Apparition Knock Conclusion



This is the concluding points to the Knock apparition of 1879. In part II the fourteen witnesses testimonies were put together to describe what happened that rainy night of August 21, 1879 where a bright light and motionless figures were seen by some who thought they were statues until one witness realized they were not on the ground but floating two feet in the air.

Knock is an unusual apparition in that this Marian apparition and accompanying figures were motionless and did not speak or relay any message. Many have put their own interpretation on why the silence. Why was there no message from the Virgin Mary on that rainy night? The official film on Knock called The Story of Knock states this interpretation for the silence, but there are many others according to what one wants to place emphasis on what is behind the appearances. The film stated, “With the passage of years, the richness of the apparition becomes clearer. Mary is the Mother of God. Her message is a silent one. Namely, that she is present with souls who suffer now as she was with Jesus on Calvary and with the people of Knock and their privations in 1879.”

Knock was frequently dubbed an ‘Irish Lourdes' during the 1880's after the 1858 Lourdes appearance and had been well publicized across Ireland by 1879. Some conclude that the Irish were wanting their own international phenomena and proof of their Irish piety as well as looking for the Virgin Mary's help in a very trying time. Some sociologists have surmised that like in earlier apparitions in France and Fatima, those "visitations" developed at a time of immense cultural, social and economic change, and occurred to people whose traditional society was under threat from dramatic change as was happening in Ireland and explained in part I. Ireland was undergoing a period of dramatic upheaval and Mayo County and the parish priest, Archdeacon Cavanagh, were heavily involved in some of those dramatic events.

The Irish had been experiencing several major traumatic events and situations for over a hundred years. At the time of the apparition a repeat of the earlier famine was occurring and not only were many starving but they were made homeless by the rising rents and were either already evicted or were going to be evicted soon, especially in Mayo County. This kicked off the Land War where the people were rising up together to fight the land owners and state their cause. Knock was evolved because the parish priest, Archdeacon Cavanagh took the side of the landlords which kicked off a huge march of protesters to diverge upon the small village of Knock just two months before the apparition.

At the time of the apparition the Feast of the Assumption was being celebrated in Knock. This Feast celebration is one of the oldest and most important of Marian feasts. Celebrations began in the seventh century yet the assumption was not proclaimed an official doctrine of the Church until 1950. The feast is celebrated for eight days and began on August 15 and ended on the 22nd. The apparition occurred on the eve of the 22nd celebration. While most would believe that this apparition was timed to Mary's Feast, there was another side to the story. Rather, the clergy most likely added this emphasis to the story of the apparition to give it more authority and meaning to the Virgin's appearance at that time. Not surprisingly, due to the the clergy's close relationship with those of the newspapers, as explained in part I, there was no mention of any issues with the Knock parish or priest, or any other clergy in Mayo County at the time of the apparition. Thus, the apparition story was weaved in the press to fit what the Mayo county clergy wanted the world to believe about what happened at the gable of the church on the night of August 21, 1879. I will share some of those points forthcoming.

The eve of feast days usually have no specific celebration or meaning. The main celebration of the Feast had already occurred and in Knock their focus would be tied more to the nearby church in Ballyhaunis and their involvement with the pilgrimage there. Each year there was an elaborate celebration the last week in August for the Feast of St. Augustine. Thousands would gather and the Knock choir had performed there in past feasts. Pilgrims from all surrounding counties would attend high mass along with elaborate religious celebrations.

The young Patrick Beirne mentions in his testimony it was "the eve before the Octave day", where it most likely had no meaning to him personally, it was rather inserted most likely as part of the manipulation by the local priest before, during or after the Commission investigation. No other witness referred to this Feast in their testimonies. More on that below.

The appearance of the Virgin Mary also matched the widely circulated paintings at that time of this assumption concept. Mary’s arms are outstretched upwards (Knock Mary to the left) and the figures are seen hovering above the ground. Pictures of Mary’s assumption regularly feature Mary a few feet above the ground, or up in the air on her way to heaven (picture below).

