With its origins deep in history, it was during the Arabian occupation that this settlement developed and was named. According to legend, during the Christian Reconquest, the Templar knight Gonçalo Hermingues, also known as Bringer-of-Moors, fell in love with Fátima, a Moor captured in the course of an ambush.
Reciprocating the love, the young woman converted to Christianity and adopted the name Oureana. In the sixteenth century, the settlement became a parish in the collegiate church of Ourém within the Diocese of Leiria. Its subsequent development dates from the events known as the Apparitions of Fátima, in the early part of the twentieth century. It has become one of the key centers for the Cult of the Virgin Mary in Portugal and has been recognised world-wide by the Catholic Church. The first apparition took place in 1917, in Cova da Iria, at the site of the current Sanctuary.
The most important celebrations are held on 13th May (including the Candlelit Procession on the night of the 12th and the Farewell Procession closing the event on the 13th) and 13th October. Furthermore, the 13th of every month between these two dates is also a day of devotion.
For those interested in the historical context of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fátima, visits can be made to the houses of the shepherd witnesses in the village of Aljustrel.
In the gardens of Casa de Lúcia, there is a monument commemorating the second apparition of the Angel of Peace and the end of the Via Sacra which begins in the Sanctuary.
Along this route, there are 14 chapels donated by Hungarian Catholic refugees in the West.
Of particular note is Valinhos, 400 metres from the village where monuments commemorate the fourth apparition in 1917 as well as the place chosen by the angel.
Here, in 1916, the shepherds saw the Angel of Peace for the first and third times.
The Sanctuary of Fátima annually welcomes hundred of thousands of pilgrims and tourists. Many come to participate in the celebrations that commemorate the apparitions of Our Lady to the three witness of Fátima.
In the Fátima calendar, the dates May 13th (the first apparition) and October 13th mean a rise in the numbers visiting the Sanctuary – built on the site of the first apparition – and the places where the three children lived in Aljustrel, a village located around two kilometres away.
In Aljustrel, there is a religious route tracing the spots where Lúcia de Jesus, aged 10, and cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto, aged nine and seven respectively, declared they saw the Angel of Our Lady of Fátima.
Between April and October 1916, the three children bore witness that they saw the Angel on three occasions with them being invited to join in prayer and penitence.
In May 1917, the children were tending a small flock of sheep in Cova da Iria, within the parish of Fátima, in the council of Vila Nova de Ourém. Around mid-day, after saying the rosary as was their custom, they set about building a small construction out of loose stones on the spot where there now is the Basilica.
Suddenly, they saw a brilliant light and above a small holm-oak tree (where the Chapel of the Apparitions now is) appeared a «Lady more brilliant than the Sun». The Lady told the three shepherds that much prayer was required and invited them to return to Cova da Iria at the same time on the 13th of each of the five following months.
The children did just that and on the 13th of June, July, September and October, the Lady again appeared before them and talked to them.
On 19th August, there was an apparition at Valinhos, some 500 metres from Aljustrel, as, on that 13th, the children had been taken by the Council Administrator to Vila Nova de Ourém.
For the final apparition, on 13th October, around 70,000 people were in attendance, the Lady told them she was the «Lady of the Rosary» and that they were to build a chapel there in Her honour.
After the apparition, all those observed the miracle, promised to the three children in July and September: the sun, resembling a silver disc, could be looked upon without difficulty. It then began rotating, taking the form of a wheel of fire, seeming to disappear into the earth.
Later, in Spain, Lúcia, who joined the order of Saint Dorothy, experienced a further three visions of Our Lady (10th December 1925, 15th February 1926 and during the night of 13th to 14th June 1929).
The vision called for the five first Saturdays to be devoted to the conversion of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
This final request was part of the «Three Secrets of Fátima» – a set of revelations made to Lúcia by Our Lady. Lúcia later wrote to Pope Pius XIIth to inform him of what had been revealed to her.
On 13th October 1930, the Bishop of Leiria gave the seal of church approval to the apparitions, officially authorising worship of Our Lady of Fátima, declaring it «Divine Providence».
13th May 2000, Pope John Paul II visited Fátima to beatify the witnesses Francisco and Jacinta Marto.