On the evening of August 21, 1879 Mary McLoughlin, the housekeeper to the parish priest of Knock, County Mayo, ireland, was astonished to see the outside south wall of the church bathed in a mysterious light; there were three figures standing in front of the wall, which she mistook for replacements of the stone figures destroyed in a storm. She rushed through the rain to her friend Margaret Byrne's house.
After a half hour Mary decided to leave and Margaret's sister, Mary Bryne, agreed to walk home with her. As they passed the church they saw, very clearly, an amazing vision. Standing out from the gable and to the west of it
appeared the Blessed Virgin,
Mary Byrne ran to tell her family while Mary McLoughlin gazed at the miracle. Soon a crowd gathered and all saw the apparition. The parish priest, Archdeacon Cavanaugh, did not come out, however, and his absence was a disappointment to the devout villagers. Among the witnesses were Patrick Hill and John Curry. As Patrick later described the scene: 'The figures were fully rounded, as if they had a body and life. They did not speak but, as we drew near, they retreated a little towards the wall.' Patrick reported that he got close enough to make out the words in the book held by the figure of
An old woman named Bridget Trench drew closer to embrace the feet of the Virgin, but the figure seemed always beyond reach. Others out in the fields and some distance away saw a strange light around the church. The vision lasted for about three hours and then faded.
The next day a group of villagers went to see the priest, who accepted the their report as genuine; he wrote to the diocesan Bishop of Tuam; then the Church set up a commission to interview a number of the people claiming to witness the apparition. The diocesan hierarchy was not convinced, and some members of the commission ridiculed the visionaries, alleging they were victims of a hoax perpetrated by the local Protestant constable! But the ordinary people were not so skeptical, and the first pilgrimages to knock began in 1880. Two years later Archbishop John Joseph Lynch of
In due course many of the witnesses died. But Mary Byrne married, raised six children, living her entire life in Knock. When interviewed again in 1963 at the age of eighty-six, her account did not vary from the first report she gave in 1879.
The Church approved the the apparition in 1971 as being quite probable, although it has never been formally stated. The Shrine at Knock is opened year round. In 1994 three life-sized statues were erected of Our Lady,