Archdeacon Cavanagh had just finished giving 100 masses for the intentions of the souls in Purgatory. One suggestion as to why he started this project was because his parishioners could not afford the usual offerings for masses for their own intentions due to the hard times financially. Another view is the start of the 100 masses began at the time of Cavanagh’s harsh altar condemnation on the Land League organizers. Since he believed in his role as a priest was to support the people but in this case he had not, his offering most likely was aimed to do penance for the evil doings of the Land League and present to the community his religious fervor.

The Land League aimed to get all the clergy on their side. Cavanagh and the highly regarded Archbishop MacHale stood out in their adamant stand against the organizers with their mission to change the tenant-landlord longstanding relationship. Cavanagh had a good relationship with the local landlord in their Parish who had helped the people during the earlier famine, unlike many other landlords in the area. Yet all in Mayo County did not have such good landlords and the local people were in risk of being evicted if things did not change. (In this famine the Knock landlord eventually reduced their rent by 30%.)

The new co-bishop MacEvilly (who did not get along with MacHale) had called the Land League organizers "godless nobodies" which of course did not sit well with them and only enticed the organizers and the people to prove they were in control and had power, which they eventually exercised. Yet the clergy could not give in to them for fear of giving up their power, even if they realized change was needed. It is not far-fetched to believe that the Land War and Fr Cavanagh's opposition to the lay people's cause with his support of the landlords caused consternation to the Beirne family who were closely involved with the church and him.

While many devout Catholics will accept by faith that an apparition occurred, reason can take another viewpoint in what happened that night. The theory of the magic lantern was covered in part II and is still a possibility but there most likely will never be any definitive proof uncovered at this late date. Yet, while Fr Cavanagh could have arranged this light illusion, and the reason he would not go to the window or see for himself the light that two witnesses at separate times that evening asked him to do, the position of the three figures does not put the clergy in a favorable opinion and would not have been the best choice for a slide to be projected.

The Claim of St. John the Evangelist
At Mary's side are believed to be the figures of St. Joseph (to Mary's right) and St. John the Evangelist (to Mary's left). Initially, the St. John figure/statue was claimed to represent a bishop because of the mitre on its head. Most of the witnesses called this figure either bishop or St. John. This was later changed under the influence of the clergy. I will explain in a moment. One of the witnesses Dominick Beirne, Sr., had recently been to the city of Lecanvey where he had seen a statue of St. John very similar to the bishop figure in the apparition. The only problem is there has been found no documentation that any such statue existed. What did exist was a larger-than-life statue of Archbishop 'John' MacHale created in honor of his golden jubilee as a bishop, unveiled a few years earlier in Tuam. Many saw him as a saint, so it is possible the greatly liked Archbishop "St. John" MacHale was believed to be the statue. Yet, he would not fit in with an apparition as he was still alive but would serve, in the minds of the witnesses, to confer the message that the Virgin was superior to him and her appearance as criticism of MacHale's handling of the Land War. This was a message the Knock community, and especially the Beirne family, could not openly relay to the clergy but could hope to convey through this silent message.

So later input from probably Fr. Cavanagh, changing the labeled "St. John" by the seers to be the Evangelist John, and could easily have been done with no disagreement from the witnesses as they gave in to his authority not daring to say it was really, as one or both of the Beirne sisters believed, Bishop MacHale.

Mary Beirne also mentioned a statue in Lecanvey. She was the first witness to claim an apparition was appearing and what she saw, which was passed on to most of the others before they even arrived at the scene. She said “The third figure appeared to be that of St. John the Evangelist. I do not know, only I thought so, except the fact that at one time I saw a statue at the chapel of Lecanvey, near Westport, Co. Mayo, very much resembling the figure which stood now before me...I must remark that the statue which I had formerly seen at Lecanvey chapel had no mitre on its head, while the figure which now beheld had one, not a high mitre, but a short set kind of one...It was this coincidence of figure and pose that made me surmise, for it is only an opinion, that the third figure was that of St. John, the beloved disciple of Our Lord, but I am not in any way sure what saint or character the figure represented. I said, as I now expressed, that it was St. John the Evangelist, and then all the others present said the same – said what I stated."

