The bells, the bells

In 1917, three children claimed to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary whilst tending their sheep in Fatima. As a result, this town, which, according to the leaflet I was given, still only has a resident population of 8,000, now sees over 4 million visitors a year.

It is one of the most important Roman Catholic sites in the world and is huge – the esplanade in front of the main basilica is twice the size of the piazza of St Peter’s in Rome, the newly built Church of the Holy Trinity seats 9,000 people and the basilica, built in the 1920s, looks like something that Albert Speer might have designed.

Pilgrims come from around the world to worship at the Chapel of the Apparition, which as the name suggests, stands on the spot where the first of several apparitions took place. Many approach the chapel on their knees – we saw one old lady who looked as though she could barely walk doing just that. People queue to buy candles and the smell of candle wax wafts across the esplanade.

I wanted to see it because of the scale of the place and it doesn’t disappoint on that score. However, it is actually a bit dull. The esplanade is a vast expanse of tarmac, strange in a country which normally prefers to tile or cobble any flat surface. The basilica doesn’t appeal much and, while the new church is more impressive, I can’t help feeling that the €80 million it cost to build could have been better spent – feeding the poor perhaps. Having said that, it was paid for entirely by donations from pilgrims and money is spent on many things (the Premier League and space programmes spring to mind) which could be better spent feeding the poor. I suppose though that if you have faith, you are probably not too bothered by tarmac.

As in many places, free overnight parking is provided for motorhomes within spitting distance of the basilica (not that we actually spat at it of course). This meant that we were treated to the bells, which chimed on the hour. And the quarter, half and three quarters. And for some other random purposes in between – we couldn’t work out why but then our knowledge of Roman Catholic practices is a bit sketchy. As well as chiming on the hour, they chimed a little tune which sounded a bit like My Darling Clementine, although I’m not sure that was intended. At about 9.15pm they went completely mad for a few minutes – fortunately that was the last we heard of them until 7am when they started up again by chiming the hour and the Angelus bells. And it isn’t a lovely pealing bell like I remember hearing from the Judge’s lodgings in Winchester in my childhood – oh no, this is a booming, menacing sort of bell. It reminds me of the line in Do They Know It’s Christmas? – ‘and the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom’. They are indeed. And incidentally, this is probably the first year since 1984 that I haven’t heard that song in a shop at this time of year. Surely that is enough reason to sell your house, leave your job and take off in a motorhome?



Well I like ‘Do they know it’s Christmas’, and also the Slade one (we can’t remember it’s title!), so we’ll keep the house. Think the introductory picture is lovely. Amazing statistics. Are the 8,000 residents all incredibly rich from the millions of tourists?

There is only one christmas song worth listening to and that is by an Irishman with very bad teeth (although there is a rumour that he had them fixed – shame). In Sydney not long ago someone saw the face of the virgin rendered in moss on a fence post. Pilgrims flocked, as they do, but not enough to build a basilica or anything else for that matter. Thank goodness. (By thanking “goodness” I might possibly be invoking a christian reference; sorry about that. Maybe I should just stick to “thankfully”). I bet you’re all glad I got that off my chest. I also think the first photo is a cracker; and a lovely day for it too. As for bells, I remember a Punch cartoon in which the verger, tugging on a bell rope, turns to the Vicar and says “Why don’t you just telephone them both?”

By the time we went to Fatima we were well& truly ‘cathedralled out’
I forbade the purchase of a JC hologram which winked as we walked by !!
It would have looked lovely in the motor home ,sorry!
As always ,fantastic reading.

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