Fátima is to Portugal what Lourdes is to France. Ever since 1917 thousands of people have flocked here several times a year after a series of apparitions of the Virgin Mary to three young children.
The three children were Lucia de Jesus, aged 10, and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, aged 9 and 7. On 13th May 1917 they were playing on the spot that is now thefamous shrine when a bright light appeared, revealing a woman holding a rosary. She told them to come back on the 13th day of the next five months at the same time. This they did and each time she appeared to them. At the final apparition, on 13th October, tens of thousands of witnesses turned up to the site and all, according to the story, saw the apparition.
Ever since, the site is a shrine, to which thousands of people travel – many on foot – throughout the year, but especially on the key dates between 13th May and 13th October.
Fátima is located close to Leiria, between Lisbon and Coimbra. It has seen several visits from popes – the most recent one being in 2010. A website has been set up to look ahead to the centenary in 2017.