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Biden to visit Our Lady of Knock, Irish site of Marian apparition

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During President Joe Biden’s four-day trip to Ireland, he plans to visit Our Lady of Knock in Knock, County Mayo, which witnesses claim was the site of an apparition of Mary, the Mother of God; St. Joseph, her spouse; and St. John the Evangelist in 1879.

Biden, who is the nation’s second Catholic president, will be the first American president to visit the shrine. He intends to visit the site on Friday, April 14, on his last day in Ireland. He will then visit St. Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina, where he will give an address.

“We are delighted to welcome President Joe Biden to Knock Shrine,” Father Richard Gibbons, the rector of the shrine, said in a statement.

“This is a huge honor and will be the first visit of a U.S. president to Knock Shrine,” Gibbons added. “The shrine is a special and unique place on the island of Ireland. We have previously been honored by the visit of St. John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Francis in 2018. We are delighted to have been included as part of the [president’s] personal visits to Mayo.”

About 1.5 million people visit the shrine every year and it is a common destination in Ireland for Catholic pilgrims.

The 1879 apparition

On Aug. 21, 1879, more than a dozen people in the small rural village of Knock in western Ireland said they witnessed a miracle in front of the gable of the Catholic church. On a rainy night at about 8 p.m., the villagers saw three figures whom they identified as the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist. Some of the witnesses said a lamb appeared on an altar symbolizing Christ, which had a cross behind it.

When it was still light out, Mary McLaughlin, the priest’s housekeeper, saw the three figures while passing by the church and believed they were new statues. Upon returning at night with a villager named Mary Bryne, the two inspected the scene more thoroughly when they saw a glow around the figures. It was then that they saw it was an apparition. Bryne ran home and brought her family to see the miracle and others gathered at the location throughout the night as word spread throughout the village.

Although there are some minor differences in the accounts, the witnesses claimed to see the Virgin Mary hovering above the ground, slightly higher than the other two figures. They saw Mary wearing either a white or light silver robe and some reported that she was gazing toward the sky and appeared to be praying.

The witnesses saw St. Joseph to the right of Mary, and some reported that his head was tilted upward looking at the Blessed Virgin. To her left, they saw a third figure, a bishop wearing a mitre who appeared to be preaching. Although some of the witnesses were unsure of his identity, others identified him as St. John the Evangelist.

Some of the witnesses saw the figures moving, but no one reported any of the figures speaking. The witnesses reported that the ground below the figures was dry, even though it was raining.

Over the course of the night, there were at least 15 witnesses whose testimonies were later documented. Some of the witnesses stayed up to two hours, despite the rain, and prayed the rosary.

Some of the witness testimonies

Mary McLaughlin: “I returned then homewards to the Archdeacon’s house accompanied by Miss Mary Byrne, and as we approached the chapel, she cried out ‘Look at the beautiful figures.’ We gazed at them for a little while, and then I told her to go for her mother, widow Byrne, and her brother and her sister, and her niece who were still in the house which she and I had left.”

Mary Bryne: “I had never heard from Miss McLoughlin about the vision, which she had seen just before that. The first I learned of it was on coming at the time just named from my mother’s house in company with Miss Mary McLaughlin and at the distance of three hundred yards or so from the church. I beheld, all at once, standing out from the gable, and rather to the west of it, three figures which, on more attentive inspection, appeared to be that of the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, and St. John.”

Bridget Trench: “When I arrived there I saw distinctly the three figures, I threw myself on my knees and exclaimed ‘A hundred thousands thanks to God and to the glorious Virgin that has given us this manifestation.’ I went in immediately to kiss, as I thought, the feet of the Blessed Virgin, but I felt nothing in the embrace but the wall, and I wondered why I could not feel with my hands the figures which I had so plainly and so distinctly seen.”

Patrick Hill: “[Mary’s] hands were raised to the height of the shoulders, as if in prayer, with the palms facing one another, but slanting inwards towards the face; the palms were not turned towards the people, but facing each other as I have described; she appeared to be praying; her eyes were turned as I saw towards heaven. She wore a brilliant crown on her head, and over the forehead where the crown filled the brow, a beautiful rose; the crown appeared brilliant, and of a golden brightness, of a deeper hue, inclined to a mellow yellow, than the striking whiteness of the robes she wore; the upper parts of the crown appeared to be a series of sparkles, or glittering crosses.”

Knock after the apparition

The news of the apparition spread quickly throughout Ireland and even beyond the island within a year of the accounts. In March of the following year, 50 pilgrims from Limerick traveled as close to the shrine as they could get by train and journeyed the rest of the way by horse-drawn wagons. About 240 men from Cork visited the site in June, and then in August, about a year after the apparition, more than 1,000 Irish emigrants who lived in Manchester, England, made the trip. Bishops from other continents began to make the journey shortly thereafter, including the archbishop of Toronto in 1882.

An ecclesiastical commission sent by the Church to investigate the claims in 1879 found “the testimonies of all, taken as a whole, is trustworthy and satisfactory.” The Church sent another commission in 1935. In 1936, an elderly Mary Bryne swore under oath, “I am quite clear about everything I have said, I make this statement knowing I am going before my God.”

Although the site was a popular destination for pilgrims, it wasn’t until 75 years after the apparition, in 1954, that it received a papal honor. In that year, Pope Pius XII presented the shine with a commemorative medal that recognized its importance as a Marian devotion. In 2021, Pope Francis recognized the Knock Shrine as a eucharistic and Marian shrine.

The shrine today

The shrine remains a popular destination for pilgrims and tourists. Although it was originally a rural village, Knock can be reached by plane and has an airport. Visitors can attend Mass at the shrine daily.

Visitors can also receive spiritual guidance at the Chapel of Reconciliation, visit the Knock Museum, and explore the location of the apparition.

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Biden to visit Our Lady of Knock, Irish site of Marian apparition