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Secrets of Fatima, Portugal – More Than A Movie

Fátima, Portugal. Where else can you buy 100 different styles of Jesus magnets, see a piece of the Berlin Wall, and explore a massive cave system?

I haven’t looked into it, but probably not a lot of places! Fátima still sticks out as being unlike anywhere else that we have travelled.

Turning on Netflix this morning to see the newly added “Fátima” movie, gave me just the kick in the pants I needed to:

1.) turn off the TV (sigh)

and

2.) finally write the post that I’ve had in my drafts for a couple months. Oops! 

Pinterest Pin -  text says "Secrets of Fatima" - 2 pictures in a collage with some leafy plants for decoration. Main photo is of a pathway winding through a large well-lit cave. The cave is mostly rosy colours from tan to rust. Bottom Right - A gothic cathedral

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Why Fátima?


I used to obsessively plan my trips and all the sights I HAD to get to. The choice to stay in Fatima, was made arbitrarily from a map for convenience sake. I went on that particular trip with my Mom, and when we rolled into town on a coach, we were quite oblivious about the Fátima story. I did know that there was a big church, because we picked a hotel close to that point of interest.

A picture of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, looking towards the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in the distance. In the foreground to the left is the glass Chapel of the Apparitions. A long smooth walkway runs from camera to the Basilica. The sky is cloudless and blue.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, looking toward Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary


So why were we there?

When we visited Portugal in 2013 it wasn’t quite as tourist-friendly as it is now. There were two things in the area that I wanted to see: Batalha Monastery and Grutas de Mira de Aire. I wasn’t able to find any transit link between these two sights, but Fátima is smack dab between them and the home of Fátima Mini Tours who I found on Facebook. (More about them later!)

A blue graphic map of Batalha Monastery, The town of Fatima, and Grutas de Mira de Aire (caves,) in relation to each other.
These three sights are all within 30 minutes drive of each other


What Surprised Us


Considering how neurotic I used to be, the amount of planning I did around Fátima itself is shocking. As in, none. So we were surprised to find out that it is a big draw for Catholic pilgrims! The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary is a beautiful old church in a HUGE square. The square is known as the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima and was very busy, with people on their knees all over the place. The large glass Chapel of the Apparitions, is also in this square. The faithful line up to light candles at all times. In the evenings there was a particularly long line.

A picture of the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, looking towards the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in the background. An arrow points out the Chapel of the Apparitions in the distance and another points at the queue to get in. The sky is cloudless and blue.
A quieter time at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima


The original basilica had limited capacity, so in the same square is the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, an absolutely massive, futuristic looking, concrete creation. Winning awards for its unique architecture, it can seat 9,000! You may enter both as a tourist, but don’t be surprised if you are the only person who isn’t there for the religious experience!

A picture of the Basilica of the Holy Trinity - A large, concrete, circular building with long concrete slabs flanking the entrance. Long rectangular windows are cut out and submersed into the side of the building. The ground in the area is cobblestones, The sky is cloudless and blue. Trees are visible in the background on each side of the structure.
The Basilica of the Holy Trinity, Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary is directly behind camera.
A picture from the entrance of the Basilica of the Holy Trinity in Fatima, Portugal. Huge concrete slabs jut out on either side of the camera. Against the blue sky above, mesh sail panels hang, decorated with graphics of angels. In the distance is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary.
View from the entrance to the Basilica of the Holy Trinity
Looking into the sanctuary of the empty 9,000 capacity Basilica of the Holy Trinity in Fatima Portugal. Wooden pews line either side of the aisle leading up the the white stone stage. A large brown figure of Jesus on the cross hangs above the pulpit. A huge gold mosaic of the miracle of Fatima encompasses the entire wall in the background. Seven people stand at the front of the church, backs to camera, admiring the scene.
Kanye would approve! Looking into the 9,000 capacity Basilica. Fatima story depicted in gold


More Surprises


Walking around the town, you will really get a feel for what a big deal this place is to serious Catholics! Shops of religious souvenirs abound, as do tourists, but they just aren’t “regular” tourists. Everyone comes to Fátima for a higher purpose, and that energy is palpable. It is an experience like none other. I really can’t explain it.

Pilgrims approach the Chapel of the Apparitions on their knees. The path is smooth and shiny from a multitude of visitors. In the background sits the chapel, a structure of mostly glass with some brown steel supports.
Pilgrims approach the Chapel of the Apparitions on their knees. This chapel is said to mark the very spot that Our Lady of Fatima appeared to the children


The Berlin Wall

Another discovery – with little explanation – is that Fátima (or actually the church?) is the proud home of this piece of the Berlin Wall. I am still not clear on why, but my understanding is that one of the prophecies at Fátima has been interpreted to be about the fall of the Iron Curtain. Regardless, I have never been to Germany, and to see an actual piece of the wall, in Portugal no less, was very interesting.

