Knock And Its Shrine by F.P. Carey. Part 2.

It was not to have been expected that the Apparition at Knock should have long remained a merely local wonder. Rapidly the news spread into the neighbouring parishes, thus throughout the country and abroad, bringing to the previously obscure village before a week had passed a concourse of pilgrims and of sufferers in need of heavenly relief from spiritual or physical maladies. The sensationalist and the curious, too, descended in force upon the village, the rear of this motley army of interest being brought up by press representatives from many parts, and prominent among them the special writers of several of the leading British newspapers.

The first recorded cure, the prodigious recovery of a person who had been hopelessly deaf, took place twelve days after the Apparition. It was quickly followed by others even more wonderful. A man stark blind regained his sight . . . A tubercular hip was miraculously made whole . . . A man was completely cured of spinal trouble. Spiritual favours kept pace with temporal blessings. There were in abundance, recalls to grace, reclamations from long lives of sin, rescues from moral despair, conversions to the True Faith, vocations. Within a year, the Diary kept by Archdeacon Cavanagh had record of several hundred cures, among the number, cases of cancer, paralysis, dropsy, rupture and epilepsy. The sixty years diffusion of heavenly aid through the advocacy of Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, had been graciously inaugurated.”Miracles were then the order of the day,” declared our previously-quoted preacher of 1936,”Never a Sunday or feast-day without some half-dozen miracles; but the one I was privileged to witness that day (the cure of the blind man already mentioned) was one of those we term in Theology as of first-class order.

As the Church, following the essential course of caution, is never precipitate in such matters, the ecclesiastical authorities of the Archdiocese of Tuam in which the parish is situate, remained, reticent and inactive in regard of the Apparition during the immediately ensuing months. But presently the reports from Knock, and the daily scenes there rendered the practical attention of the diocesan superiors advisable, if not imperative. Accordingly, on 8th October, 1879, an informal Commission of Enquiry, constituted by authority of the Archbishop of Tuam, was set up, and the depositions of the witnesses taken. The Commission consisted of the illustrious Irish scholar and historian, Canon Ulick Bourke, Canon James Waldron, Parish Priest of Ballyhaunis, and Archdeacon Cavanagh. Its deliberations, however, referred only to the occurrence of 21st August, omitting consideration of the subsequent phenomena, of which there exists, as a consequence, no official record.
As to the evidence which it was their duty to take, the Commissioners are said to have been satisfied that it was trustworthy. Among the heads of their enquiry were the considerations (a) as to whether the Apparition could be claimed to have emanated from natural causes; (b) as to whether there was any positive fraud. In the first cited particular it was reported that no solution as from natural causes could be offered, and in the second that such a suggestion had never, even remotely, been entertained.

But with the presentation of the report, the activities of the Commission obviously came to an end. Nor after the death of Archdeacon Cavanagh in 1897, was there any official, or systematic, return of the graces and favours attributed to recourse to the intercession of Our Lady at Knock, though these have been as numerous and as prodigious since that date as ever before. Yet it is right to acknowledge that all record of intervening cures and answers to prayer at the Shrine have not been lost, for through the years, private persons have taken notes as a result of which, account of many marvellous favours vouchsafed to pilgrims of the period, 1897–1929, has happily been preserved.
It would be almost a contempt of the historic renown of Knock-Mhuire to suggest, even by omission, that its claim to the veneration of men was suffered to pass unchallenged by scepticism, or uncommented upon by the ribald and profane. For, at least, a year after the Apparition, indeed, the Shrine attracted the scoffer and the doubter but exercised, too, the minds of many who were to be regarded as honest critics.
The attempted jibes of a section of the English and Scottish press, and the verbose hostility of the Orange-tinted organs of the Irish press, fell successively flat, and the doubter, as a rule was charitably left to nurse his misgivings in conscience and silence. Yet, when some of the latter made open controversy of their disbelief in the genuineness of the Knock vision, Catholics not being absent from their ranks, the matter had to be faced and the defence of the Shrine as openly prosecuted.

