A Pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal

Fatima is one of the most important religious pilgrimage sites in the world. Pilgrims travel to Fatima year round but the 13th of the months of May to October are the days that celebrate the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to the three shepherd children at the Cova da Iria ( a valley) in the parish of Fatima in 1917. On those days you may be in a crowd of thousands of pilgrims many of whom arrived from hours away on foot. A pilgrimage to this holy site is a very special experience.

2495 Fátima, Portugal
On our vacation to Portugal, my husband and I rented a car and drove the 86 miles from Lisbon to Fatima. (There are also bus trips that you can schedule at your hotel in Lisbon). We had planned a pilgrimage to this famous town during our trip. Fatima is one of the Catholic Churches’ most important sites. The huge esplanade is two times as large as St. Peter’s in Rome. The entire area is beautiful and peaceful. I was awed as I walked to church for Mass, bought and lit candles, participated in the candlelight processions, and walked the grounds while meditating. We stayed at the Hotel Fatima which is right next door to the basilica and very convenient. There are many restaurants, hotels, and stores in Fatima. The information center on the grounds is very helpful. You will learn about the miraculous story of Fatima. Check it out as you arrive. This is a rewarding trip when visiting Portugal.
2495-402 Fátima, Portugal
The pilgrimage site of Fatima is located in the parish of Fatima at the Cova da Iria. The Cova belonged to the families of three shepherd children who pastured the family’s sheep there. The children were Lucia dos Santos and her cousins Francisco Marto and his younger sister, Jacinta. The children were playing one day in the fields when a beautiful Lady appeared to them. And the miraculous story and history of Fatima began. I recently completed a three day pilgrimage to Fatima. I stayed at the Hotel Fatima which is next to the sanctuary at Rua Joao Paulo II. The hotel was clean and very neat. The staff went out of their way to be helpful. The suite had a large balcony which enabled me to listen to the beautiful hymns from the sanctuary while I meditated. I stared at the spire of the Basilica and thought about the story of Fatima. The location of the hotel was ideal. This religious journey affected me deeply. I participated in all of the events and ceremonies that occur at Fatima: Masses, confessions, holy hours, beautiful candlelight processions, lit candles for special intentions, and delivered prayer petitions from friends and relatives. I experienced a profoundly peaceful experience. After three days, I ended my Fatima pilgrimage. I took my peaceful and rested self up to Aveiro to continue my trip. There is an information center at the left of the bottom of the staircase as you enter the Sanctuary. Your hotel will also have maps and information.
Cova de Iria, 2496-908 Fátima, Portugal
The Chapel of the Apparitions was constructed on the site of the apparitions of Our Lady at the Cova da Iria, Fatima. The original statue of Our Lady of Fatima rests on a stand ( which covers the holm oak tree on which she appeared to the children) just in front of the Chapel. Construction began in 1918. It was dynamited in 1922 and soon rebuilt. There are Masses and rosaries several times a day at the Chapel. The evening candlelight processions start at the little Chapel. You can get schedules at your hotel desk or at the information center at the sanctuary. I attended services at the Chapel several times during my pilgrimage. I felt awed and I couldn’t keep away from this important religious site.
Cova da Iria, 2495-438 Fátima, Portugal
On May 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in the valley of Cova da Iria in the parish of Fatima in Portugal. She asked them to pray for peace in the world. The apparition was repeated for the next five months. (The area was a little known poor hamlet. The people were simple, hard working peasants and were very isolated. That all changed after May 13th, 1917).

The children were promised a miracle so others would believe in the apparitions. October 13th, 1917 was the occasion of the “Miracle of the Sun” in which the sun spun toward the earth and the 70,000 people (many walked from days away to be present) were terrified. It had rained for hours and they were soaked and noticed only after the sun retreated back up into the sky, that they and the ground were totally dry. The sun’s path was studied and even unbelievers accepted the sign as a miracle. Personal miracles occurred that day.

