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It was raining furiously the night of August 21, 1879, in the village of Knock, Ireland. Mary Byrne was walking home a visitor, Mary McLoughlin, the housekeeper of the parish priest. The two women had just reached the wall surrounding the church grounds when Mary Byrne noticed a curious light near the south end of the church.

"Look at the beautiful statues!" she exclaimed to her. companion, upon seeing three figures standing out from the gable, about two feet off the ground. As both walked toward them they were practically blinded by the light that was growing brighter with each step. Both at first assumed their pastor, Archdeacon Cavanaugh, had purchased new statues. But upon moving closer they saw the figures move and were eventually able to identify them. Although the grass and everything surrounding the gable was drenched, the figures and the entire gable remained miraculously dry and untouched by the south winds.

"It's the Blessed Virgin!" exclaimed Mary Byrne to her companion. The two stood motionless before the Madonna, the largest figure of the three. To her left stood what appeared to be Saint John the Evangelist, and to her right Saint Joseph.

Our Lady, robed in dazzling white, stood erect with her arms extended upward and her eyes gazing toward her home in the heavens. Over her simple dress she wore a pearlivory cloak, which fell gracefully in full folds to her bare ankles. More noble than any queen, she was crowned in shimmering gold; a coronet of ornate crosses graced her head. The three figures shone like glistening silver.

Within an hour the entire Byrne family and about a dozen other people gathered around the south gable, watching, praying, and quietly discussing the scene. Unlike other Marian apparitions, all witnesses children and adults alike could see the figures and experienced the overwhelming love they exuded. After two hours the silent apparition ended; the figures mysteriously disappeared, as they had come.

A commission was created within several months by the Archbishop of Tuamthe diocese to which Knock belongs to interview about fifteen of the approximate twenty witnesses. The Archbishop, after reviewing evidence supporting the apparition, made no statement for or against Knock. As his health failed, he remained extremely skeptical, especially since no words were spoken or messages given. But to Irish believers, the vision was full of meaning. Saint John's dress reiterated the sacred role of the priest and the authority of the official church, which were both tested at that time. And Saint Joseph's role as patron of the Church and protector of Jesus and Mary comforted all Irish Catholic families.

Many of the original witnesses died before a second commission, more than fifty years after the first, reopened the investigation. Still no official statement of approval was made by the subsequent Archbishop of Tuam, but he began to take part in the pilgrimage devotions and explained that since no statement was made by his predecessor, Catholics could follow their own convictions regarding the apparition. The visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979 and other privileges extended to the shrine at Knock strengthened the Church's sanction.

The once quiet village of Knock waswithin a year of the apparitionvisited by pilgrims from all over Ireland and the United Kingdoms. So big were the crowds that in 1976 a larger church, the Church of Our Lady Queen of Ireland, was dedicated to Knock. About one million pilgrims annually visit. Knock today.

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