If nobody believed in superstition it would be unable to hurt anyone
The evidence that the Knock apparition was a
trick involving a projector or magic lantern.
Those who saw motion could have made a mistake or just seen a slight repositioning of the vision. None of them say the entities moved as in living creature.
The image was ghostly and vague.
The colours were wrong - eg Mary has a yellowish face.
There was a place where to place the magic lantern.
There is no evidence that the image was seen in daylight.
Nobody seen the images coming or going.
Nobody was asked if there was anything odd like a prop anywhere.
It suited the Archdeacon too well and his behaviour on the night of the vision was odd. He made too much of alleged cures which shows he was willing to fool himself to fool others.
The Church cites smart people who said there was no evidence of hoaxing. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It is typical of the Catholic Church to use people who have academic prestige but who are not qualified or experienced to refute people's doubts about the reality of miracles. It is really a magician who should be deployed. Even scientists can be fooled by good trickery. Magicians in the 19th century were known to be able to project ghostly images unto glass sheets. This stage trick fooled the audience into thinking they were seeing ghosts.
Magic lantern/phantasmagoria facts
Magic lanterns were early projectors.
Loutherbourg in the 1700's was able to make images of Satan and his demons in Hell for an audience (page 152).
There is an account of the appearance of the Red Woman of Berlin in 1825. Paul de Philipsthal, Philidor, set up this illusion using a magic lantern. A witness wrote that "the effect was electrical" and mentioned the hysterical screams of women in the audience. The males began to panic and made for the door. The light had to be turned on to pacify the audience. Page 150. This shows how good the images could be.
In 1832, David Brewster, wrote about the double mirror trick. This trick is called Dr Pepper's Ghost. Two panes of glass are used to make a spectre made by a magic lantern hover in mid-air on a stage (page 153).
Magic lanterns originally used candles.
Robertson, born 1863 in Belgium, began to use the Argand Oil Lamp which was bright enough to make pictures for a crowded hall (page 148). He was able to make images of ghosts that could roll their eyes and make images of fire flicker (page 148).
He projected the images onto thin gauze with a coat of wax. This made the images he made seem even more ghostly (page 148).
Robertson mostly focused on religious and superstitious entities such as witches, gods, goddesses, demons, Catholic saints and even the prophet Muhammad (page 149). The images were so good that they induced panic in the audience (page 149-150).
Spiritual mediums who claimed to be able to make the spirits of the dead materialise used very crude images of people to fool their clients. It is so strange that they could have been fooled and they let themselves be fooled because they wanted so much to believe that what they saw was their dead loved ones (page 246).
The magic lanterns created considerable opportunity for religious or occult fraud.
References from Marina Warner's book, Phantasmagoria, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006
It is possible that the images at Knock were caused by a trick using glass sheets. A variation of the arc lamp might have been used to create the light. Similar tricks were being performed in many big cities at the time, for example, Dublin, Edinburgh and London. The arc lamp light would seem to spark a bit. The witnesses at Knock did talk about sparkles.
The Archdeacon was 58 at the time of the alleged vision and was fit enough to personally set up the hoax.
The evidence against a magic lantern at Knock
Mary Beirne, later Mary McConnell, the witness was shown magic lantern images and said they were not as good as what she saw at the gable. Thus she satisfied many that the images did not come from a magic lantern projector. But she said that years after the event and Patrick Beirne is on record as saying the images were dull like moonlight. If you check youtube for magic lantern shows you will see that contrary to what pro-Knock books say and what the crafty witness Mary Beirne said, images as good, if not better, than the reported apparition can be produced.
When all we have against the magic lantern is that hearsay we can be sure that there had been something going on!!
A magic lantern on a rough gable wall would make transparent images.
Nobody was apparently asked if the images were transparent or not or if they were no record was kept. This may suggest that references to transparency might have been left out or avoided thanks to leading questions as the priests didn't want people to think a magic lantern was used to make the vision.
