If nobody believed in superstition it would be unable to hurt anyone

 

KNOCK HOAX

On the night of the 21st of August 1879 the Virgin Mary flanked by St Joseph and a bishop thought to be St John the Evangelist and an altar with a lamb and cross on it allegedly appeared on the gable wall of the Parish Church of Knock for a few hours. Fifteen people witnessed the vision including a child of five (page 60, The Evidence for Visions of the Virgin Mary).  Witness statements were published in a highly altered and edited form that differed hugely from the real ones the witnesses made.  That witnesses didn't do the slightest thing about the lies speaks strongly against them as honest people.
 

The apparition was a hoax even if we can only guess what trickery was used!

The summary of the case for a hoax

The images were not seen coming and going

The witnesses did not tell everything - for example not all mentioned a cross. What else did they not tell? They did not say how they thought the images came to be there. All they had to do was say they saw the show.

The images showed no signs of life.

The images looked flat against the wall.

They looked unclear.

If the publishers believed the story why did they have to exaggerate the testimonies of the witnesses to make them seem more credible? They could not go to the witnesses to get a more miraculous story so they just fabricated.

The Archdeacon behaved very strangely during the vision as if he was behind the whole thing.  He would not go and see it for he said it was nonsense and his conversion the next day to belief was too rapid.  And there was a motive.  The apparition won him back the support of a parish he betrayed by backing its oppressive landlords.Did the images move?

Most of the testimonies state that the images were statues. All of the witnesses said the figures showed no sign of life. There was an exception. Unreliable Mary McLoughlin said they moved but movement is a very easy thing to imagine. But she never put that into her deposition so it is mere gossip. None of the official depositions speak of the images being alive. Patrick Hill said the images moved but he was not referring to them moving as if they were alive. The tableau as a whole appeared to or seemed moved in and out a bit.

Image really clear and distinct?

Patrick Hill spoke of how clear and distinct the vision was and said he went up close. In 1879 he declared, "There was a line or dark mearing between the figure of the Blessed Virgin and that of St. Joseph, so that one could know St. Joseph, and the place where his figure appeared distinctly from that of the Blessed Virgin and the spot where she stood." Hill claimed he saw the vision close up and even saw Mary's irises. Here he slips up and shows that a shadow was needed to make Mary and Joseph look separate. So the picture had to have this dark bit to stop people thinking Mary and Joseph were one entity. It made the image clearer. He says without it you would not know it was St Joseph. This corroborates Patrick Beirne's assertion that the images were as unclear as shadows cast on a wall by the moon. Hill then was probably lying that he saw the vision close up. No other witness said he had managed that.

Patrick Beirne stated the apparition "appeared to be something like shadows or reflections cast on a wall on a moon-lit night.  I approached nearer the gable and passed my hand along the wall to find there was no material substance there" - testimony from 1932.As he was brother of the main witness, Mary Beirne, he would not have said this unless it were true. It was different from the clear vision she reported. She said the vision was out from the wall. He says it was on it. In 1936, she stated 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".

Whatever Beirne testified to in 1879, the Church refused to record it and used the following bluff: "Young Beirne then told what he saw regarding the Vision, just as it has been described already by several persons who were present. The young fellow showed by his hands and position how the image or apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that of St. Joseph and St. John stood. " This trick would have been used had Beirne been saying something damning.

Children were indoctrinated as to who Mary and Joseph were and pictures of them were rife. The lamb of God was a popular motif. Yet Catherine Murray 8 said she saw "the likeness of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that of St Joseph and St John, as I learned from those that were around about." If the images were as plain as some of the testimonies say, what did she of all people need to be told who they were of? She was attending school which was saturated in religion and sacred images for goodness sake!

Where they stood!

Why did Mary Mc Loughlin and the others stand so far away from the vision? Was it because it looked clearer at a distance and close up was blurry and indistinct? McLoughlin, "I was outside the ditch and to the south-west of the schoolhouse near the road, about thirty yards or so from the church ; I leaned across the wall in order to see, as well as I could, the whole scene." She was not trying to see it as well as she could unless the images were vague except at a certain distance. Or was she cross eyed with alcohol?

Patrick Hill, "At this time we reached as far as the wall fronting the gable ; there were other people there before me ... all were looking at the vision ; they were leaning over the wall or ditch, with their arms resting on the top."

Dominick Beirne the younger, "by this time some ten or twelve people had been collected around the place, namely, around the ditch or wall fronting the gable, where the vision was being seen, and to the south of the schoolhouse."

Margaret Beirne, said of the bishop that appeared that he was as "if in the attitude of preaching to the people who stood before him at the ditch."

John Curry 6 years of age, "He could state no more that he saw the fine images and the light, ... nice things and the lights."

He only reported seeing images. He did not know what they were. Even a child would not call images of three people nice things. He would say nice people. How clear was the vision?

Why were they standing at such a strange angle to the vision and so far away if it was clear? The picture below virtually gives it away that not only was the vision unclear close up but it was clearer if one stood at the south end of the school house.
 

