Fatima, Catholic symbol of Faith…Batalha, Portuguese symbol of independence. Fatima, a living symbol that religion is alive…. Batalha, a powerful symbol of political power and victory. Two magnificent buildings of a different kind, yet very closely related to each other not only by distance but also in meaning. Both are built because of a promise. The first being a place of worship and devotion to the Blessed Virgin of Rosary; while the second, a place of fulfilling one’s promise and showing gratitude to the Virgin Mary. These two iconic buildings, The Santuario de Fatima and Mosteiro de Sta.Maria da Vitoria are two fitting images of religion and power, of faith and gratitude, and of simplicity and grandeur.
We, on our part, considered ourselves blessed and privileged to have been given the chance to visit these two special places. It was an opportunity that opened our eyes and gave us deeper understanding of our faith and of our knowledge of Portuguese history. And if given the chance to be back here, we would surely grab it.
OUR FATIMA EXPERIENCE
It was May 13, 1917 when the Virgin Mary appeared for the first time to the three little shepherds, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta. These apparitions were repeated five more times and words spread immediately. The Virgin Mary asked the people to pray, meditate, confess and receive Holy Communion. Because of these apparitions, a chapel was erected in Fatima, and it became one of the most important centres of Marian pilgrimage in the world. The Santuario de Fatima is made up of various complex or buildings. First we have the Basilica O Rosario which was consecrated in 1953, and whose belltower rises up to 65 meters in height, topped by a crown and a cross weighing seven tons. Second, there is the central Statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which marks the point where the water from the springs flowed during the apparitions. Third, is the tiny Chapel of Apparition on the left side of the Basilica,where the Lady appeared to the three children. Fourth there is the Church by Paul VI Pastoral Council. The esplanade of the basilica can hold hundreds of thousands of devotees.
Being both Catholics, Hans and I are both aware of the significance of the place to our lives. We have visited Fatima second times already, and now that we had the chance again, we went here for the third time. Every time is a different experience. Every time is a new encounter with the Virgin Mother. Every time is a time for prayers, deep meditation, silence and giving thanks. We, like everybody else, lighted some candles for our beloved families and friends. We, like everybody else, heard the Holy Mass and receive communion at the Basilica. We, like everybody else, prayed the Holy Rosary at the Chapel of Apparition. But not like some of the devotees, we didn’t cross the entire square on our knees while saying the rosary. We felt we were not ready for that. Unlike some of the devotees, we did not walk on our knees around the altar of the Apparition. Unlike some of the devotees, we did not buy many religious items which were abundant in the area.
It was December and there was a scheduled recital of the Holy Rosary in the evening. We joined the recital which started at 21.30 and ended at 22.10 with the lighting of candles. It was chilly, but the people didn’t seem to mind it. Everyone was concentrated in praying; there was even someone who was crying the whole time. Her heart should have been full of sorrows, but who was I to judge?
The second day of our visit, we heard the Holy Mass at the Basilica by the Pastoral Center. The main Basilica was at this point closed. A reconstruction work infront of it was ongoing in preparation for the 100th year of the Apparition. Nevertheless, the Holy Mass which was in Portuguese, was again an enlightenment for us. It was a solemn one, a high mass where almost all the words were sung.
Our visit to Fatima gave us again the needed strength to continue our adventure; it gave us again the chance to thank God, through the Virgin Mary, for all the blessings we receive and for the good health that we possess; it gave again the opportunity to ask the Blessed Virgin to guide us in our journey and keep us safe from dangers and harm.
OUR BATALHA EXPERIENCE
The Mosteiro de Sta. Maria da Vitoria, or Batalha, whose construction began in 1386, is one of the famous architectural jewels in Portugal. It was constructed on the order of King Joao I, fulfilling his vow to erect a monastery to Nossa Senora (Our Lady) if he won the battle against the Castillian army. The monastery then became the symbol of Portuguese independence .
We were totally impressed and awed when we visited the monastery. Its architectural dimensions and designs left us totally speechless. Every corner and section of the building was a pleasant surprise. When you thought you have seen the best, then came another magnificent part. The entrance to the building was 6 euros per person (50% discount for 65+), and extra 1 euro for the folder guide. But it was all worth it! You must then allot at least half a day to complete the visit, as there were so many beautiful details to admire, charming parts to photograph, and a nice documentary film about Portugal to watch.
Different gargoyles of Batalha
Our visit to the monastery took us two days. We cut off our visit on our first day due to some things to attend to. Luckily, we could continue it the following day. Our visit started with the visit of the main church. Starting from its main front, the door was already magnificent. It is decorated with miniature figures from the Old Testament . The nave of the church 80 meters long and 32 m high, with high sturdy pillars on both sides. What made it extra special are the glass-stained windows which colors, because of the sunshine, reflected on the walls. On the right side of the nave is the Founder’s Chapel, where the joint tombs of King Joao I and his wife Queen Filipa de Lancaster are found, also the tombs of their children.
After that, our tour led us to the Cloister of King Joao I. We were immediately attracted by the arcade screens and its long slender pillars. It was nice how the lights came into the arcades and casts shadows on the pathways. The cloister was old, yet it didn’t lose its elegance. On the right side is the Chapter House with its special single vault without support. It now houses a tomb of unknown soldier, in honor of all the soldiers who died in battle. There were two young soldiers guarding the place. On the left side of the cloister is the former Refectory, npw an Offerings Museum for Unknown soldiers, a place where the unknown soldiers and unsung heroes were given tribute. Displayed on the rooms are bronze symbols and ornaments donated by various civil and political organizations not only from Portugal but also from other countries. Going on with our tour, we came upon a room where we watched a short documentary film about Portugal. It showed the beauty of the country and its short history as seafarers and navigators. The film gave us some insights and inspirations which places we still have to visit. Afterwards we passed by the Cloister of King Alfonso V.
Impressions of King Alfonso V Cloister
It was here that our visit was interrupted because we had to attend to some important matters. Also, the batteries of my camera and cellphone ran out L It was a good thing we could return the following day to visit one last part of the monastery, but surely not the least : The Unfinished Chapels. We couldn’t find the right words to describe this place! Magnificent! Amazing! Super! It was unfinished; never completed; it has no roofs. Yet it is one of the most beautiful parts of the monastery. The inside of the chapel has an 8-sided roundabout with seven chapels. The joint tombs of King Duarte and Queen Leonor are found in one of the chapels. It was grand, however, dirty because of the dirts caused by many pigeons that fly around. The main gate was delicately made with too much attention on details; looking at them made us admire the craftmaship and the talents of the people who took part in the construction. The balcony, with a touch of Rennaisance style, was equally stunning. We learned later from one personnel that the chapels were not finished because of the untimely death of King Duarte and also of the architect shortly after that. And the king’s successor showed no interest in completing the project.
Our two experiences with these two equally meaningful and important religious buildings have enriched our knowledge and understanding about Catholic faith and the country’s history. Though it is not much, we are proud that we, because of our travels, gained deeper insights and admired these buildings not only for their architectural aspects, but more because of their meaning and significance to the people. And that is what we are always trying to acquire during our travels…not only to see a lot of things, but also to understand a lot of things.