In 1917 the Holy Virgin appeared to three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, in the small mountain village of Fatima in Portugal. They saw a woman hovering above an oak tree, "brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal ball filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun" (as described by Lucia). Holding a rosary in her hand, the Blessed Virgin told the children not to be afraid and that "I come from Heaven."
The Virgin Mary appeared to the children five more times, always on the 13th day of the month, and told them secret prophecies about the future of the world and the Church. Each month more and more of the faithful prayerfully gathered for these apparitions.
The Blessed Virgin promised the children a miracle that would occur on the day of her last apparition, October 13, 1917. Over 70,000 pilgrims, along with reporters and sceptics, gathered that rainy day at Fatima. At midday the children knelt in prayer with uplifted faces towards a vision they alone could see, in which the Virgin Mary declared herself as "the Lady of the Rosary," requesting a chapel to built in that spot, and adjuring all to pray the Rosary daily. Then, seeing a disc of light rise from the Virgin's hands, Lucia cried out "Look at the sun!"
The clouds broke and the sun appeared as a opaque silver disc that all could gaze on without hurting their eyes. It then began to whirl rapidly like a gigantic firewheel, casting brilliant colored lights across the sky, the landscape, and the faces and clothes of the onlookers, now green, now red, now blue. After three repetitions of this spectacle it began to zig-zagged down towards the earth, to the terror of the onlookers; then returned back to its position in the sky, became tranquil, and then returned to its natural dazzling appearance.
"The sun, at one moment surrounded with scarlet flame, at another aureoled in yellow and deep purple, seemed to be in an exceedingly swift and whirling movement, at times appearing to be loosened from the sky and to be approaching the earth, strongly radiating heat," described a reporter writing for the newspaper Ordem.
The onlookers were amazed to find their rain-soaked clothes now dry, and the muddy pools of rain water that had collected in the valley had dried up within the few minutes of the apparition – a phenomena that engineers who studied the case said could only have occurred through an incredible amount of energy.
Even the anti-clerical secular newspaper O Dia reported "The sun trembled and made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws – it 'danced,' according to the typical expression of the people."