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'A Pilgrim’s Guide to Fatima and the Surrounding Area' - book review by Janet Johnstone

books'A Pilgrim’s Guide to Fatima and the Surrounding Area' by Andrew Houseley, published 2017

Before picking up this guide, most people will be aware that Portugal left its mark, influence and sometimes its language on four continents. 

This book furthers a reader’s realisation of the great number of venerable old buildings and monuments which survive today in just one part of central Portugal and introduces that reader to the array of holy sites, both humble and grand, which are esteemed by native inhabitants and visitors.

The prime focus is on Fatima, a continuing place of pilgrimage for millions, and the surrounding area covered in this illustrated guide stretches from Lisbon to Coimbra.  While the notion of pilgrimage often comes with the aroma of long days on rocky trails, the guide includes easy walks to significant sites as well as good information on driving and public transport.

With this compact and informed presentation, the traveller is equipped with a solid overview of everything to find at the Fatima complex and, most interesting, the places where it is believed an angel materialised in advance of the Virgin Mary appearing some six times to the three young shepherd children in 1917.  Also highlighted are the places where the children lived, tended their flocks, worshipped and were buried.

A fulsome chapter explains the momentous events that occurred in a quiet pocket of subsistence farming in Portugal one hundred years ago while World War I was raging and Communist ideology was taking hold in Russia.  

The messages, including the ‘three secrets’, imparted at the field named Cova da Iria to the children from the ethereal lady, who became known as Our Lady of Fatima, are described in detail as are the later visions experienced by Lucia, the only one of the three to survive into adulthood.  The vision exhorted the world to greater devotion, piety and prayer for peace while also promising salvation to those who embrace the immaculate heart of the Virgin Mary.  

Moreover, the desire to consecrate Russia to Mary’s immaculate heart was made known to the youngsters.  Interestingly, this came in the summer of 1917, a time which was positioned just between the February and October revolutions in that country, uprisings which were to impact around the world.

The greater area unexpectedly turns out to be rich in its share of apparitions.  Only a few kilometres away, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared sometime in the 14th or 15th centuries to a lone shepherdess.  The spot is marked today by a shrine to Our Lady of Ortiga.  Another occurred between Fatima and Batalha where a 500-year-old pilgrimage, the Reguengo do Fetal (Procession of the Snails), honours the legend of a lady appearing to a shepherdess weeping over the severe famine in the land which rendered snails as the only food people had.  The lady instructed the girl to return home where she found the family’s bread basket full enough to save all the villagers from starvation.

For most of the sites covered, the guide thoughtfully provides times when such events are commemorated locally with processions or festivals, such as the Festas dos Tabuleiros (Festival of the Trays) in Tomar.  At other places, helpful opening times, contact details and some maps are given.

Separate chapters escort the visitor around points of secular and religious interest in town and country, such as one of the few remaining Visigoth churches in Nazaré, the Knights Templar stronghold in Tomar and the 16th century synagogue there, the footsteps of the young Portuguese St Anthony of Padua in Coimbra and the Miraculous Host from 1247 in Santarém’s church of the Most Holy Miracle.  The magnificent abbeys at Batalha and Alcobaça, both architecturally stunning and historically significant, are given due respect in their own chapter.

Mother Nature is credited also for her wonders.  Some of the footsteps to follow here are those of dinosaurs; they left their prints 175 million years ago in the Natural Park of Aire and Candeeiros.

Where the book also proves its value is in the discovery of the little treasures to be found in lesser travelled towns and villages.  Who was to know, for example, of the 15th century hexagonal chapel of São Sebastião in Ericeira which celebrates a Festa dos Bêbados (Feast of the Drunks) at the end of January or the legends swirling around the island castle at Almourol which you can reach by boat (times and prices given) or the ancient hospital in the village of São Pedro de Penaferrim outside Sintra?

Such gems are dotted throughout the guide, making it an interesting resource for anyone exploring this area.


'How to buy':

The book is available from Livraria Bertrand - customers outside Lisbon and Coimbra may have to order it.

At www.pilgrimbooks.com  which delivers in Europe, also, an eBook option is available on the site.

At the Sanctuary Livraria at Fatima itself.



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