An extensive series of arguments was sustained by different persons in different parts to suggest for the Apparition an origin lesser than that of the supernatural, but these were effectively disposed of by the inability of their very protagonists to prove that the phenomenon had been produced by natural causes, or by material methods. The challenge of doubt, therefore, dwindling in a short time to the one contention that defenders of Knock frankly admitted could have suggested a possibility of solution, namely that a magic lantern had been availed of.
It was decided that the possibility should be explored, at Father Francis Lennon, Professor of Science at Maynooth College made little delay in transporting to Knock a powerful magic lantern, the rays of which he directed from every conceivable angle upon the gable of the Apparition, but only with such result as compelled him to declare the magic lantern contention as “morally speaking, impossible.” A like endeavour was made with equally negative result by an English journalist, and again by a body of some twenty priests from different places, who, with a complete and up-to-date magic lantern, as unavailingly re-picturized the vision before the eyes of all the original witnesses.
Mary Beirne declared that the priests sought to convince them that the pictures were what they had seen on the evening of 21st August, 1879, but added that they were not like the manifestation.”No one could make them like the Apparitions!” she concluded. At length, even the correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph, who had given vigilant attention upon the spot to the story of Knock and its immediate sequence, particularly to -the magic lantern theory, expressed his agreement that the impossibility of that contention had been proven, and, to his credit be it said, he duly reported his finding to the world in the columns of his newspaper.
Here it were meet to refer to what has been written concerning Knock-Mhuire by the erudite liturgical authority and canonist, Father Herbert Thurston, S.J.”I find it hard to believe that these people-simple folk of all ages-were deliberately lying when they stated that they stood or knelt for an hour or more looking at these motionless figures and the illuminated wall of the church in the pouring rain. Although there were two or three children among those who saw the figures, the children were not the first to see them. All the witnesses there were in substantial agreement, though with slight divergences in their description of what they saw.”
After the conclusion of the Commission of Enquiry in 1879, the ecclesiastical authorities took no further step in the matter of the shrine. But during the ensuing half-century the spontaneous and affectionate devotion of the faithful in all parts of the country fostered the habit of approach and confidence to such effect that Knock became one of the outstanding memorials of Irish Catholic Faith. Meanwhile, the return of remarkable spiritual and temporal favours continued, and there gradually generated a feeling among some leading Catholics in the West that the definite perpetuation of the Shrine, and of the honour of Our Lady of Knock, had assumed the character and urgency of a conscientious duty.

It was in 1935 that His Grace the present Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr. Gilmartin, having been approached by these zealous lay people, was pleased to appoint a Commission for the purpose of formulating all matters relevant to the ultimate submission to the Holy See of the claim for the approval of the Shrine. This Commission, which still functions, takes the evidence of all reported cures or favours. A year after its appointment, its deliberations had so magnificently progressed that the Archbishop was enabled to take the forward step of submitting the facts and claim of Knock-Mhuire for examination by the Sacred Congregation of Rites.

The year 1935 was, in fact, a period of the most encouraging advance. Simultaneously with the establishment of the Commission, His Grace the Archbishop ordered a Crusade of Prayer, still enthusiastically proceeding, that its avowed endeavour for the canonical recognition of the Shrine would be speedily and fully attained. A few months later, he approved of the recruitment of a body to be known as the Society for the Promotion of the Cause of Knock Shrine. The objects of this association, the members of which have already rendered splendid service in the development of the devotion of Knock-Mhuire, are the furtherance of the Crusade of Prayer, the organization of pilgrimages, and the assistance at the Shrine of sick and infirm pilgrims. The members are also expected to co-operate, when required, with the Doctors in control of the Medical Bureau.

The latter essential establishment also dates from 1935. More than thirty doctors immediately offered their services, and the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul placed at their disposal a room in their hostel, also guaranteeing the assistance of a trained nursing sister throughout the annual pilgrimage season. Valuable work has been done at Knock by the devoted professional men of the Medical Bureau, which is now under the auspices of that praiseworthy association of Catholic physicians, The Guild of SS. Luke, Cosmas, and Damian.
Definite directions have been made by the Bureau for all invalids approaching the Shrine, and these are rigidly enforced, the principal requirement being that invalids come to Knock provided with a certificate from their own doctor, so that in the event of a cure a full history of the case should be immediately available. But the only purpose of the Bureau is to decide whether a cure had been, or could have been, effected by any means known to medical knowledge, and non-Catholic, or non-believing, doctors may be admitted to it.
In regard to this concentration of expert medical opinion upon the spot in case of emergency the dream of Archdeacon Cavanagh has been realized. He is said to have visualized, and even predicted the rise of the many institutions which have grown up around, and attendant upon, the Shrine. The provision of a hostel for pilgrims may have been inevitable, but it originated, none the less, in the plans for the Knock of the future pondered by” the good pastor of the Apparition period. The existing hostel, in which since 1930 the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul have provided for the accommodation of visitors, temporary and permanent, was, indeed, by him erected. In it he hoped some day to house a community of priests, or monks, charged with providing for the passing needs of men visiting the shrine.

This aspect of his dream has almost been realized in the Committee of Priests desirous of rendering voluntary assistance in the spiritual interests of pilgrims, which, with the approval of Most Rev. Dr. Gilmartin, has more recently been formed. The duties undertaken by these priests consist, of course, of the offering of the Holy Sacrifice, when necessary, at hours not provided for in the standing parochial arrangements, the hearing of Confessions, and the conduct of prayers and of the Stations of the Cross during pilgrimage devotions and vigils.