First, the Virgin is central to the scene, taller than the two smaller figures next to her implying she has a higher power even above the bishop (to the left of her) as shown in the picture to the left taken of the Knock shrine. While newspaper articles claimed the witnesses believed the bishop represented St. John the Evangelist because several saw a St. John statue like it in a nearby town, that statue did not have a mitre on its head.  However, in Ballyhaunis, there was a stained glass image of Mary and two others standing in a pose reminiscent of the pose of the figures at Knock.
The image to the right is part of the stained glass window from that church. It is St. Patrick who has his hand raised in the same way, wears a small mitre and even gazes in the same direction as the Knock bishop did. The only major differences are that he carries a crook not a gospel book and his robes are not pure white.

If a layperson was in an emotional state to create or fabricate a scene to deal with the unspoken voice they could not speak, the bishop would represent Archbishop MacHale who was a local saint to many as mentioned in an earlier article. If one was close to Fr Cavanagh and yet sided with the Land League which side would they publicly show? If they sided publicly with the Land League this would jeopardize their relationship with the priest who was against the Land League. If they sided with the priest they could not publicly show themselves at the meetings or receive the ire from the attendees.

What better way than to send an unspoken message via the Virgin, that the priests needed to support the people and not the landlords. Yet, when the story finally went public about an appearance of the Virgin in Knock, the story was not entirely the same as what the visionaries originally had seen or believed they saw. What happened in the six weeks before the one-day interview with the seers during the Commission interrogation? What happened to their first testimonies? Their original copies have never been found.

Altering of Testimonies
Rev. Michael Walsh stated in his book, The Apparition at Knock written in 1955: “the original documents of this Commission are not extant.” The official records of this Inquiry were turned over to the Archbishop and have since “disappeared.” Why are they missing? One author on Knock suggests the possibility exists that the Commission issued a negative opinion and, afterwards, seeing the great popularity of the apparition, the documents registering that opinion were destroyed. In the absence of the records of the official Commission, the earliest documents believed to closely resemble the original testimonies are taken from the two secular newspapers, the Weekly News and the Tuam News. 

So, the official records of the Knock Inquiry that were in the sole possession of the hierarchy have gone missing. Yet, what was printed in the newspapers five months after the vision are believed to be edited forms of the original testimonies to meet certain criteria and uniformity in the testimonies of the seers. Some of the original testimonies appeared in Washington D.C. almost a century later, as described in part II. They are the testimonies of Mary Beirne, her sister Maggie, Dominick Beirne Sr. and Jr., Judith Campbell and Bridget Trench. Their handwritten testimonies reveal some of what they originally provided as well as what was edited out for publication by Fr Cavanagh. They also reveal that Bridget Trench, who only spoke Irish, gave her testimony in Irish and as she spoke whichever priest was officiating took short, brief notes and then later wrote down what he remembered with no guarantee her testimony was as she testified.

Mary Beirne, Dominick Beirne, Jr., and Bridget Trench's are all in the same hand. They appear to be written 1 July 1880 thus not reliable as the original copies. Judith Campbell, Margaret Beirne and Dominick Beirne, Sr.'s accounts appear to be originals of the October 1879 commission testimonies.

For example, you can see on Judith Campbell's handwritten testimony what was altered for publication. Of the altar and lamb she wrote, "the cross (was) reclining on his back." This was changed to "and the likeness of a Lamb on it, with a cross at the back of the Lamb".

As to the statues she wrote, "St. Joseph to her right, and bent towards the Virgin, St. John, as we were led to call the third statue..." Statue was changed to figure. Then Judith wrote, "All the statues (again, edited to figures) were dressed in white."

