out feature being the 65-metre (200 feet) tall bell-tower and nave that sits central to the rest of the building. 

The basilica of the Rosary
Image credit – Konrad Marciniak via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

On the inside, the stained glass windows depict many of the apparitions at Fátima while the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary each have an altar dedicated to them. There are also the tombs of the three shepherd children who had the apparitions in 1917.

Note: There is no fee to enter the site or basilicas so you will be able to wander around and explore at will.

Chapel of the Apparitions

Image credit – Jen Hunter via Flickr / CC BY-SA

This small chapel is found to the side of the main square and sits on the site of the original apparitions that the three children had.  The spot is marked by an image of the Virgin Mary enclosed in a case and sat on top of a marble pillar.

Multiple times a day Masses are held in this small chapel and the candlelight prosessions start here.

Fatima Shrine

Image credit – miguel angel crespo via Flickr / CC BY-SA

Just next to the chapel you’ll find the shrine. This is a burning inferno where people come to light candles and make prayers for loved ones.

Something I noticed while looking at the local souvenir shops was the weird candles available, and I mean weird. You could buy candles shaped pretty much any part of the body, even internal organs. The gut candle was a particular favourite of mine.

People buy the candles that relate to a specific part of the body of a family member or friend that is having issues then burn it in prayer.

Which body part would you like to set fire to?

Luckily when we went we didn’t have any specific body parts to burn so we were able to get some standard candles and light them for our families.

There is an area next to the Chapel of the Apparitions where you can get candles of varying sizes for a suggested donation. If you want a specific body part, you will most likely have to buy it in one of the many shops next to the sanctuary.

When we visited there were quite a lot of people trying to light candles and it seemed to get quite aggressive as people hustled for the best spot to set fire to their waxy organs.

In a funny way I thought it could be a good symbol of Hell, a fiery inferno with a mass of people all elbowing each other aggressively. But I’m sure that’s far from what it’s meant to be.

Where to stay in Fatima

Given that it’s a 90-minute journey to the town of Fatima, many people decide to stay overnight and return the following day. If you do decide to stay, there are plenty of great value options for places to stay in Fatima.

Reminder: If you book accommodation after clicking to the website from one of my links, I do make a commission at no cost for yourself. If you would like to know more about my affiliate partners and why I choose them, please read my affiliate information page.

Booking.com

Fatima FAQs

So to finish this post I wanted to address some of the most commonly asked questions about Fatima. If you have any additional ones, I invite you to leave it in the comments and I’ll try my best to answer. Also if you have visited, please let us know what you thought of The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima.

Is there an entrance fee to get onto the main square or the Basilicas at Fatima?

No, you can freely roam the square and the various buildings and basilicas that make up the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima religious complex.

How do you get from Lisbon to Fatima?

The best options to get to Fatima from Lisbon are the bus or to hire a car yourself and drive. It is possible to get a train, but the station is about 20 kms from the town. Another option would be to consider Fatima tours. There are plenty of options available that will also include visits to some other great places in central Portugal.

How long does it take from Lisbon to Fatima?

It takes 90 minutes to get from Fatima to Lisbon on the bus, about 1 hour and 20 minutes if you drive yourself.

How far is Fatima from Lisbon by train?

Depending on the train you book, the quickest takes a little over an hour, others more than two hours. However, Fatima train station is located about 20 kms outside of the town so you will need to factor in additional time to cover that either by taxi or a regional bus ride.

Is Fatima worth visiting?

Yes. Whether you are a Catholic or not, it is such an important world site and as such carries a lot of interest as one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the world. If you are not on a pilgrimage I would recommend avoiding the 13th of May or October as it will be packed with hundreds of thousands of visitors that make the trip.

Is Fatima closer to Porto or Lisbon?

It is closer to Lisbon, although there isn’t a huge amount of difference. The town is located 88 miles (142 km) north of Lisbon and 105 miles (170 km) south of Porto.

What do you wear in Fatima Portugal?

There is no dress code to visit Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Fatima, but it is a religious site and such common sense would suggest you should dress respectfully.

How much is the bus from Lisbon to Fatima?

Bus tickets from Fatima to Lisbon can be bought via Rede Expressos. For an adult you can expect to pay around €12 for a one way ticket and €22 for a return.  Kids prices are around €6 for a one way and €10 for a return and senior tickets a little under €10 for one way and €18 for a return.

Why do people crawl at Fatima?

People often crawl, or walk on their knees, from the Basilica of the Holy Trinity to the Chapel of the Apparitions along a 182 metre smooth pavement through the main square of the sanctuary. This is a way of praying for specific needs or they have come back to say thanks for favours given in the past. The most common time to see this is on the days around the pilgrimage although I was visiting on a random day in August and there were still a number of people on their knees.

How long does it take to visit Fatima?

Depending on how far and wide you explore, I would say you need a minimum of at least 2 hours, but that would still be a rush. If you would like to enjoy and learn the history of the site, I would say allow 4 hours.

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