THE IMAGE ABOVE SHOWS THE SCHOOLHOUSE EVEN FURTHER AWAY THAN WHAT IT WAS.

 

BELOW IS AN ORDINANCE SURVEY IMAGE.
 

 

 
Were the images touched?

Believers say that an attempt was made to touch the apparition but the person found nothing there. The Church says that when this was done, it would have made a shadow had the apparition been made by a magic lantern. But as there was never a shadow mentioned this didn't happen. But the witnesses simply never mentioned if there was or wasn't an interruption to the vision.

The existing account of Brigid Trench can be read as if she experienced a shadow. She says "I went in immediately to kiss, as I thought, the feet of the Blessed Virgin ; but I felt nothing in the embrace but the wall, and I wondered why I could not feel with my hands the figures which I had so plainly and so distinctly seen." The had is very significant. Why the past tense as if the image was not that plain when she tried to touch it? Did she mean she couldn't see the feet as her hands made a shadow?

It was only one testimony, that of Brigid Trench, an old woman, that claimed that the images could not be touched. However, the original never mentioned that she felt the images and found nothing. In fact, it merely says she put her hand on them. It would seem that if there had been anything strange it would have been written down. The current version is a fabrication. Here is the original.
LIVES IN THIS PLACE. ON THE EVE OF 21 AUGUST A PERSON SICK SENT FOR HER THAT SHE MIGHT SEE HER. SHE CAME THAT EVENING TO THE CHURCH [SOMETHING ERASED]. SHE WAS IN THE HOUSE OF THE SICK WOMAN. SHE CAME BY THE ROAD AND SAW GREAT LIGHT. SHE ENTERED AT HER RIGHT HAND. SHE LEFT HER HAND ON THEM. SHE SAW ST JOSEPH AND THE BVM AND ST JOHN AND THE ALTAR AND THE LAMB. THEY WERE NOT STANDING ON THE GROUND BUT PROBABLY TWO FEET ABOVE THE GROUND.

The fact that it was only her testimony would tell us that the New Testament itself would forbid us to consider it to be of any value. We have no record of how reliable she was mentally - was she forgetful, had she touches of dementia? Could her poor diet have affected her reliability? So we can say that her testimony though it may be true does not demand belief from us. It cannot. She was 75 which is the same as 150 today.

Also, if she thought she saw the Virgin, she would have expected there to be a body there that could be touched. She reached out and touched the image stuck to the wall and reasoned that the body was there but miraculously couldn't be touched. If you intend to touch a three dimensional person and find a flat surface you could assume that.

Nobody else tried to touch the images. Given that the Irish are fond of touching holy surfaces that is strange. Today, thousands of people every year touch a panel of stones from the original gable at Knock Shrine. Even if the people who saw the alleged vision thought it couldn't be touched they surely would have wanted to touch the gable anyway? They would have wanted to take the magic away with them for a blessing.

The published version of the Trench testimony - which is full of ecclesiastical window dressing - has a serious contradiction, "I remarked distinctly the lower portions of her feet (Mary's), and kissed them three times." Then she said, "I could not understand why I could not feel them (the figures) with my hands such as I beheld them with my eyes". She declared that when she first saw the apparition that she tried to kiss the Virgin's feet "but felt nothing in the embrace but the wall". Some others said that the images were flat against the gable wall - Mary Beirne said that the images looked out from the wall unless you went close.

Trench was very excited. At her age she would have been worried about the rain which would have made her more excitable. Perhaps she expected to touch warm fleshly feet and when she felt cold stone she assumed that it was the wall she was touching when in reality it was a statue. Or are we talking about bas relief "flat" type statues that were put on the wall? Brigid does not give us evidence that the images could not be touched. She gives us her interpretation. She was not cross-examined to see if she could think of another interpretation. There is no real evidence then that the images were ghostly and intangible.

The fact that only Trench seems to have kissed the wall is odd. You would expect several of the others to copy her when they would see her doing this.

Wouldn't you be suspicious say if somebody saw a bright light a UFO in the sky and an investigator came along and shone a torch up at the sky to see if that would explain it? Then when it doesn't he will say it must have been a spaceship. He wouldn't even bother turning the torch unless he had to do to silence fools.

Was the area around the vision miraculously dry?

The testimony that the ground below the vision was dry was fabricated.

Only one testimony says the gable was dry during the vision.

No visionary emphasised the dryness of the gable so this might be a mistake for it is treated as unimportant.

Did the rain affect the vision? Read this statement by Mary Beirne: "On the body of the Lamb, and around it, I saw golden stars, or small brilliant lights, glittering like jets or glass balls, reflecting the light of some luminous body". It sounds like some light source shining on the rain.

It was supposed to have been a very wet night. People don't notice and observe things very well when the rain is heavy. A hoax played on the witnesses is a possibility.

Errors in the vision indicate a human deception

There are errors in the vision that tell against supernaturality and indicate fraud.

