On a wet Thursday evening, 21st August 1879, at about 8 o'clock, a wondrous miraculous heavenly vision appeared at the south gable of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Knock, Co. Mayo, in the west of Ireland. Fifteen people - men, women and children - ranging in age from six years to seventy-five, watched the Apparition in pouring rain for two hours, reciting the rosary. Though they themselves were soaked, no rain fell in the direction of the church gable, where the ground remained perfectly dry.
These poor and humble witnesses distinctly beheld the Blessed Virgin Mary, clothed in white robes, with a beautiful golden rose on her forehead and a brilliant crown upon her head. On her right stood St. Joseph, with St. John on her left. Behind them, on a plain altar, stood a cross with The Larnb, surrounded by adoring angels.
Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, Mother of Christ and of the Church, came to Knock with St. Joseph, St. John and The Lamb of God, over 100 years ago. To this poverty and famine stricken corner of Ireland, where unemployment, evictions and emigration were the order of the day, her coming was a symbol of hope, consolation and strength in their misery. Ever since that time, Knock Shrine has been a very special place of devotion and pilgrimage, a place of 'close encounter' between God and man. Year after year the pilgrims have come in ever-increasing numbers - the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick - seeking cures for the body, soul and mind. Whatever their problems were they came to lay them at the feet of Our Lady of Knock. Many find the answer to their prayers and all who come find it a rewarding and uplifting experience. If you have been to Knock you will under- stand. If you have yet to come, we hope to welcome you some day. In the meanwhile, let us all pray that the message of Knock will be heeded by all, so that hate, prejudice, poverty and injustice will be replaced by peace, understanding and Christian justice, which Our Holy Mother, Our Lady of Knock so earnestly desires.
Most Rev. Dr. John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam, set up a Commission of enquiry within six weeks of the Apparition. Fifteen witnesses were examined and the Commission reported that their evidence was trustworthy and satisfactory. All possible natural explanations were examined and found wanting. A second Commission held in 1936 while three of the witnesses were still living, confirmed the original findings. One of the witnesses, Mrs. Mary O'Connell (Mary Byrne) gave evidence under oath from her death bed and at the end of her statement added: "I am quite clear about everything I have said, and I make this statement knowing I am going before my God". The first organized Pilgrimage to visit Knock came from Limerick in 1880 and was welcomed by Most Rev. Dr. John MacHale who is recorded as saying: "it is a great blessing to the poor people of the West, in their wretchedness, misery and sufferings, that the Blessed Virgin Mother of God has appeared among them". From the time the Apparition was first reported, pilgrims have been coming to the Shrine and hundreds of cures have been reported among the sick and disabled, who made this journey of hope. The number of pilgrims has continued to increase, and in the centenary year of 1979, it is estimated that two million people from Ireland and abroad visited the Shrine, including His Holiness Pope John Paul II who came as a pilgrim, in September 1979. This visit of The Holy Father confirmed the Status of Knock Shrine as one of the major Marian Shrines in the world.