Judith wrote, "What I thought was the statue of St. John to the right" was changed to "St. John, as we were led to call the third figure, was to the left of the Virgin, and in his left hand he held a book."

There is also some proof there was some edification was done by the priests in the different copies that were printed by John MacPhilpin, editor and owner of the Tuam News and later slightly changed in Thomas Sexton's book connected with the The Nation.

For example Mary McLoughlin’s testimony written by MacPhilpin:

I saw a wonderful number of strange figures or appearances at the gable, one like the B.V. Mary, and one like St. Joseph, another a bishop.

The testimony written by Sexton states:

I saw a vision in which there appeared to be three figures—one that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of St. Joseph, and the other to be, as I thought, the likeness of St. John the Evangelist.

These few changes (bolded above) alter Mary's testimony greatly. Because they are both written in first person Sexton's testimony gives credence to the belief that the witness saw a vision not some "strange figures". One publication wrote that “the authenticity, both of the apparitions and of the cures effected at the Shrine of Knock has been established beyond all doubt”. The book claims to present the “official testimony…and authentic evidence". The other book claimed to print a “full and perfect copy of the text of the depositions”. Yet, as the example above, these statements are false. Although small changes that may matter little to the faithful, they reveal the edification involved to frame the apparition and influence the public to accept the legitimacy and reliability of the apparition and witnesses.

It was 29-year-old Mary Beirne who claimed there was an apparition occurring while she was walking to the church with Mary McLoughlin. She was substituting for her brother Dominick who was the sacristan of the church. His duties were to unlock and lock the church daily and setting up the church for various devotions, and that prior week for setting up the Assumption devotions.

Mary McLoughlin had walked by the apparition site a half hour before her return by it with Mary Beirne. She had noticed a bright light near the southern wall and three statues. She wondered that the church priest, Archdeacon Cavanagh had ordered statues and left them out in the rain and why he had not told her. Yet, she thought nothing ethereal about the view and mentioned it to no one.

Still earlier, Mary Beirne’s sister, Margaret, had gone to lock the church at around half past seven. She had noticed something luminous at the south gable but did not inquire or look further to see what it was. Thus, three people in that household were tied to the parish and support of Fr Cavanagh, as well as their friendship with Mary McLoughlin, Cavanagh's housekeeper. They were caught between supporting two opposing sides, which neither side could they take openly.

Mary Beirne, upon walking by the church with Mary McLoughlin, exclaimed that the statues were not ordinary of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and the bishop at the gable because they were hovering in the air. She quickly determined it was an apparition and ran off to tell others. Thus it was Mary Beirne who spread the word to most all who appeared that an apparition was occurring and who the figures were. In turn, her brother Dominick repeated her words to other relatives who lived nearby.

The only two witnesses who were not told by Mary that an apparition was occurring were Mrs. Hugh Flatley who went by before the other’s arrived. As Mary McLoughlin described with her first coming across the scene, Mrs. Flatley thought the parish priest had ornamented the church with beautiful statues. She claimed they were Mary, St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist. Yet as noted before, her testimony stated thusly after conversing with the others on who the statues represented before giving her official testimony.

The other witness was Patrick Walsh who saw the bright light from a distance about a mile away. He described the light as brilliant and high up in the air, stationary, and circular in appearance. Thus, the most common part of the scene between all the witnesses was the light. Yet, their descriptions of that light varied.

Patrick Hill, eleven, gives the most detailed description of the entire apparition in published documents, but no copy of his testimony survives anywhere. Canon Bourke, parish priest of Clairemorris, took Patrick's deposition, as his name was printed in the newspapers as the witness to Patrick's testimony. Patrick also lived in Clalremorris near Fr Bourke and is believed to have attended the Catholic school. Bourke would call for Patrick to come give his account to various visiting reporters. Eugene Hynes, in Knock: the Virgin's apparition in nineteenth-century Ireland, suggests that through all the positive attention he was getting he either “consciously or unconsciously added a little by way of embroidery.” Hynes also points out that it was probably no coincidence that many of the descriptive details of orthodox iconography Patrick Hill gave were found in contemporary representations in pictures and statues that were circulated through the schools. He told a reporter that the altar and the lamb in the apparition appeared “as represented in Catholic pictures”.