A slim, tall, section of the the Berlin Wall sits inside of a glass enclosure, backed with stonework. The sun shines in from the right hand side and the glass reflects the trees out of frame.
The Berlin Wall in Fatima, Portugal at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima


The Story Of Fátima

I will be completely honest, I didn’t remember, and was confused by, the Fátima miracle that made the location famous. So I have just googled it again. Maybe I should actually watch the Fatima movie on Netflix!

The tl;dr – A vision of an angel appeared three times in Fátima, 1916, to three children and taught them some Catholic rituals (mostly prayer.) Then the Virgin Mary appeared in Fátima, 1917, to the children six times making prophecies. At some point, the Catholic church involves itself, and declares the events to be “worthy of belief.” One of the shepherd children of Fatima lived longer than the others, and continued to have visions throughout her life.

A graphic drawing of the Virgin Mary, wearing sage green robes on a red background. She stands in front of some line drawn mountains and white rolling hills. She has a yellow aura around her and a yellow and sparkling blue halo. Flowers in yellow, blue, and pink with sage coloured greens frame the foreground on either side of the picture. Sketched grass sits in between the groups of flowers. A black rosary sits on top of the flowers in the left hand corner.
Our Lady of Fatima appeared to shepherd children where the Chapel of Apparitions now sits

 

Secrets of Fatima


Where it gets confusing is that some people refer to “Fatima’s three miracles” but it was actually numerous appearances over a period of two years. The three secrets of Fatima, are portions of the message from the Virgin Mary apparition, that were not made public. (Out of fear that they would terrorize everyone.) Fatima secret three, wasn’t even released until the year 2000!

(You can read more about the story in this article that was written for the centennial of the Fátima miracle.)


I don’t think personal beliefs matter much here, allow yourself to get swept up in the magic, it’s more fun that way! Fatima’s devout don’t need a Nancy Grace.

 

What We Did Come For


As I mentioned at the beginning, we chose Fátima because of it’s proximity to Batalha Monastery, and some caves. To get around, I had found a Facebook page for Fátima Mini Tours*. I contacted them and they were more than happy to take us on a custom tour of both the monastery and the caves that we wanted to visit. I gathered that they were just a couple of young guys with a mini bus, trying to start a business. It was truly delightful.

*This post is not sponsored in any way. Opinions and reviews are completely my own.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Fátima mini Tours (@fatima_mini_tours)

Our host was chatty and very accommodating, touring us around both sights, and handling the entrance fees. He picked us up and dropped us off right at our hotel. I typically hate tours, but this was seriously so fun and comfortable. I would do it again in a heartbeat! We also found it very reasonably priced to have someone drive us around all day! Fatima Mini Tours now offers a tour on their website for the Batalha Monastery and the Moeda Caves, so I like to think I helped create that. (Although the caves are different ones, closer to Fátima. Don’t burst my bubble!)

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Fátima mini Tours (@fatima_mini_tours)

 

 

Batalha Monastery

 

The stately gothic Batlaha Monastery sits on a fairly plain, cobbled square. A few trees cast long shadows in the foreground.The sky is bright blue and cloudless. The building itself is a mottled light to dark grey, with cream and tan in spots. Spires decorate every angle of the structure and around each window and the roof is an intricate gothic pattern of stone.
Batalha Monastery – The full scale of the structure is difficult to see from any one spot

 

The Batalha Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight — Okay, big guns! — located in, Batalha no less! Construction began in 1386, and despite being worked on for 131 years, was never finished. Regardless, UNESCO declares it to be “one of the absolute masterpieces of Gothic art.” Truly it is.

 

A close up of the stately gothic Batlaha Monastery. The sky is light blue and cloudless. The monastery is a mottled light grey or tan, to black. Spires decorate every angle of the structure and around each window and the roof is an intricate gothic pattern of stone. Centre of the picture is two tall, slim, stained glass windows.
A closer view of one corner of Batalha

 

The Monastery’s exterior is incredible, but the interior is equal to it. The main chapel area is massive with sky-high ceilings and elaborate architecture. One of the most interesting parts however, is that it is still home to the actual tombs of Portuguese rulers, as well as their children, including Prince Henry the Navigator. There are not too many places in this world that you can actually reach out and touch the final resting place of Kings and Queens.

(Don’t do that, but you could.)

 

A cream coloured stone tomb sits atop a decorative stone slab. On the top lie the sculptures of a Queen and King. (Only the Queen is fully visible) An ornate crown hovers above each of their heads and decorative stone supports their feet. Under them, along the top of the tomb, is delicate carved filigree leaves. In the background, intricate carved stone pillars stand in front of a stone block wall. Stained glass windows are partially visible on each side of the frame. A window behind the camera shines light onto the tomb, including a rainbow of light onto the King's crown.
The tomb of Kind Joao I and Queen Priscilla of Lancaster
Five elaborate stained glass windows, stories high, are surrounded by many bevels of stone. Above them five more slightly shorter stained glass windows reach to the ceiling in the same style.
Elaborate stained glass in Batalha Monastery near Fatima, Portugal

The Unfinished Chapels are another memorable feature of Batalha. They were started as a second royal mausoleum and are also very elaborate – with just one thing missing, the roof! It is now an impressive and quirky open-air exhibit.

