How can we identify the “most important” apparitions?
We can use several criteria:
If we go by “apparitions officially approved by the Roman Catholic” Church, there are 15 apparitions, including Aparecida (not an apparition in the strict sense but the unexpected discovery of a statue): Guadalupe; Aparecida, Our Lady of Laus, Alphonse Ratisbonne, La Salette, Lourdes, Pontmain, Gietrzwald, Fatima, Beauraing, Banneux, Amsterdam, Betania, Akita, and Kibeho.
It is worthy to note that some of them are related: the apparition of Akita is tied to the one in Amsterdam (both are approved). The apparition to Ratisbonne and the one in Zeitun are connected to the Rue du Bac (although Zeitun has not been recognized).
The apparition of Zeitun has been approved by the Coptic Church.
If we go by “apparitions that are remembered in a feast of the universal Roman calendar,” there are only 4: Guadalupe (Mexico), the Rue du Bac (in Paris, France), Lourdes (France), and Fatima (Portugual). We should also attach to this list the apparition at Blachernae (Constantinople, today’s Turkey) in the 10th century, as it helped establish the Slavic liturgical feast of Pokrov.
The other possible criterion, “recent and approved apparitions promoting peace and reconciliation between peoples,” provides an interesting connection between 5 recent and approved apparitions: Fatima (Portugal, 1917), Amsterdam (the Netherlands, 1945-59), Akita (Japan, 1973-1975), Betania (Venezuela), and Kibeho (Rwanda 1981-1983).
We established the following list of 17 apparitions by using all 3 criteria. This makes the list somewhat long but offers a wider perspective built on precise criteria.
Blachernae (Istanbul, 10th century)
The Russians attacked Blachernae in 860 but escaped when they saw the relic of Mary’s veil and asked for missionaries to evangelize their country.
In the following century (10th c.), at Blachernae, the Virgin Mary appeared to Andrew of Constantinople (“Andrew the Fool-for-Christ”) a Slav by birth, and to his disciple Epiphanius.
This is the origin of the Orthodox feast of the “Protection of the Mother of God” celebrated on October 1st (or October 14th according to the Julian calendar used by the Orthox Churches of Slavonian rite).
For a long time, both of the seers saw the veil shining over the crowd, which is alluded to in the slavic liturgy of October 1st (Pokrov).
Guadalupe (Mexico, 1531)
These events took place during the Spanish conquest, which had its share of human tragedies. The Virgin Mary appeared with mestizo features at Guadelupe, at a time when mixed-race people were frequently the offspring of rapes and strongly despised.
December 12, 1531, marks a turning point and new beginnings for the Aztecs.
According to their beliefs, the survival of the universe depended on human sacrifices by the tens of thousands. The apparition of Mary pointed to Christ (she was pregnant and wore a little cross), and re-directed the Aztec intuition of the redeeming value of sacrifices.
The Virgin Mary appeared on the “tilma” (cloak) of the seer Juan Diego. The tilma is strongly symbolic of the fact that Mary protects, gives dignity, invites to a spiritual marriage, and carries the spiritual food, who is Christ.
At the time, both the Spanish and the Indians societies had internal divisions. The apparition brought the people through baptism and unity around the bishop, and led to an incredibly successful evangelization, with 9 million converts in just 7 years!
The bishop of the time, Fray Juan Zumárraga, approved these apparitions.
Aparecida (Brazil, 1717)
In September 1717, three fishermen found a dark, smiling statue of the Immaculate Conception in their fishing net, in which they caught an inexplicably large amount of fish. This happened about 110 miles from Sao Paulo.
The fishermen called her “Aparecida” which means “the one who unexpectedly appeared.”
There were many graces and miracles recognized by the parish priest. Eventually a shrine was built at the site.
The Miraculous Medal (Rue du Bac in Paris, France, 1830)
December 27th is a liturgical feast which commemorates this medal, known as the Miraculous Medal.
On July 18 1830, the Blessed Virgin pointed to the altar where the tabernacle was and said: “Come to the foot of this altar. There, blessings will be bestowed on all people who will ask for them trustfully and fervently.”
On November 27, 1830, on the occasion of the description of the medal asked by the Blessed Virgin, Catherine saw the following gold lettered invocation being inscribed in a semicircle: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
Then she heard a voice saying:
"Have a medal struck after this model. Those who wear it with confidence will receive great graces."
Alphonse Ratisbonne (Rome, 1842)
In 1842, Alphonse Ratisbonne, a young Jewish man, was on a sightseeing trip in Rome. He had accepted - out of pure courtesy – to wear the Miraculous Medal. As he walked into the Sant’ Andrea della Valle Church, the Virgin Mary appeared to him in the same posture as in the Medal. “She waved to me, meaning I should kneel, and an irresistible force attracted me towards her; she seemed to tell me: very good! She did not talk to me, but I understood everything.” Ratisbonne converted and became a priest.