Altar Scene
In the above Knock shrine replication of the vision you see an altar, lamb and cross. Not having the original testimonies the earliest reliable documents are from the news reporters. There are many questionable points on what was said in various interviews and said or not said in the published testimonies as well as what was altered from the second commission testimonies taken many years later. These facts suggest that something is askew with that altar scene, even possibly not witnessed originally or only imagined by a few of the younger children.

As with witnesses to crimes or accidents, their testimonies can vary quite a lot. What one sees or remembers is not dependable. Yet this apparition remain unchanged for two hours and still the witnesses' interviews and testimonies differ on this altar. Some of the witnesses saw an altar with a lamb on it, some witnesses did not mention them at all and some did not see the lamb but only an altar and some did not see the cross behind the Lamb. The Lamb and altar were in the background to the right of the figures. Two boys, Patrick Hill, 11, and John Curry, 6, mentioned seeing angels around the altar. The youngest boy said he was told by Patrick Hill that what he saw were angels.

  • Dominick Sr. said he saw an altar with figures representing saints and angels traced or carved on the lower part of it. He mentions no lamb or cross.
  • Maggie Beirne mentions an altar but no lamb, cross or angels. In MacPhilpin's book she states she did not see a lamb or cross. In edited copies found in the Cusack papers those words were crossed out.
  • A nearby visiting bishop interviewed five of the witnesses before the official testimonies were taken and he mentions no altar/lamb/cross.
  • The Ave Maria wrote in December about the apparition before the main stories came out in January. No mention of the altar is made.
  • One witness denied there was an altar.
  • Patrick Beirne, Dominick Jr., Mrs. Ugh Flatley, Bridget Trench, Catherine Murray and six year old John Curry mention no altar in their testimonies.
  • The widow Beirne states she saw an altar and lamb but denies there was any cross.
  • Mary McLoughlin was supposed to have said the newspaper printing was wrong that there was a cross.
  • Mary Beirne's MacPhilpin statement refers to an altar and lamb. Sexton's interview published she briefly mentions an altar, cross, and lamb. In a 1932 interview with four priests she mentions nothing about an altar/lamb/cross. In a 1935 book interview on her experience there is no mention of an altar/cross/lamb. In 1936 she mentions an altar/lamb/cross, In the 1936 Second Commission interview she states, "I won't swear to what the Sexton interview (that had been read to her) stated about a cross." In regards to her earlier 1936 statement she said, "I don't remember saying anything about a cross."
  • MacPhilpin's book states there was a crucifix behind the altar with a figure of our crucified Lord on it. Not one witness mentions this.

There is clearly an exaggerated emphasis on the Lamb and altar present in the Knock apparition. This distorted presentation has reached the point – in modern articles, books and images – in which the Lamb and altar are presented as the focal point of the apparition. This view was not held by the witnesses as noted by their comments or lack thereof on an altar.

Several authors writing on Marian apparitions, and notably Knock, write about the correlation between paintings and objects with what the Knock witnesses described. The altar/lamb/cross scene had a very similar visual model in the temperance medal (pictured on the left) that was widely distributed by a Cork-born Capuchin Friar, Fr Theobald Mathew, until his death in 1856. His anti-drink campaign is considered to have been a great social revolution that saw the establishment of Temperance Societies in every parish in the country.

The coin has an altar represented by a horizontal line with a lamb on it and a cross above it. Hovering above the altar are two angels. The medals were supposedly endowed with curative powers and testimonies have been shared about their medicinal use and aid. For example, the coins could relieve rheumatic pain by rubbing them together in one’s hands. It is highly likely that the villagers of Knock were aware of the coins or even owned some.