Looking through a monstrous gothic doorway to a dark corner of Batalha Monastery. Light filters in from the open roof above. The sides of the doorway contain at least twelve intricately decorated bevels. Everything is made of light cream stone. In the middle of the frame, in the dark corner, weather has turned parts of the stone black.
A quiet corner of the modest Batalha Monastery
The Unfinished Chapels of Batalha Monastery. Three intricate doorways (no doors) in the stone walls. The rooms on each side are an open area where they were intended to be filled with more royal tombs. The one in the centre  is the entrance back to the main part of the Monastery. The blue sky above is fully visible as there is no roof.
The Unfinished Chapels of Batalha Monastery, near Fatima, Portugal.

Grutas de Mira de Aire

The Grutas de Mira de Aire are the caves I mentioned earlier, and is the largest cave system in Portugal! Entrance is affordable, at € 7.00 per adult, € 4.20 for kids aged 5 to 11, and free for under 5. It is a bit out of the way, but only about 20 minutes drive from Fátima or 30 minutes from Batalha. Trekking through the caves themselves, takes about 45 minutes. The one-way tour starts at the ticket office and winds it’s way through the caves to the bottom.

A path winds through Grutas de Mira de Aire (the caves of Mira de Aire.) Either side of the path lights up the stone walls of the cave. The cave is very large and ranges in colour from tan to rust. The path is visible for a few hundred feet ahead, as it slowly descends.
A path winds through Grutas de Mira de Aire (the Caves of Mira de Aire)

 

Definitely worth taking a Fátima Mini Tour if they still offer custom trips! Typically you will have to wait for other people to show up and then enter as a group for the tour (possibly different after Covid is over and they re-open.) However our guide was able to speak with the ticket agent and take us through himself. 

A straight section of the path through the Grutas de Mira de Aire. In the foreground, dark stone walls and stalactites frame the photo. The centre of the photo is focused on a large well-lit opening with a huge stone formations that looks almost bubbly and poured from above.
A taste of the interesting formations at Grutas de Mira de Aire


I feel like on any other trip, caves of this magnitude would have been THE highlight. They were my original reason for even going to this area. I really like caves and I wanted to explore some of the biggest in Portugal! They were big, well-lit, and interesting. The funny thing about knowing what to expect though, is that it’s all a bit less fun than the unexpected! We encountered so many unique surprises in and around Fátima, that while the caves were completely worth the visit, they were a minor highlight.

A rusty red section of the caves. Sharp, drippy, stone formations cling to the ceiling.
The caves provide a large variety of stone and colour
The camera focuses through what looks like a swirl of green-lit stone into a hole in the middle.
An interesting formation. Which way is up?

 

Where We Stayed

We picked accommodation directly beside the main square. That ended up being the Hotel Aleluia

Hotel Aleluia is a fairly small hotel with sleek curvy balconies next to the main attraction of Fátima – The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima.

The sun sets over some rolling hills in the background. A single star is visible in the sky. The photo looks out through the curved facade of the other hotel room balconies on the right half of the frame. Below and to the left is a street and on the other side a group of trees. Centre is some street lights and a traffic circle. In the dusk you can make out a figure crossing the street.
View from our balcony at Hotel Aleluia, looking towards the rolling hills around Fatima

 

This is still one of my favourite memories of the whole Portugal trip! Guests could enjoy a meal downstairs included in the stay. During our stay, there was a group of senior citizens who dined at the same time as us, and broke out into singing and dancing (including a conga!) Therefore, atmosphere at this hotel gets a 10/10. (Even though we sat it out.)

A conga line of ten older women smiling at the camera, weaves past a table in the dining room of Hotel Aleluia. In the foreground to the right, a gentleman looks on and smiles. In the background to the right, two older gentlemen also watch.
Why the conga started after dinner at the Hotel Aleluia? Nobody knows.
In the dark the Hotel Aleluia, sits on a street corner, and is lit from inside and out. The curved balconies jut out over the right hand side, above the sidewalk. In front of them hangs the lit up "Hotel Aleluia" sign. The street below the balconies is lined with street lights. Another streetlight is front and centre in the shot. Steps lead up to the glass front doors of the hotel directly ahead.
The front of Hotel Aleluia from the street



Fatima is an amazing part of Portugal! The atmosphere of the town is truly unlike anywhere else that I’ve been. I whole-heartedly enjoyed our private mini-tour, and Batalha Monastery is still one of the most interesting historical sites that I’ve been to. One day, I would love to take my family back to Fátima!

If you plan a holiday to Portugal, don’t forget to leave the beach! There is so much to discover here.

(Speaking of the beach, see My Top 3 Beaches here! *hint – Portugal is involved*)

For more off the beach in my Portugal series, don’t miss my post on must-see sights in Sintra!