139 year ago this very day, an unspoken message from heaven came to our world at the rural wayside village of Knock, Ireland. The little hamlet was a forgotten corner of the earth in 1879. It consisted of a dozen houses or so, along with the little parish church, the rectory, a school-house, a post office and a few small shops. The village and the social condition of its people at the time, was in many respects like that of the little village of Nazareth in the days of our Lord Jesus. It was poor, peaceful and unknown. Both were under the oppression of a foreign occupier—for Nazareth two thousand years ago it was the Romans, and for Knock a century and a half ago it was the English. The Penal Laws were imposed upon the Irish in attempt to stamp out their Catholic faith; those laws were as degrading as they were oppressive.
Just as they began to be relaxed though not repealed, more misery struck the people of western Ireland. The Great Famine which was proximately caused by potato blight but worsened on account of the repression imposed by the occupying government, resulted in the deaths of one million while another million were to emigrate, reducing the island’s population dramatically. The Great Famine took place between 1845 and 1849, but its last waves continued up until the time of the astonishing event that took place in Knock. Further potato blight was always the great fear. And in that year of 1879, that fear was realized when the crop was found to be a complete failure. The only prospect in the time ahead was further hunger and misery. It was in the midst of this struggle and sorrow that the miraculous message appeared before the villagers of Knock in front of the gable wall of their parish church.
The whole day of August 21, 1879 was marked by a dismal downpour of rain from dawn until dusk. The dreariness was an apt metaphor for a nation plagued by poverty, hunger and oppression. At about 7:30 in the evening, a young woman of the village named Mary Byrne was accompanying Mary McLoughlin, the priest’s housekeeper, to her home. As they came in sight of the gable wall of the little parish church, Mary Byrne remarked to the priest’s housekeeper, “O, look at the statues. Why didn’t you tell me the priest had got new statues for the chapel?” But Mary McLoughlin said she’d heard nothing about them. On coming nearer, however, Mary Byrne said: “But they’re not statues, they’re moving. It’s the Blessed Virgin!” She ran home to tell her widowed mother as well as her brothers and sister and soon others had gathered.
Read more at Catholic World Report.