The light around the vision flickered!
The light flickered - it was no miracle!
From a booklet refuting the vision
An unknown witness to the apparition put his fingers on
the image of the Virgin at the gable - two dark spots appeared as if his fingers
were obstructing a light source...
Dominick Beirne Snr saw such an unclear vision that apart from Mary he didn't really know who the figures were supposed to be
The McConnell Letter
In 1936, Michael McConnell, Knock villager residing in Belfast, went to talk to a priest, Father Clenaghan. The priest took what he had to say very seriously. The priest wrote down his direct speech as part of a letter that he sent to Archbishop Gilmartin, of the Archdiocese of Tuam of which Knock is a part. The letter recorded that McConnell was repeating what he learned from a man who had been a policeman in Knock at the time of the alleged apparition. The Constable stated that knew a Protestant policeman at Knock in 1879 who worked a magic lantern to make the apparition. McConnell claimed that he had been told that the policeman had been projecting images from the Barracks in Knock on to the wall of the Church and some people saw the images and took them for visions. The priest sent another letter in 1936 this time to Father Fergus the Archbishop's secretary. However, in 1947 McConnell put pen to paper and wrote his own letter to the Archbishop. This letter is still in the archives of the archdiocese. He claimed that his informant was McDermott. This time he did not mention that the policeman said the image was projected from the Barracks. McDermott apparently said that a Protestant policeman who was good at making projector images trained religious images on the gable for practice. Some people saw them and thought it was an apparition. He said that this picture making was done more than once. The policeman realised that what he had done was being taken very seriously and he could lose his job. So he urged his comrades to tell nobody and he asked for a quiet transfer from Knock to somewhere else.
The latest edition of the book, The Apparition at Knock by Father Walsh dismisses this claim for there is no corroboration and mainly because an image cannot be projected to the gable wall from the Barracks. The Catholics agree that this claim is mere hearsay. They say Mc Connell waited decades before revealing this. But that cannot be proven. He may have chatted about it for years before talking to a priest and writing the letter. He was serious enough to write a letter about it. He would only have done this if he had felt it was the truth and that hard evidence could have come up. Plus we know now that the policeman would have had a motive. The motive was to protect the priest and pacify a turbulent parish and thus make his own job easier. McConnell and McDermott's story would have been less accurate over time. But the main thing is the claim that a policeman had been making the vision.
The letter was not written to cause trouble. At that time it was doubtful that Knock was going to become a major shrine.
The claim was written a long time after the event. Mr McConnell may have confused the information he received. He may have been told that a policeman had been projecting images from the Barracks with a magic lantern and that he projected them unto the gable. He may have taken it to mean the images were projected from the Barracks. He misunderstood or misremembered. The error certainly does not make him a liar for he knew being a Knock resident that experiments had been done in attempts to see if the vision was the product of a magic lantern or not. He said he thought he was told the images were projected from the Barracks because he really did think that. How else could you explain him saying the image was projected on the church from the Barracks when he must have known it was impossible? Michael McConnell was known as a decent man. He was not a liar.
There is a report of lights being seen on January 5 and 6 1880 on the gable at 11.00 pm. Mrs Kileen from Knock, Miss Anderson and Miss Kennedy saw the lights. They saw lights on the gable of the Church that were not too bright and then dimmed and moved around. At one stage, Anderson thought she could make out the shape of the Virgin (page 100, The Apparition at Knock). Two policemen at midnight also saw the lights on the gable later on at midnight. This sounds like attempts were being made to reproduce the 1879 vision. The lights show that somebody had a magic lantern somewhere and that though the police ruled it out they were a very ingenious somebody. The police only checked the schoolhouse and the wall behind the church and that made them confident but the user might have put his instrument elsewhere.
Archdeacon Cavanagh at the time of the apparition was not very popular in his parish. If people were going to speculatively gossip that someone performed the apparition hoax then why didn't they blame the Archdeacon? Why pick a policeman of all people? Did somebody know it really was a policeman?