Miracle Cures
Many miracle cures were proclaimed at the church gable. Miracle cures are by no means rare in Ireland, as one reporter noted in 1880 saying, “I have myself known of many such cures, the result of visits to “holy wells”…these marvels excite but little attention in the way of surprise.” The crutches left at the church gable wall were also a common practice. A well in Cork was called the Tobar Ursa, meaning “the well of the crutch” for so many crutches were left after claimed healings.

Traditionally Irish pilgrimage was highly localized, centered on "a well or a site associated with an Irish saint". The majority of Irish parishes had these sites. There are over 3000 of them. From an Irish history book they describe the origins of the wells can be traced right back to Celtic times. The Celts influenced the native Irish in many ways, including in terms of their religious beliefs. They laid great emphasis on the ‘power of place’ – that is the belief that society and nature were inextricably linked and that certain physical sites possessed both regenerative and curative powers.

Another source states that legend tells that the springs that filled the wells originated in the ‘Otherworld’ – a sort of parallel universe that was believed to be a potent source of wisdom and of power. Drinking from or bathing in the water associated with gods or goddesses would confer gifts of wisdom or healing. These beliefs were melded almost seamlessly with the Christian belief of healing bestowed by saints.

St Brigid’s Well, dedicated to a Celtic goddess, Brigid, is one of the oldest wells believed to possess healing powers. Throughout Ireland there are many many wells dedicated to Saint Brigid.  Hundreds of keepsakes—photographs, rosaries, statues, handwritten prayers, pieces of clothing, etc.—line the walls of the well’s stone grotto, honoring dear ones lost too soon, or left by those who believe that St Brigid will effect a cure or keep a loved one safe.

The Knock apparition combined elements of the localized and traditional devotions, such as making the rounds of the well, with ‘neo-Tridentine devotions’ such as the Stations of the Cross, benediction, and processions using candles, torches and banners and the recitation of litanies while circulating around the church, sometimes on their knees. Knock had become a hybrid pilgrimage of traditional Irish pilgrimages and modern Church devotions.

A long list of cures was compiled by Archdeacon Cavanagh and published in the Tuam News and Daily Telegraph. One description by Cavanagh states about a sick call he received one night of a young man who was vomiting blood, “After ministering to him, I called for a glass of water, sprinkled on it a few particles of the mortar from the gable walls of the chapel, and bade him drink. He did so; at once he began to recover, and is now well.”

Here Cavanagh is promoting the mortar as having miraculous cures. Shortly after the apparition was publicized, Knock became a site of pilgrimage. Pilgrims began chipping away at the gable wall by taking away pieces of mortar as relics and for the miraculous healing power it supposedly contained. No wonder people were coming in droves and ripping mortar off the gable when the parish priest was promoting its healing power! He was also receiving renumeration for the exchange of this mortar. Whether it was a small vessel in the young man’s throat that burst and easily healed or it was a miraculous healing is unclear as there was no medical documentation. Many of the cases Cavanagh reported are likewise undocumented.

In the archives of the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace, John White states that he found a box that contained ‘the original, unedited depositions of several of the 21 August 1879 witnesses, the original manuscripts of the parish priest’s account of cures, depositions and statements taken from witnesses in 1880, and hundreds of other documents and letters from people seeking or claiming cures through the intercession of Our Lady of Knock”.

White found in those documents that references to other Irish locations where visions were being reported were crossed out, as were statements that suggested possible relapses or only partial cures that Cavanagh had edited for print. For example, a woman wrote to Cavanagh in February 1881, describing how she spent two years on crutches, but left them at Knock. She then describes how she feels much better since coming home; Cavanagh crossed out the part about feeling better, leaving the reader with the impression that the woman came to Knock a hopeless invalid and threw her crutches away and was perfectly cured. A London man was given cement from Knock by his parish priest. He describes how the cement cured his hemorrhages, but the part of the letter describing how he has had "a slight return of the illness" is crossed out by Cavanagh prior to publication.