Mary's crown according to Mary Beirne was only a little yellower than her robes which were supposed to be white. Are we to believe God struggled with the colours?

Beirne said that the Virgin, "Wore a beautiful crown; it looked like gold; and the face appeared to be a yellower white than the body of the cloak". The yellowness is what you would expect from a magic lantern or a trick. It was hard to produce pure white images in those days. All that suggests a projector was being used. We can't accuse God of producing poor images!

Mary Beirne later described the Virgin's crown as white (page 49, The Apparition at Knock). Catholics say that small errors like that do not discredit the story. But who would think of saying a crown was white unless it was? We tend to think of crowns as gold. A white crown would suggest that the vision was a hoax.

She testified in 1880 that Mary's face was a yellow white. She said the figures looked like statues.

In 1932, she testified that St Joseph was the most lifelike of the images.

A real vision would not have had such an artificial appearance.

It could have been large light dolls suspended on the wall with a magic lantern shone on them to make light.

It could have been luminous canvases with a magic lantern shone on them to make more light.

I think the images could have been pictures made of fabric that were stuck to the wall. Then a light source shone down on them from the window sill of the chapel gable could have made them look very mysterious. It has been proven that a light source from a magic lantern could have been attached to the window sill and given off sufficient light. They were wet and excited and maybe they did not notice giveaways. The hoax could have been relatively crude.

It is bizarre how the visionaries could say that they saw that St Joseph had a grey beard when the Virgin's face was white but a yellower white than the white robe she wore (page 47, The Apparition at Knock). The Virgin did not have a natural colour while Joseph did.

Below - the gable not long after the vision.

 


Conclusion

Deception is a better explanation for the apparition of Knock than a miracle. When a person testifies to a miracle, it is more likely they are lying perhaps to themselves than that a miracle occurred. If we deny that then we leave the vulnerable exposed to all sorts of fraud.

Roman Catholicism has doctrines that are very serious and important and they give little or no evidence to justify them. You would need stronger evidence that adultery deserves everlasting torment than you would that a man should be put to death! Roman Catholicism also teaches doctrines so absurd that they are unworthy of refutation. The doctrine that the body and blood of Jesus are physically (really present) in Holy Communion is against commonsense. It would mean you could claim that you have pure gold coursing in your veins instead of blood. These problems make it hard for the seemingly good priest and theologian to be genuinely sincere. It is easy to mistake the practice of religion which can become habitual for real religion. The doctrines of the Church pave the way for pious fraud for they force a person to simulate belief and imagine they believe. It has them practicing pious fraud before they even start faking miracles. The Church condemns pious fraud but we cannot expect that condemnation to be taken very seriously. The absence of credibility paves the way for it. 

BOOKS CONSULTED


Margaret Anna Cusack, The Nun of Kenmare, by Catherine Ferguson CSJP, Gaelbooks, Co Down, 2008
Knock The Virgin's Apparition in Nineteenth Century Ireland, Eugene Hynes, Cork University Press, Cork, 2008
Knock: Some New Evidence. The British and Irish Skeptic, Berman, David. Vol 1, no. 6, November/December 1987
 
Knock 1879-1979, Rynne, Catherine. Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1979
 
Looking for a Miracle, Joe Nickell, Prometheus Books, New York, 1993
 
Our Lady of Knock, John MacPhilpin, Tom Neary, London: Catholic Truth Society, 1976
 
Our Lady of Knock. William D Coyne, New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1948
 
The Gospel According to Woman, Karen Armstrong, Pan Books, London, 1987
 
"Papal Visit Resurrects Ireland's Knock Legend." The Freethinker (October 1979). Reprinted in The British and Irish Skeptic 1, no. 1 January/February 1987
 
The Apparition at Knock, A Survey of Facts and Evidence, Fr Michael Walsh, St Jarlath’s College, Tuam, Co Galway, 1959
 
The Apparition at Knock, The Ecumenical Dimension, Eoin de Bháldriathe, Data Print, Athy, 2013
 
The Apparitions and Miracles at Knock, also Official Depositions of the Eye-Witnesses. Tuam, Ireland, 1880. 2d ed. Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, 1894.
 
Mother of Nations, Joan Ashton, Veritas, Dublin, 1988
 
The Book of Miracles, Stuart Gordon, Headline, London, 1996
 
The Cult of the Virgin Mary, Michael P Carroll, Princeton University Press, 1986
 
The Evidence for Visions of the Virgin Mary, Kevin McClure Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, 1985
 
The Thunder of Justice, Ted and Maureen Flynn, MAXCOL, Vancouver, 1993
 
The Wonder of Guadalupe, Francis Johnson, Augustine, Devon, 1981  
 
Why Statues Weep, Editors Wendy M Grossman and Christopher C French, The Philosophy Press, London, 2010
 
The Gospel According to Woman, Karen Armstrong, Pan Books, London, 1987
 
Venerable Archdeacon Cavanagh, Liam Úa Cadhain, Knock Shrine Society, Roscommon Herald, Boyle, Roscommon, Ireland, 2004