The Daily Telegraph claimed shortly after the apparition that a projector could not have been used for it would have got the attention of the "observant policemen" (page 65, The Apparition at Knock). It never occurred to them that if the apparition light had been as bright as some of the witnesses said the police would have been there quicker. The policemen were suspiciously and conspicuously absent from all that happened. They did not go to the gable. They did not do foot patrols to protect the Archdeacon from those unsavouries who wanted to cut off his ears that night. They did not notice the fire like light that Patrick Walsh spoke about. What is more - the barrack was only 400 yards away from the Church (page 66, The Apparition at Knock). What is worse - there was a clear view of the gable from the barrack! Either the police were involved in the hoax or a lot of lies were being told by the visionaries.
On the night of 5 January 1880 a number of people including two policemen says that lights that went dim and got bright again appeared on the gable. The policemen stated that they checked the area for lights and decided there was no trickery. This information was got from www.theotokos.org.uk
"There's the light," and then both I and my comrade saw the end of the church covered with a rosy sort of brightness, through which what seemed to be stars appeared. I saw no figures, nor did my comrade ; but some women, who were praying there, declared that they beheld the Blessed Virgin, and one went nearly frantic in consequence. We stood and watched the light for some time before starting again on our rounds." "How do you explain the light ?" " I can't explain it." " Did you look around to see where it came from ?" "I did ; but everything was dark. There was no light anywhere, except on the gable." Thus the policeman, who offered to produce his comrade in corroboration.
The police endangered their professional credibility with this claim and they were not even Catholics. Not all the people standing together at the gable saw lights - only some did. That is indicating imagination. Could this have been an attempt by the policemen to mislead people to think that there had been no magic lantern used at the previous year's apparition? Were the police trying to hide the fact that they faked the 21 August apparition? It shows the policemen were open to encouraging belief in the miraculous. It backs up the possibility that one of them may have engineering the apparition of 1879. If you cause a fake vision, you may need people to imagine they see visions too so that people will think, "Sure how could a magic lantern have been used for the first apparition when we know apparitions are still happening when there is no lantern?" Or was the policeman who allegedly made the original apparition with a magic lantern up to his old tricks again?
Also people imagining visions in the light makes us wonder if some of the official witnesses might have experienced that too.
The Arcdeacon could have seen the vision from the back windows of his cottage but when he was told about it he pretended to think it was nonsense. He was taken to be a gullible man and it would be too out of character for him to disbelieve the vision.
A hearsay report was made to researcher David Berman. A top member of the Irish judiciary said that he had a solicitor friend who maintained that during the week the apparition happened, Archdeacon Cavanagh hired a magic lantern from his grandfather (page 96, Why Statues Weep). I believe this for Berman never noticed how shifty the Archdeacon had behaved on the night of the apparition. And a liar would be more likely to say that the policeman had been involved not the Archdeacon so there is something to this story. The policeman report was known then and also to accuse the beloved Archdeacon was risky and people didn't want to believe he was that devious. How do we reconcile the Archdeacon being involved and the policeman? I think the policeman projected the image for the Archdeacon and then pretended to his comrades that it was only an experiment to hide the Archdeacon's role. The Archdeacon might have given him the projector.
The apparition appeared on the south gable of the Church. The sacristy in those days was in the south end of the Church. The Archdeacon could have had a hole made in wall. The magic lantern could have been operated inside the sacristy and mirrors used to project the image through the hole and down the wall. The hole could have been filled in the next day or that night even. The gable wall was soon damaged by people stealing the cement and pulling stones out. The evidence of the hole would soon have vanished. The perfect cover! No wonder the Archdeacon was incredibly liberal about letting people do that to the Church!