La Salette (France, 1846)
The apparition took place on September 1846. The light surrounding Our Lady and the two seers came from a large Cross that Mary held over her chest. She wore a heavy chain over her shoulders and, next to her, were some roses. She also shed silent tears. In her public message, she asked that everyone should say a morning and evening prayer, fast during Lent, respect God’s name, and rest on Sunday - among other things.
The apparition put Bishop de Bruillard in a difficult position because Cardinal de Bonald was opposed to it, as was the Cure of Ars, uneasy on account of Maximin’s provocative impulsiveness. Mgr de Bruillard made an official record of the secret on July 3, 1851, with all the legal forms, and sent it with two legates to the Pope, who read it in their presence and was positively impressed. He encouraged Mgr de Bruillard to approve the apparition on September 19, 1851, saying that it “it bore in itself all the characteristics of truth and was therefore worthy of belief and unquestionably true.”
Lourdes (France, 1858)
The apparitions of Lourdes witnessed by Saint Bernadette lasted from February 11th to July 16, 1858.
On March 25 1858, the apparition revealed her name, saying: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
According to Bernadette, the Virgin was the same age and height as her (4ft 7). Bernadette would walk from her extremely poor house (dubbed “the dungeon”) to the grotto of the apparition. Like her, pilgrims are invited to leave behind their confinements and walk towards the grotto where a being of light awaits them for a new birth.
The apparition was approved on February 18, 1862, after a very rigorous discernment process: “The Virgin really appeared to Bernadette Soubirous.”
Pontmain (France, 1871)
On January 1871, as the Prussians were invading France, the Virgin Mary appeared in the sky above a barn with a message which read: “Oh! Do pray my children, God will answer you very soon. My son lets his heart be touched!” Then a bleeding cross appeared, held by the Virgin Mary. The bleeding cross disappeared gradually to be replaced by two shining white crosses which, with Mary’s smile, seemed to announce the Resurrection.
There was a remarkable coherence between the bishop, his commission and the parish priest who witnessed this one apparition. On February 1871, Mgr C.A.J Wicart announced his canonical judgement by mandate, in these terms: “We rule that the Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God, really appeared on January 17, 1871, to Eugene Barbedette, Joseph Barbedette, Françoise Richer and Jeanne-Marie Lebossé.” (R. Laurentin, Pontmain, Laval, 1971, 187)
Gietrzwald (1877, Poland)
Between June 27 1877 and September 16 1877, the Virgin appeared to two children. On June 30 1877, the apparition said: “I would like you to say the Rosary every day.”
This apparition was approved on July 24 and 25, 1977, during the 100th anniversary of the apparitions by the Polish episcopal conference, attended by the cardinals Wyszynski and Wojtyla who officially declared: “The apparitions are worthy of belief.”
Fatima (1917, Portugal)
The message of Fatima is too rich to be summarized in a few words (there is the Angel’s Prayer, the Rosary for peace, the requests for consecrations, the First Saturday Devotion, and more).
This message has a geopolitical impact: if we do what the Virgin Mary has asked, Russia will convert and a time of peace will be granted to the world. “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
On October 13, 1930, the bishop of Leira recognized the supernatural character of the apparitions in these terms: “We think it is good to declare worthy of faith the visions which the children received at Cova de Iria, parish of Fatima ... on the 13th of each month from May to October.”
Beauraing (Belgium, 1932)
The Virgin Mary appeared to five children from November 29th to January 3, 1932, 33 times in all.
She appeared above a railway bridge and on a hawthorn bush in the schoolyard.
Beginning on December 29th, the children could see her heart shining bright as gold - thence her name “The Virgin with the Golden Heart” - when she opened her arms before she would leave.
Cardinal Van Roey, archbishop of Malines, made this official declaration on July 2, 1949: “We can serenely and safely claim that the Queen of Heaven appeared to the children of Beauraing during the winter 1932-1933.”
Banneux (Belgium, 1933)
Mariette Béco, from the locality of “la Fange,” did not attend church or catechism classes. But one day the Virgin invited her to come outside...
The first apparition took place on Sunday, January 15, 1933, around 7:00 pm. Outside it was -12°C (10° Fahrenheit). The Virgin called Mariette to follow her.
January 19th: “Who are you, my beautiful Lady ?” – “I am the Virgin of the Poor.”
Then the Virgin invited her to dip her hands in a spring. “This spring is for all nations ... to relieve the sick.”
On August 22 1949, the bishop of Liège recognized the supernatural character of the apparitions.
