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August 5, 2021

Portugal: Fatima

Our Lady Fatima Basilica

This is a major pilgrimage site for Catholics. On May 13 and October 13 of every year, nearly a million devout Catholics visit this site as it is believed that the Virgin Mary made an appearance here to three people in 1917. Read more ...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fatima: Myth and Reality

One of the most revered sites in Roman Catholicism is known as the Basilica of Our Lady Fatima. It is the site of millions of pilgrims every year. This city, like many others in the Iberian peninsula, have Muslim roots. What is most striking is that one of the main pilgrimage sites in Roman Catholicism was named after the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, which was Fatima. In this article, we explore this interesting intermingling of the two faiths in the city of Fatima.

Fatima was a small agricultural town that was established sometime between the 9th or 10th centuries by Arab settlers in the Iberian peninsula. The city was named after the Prophet Muhammad`s daughter. King Afonso Henriques conqured Fatima and its surrounding areas in 1136. The city of Fatima, itself, has retained its name. At the time, it was a small village with no strategic value and was given little importance to the Crusading army.

According to legend, the city of Fatima was named after an Arab princess from a nearby Castle of Abdegas (presently called the Castle of Ourem). When the castle was conquered by King Afonso Henriques in 1136, the princess was imprisoned by a Christian knight named Gonzalo Hermigues. They later fell in love and she converted to Christianity, adopting the name Oureana. It was said that she died in her prime and was later buried in a place that took after her name, Fatima.

Although an interesting story, there are many factual problems with this story. First, the name of the town, Fatima, appears at least a century before the Portuguese conquest of the town thereby, invalidating how the city was named. Secondly, there is no historical evidence of a princess named Fatima and even if there was, why would the town be named Fatima and not Oureana? It is most likely that the city was named directly after the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad over a century before the Portuguese conquest of the town.

The town vanishes from recorded history until the beginning of the 20th century. By this time, there are no more Muslims or Jews in the Iberian peninsula, and all its inhabitants are Roman Catholics. It is believed that at the 13th of each month from May to October 1917, the Virgin Mary had appeared to three children (ages 7,9, and 10) in the fields near Fatima. Three secrets have been said to have been revealed to them. These secrets have been kept secret by the Vatican and only released to the public after several years, or sometimes decades.

A Basilica was built in honor of the appearance of the Virgin Mary. Work on this basilica started in 1928 and was completed in 1953. It currently contains the tombs of the three children that allegedly had the vision of the Virgin Mary. The large statue of Our Lady Fatima, which stands above the main entrance of the basilica, was donated by the Catholic people of the United States in 1958. The entrance of the basilica also contains a segment of the Berlin Wall, a symbol of the fall of Communism, which is related to one of the three secrets revealed. Nearly four million Catholic pilgrims go to the basilica every yea r, in honor of the Virgin Mary, in a town named after Prophet Muhammad`s daughter, Fatima.


  • [1] Fisher, J. and Hancock, M., A Rough Guide to Portugal, Rough Guide Ltd: London, UK, 2010.
  • [2] Lowney, C., A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain, Oxford University Press: New York City, NY, 2006.

  • Keywords: Portugal, Fatima

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