Any trip to Portugal is not complete without paying a visit to Fatima, the city that houses the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. The shrine is a must visit for any Catholic on a Marian pilgrimage. For non-Catholic, visit to this iconic church that was built between 1928 to 1953 and a town enshrouded with mystery is definitely worth while. [*Year 2017 is the 100th anniversary of Fatima. If you are not a big fan of unimaginable crowds, then consider rescheduling your visit.]
Where to stay
There are many hotels and numerous lodging options in Fatima. However, during the Marian months (May and October), the town is extremely packed. Rooms are filled to the brim and prices are astronomically high.
We did not visit during the Marian month. In fact, it was low travel season in Portugal. Nevertheless, we decided to stay in Lisboa – the heart of Portugal, for its centralised location and its vibrancy.
Between Lisboa and Fatima, it was an easy 1.5 hrs drive on the A1 highway. If you are not on a tight timeline, try leaving Lisboa after the morning rush hour and you will be able to zip through town effortlessly. Not only that, we almost had the entire highway all to ourselves!
The signage leading to the town is good. Reaching the town, visitors are welcomed by the statues of Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia, the 3 children who received the message from Our Lady of Fatima.
There are many metered on-street parking surrounding the shrine. During peak season, expect to park far far away though. For us, we managed to get free parking near the “Tourist Information Centre” which is 10 mins walk to the shrine.
Around the vicinity, there are cafes and restaurants to fit all budgets. But, what overwhelmed us was the sheer number of shops that sell (as you would expect) religious items. All the shops may seem to sell similar items, but their quality varies. After visiting 5 to 6 shops, we finally bought a statue of the Virgin Mary and a wood-carved crucifix. Throughout our travels, we had to say the shops in Fatima had the best religious items. The Virgin Mary statue cost us around 100 Euros. It was so heavy that bringing it back home was such a hassle. But, all these was totally worth it.
Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima
The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima is one of the most famous Marian shrines in the world due to the apparition of the Virgin Mary to 3 children who were local shepherds in 1917. At the centre of the open plaza is the Monument to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Comparing to the churches in Spain and Italy, the shrine is not elaborate in its architecture or decor. Yet, this simplicity exerts its elegance.
The painting on the altar depicts the message of Our Lady of Fatima to the 3 children.
Situated on the left and right sides of the altar are the tombs of Jacinta, Lucia and Francisco, the 3 children who saw the apparition.
Central Plaza of Shrine
Exiting the shrine, check out the monumental paintings on the colonnades that flanked the two sides of the shrine.
Situated right next to the shrine is the Chapel of the Apparition. It is common to see organised group of pilgrims holding their pilgrimage mass here. PS: our plot to sneak in to join the mass was unfortunately foiled because it was in a language we couldn’t understand.
Next to the chapel is a candle burning area. There are simple candles of varying sizes available for purchase here. Just choose the size you want and drop the money into the box next to it. All proceeds goes to the upkeep of the shrine. For the convenience and its value for money, we bought ours (all the available sizes 😆 ) here.
If you prefer fancier candles or the extra long ones (see picture below), these can be bought from the shops surrounding the shrine.
Finally, take a rest in the small well-kept garden behind the chapel (that’s where the staircase leading to the toilets are) before making your way to the far end of the plaza to visit the small museum (the white building in the picture).