Fátima is a central Portuguese town that's home to the Sanctuary of Fátima, a Catholic pilgrimage site.It is located approx. 140 kilometres from Lisbon.
Although it is a massive site in the Catholic religion, we can honestly say you do not need to be religious at all to be awed by the beauty and splendour of Fátima.
History of Fátima
Fátima is considered one of the most important Catholic shrines in the world and its fame comes from the story of three shepherd children who claim to have seen apparitions of the Catholic figure, the Virgin Mary. Between May and October 1917. The three children Lucia dos Santos and her two younger cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, witnessed several apparitions.
The final apparition was on 13 October and was seen by a large crowd, after a prophecy made by the children. This is known as the Miracle of the Sun, or the Miracle of Fátima.
Whether you are a believer or not, the stories are very interesting and give great comfort to many people.
The town of Fátima
The town centre is chock a block with shops and cafes and most of these shops will sell plastic rosary beads and candles, the main area near the Sanctuary is very touristy with souvenir shops.
The candles that are for sale, may take you by surprise as they literally come in all shapes and sizes, including legs, hearts (not the valentine types!) and every other body part you can think of. The point of these candles is that there is a place inside the sanctuary where you can light a candle and pray, or just light a candle.
A big tip before you spend your money on these candles, inside the Sanctuary, you can actually buy candles for a fraction of the cost and the money goes towards the upkeep of the Sanctuary.
When you buy from the Sanctuary, it reminds me why I love Portugal so much, there is a great selection of candles and prices, yet there are no staff, there are just honesty boxes. I really can't imagine finding this in many other countries we have visited.
Lighting a candle at Fátima
Many churches have the option to drop a coin in a box and light a candle, but at Fátima., this is done on a whole different scale.
Whether you are religious or not, it is definitely worth lighting a candle just for the experience, you lean over a great big fire pit and try to drop your candle in a holder, with big flames flying up every so often. Did somebody mention health and safety? I thought not.
The pyre is located behind the Chapel of Apparitions.
Chapel of Apparitions at Fátima(Capela das Aparições)
This is the first place of worship that was built following the visions in 1919. It has since expanded. But services are held throughout the day, and all are welcome to attend.
Sanctuary of Fátima
The actual buildings are an amazing sight and the architecture is excellent. The large plaza in front of the Basilica is extensive and it is hard to imagine that at certain times of the year the entire place is full.
One of the things that took us by surprise was seeing people crawling on their knees towards the Chapel of Apparitions. There is a path that is there just for this purpose and there are many pilgrims that still complete this final section of their pilgrimage on their knees.
The best time to visit will depend on your reason for wanting to go. If you are going for religious reasons, there are many dates in the year where you can join in with a ceremony. If however you are visiting mainly to enjoy the architecture, then avoid all times of religious importance in the Catholic calendar as at these times Fatima is likely to be very crowded.
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary (Basilica de Nossa Senhora do Rosário)
Inside the Basilica, you will find a cool and calming space, where the architecture is magnificent. It is built in the Baroque style.
This building is home to the tombs of the children, and is located were they saw the first apparition.
Either side of the Basilica you will see the Colonnade, which is made up of 200 columns and half columns. There is also a ‘way of the cross’ in ceramic tiles. The intricate details of these tiles are worth the walk, take a moment to see and admire each one.
You will also see the statues of different saints.
Basilica of the Holy Trinity
The building is newer and has been built in a more minimalist style. It is located at the far end of the complex.
The size of this church is staggering and can seat more than 8,000 worshippers. The first thing you notice is the large bronze doors at the entrance and then the large statue of Christ over the altar.
There are other sites that are related to the young children and the apparition that are readily accessible, but the ones above are the main attractions.
Cost of visiting Fátima
All of the main attractions are free to visit. There are collection pots located in the churches, but voluntary donations are left to your discretion.
The candles are for sale, but the price is reasonable, starting at 50 centimes for a small candle.
Where to eat at Fátima
There are a number of restaurants to choose from and as may be expected near to the Basilica. The prices are slightly inflated, but if you go a little way off the main area there are some fantastic places to eat and the prices are very reasonable. We had a 3 course meal with a drink for approx. 7€ each (prices at 2019).
When to visit
The site is open all year round, but when to visit will depend on your reasons for visiting. There are between 6 – 8 million visitors per year.
The busiest times are 13 May and 13 October, which are the dates of the first and last apparition.
On the morning of the 13 th May there is a large procession though Fátima where a statue of Our lady of Fátima is carried through the central square in front of the Basilica, there can be as many as half a million people at this celebration. At night there is also a candlelight procession.
Travelling to Fátima
The easiest way to visit Fátima is by car, there are a number of large car parks available.
Buses also leave Lisbon and other locations on a regular basis.
There is no train station at Fátima, the Fátima train station is approx. 15 km away.