The worldwide fame of the city is permanently associated with the apparitions of the Virgin Mary reported by three little shepherds – Lúcia, Francisco and Jacinta – from May 13 until October 13 of 1917. The Catholic Church later recognized these events as “worthy of belief”. A small chapel, now known as the Chapel of the Apparitions, was built at the site of the supernatural events, and a precious statue of Our Lady of Fátima installed.
Due to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima, a Marian shrine complex containing two minor basilicas, located in the wealthy quarter of Cova da Iria, the city has become in one of the most important international destinations of religious tourism, receiving between 6 and 8 million pilgrims by year. It attracts the religious people, but also those who seek a peace lifestyle usually only found in the convents and monasteries.
Fátima was said to be the name of a Moorish princess kidnapped by a knight, Gonçalo Hermigues, and his companions. Hermigues took her to a small village in the Serra de Aire hills, in the recently created Kingdom of Portugal. According to the Western Catholic narrative, Fatima fell in love with her kidnapper and decided to convert to Christianity in order to marry him (sounds familiar doesn’t it? see Lourdes) She was baptized and given a Christian name, Oureana.
Arab sources, however, claim that Fátima was forced into Christianity, as were most Reconquista captives. There is no documentary evidence to support either scenario of such a conversion.
Whatever version is true, the place name recalls the Princess’ original Arab name rather than her Christian baptismal one.
The parish was founded in 1568, when it was annexed by the Collegiate of Ourém. For centuries, most of the villagers kept herds of sheep and depended also on subsistence farming.
Since the early 20th century, Fátima has been associated with events in which three local children, Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, purportedly saw visions of a woman known as Our Lady of Fátima, since believed by the Catholic Church to be the Virgin Mary. On 13 May 1917, whilst guarding their families’ sheep in the Cova da Iria, the children first claimed to have seen an apparition of a “lady dressed in white” and shining with a bright light.
Francisco died in 1919 and Jacinta in 1920, during the international Spanish flu pandemic. Lucia dos Santos became a nun and lived until 2005. The two who died young were beatified on 13 May 2000 by Pope John Paul II, and were canonised by Pope Francis on 13 May 2017, the hundredth anniversary of the first apparition. Some rumors say that the two youngest ones were killed somehow. Because they were too young to keep secrets, they might have reveled something that they shouldn’t.
The construction of the sanctuary and the steady visits by pilgrims stimulated local development. In addition to construction of a large shrine, basilica, and sanctuary, the complex includes a hotel and other facilities. The town of Fátima was elevated to the status of city on 12 July 1997.