A little chapel was built on the spot where the Lady appeared. So many came to pray that in 1928, construction on a Basilica was begun. The edifice was completed in 1953. All three of the seers are buried in the Basilica. On the 13th day of the month from May ‘til October hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gather at Fatima and fill the square which is twice the size of the square at the Vatican. When I wander around the square, go into, the Basilica, or visit the chapel I think about the history of Fatima and its awesome message.
R. do Adro, 2495 Fátima, Portugal
The parish church of Fatima is in a little hamlet called Aljustrel. It is just down the road from the Cova da Iria, Fatima. The three shepherd children were baptized there and there attended Mass with their relatives and neighbors.The baptismal font in which the three shepherds were baptized is just inside the door on the left side. There are pictures and some history in the alcove. The interior has a good deal of marble and is surprisingly large. The parish cemetery is just across the street from the church and the Marto children were first buried there. In 1951 and 1952, Jacinta then Francisco were interred at the Cova da Iria in the new Basilica as it was being built. Lucia, the eldest seer, was buried there in 2005. She died at 98 years of age at a convent in Coimbra, Portugal. Family members are buried in the parish cemetery. One of the children’s brothers, Joao who died in 2000 at the age of 94, is interred there. When I walked inside the walls of the cemetery, I could feel a stillness and calm quiet. This is a stop that adds another layer of history to the story of the miracle of Fatima. One of the best restaurants in the Fatima area, Tia Alice, is just across the street on Rua do Adro. I enjoyed local dishes and local wines at Tia Alice...... Delicious.
This museum is in Aljustrel, the little hamlet where Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia ( the seers at the Fatima miracle) were born and lived. The museum is set in one of the houses on the same street where the children’s homes are located. Several scenes are set up and depict life in the area in the late 19th century and well into the 20th century. There is information available about the site and the village and its residents. I feel that this museum is an informative attraction and has great historical significance. It gives you a feel for Fatima and its miracle. You can almost experience the manner in which the three children lived from day to day in 1917. You are immersed in the lives and every day activities and hardships of the village residents. The museum is small but very well done. When I first traveled to Aljustrel, I visited the children’s homes and there was not much else. Today there are shops with handicrafts and souvenirs of the Fatima story. Even though the place gets busloads of tourists, there is a serene air about it and its residents. The hamlet is “spruced up” compared to what it looked like in the 70’s but it’s O.K. I liked it better in its original state. A stop in Aljustrel is a must for those who want to really experience the story of Fatima. From the Cova da Iria, it is 3km. to Aljustrel. Follow the signs or ask at a hotel desk.
2450 Nazaré, Portugal
Nazare, a colorful fishing village, is about 1 hour north of Fatima in Portugal. It is famous for its fishing boats and traditional clothing of its men and women. The boats are gaily painted with upturned prows as they have been since the days of the Phoenicians. The men wear plaid shirts and long stocking caps in which they keep their cigarettes. The women wear the many colored skirts, shirts, vest, and 7 petticoats. The ladies sit outside their homes and entice you to rent their rooms, or they sit under umbrellas on the beach and chat as their salted fish stretched on wooden racks, dry in the sun. Some fishermen sit on the beach and mend their nets, others are out on the sea fishing. Before 1986, the fishing boats were hauled up on the beach by oxen. Today there is a large marina around the corner so you won’t get to see this ancient ritual. But Nazare is still old Portugal. It is charming . The beach and water are very clean and the waves can be a challenge. Surfers love this area with its huge waves. In January, 2013, a Hawaiian surfer rode a 100' wave off the coast of Nazare and broke a record. There are many shops and cafes in the town. Pick up a straw hat or a souvenir doll with her seven petticoats. Enjoy lunch at one of the great seafood restaurants. The choices are consistently fresh and well-prepared. Nazare is a must see for anyone traveling in Portugal. You can take a tour or drive if you have a car. However you get there, you will have a great time.