"The magic lantern theory was again revived in a British television program, "Is There Anybody There?" produced by Karl Sabbagh and telecast on October 31, 1987. In this production Nicholas Humphrey demonstrated how a passable magic lantern image could be projected from within the gable of a Cambridge church, using a right-angled shaving mirror. Humphrey suggested fraud by Archdeacon Cavanagh, parish priest of Knock one of the three commissioners. In support of the theory, a document from the State Papers in Dublin Castle was cited in which Cavanagh was reported by a spy as criticizing rebels and consequently endangering his prestige in the area by championing landlords and attacking local Fenians or Land League leaders. The idea that Cavanagh, widely respected in his parish, might resort to fraud was not well received."
Eoghan Harris on Knock vision
Eoghan Harris was a journalist who wrote in the Irish Newspaper, The Sunday Independent. He stated that his grandfather was a farmer from near Knock. He with many other Knock locals believed that at the time of the 1870 vision that the vision was a hoax engineered by two policemen in the area. They used a magic lantern. It had a small lightbox that could throw a glowing image on the gable wall. It was surmised by many as well that the magic lantern was brought from America by an Irish American. Magic lantern shows were popular in the British Isles at the time. For that reason, I think the Knock vision had to be set up to look different from them. That is why I think the lantern was used to make shapes made of light while images of the faces and the lamb and the altar were stuck to the wall and illuminated. This was necessary in case a visionary would see a magic lantern show and realise what had went on. The vision needed to have features that did not seem to tally with a magic lantern projection.
And the policemen could never tell what they did! That a gullible miracle eating community would accept a rational explanation speaks volumes.
The image could have been very crude and the shape of Joseph and Mary and the Bishop and the Altar and the Lamb could have been mere shapes. The crudeness would explain why the witnesses stood at a distance from it - the reports about a few going up close are dubious. It looked better from afar. Patrick Beirne stated in the 1930's that the images were like the reflection of the moon on a wall. Most of the witnesses were evasive in relation to detail. The human mind sees bodies and faces in clouds and on toast to give a couple of examples. They are not really there but its just the way the mind tries to make sense of mess. Crude images could then have been projected from the schoolhouse.
There are objections to the magic lantern hoax theory.
A hoax apparition does not need to be made for two hours. Ten minutes would do.
- Nonsense if the time is too short people will put the vision down to imagination or drink. The hoaxer had no idea how long it would take for people to discover the images so he had to prepare the vision for two hours. He had to allow time so that they could go away and bring people to see it.
Nobody in Knock is likely to have had a magic lantern.
- Who knows? And why not the priest?
And who would have a magic lantern that is able to keep up for two hours? What a great power supply that was for 1879!
- The images were not as bright as some have alleged. Patrick Beirne said they were like moonlight. A magic lantern could have managed that quite easily. Perhaps the lantern was only projecting light onto images made of canvas.
The witnesses could have been duped by a projector as was rumoured at the time and they would have pushed the evidence they noticed for this outside of their minds in order that they could believe they really had a miracle vision. It has been found that a light source such as a projector - a magic lantern - could have been used. It may have been on the window sill and the image was then directed at a mirror which shone it down the gable. This would have avoided the problem of spectators getting in the way of the light source. But sceptics observe that they strangely stood at an awkward viewing angle from a schoolhouse at a distance as if they were trying to avoid disturbing the vision. It is said that there is no evidence the witnesses got in the way of the light source. But there is no evidence against it either. The witnesses were not asked anything about it. But Hill did tell the Daily Telegraph in 1880 that he never looked behind him to see where the light might have been coming from. For somebody allegedly having stood at the gable for 1 and a half hours this is incredible. It is more likely that he did look behind and wanted to forget it. Did he see a light source?
