For centuries the Virgin Mary has been a key figure in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. According to Christian beliefs the mother of Jesus Christ was with her son throughout his life from his birth in the Bethlehem stable to his crucifixion, and witnessed the empty tomb three days later. Mary is the archetypal Madonna, the loving mother who nurtures and heals.
Her image appears in countless paintings and stained glass church windows and her statues appear in sacred grottos, woodland shrines as well as in great cathedrals. She is the embodiment of the eternal mother goddess who has appeared cross culturally.
Mary hears the prayers of the faithful and has performed miracles since the days when she walked the Earth. So strong is the belief of many in her loving heart and miraculous powers that whenever she makes an appearance in our world she attracts millions of pilgrims who wish to see, pray and be healed. Lourdes in France attracts 6 million visitors per year, 5 million annually visit the apparition site at Fatima,
Portugal and nearly 20 million go to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe near Mexico City. These appearances – called Marian Apparitions – have appeared all over the globe from Nigeria to Georgia, USA.
But what are these apparitions? Theories abound depending on the beliefs and lenses of those making a judgment. Interpretations of the possible meaning of these phenomena range from the belief that what is occurring is an actual visitation of the Virgin Mary to deliver a message of great importance and to heal those who suffer in mind, body or spirit to the opinion that these are close encounters with some form of interdimensional entity that is not necessarily the Virgin Mary (Vallee, 1975, 2008.)
Despite the widespread distribution of the Apparitions over time and distance they all share certain common elements:
- Initial contact is usually witnessed by children/adolescents;
- It appears at a remote location;
- There is frequently a message of Earthly significance to be transmitted and acted on;
- Unusual phenomena accompany the apparition including bright light, the sun appearing to “spin”, the smell of roses, high pitched sounds, and messages being transmitted to the children who first saw the apparition who act as conduits of communication and can frequently appear to be possessed e.g. the actions of the 4 girls communicating with the apparition in Garabandal, Spain in 1961.
- Miraculous healings occur while the apparition (who usually appears as a small figure wearing a blue robe and encased in brilliant white light) is present and thereafter at the site of the apparition (Zimdars-Swartz, 1991.)
While Christian pilgrims strongly believe that the apparitions are in fact the Virgin Mary, the veracity of such claims is determined by the Vatican through special commissions. These commissions apply a regime of tests and criteria to determine if the event was truly an appearance by Mary worthy of belief by members of the Church.
Others who have witnessed the phenomena of the apparitions first hand or who have seen miraculous healings at shrines such as Lourdes frequently give credence to the claims of divine origin based on empirical evidence and their own sensory cognition and subsequently persist in that belief despite what the Church commissions decree.
There is no way to scientifically determine if the Marian Apparitions are visits by the Virgin Mary. They could very possibly be interdimensional close encounters that are claimed to be Mary because of the spiritual orientation of the witnesses. It is a Mystery and an intriguing one that is consistent with our cultural consciousness. What happens in the Viveca Piscis between the consciousness of an individual and an extension of the numinous is a personal matter (James, 1902.) This only adds to the wonder surrounding these events.
While I was writing this blog I was listening to Symphony Hall on XM radio when the station began playing Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” Synchronicities are indeed remarkable occurrences.