2460-018 Alcobaça, Portugal
I stopped in the town of Alcobaca because I had heard of the beauty and size of its monastery. Alcobaca is about 100 km north of Portugal.The first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, built a monastery there in thanksgiving to Our Lady when he won a battle over the Moors. The Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaca is a huge stunning medieval monastery that was begun in 1178 and was consecrated in 1252. It is one of the most important medieval monasteries in Portugal. In 1989, it was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. This huge site has a church with several ornate tombs of Kings and Queens, among them the ill-fated King Pedro I and his mistress, Ines de Castro. The nave of the church is tall and imposing. The Cloister of Silence was ordered by King Dinis in the late 13th century. The library is one of the largest medieval libraries in Portugal. The ornate golden Baroque Reliquary is a peaceful stunning space. The huge refectory was the site of meals daily and the kitchen which is covered in Portuguese tiles has a central chimney for cooking and a basin where the river water ran through and the cooks caught fish for dinner. I spent a couple of hours in the Alcobaca Monastery, church, cloisters, kitchens, and royal tomb sites. This is a fantastic site that I highly recommend. The Alcobaca monastery is a must-see in Portugal.
3004-531 Coimbra, Portugal
About 83 km north of Fatima (203 km north of Lisbon), you’ll find Coimbra University - one of Europe’s first universities. History states that Coimbra University was founded in1290 . It was first situated in Lisbon, then Coimbra several times depending on where the King wanted it.( From the 12th c - 13th c, Coimbra was the capital of Portugal). Since 1534, the city of Coimbra has been the University city. Coimbra is beautifully maintained, especially its original structures. There you find history around every corner. The Baroque Library is impressive and houses a collection of about 250,000 books from the 12th - 19th c. The library was built in the 18th c. The tower is the symbol of the University. It is equipped with a clock and bells. A tour guide stated that the clock sets the pace of the school. Don’t miss St. Michael’s Chapel with its Baroque organ (1733) and 18th c blue & white tiles. The burning of the ribbons ritual at year’s end is something to see. You’ll need an entire day to peruse the University and its historic sites. In the town itself there are several cafes for a meal. Near-by: Portugal dos Pequeninos (Children’s Portugal), Monastery of Santa Cruz (!st King’s tomb), Santa Clara a Nova (sliver tomb of St. Isabella, King Dinis’ wife). Hotel recommendation: Quinta das Lagrimas - a small deluxe hotel. The story of King Pedro I and his love, Ines who was murdered by orders of Pedro’s father, the King is the history of this property. I loved this one.
Largo Infante Dom Henrique, 2440 Batalha, Portugal
In the center of the Founder’s Chapel of the Batalha monastery of Santa Maria da Vitoria, you will find the tombs of King John I and his wife Queen Philippa of Lancaster. Their sons’ tombs are also there.

One of their sons was Prince Henry the Navigator. Henry was born in Oporto in 1394 and I visited his birthplace while in that grand city which is Portugal’s second largest.

Henry was always interested in the sea and navigation. His father appointed him governor of the province of the Algarve and he founded a school of navigation and an observatory in Sagres. Sagres is located at the south western tip of the Algarve. It is a wild and beautiful rocky outcrop. There are remains of Henry’s school there.

I stood on the grounds as the wind whipped the area on a sunny day. You could almost see the caravels coming into the near-by ports their sails snapping in the wind.

The maritime trade started by Prince Henry the Navigator enabled Portugal to become a wealthy world power (14th to 16th centuries). The ship he designed called the caravel was lighter and faster than vessels of the time. Because of Henry’s work, other navigators explored the seas and discovered many new sea routes.

The Prince died in 1460 and left a very impressive legacy. Henry’s tomb is a large marble structure and is marked. I went up to the tomb that is beautifully preserved in Batalha’s chapel.

There is a lot of history in that chapel. When in the monastery, don’t miss the Founder’s Chapel.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Food + Drink
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Europe
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East