Newspaper reports about Archdeacon Cavanagh praise him with positive words, emphasizing his overly credulous character. White believes that these found letters and his handling of them prior to publication show just how far he was willing to go to channel devotion to his church.

The Unusual Light
What most likely triggered this vision, and some call it a group illusion, is described a bit differently by each witness. Even after the original apparition there were follow-up apparitions or lights. Some were supposedly seen by Fr Cavanagh and on another occasion by two policemen in January 1880. Three young men went to the site in February and were praying around 3 a.m. when they said they saw a light and the Virgin Mary appear. They went with the intention of seeing an appearance, and so they did.

Lights played about the wall according to Patrick Hill. He said that he did not look behind him at all during the apparition to see if there was any physical light source. He must have been asked if a light source might have been projected. He said the light covered the wall. He spoke of sparkles over the gable. That might have been caused by the light reflecting from the rain coming down the wall.

Patrick Beirne made the following declaration before a priestly board of investigators of the apparition in 1932. "I saw three figures on the gable surrounded by wonderful light. They appeared to be something like shadows or reflections cast on a wall on a moon-lit night.  He touches the wall and finds there is nothing there but the stones. Patrick was also the one who wrote "the evening before the Octave day" mentioned above. Whatever Patrick Beirne testified to in 1879, the investigating clergy wrote only a short two-paragraph testimony where they inserted, "Young Byrne then told what he saw regarding the vision, just as it has been described already by several persons who were present". Then the last words were switched to first person, "I left after ten minutes."

Beirne does not even mention a light in his first testimony. Why would the investigators not write down what what he said himself, even if it was repetitive with other testimonies? Several duplicate each other in parts and their's are not subjected to this technique. The investigators only use selected parts of what he said mostly about how he arrived and not the important part. They wrote the rest. Did Patrick say something that different the other witnesses didn't see or interpret that they sought to hide?

In the 1936 Second Commission investigation, Patrick was one of three surviving seers. In that testimony he stated he arrived about 9 p.m. and there were about fourteen or fifteen people there watching the vision with him and the scene lasted from 7:45 until 10:30 p.m., a lot longer than all the other testimonies of those who were the last to leave around 9 or 9:15. "I remained there about an hour and then I went home." He changed his testimony to say he was there for over an hour. First, he arrived with others who came at around 8:15 and no where near 9. It was closer to 8:30 at the most.. Second, his first testimony stated he stayed only 10 minutes which is far from staying an hour. Most remaining witnesses had left by 9. Thus, his second testimony was not reliable at all. He stated much different from the first testimony including, "The whole gable was lit up with a brilliant light. There was a heavy drizzle of rain. The rain did not appear to fall on the figures or the light." Other testimonies say there was a torrential rain, not a drizzle. If it was torrential, most people could not have stood very long in it that night. Bridget Trench's testimony, written by a translator, was the one who mentioned a "torrential" rain.

Patrick's report was different from Mary Beirne's Second Commission sworn testimony. She said the vision was out from the wall and that the vision looked like a painting when close enough, "When we went near the wall, the figures seemed to go back to the wall, as if painted on it. Then when we came back from the wall, they seemed to stand out and come forward" though she exhibited some confusion about that matter. Clearly, her testimony that the images seemed flat is the most reliable as she noticed this the closer she got. What you see at a distance is less convincing that what you see if you stand closer.

There is no doubt that from the facts presented herein, the first reports of the apparition in Knock sparked a popular religious movement that the church sought to exploit in its bid for power in Ireland, and had changed the testimonies to fit that goal. Archbishop MacHale and Canon Bourke, with the aid of Fr Cavanagh, sought to align the pilgrimage with clerical support for a popular uprising against the landlord class and consolidate its leadership – social and political– of rural Ireland at a local level.

Although there are no official documents detailing the First Commission, who was there, were the testimonies one on one or all together, were they asked leading questions or allowed to speak freely, we still learn a lot from what was reported in interviews, articles and the newspaper. Fr Cavanagh chaired the commission which was completed in one day, October 8, 1879. The apparition site had been imbued in the minds of ordinary Catholics with the miraculous power of the Virgin Mary, which was directly accessible via the cement of the gable wall, to which the contemporary press reports show many cures were attributed.