It is claimed that at least some of the witnesses would have examined the scene for a hoax and would have been smart enough to spot a hoax. But when one considers how people can flock to venerate a tree stump that seems to have the virgin's face on it, it is possible that they felt no inclination to check it out. Also the witnesses were never asked if they saw anything suggestive of a hoax. If they were it was never written down. Judith Campbell's testimony is typical of most of the visionaries. She only states what was to be seen and says nothing about a hoax never mind a miracle! Her account simply says she saw statues and light around them. If the images were not that amazing that would explain why the visionaries were too embarrassed to get all the neighbours out to see it. The apparition was seen only by a few and most of them were related. There is no evidence against the hoax theory.
Another objection is that if the vision was a set up, where did the hoaxers keep or take their equipment and other props? That is an argument from ignorance and it is no good. It is not a real objection. You cannot argue that Annie didn't have a gun for where was she going to hide it?
There were four doors to Knock chapel, 3 on the western or road-side and one on the eastern side of the church. See MEMORIES OF KNOCK IN THE EARLY NINETEENTH CENTURY, Memoir of Daniel Campbell, Eden and Smethwick, written c. 1880.
The gear could have been taken away very fast with doors just a few steps away.
The Projector could have been hidden in shadow during the vision. When the light faded out the Projector would not have been seen. The hoaxer could have come for it about midnight. There was no problem with leaving it lying around as long as it was taken away before dawn.
Evidence for a projector
Was the apparition at Knock caused by trickery?
Many suspected that it was caused by a magic lantern, a projector. Indeed in 1935, Liam Na Cadhain interviewed Mary Beirne then Mary O Connell and she declared, "The light about the figures was not like any light I ever saw but more like the soft silvery light of the moon" (page 50, The Apparition at Knock). A soft light! This refutes the lying witnesses who swore the light was very very bright. And it proves that it could have been the light that comes from a magic lantern which would not be exceptionally bright.
Patrick Beirne in 1932, testified, "I saw three figures on the gable surrounded by a wonderful light. They appeared to be something like shadows or reflections cast on a wall on a moon-light night" (page 53, The Apparition at Knock). This sounds like a perfect description of what a lantern would produce. Later in August 1936, under oath he lied that the whole gable was as white as snow with the brilliant light and that the figures were as clear and distinct as any human being (page 54, The Apparition at Knock). He was known to be odd and consider himself a person of some importance but generally truthful (page 55, The Apparition at Knock). He liked to be held important. When he said that the light was like moonlight and the apparitions like shadows that was the truth. Later he embellished all this to be important.
The book, The Apparition at Knock, A Survey of Facts and Evidence by Fr Michael Walsh is a good read. Page 20 tells us that the figures seemed to move out and then backwards according to Patrick Hill’s testimony. That is what something being projected from a machine would do. Claims such as that the witnesses never mentioned the beams of light that would come from a lantern, or mentioned that shadows appeared as if they were standing in front of some light source so the magic lantern idea is false are inconclusive. The witnesses didn't say everything in their testimonies. They would not have liked to think about beams and shadows and things if they had happened.
Where was the Projector placed?
The Church managed to get investigators think that a hoaxer would have worked from the schoolhouse. This is strange. It is like a red herring. It was allegedly examined for signs that somebody was projecting from it and none were found. But that is desperation on the part of believers. You are not going to find evidence when the hoaxer is off the scene.
It was concluded by the Church investigation at the time that a magic lantern could not have been used. But everybody thought that it would have been deployed from behind a stone wall near the gable and a building nearby which proved impossible. As it had reportedly been a very wet night, it was believed that the rain would have got between the lantern and the gable and ruined the image by getting in the way. Nobody thought that a lantern could have been suspended very high up the gable and perhaps covered from the rain and shone unto a mirror reflecting the image unto the gable lower down meaning that what was seen by the visionaries was a mere reflection.
The magic lantern could have been buried in the ground and a periscope could have been used to shine the images on to the wall. It would have been close enough so that no witness was likely to knock it down. The projector shines on to the mirror. There is a mirror facing it that projects the image out on to the wall.