Amsterdam (The Netherlands, 1945-1959)
Mary wants to be “The Lady of all Nations” for our times. This is how she introduced herself in Amsterdam from 1945 to 1959 during the apparitions.
Ida Perdemann, the seer, also received this prayer:
Let the Holy Spirit live in the hearts of all nations, that they may be preserved from degeneration, disaster and war.
May The Lady of all Nations, the Blessed Virgin Mary, be our advocate. Amen.
On May 31 2002, His Excellency Mgr Josez Punt, who was now the bishop of Haarlem, signed a decree in which he recognized the supernatural character of the apparitions of The Lady of all Nations, stating that these apparitions help us to understand the signs of the time and to live the Gospel more intensely.
To read the declaration of His Excellency Bishop Joseph-Marie Punt of Haarlem, the Netherlands, concerning the apparitions of The Lady of all Nations in Amsterdam: click here.
Zeitun (Egypt, 1968)
Starting on April 2 1968, The Virgin Mary appeared in Zeitun, a district of Cairo. The apparitions lasted for several months and were seen by large crowds of Muslims and Christians. Most often, she was in the attitude of the Virgin of the Miraculous Medal, accompanied by symbols of reconciliation, especially doves.
This series of apparitions has not been officially approved by the Catholic Church but by the coptic patriarch of Egypt, a highly regarded church leader who is not part of the Catholic communion.
Akita (Japan, 1973-1975)
Five nuns from a secular Institute had a replica of the statue of The Lady of all Nations (who had appeared in Amsterdam) next to the tabernacle of their chapel: the Virgin Mary standing on a globe, leaning against a Cross.
On July 5, 1956, Sister Agnes suddenly felt a wound in her hand. Then her angel led her to the chapel, where on the hand of the statue of the Virgin, she noticed the same wound. The hand was bleeding, and her eyes wept tears.
On October 13 1973, after the office of Lauds, silent prayer and the Rosary, Sister Agnes received this message: “Fire will fall down from Heaven and will annihilate a big part of humanity.”
“The weapons you will have left will be the Rosary and the sign (of the cross) which the Son has given.” The messages were sometimes accompanied by the sight of a big light, sometimes by a heavenly perfume.
On January 4, 1975, the first Saturday of the month, around 9 a.m., the sacristan sister was surprised to see that the base of the statue was wet. And it kept shedding tears, 101 times in all. There were 2,000 eye witnessed of the phenomenon over time.
The blood-filled tears of Our Lady of Akita’s statue were recognized as authentic on April 22, 1984, after a long investigation, thanks to the perseverance and personal belief of Bishop Itô, who travelled to Rome twice, the only convinced bishop in the whole episcopal Conference in Japan, as a commission of expert had ruled that the tears had a para-psychological explanation. He obtained permission to extend the investigation, and this time the scientific tests led to conclusive results.
Betania (1976-1984, Venezuela)
The Virgin appeared to Maria Esperanza Medrano de Bianchi for the first time on March 25, 1976 above a grotto, next to a spring, with this message: “My daughter, I have given you my heart. I am giving it to you and I will always give it to you. I am your shelter.” The Virgin, beaming with light, said to Maria Esperanza: “I am the reconciler of the peoples.”
On March 25 1978, fifteen people “saw the Virgin.”
On March 25, 1984, after Mass, a crowd of people were lingering outside, when the Virgin appeared to them above a waterfall. There were “at least 500 to 1,000 people, but in my mind, it was much more than that,” the bishop estimated.
The bishop, who taught spiritual theology and psychology at the University of Caracas, decided to conduct an investigation himself. He interviewed more than 100 witnesses and approved the apparition on November 21, 1987.
Kihebo (1981-1989, Rwanda)
The apparitions of the Virgin started on November 28, 1981, and ended on November 28, 1989.
Nathalie Mukamazimpaka, one of the three seers of Kibeho recalls:
"The Virgin has taught me to pray the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows because she said a tragedy was brewing in Rwanda. The Madonna asked us to change our way of life, to love the sacraments, to repent, to pray the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows at all times, for the conversion of those who have drifted away from God, and to be humble by asking for forgiveness and by forgiving others."
The shrine, which does not yet offer a full range of proper facilities for pilgrims, attracts ever bigger crowds, with its message of sanctification of human suffering and reconciliation that resonates with many.
The bishop of Butaré, Mgr Gahamanyi, appointed an excellent commission composed of theologians from his seminary, who did a thorough investigation. The apparitions were officially approved recognized in 2000.
Source: René LAURENTIN and Patrick SBALCHIERO, article « Apparitions reconnues » in Dictionnaire encyclopédique des apparitions de la Vierge. Inventaire des origines à nos jours. Méthodologie, prosopopée, approche interdisciplinaire, Fayard, Paris 2007. (1405 pages)