Two weeks after the commission investigation Fr Cavanagh had to chair a meeting of the Land League set in his parish, deliberately set there to confront hostile clergymen, and specifically Cavanagh. Although chairing the meeting, Cavanagh had no other control of it. He rather tried to move the crowd to act in kindness towards the landowners. The widespread view among the clergy was that with or without the priests the land meetings would go ahead. Thus, more priests were joining with them and at the next demonstration the local parish priest was a Land League supporter where he was enthusiastically cheered.

In November an attempted eviction happened with 8,000 demonstrators there to stop the eviction and 100 armed police. Knock men were involved and the police had to withdraw. Later, other evictions did not go well for the tenants. This was the scene and pressures on those clergy, especially Cavanagh, between taking depositions and how they would be presented to the world. Making those testimonies as supernatural as possible would give the appearance of their priestly authority which was being lost to the parish lay people and the Land League.

The seers did not appear to consciously make things up, although nine of the witnesses were related and would be supportive of each other. Seeing something that others do not see is not uncommon, especially if it is dark or far away. Most of the apparition witnesses saw statues, and statues that matched images that were already seen physically via other churches, stained glass windows or holy pictures. No other apparition has appeared as a fixed statue that does not move and are all white as statues normally are. The crown on the Virgin was seen as a yellow or gold.

Those who dared to climb the wall and get closer to the statues found that nothing was there. Their hands went through the appearance or they touched the gable wall. Most stood far out from the gable next to the schoolhouse where they could see the statues clearer. The rain and wherever the source of light was coming from gave the appearance of sparkling stars, angels or other artifacts of the vision.

While a magic lantern fits a lot of patterns of the light description, its appearance for two hours stretches the ability of its use. Painting a scene on the wall that would only show at night and with a light source, as some professed could have happened is highly unlikely to be pulled off. Who could have painted the statues on the wall without anyone noticing? Something made the light that night but no one described that the light was coming from the statues or figures or especially from the Virgin Mary.

The apparition began long before witnesses thought it was an apparition. Three people went by and thought nothing of it, including the light, only stating that they saw statues there that hadn't been there before. This is not the way Marian apparitions have said to happen on other occasions. Knock was approved not because there was not doubt of its supernatural source but because of the circumstances of the times. Those who believe it was a real appearance will usually not be swayed by evidence otherwise as their minds are already made up. Faith can cover a lot of unexplainable things or override logical facts that do explain why and how something occurred.

Knock is one example of an approved apparition that supported the agenda of the Catholic hierarchy. Sometimes approval or disapproval comes down to the opposing or supportive local bishops and not because of the character of the visionaries or good fruits.

Mgr. Albert Farges, 1848-1926, philosopher and theologian, states in his Mystical Phenomena Compared with Their Human and Diabolical Counterfeits, "imitative apparitions following on from a recognised apparition, many of which seem to be cases of collective hallucination, these can have a purely human, or equally, a diabolical origin.

The description of a "collective hallucination":

"a sensory hallucination induced by the power of suggestion to a group of people. It generally occurs in heightened emotional situations, especially among the religiously devoted.

The expectancy and hope of bearing witness to a miracle, combined with long hours of staring at an object or place, makes certain religious persons susceptible to seeing such things as weeping statues, moving icons and holy portraits, or the Virgin Mary in the clouds.

Those witnessing a "miracle" agree in their hallucinatory accounts because they have the same preconceptions and expectations. Furthermore, dissimilar accounts converge towards harmony as time passes and the accounts get retold. Those who see nothing extraordinary and admit it are dismissed as not having faith. Some, no doubt, see nothing but "rather than admit they failed...would imitate the lead given by those who did, and subsequently believe that they had in fact observed what they had originally only pretended to observe...."(Psychologist, D.H. Rawcliffe)