This picture of the apparition site shows that the investigators at the time who used projectors to see if the image could have been made that way should have considered the prominent window sill as the resting place for the hoaxer's projector. Instead they considered stupid scenarios such as the projector being put along the wall which was about 25 paces from the gable or the school house. The visionaries would have got in the way of the light had it been put at the wall. The schoolhouse was too far away and it wasn't possible for a magic lantern to make a good image from that distance. The investigators knew better than all this. Yet they did tests with magic lanterns to show that these were no explanation for the vision. They were seemingly influenced by people who wanted to prevent them from discovering a way it could have been done. So they got them to try out methods that could not have been used. It's a clever way of pretending to investigate in order to sway opinion in favour of the apparition.
Pictures that show the sill where the projector may have been placed
Above is a number shots of the apparition gable as it was in 1879. It's striking how flat the land was. Why did the alleged bright light of the vision not get more attention than it did? It should have been visible for miles around. The light was less impressive than they made out! We see the school house to the right hand side in the very last picture. A mystery wooden shed that nobody seems to have paid any attention to is depicted. The investigators assumed that if a magic lantern was used it was used from the schoolhouse. The shed might have been a better idea! But the window ledge is the best suggestion of all.
The window sill is very pronounced all the pictures.
We can accept that the reporter for the Daily Telegraph was right that the projector was not placed at the wall near the gable or at the nearby schoolhouse, "The chapel stands in a rather extensive yard, which is bounded, opposite the table, and distant from it some 25 paces, by a dilapidated wall about four feet high. Beyond this is a large field and the open country. Within the yard, a little to the north of a line drawn from the north angle of the gable to the low wall, stands a schoolhouse, its gable directly facing towards the east. Obviously, therefore, if the appearances alleged to have been seen on the chapel wall were due to a magic lantern, the operator, supposing he could have focussed his picture at such a distance, must have taken post behind the low wall; or, if stationed in the school, must have thrown the image on the 'screen' at a very considered angle. The wall theory may be dismissed, because over its tumbled stones the first witness passed to get a nearer view, and the glare of the lantern
would at once have been detected by the observant policeman. There remains the notion of a manipulator stationed in the schoolhouse. I gave my best attention to the windowless gable of that building, and could find no signs of hole or crack from chimney to foundation. Going inside among the children, to look at the wall from that point of view, the plaster appeared untouched, and the roof too much open to admit a man working between its apex and what there was of ceiling."
The window sill is the obvious choice.
Possibility of a projector being used
The evidence so far makes the use of a magic lantern a strong possibility.
It has been found that the magic lantern could have been placed on the window sill of the Church away up high and a mirror used to reflect the images on to the gable.
What would have been needed was a light source that made three crude life size shapes. Faces and hands and feet pictures would all that would have been needed on the wall. The images were to the left of the gable and the light could have come down from the window sill.
A magic lantern could also have been hidden in the ground to illuminate the image of the lamb and the altar. Two light sources would mean that if somebody touched the wall there would be no shadow visible. The figures are reported to have stood on top of the long grass at the gable. Could the light source have been hidden in the grass?
From a distance the images would have looked fairly impressive. A perfect display would have been unnecessary. People's imagination and the way their recollection of the apparition would be unwittingly embellished and made more seemingly supernatural over time would do the rest. A witness said to the Daily Telegraph that the figures "stood out from the wall like statues and we SEEMED to see around them" (page 65, The Apparition at Knock). People who looked at the apparition for two hours couldn't say anything better than it only seemed that the images were three dimensional! Imagination was helping make their apparition tale more eerie!
We must remember that the first two alleged witnesses could have set the hoax up themselves and deceived the other witnesses who came later.
Patrick Walsh gives evidence that the vision was high up. Some of the other visionaries said it was a few feet above the ground. The apparition being up higher than traditionally believed and being a trick solves all the data. The projector could have been on the sill but projecting upwards.
The best evidence is that the Knock apparition was indeed a hoax projection from a magic lantern or two placed on the sill of the south window outside the Church.