Knock: a history best not forgotten by the Faithful

Knock: a history best not forgotten by the Faithful


In the 19th Century, Knock was typical of the villages dotted around the West of Ireland. It was a small collection of thatched houses and two school houses with the parish church at its centre.

On the evening of August 21, 1879, Our Lady appeared at the gable of the church in the company of St Joseph and St John the Evangelist.

Unique to the Apparition at Knock is the representation of the Eucharist in the appearance of the Lamb on the altar, standing before a cross. The local villagers prayed before this silent Apparition in heavy rain for about two hours.

For 140 years, pilgrims have come to Knock from all over the world. Each person carries with them their own personal story, following in the footsteps of those who have come before them. The silence of the message at Knock calls each of us to find our own personal meaning as we gather to pray and reflect at the sacred place.

Meeting heaven at harvest time

The witnesses – men, wo-men and children – were hardworking people who, at the harvest time of year, had spent the day bringing home hay and turf. As evening fell and the sky darkened, a heavy rain fell as they settled in for the evening. At about 8pm, two women made their way along the lane that led past the church. They were neighbours and friends. One was making her way homewards and the other kept her company along the way.

Mary McLoughlin, the priest’s housekeeper, had been visiting the family home of Mary Byrne and, as they continued their conversation along the road, they suddenly saw a heavenly vision at the gable of the church as they came closer to the churchyard.

They went quickly to the nearby houses to gather people ranging in age from five to 74 years. Fifteen witnesses gave their written account of what they saw that evening. Mary Byrne’s widowed mother, Margaret, came with her son Dominick (Jnr), her daughter Margaret and her little granddaughter Catherine Murray who was eight years old. The elderly Bridget Trench was with Judy Campbell as she had called to visit Judy’s mother, who was unwell. Patrick Byrne, a young man of 16 years, came from a neighbouring house. From the other side of the village, two younger boys, Patrick Hill and John Curry who were aged 12 and 5 respectively, ran to the church upon hearing the news.

Knock parish church has been at the spiritual heart of the village since 1828”

They were joined by John’s uncle Dominick Byrne and John Durkan, a farm labourer who had been helping the Byrnes that day.

Bridget Flatley was returning home after a visit to her relatives in the village when she passed by the church that evening and Patrick Walsh, who was out in the fields at dusk, saw the brightness at the church from his farm about a mile from Knock.

The story is told

Shortly after the Apparition, a Commission of Enquiry was established to hear the testimonies of the witnesses.

All were found to be trustworthy in their accounts. In 1936, a second Commission of Enquiry was held to interview Mary Byrne O’Connell and Patrick Byrne, the two elderly witnesses still living in Knock at that time. In 1937 John Curry, the youngest witness to the Apparition, gave his testimony at a specially convened enquiry in New York.

Knock parish church

Knock parish church has been at the spiritual heart of the village since 1828. Dedicated to St John the Baptist, a simple plaque on its West elevation prophetically states ‘My House shall be called the house of Prayer to all Nations’ (Matt 11).

This historic church has been carefully and sensitively restored for future generations of parishioners and pilgrims and stands as a testament to the faithful devotion of those who have gathered at this sacred place for almost 200 years.

Knock Basilica

With its spire clearly visible across the rural Western skyline, this iconic church was constructed in honour of Our Lady, Queen of Ireland and dedicated in 1976 to provide for the pilgrims who visit Knock Shrine each year.

The church was elevated to the status of Basilica by Pope John Paul II when he visited Knock Shrine in 1979 and was extensively redeveloped in 2015.

Its stunning interior can be equally described as aesthetically beautiful and spiritually uplifting. Knock Basilica forms a serene backdrop for ceremonies throughout the pilgrimage season, most notably the National Novena to Our Lady of Knock which continues unbroken since 1977.

Apparition mosaic

The Apparition mosaic at Knock Basilica is a magnificent representation of the evening of August 21, 1879. The vivid richness of over 1.5 million individual pieces of coloured glass combine in unison to give a sense of the wonder and awe that the people of the village must have felt as they gazed at the heavenly vision before them.

The mosaic is one of the largest of its kind in Europe and is based on an artistic representation of the Apparition by renowned Irish illustrator, PJ Lynch.

It was crafted by Travisanutto Mosaics in Spilimbergo, Italy. Echoing the evening of the Apparition, the local people of Spilimbergo gathered to gaze upon the beautiful artwork before it was brought to Ireland to be inlaid by hand in the sanctuary at the Basilica.

For some, Knock evokes childhood memories of family visits and a closeness to those who have gone before us”

Pope John Paul II

To celebrate the centenary of the Knock Apparition of 1879, Pope John Paul II visited Knock Shrine on September 30, 1979.

He arrived in Knock by helicopter to a gathering of over 450,000 people. The place where he said Mass is now marked by a large Papal Cross.

He presented a Golden Rose, a symbol of the Risen Lord, as a gift to the Shrine on the occasion. It was one of only nine Golden Roses presented by Pope John Paul II during his 25-year papacy.

The message of Knock reveals itself every day to the pilgrims who are drawn to this special place. When you cross the threshold and enter Knock Shrine, you leave behind the worry and cares of our troubled world and join with your fellow pilgrims on a journey.

Each person who comes here has their own reason for making the journey, however long or short, to experience the unique atmosphere that is found in Knock.

For some, Knock evokes childhood memories of family visits and a closeness to those who have gone before us. It is a reminder of the faith and devotion that has been passed down through generations. Some come searching for answers and consolation, others to give simple thanks. Many are drawn by curiosity and the desire to reconnect with God.

Pilgrims find themselves refreshed in their faith and renewed in spirit. For all who come to seek and find, Knock offers hope.