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


KNOCK - Vague Apparition like the moonlight?
About 15 people said they saw the Blessed Virgin Mary appear in a light flanked by St Joseph and St John at the gable wall of the Roman Catholic Church in Knock on the 21st August 1879. A lamb standing on an altar with a cross on the altar was also reported but only by a few. Surprisingly the event is treated by Catholics as a miracle. Paranormal experts might say it was a ghost story rather than a miracle story. And they would have their understandable reasons for saying that.

Donal Anthony Foley - Marian Apparitions, the Bible and the Modern World, page 210, "One theory advanced to explain the apparition was that it was due to someone painting the figures on the church wall with some type of phosphorescent or luminous paint. This was an idea favoured by a Dr Francis Lennon, a physics lecturer at Maynooth seminary, who was asked by the commission to examine possible ways in which the image could have been made. But this explanation is incompatible with the testimony of Mary McLoughlin, who saw the apparition in daylight, apart from the fact that no trace of any paint was found on the wall...This did not, however, prevent Dr Lennon from assuming a negative attitude towards the apparition."
Lesson from this, Lennon the expert and the scientist though a priest and conservative Catholic, concluded from his investigation that the vision could pass for the dull images made by luminous paint. He carries weight. He had got clarifications from the witnesses.
Think about the testimony of the witnesses. It was written down. There are some variations in detail.
Given that vague images are sometimes taken seriously as images of Jesus or Mary or some saint we wonder how clear the actual vision was. It was clear enough for the witnesses to make identifications but we must remember that they already had it in their heads about what shape Joseph, Mary and John had. John was identified because some witnesses saw a statue similar to the image in Leckanvey. A person who had never seen holy statues or been influenced by the witnesses could have reported seeing nothing more than vague shapes. People swear that there is an image of Mother Teresa or the Virgin Mary on slices of toast while others say they see nothing.
If an experiment were performed on Catholics where they were tricked with images that broadly resembled at least the outline of Mary, the results could be very interesting. They could end up reporting a very clear and lucid apparition and maybe even say it was moving. Their imagination would take over.

The Knock witnesses did not see the apparition coming or going. Nobody knows how it came to be there.
Sworn testimonies were taken during a Church investigation. Today Knock is one of the major Marian shrines of the Roman Catholic Church.
Here is the case for the view that the witnesses only saw dull images. It does not really matter how the apparition was made. It suffices to show that it was not as clear and miraculous as we have been led to believe. If you know something has been stolen, it may not matter how it was stolen. Knock is in some way like that.
It would be superstitious and insulting to God to suggest that he could do no better miracle than show some shapes on a wall.
Patrick Beirne was one of the witnesses of the apparition. He testified to the Church investigation. This is the record.
Patrick Beirne was the son of the elder Patrick Beirne of Knock,
I am sixteen years of age ; I live quite near the chapel ; I remember well the evening of the 21st of August ; it was Thursday, the evening before the Octave day. Dominick Beirne, Jun., a namesake of mine, came to my house, and said that he had seen the biggest sight that ever he witnessed in his life. It was then after eight o'clock. I came by the road on the west side of the church. I saw the figures clearly, fully, and distinctly — the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, and that of a bishop, said to be St. John the Evangelist. 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. I remained only ten minutes, and then I went away. All this happened between a quarter or so past eight o'clock and half-past nine.
Sullivan transcribed Beirne's testimony differently.
Here it is, "Testimony of Patrick Byrne. I live quite near the chapel; I am sixteen years of age; I remember the evening of the 21st August, Thursday, the evening before the octave; Dominick Byrne, junior, came to my house and said that he saw the biggest sight that ever he had witnessed before; it was half past eight o'clock; it was raining; I went with him to the gable of the chapel of Knock. (This witness came in from the road to the West of the gable; and from it, and as he was coming into the area, he saw the figures as just described, distinctly and clearly, and has given testimony in accordance with the other witnesses."
Sullivan is the best match to the existing original documents. So we can take his version of the testimony as the most accurate transcription. We can assume that it is the original. Sullivan has Beirne saying 8.30 pm while the other version says it was 8 pm. The original does not report what Beirne said about what the vision was like but merely what the priests said he said. Why not quote him? Why did they try to cover up what he really said? Why dwell on how he got to the gable and not on what he saw at the gable? He only saw the images when he got to the gable. He would have looked at the gable before entering the Church grounds. We are not told anything about what he saw then.
The testimony (either as we have it or as Sullivan preserved it) shows that the investigators did not want to let him speak for himself. They only selected parts of what he said. They wrote the rest. 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.
" I saw the figures clearly, fully, and distinctly — the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, and that of a bishop, said to be St. John the Evangelist." seems to have Beirne refuting the notion of a vague apparition. But we could argue that distinctly means different thing to different people. People say that images on their toast distinctly resemble the face of Jesus or Mother Teresa even though the image is good but not excellent.
The Church had to hack out whatever he said when he was talking in detail about the vision. If the vision was a bit unclear and if he was saying things that the other witnesses didn't agree with that would have been necessary.
And, "I came by the road on the west side of the church. I saw the figures clearly, fully, and distinctly" could mean that he saw them so clearly when he was at a distance. Close up they could have been less impressive.
It must be noted that not one thing in Patrick's testimony indicates a miracle. He doesn't even mention the alleged bright light. And though he said later that he stayed longer than ten minutes, it seems that he really did stay only ten minutes. Impressed wasn't he? Catherine Murray stayed only a half an hour or less so it was possible he was even less interested than she was.
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. I approached nearer the gable and passed my hand along the wall to find there was no material substance there. The figures were towards the left hand side of the gable. The figures were those of the Blessed Virgin in the central position; to the right of the Blessed Virgin was St Joseph, and to the left was a figure suggested by a bystander to represent St John the Evangelist. To the right of the group, and at a higher level was a figure of a lamb in a reclining position and facing the figures. I spent between twenty minutes and a half an hour there when I returned home."
This is actually of extreme importance. He confesses the images were dull enough. He says the light was wonderful but he seems to mean by this that it was like the light of the moon and was wonderful in the sense that it was a dark night with the moon invisible and yet the light was there. He touches the wall and finds there is nothing there but the stones. He suggests the lamb was not standing but was reclining. This contradicts the testimony of some of the others.

As he was related to the main witness, Mary Beirne, and he was her neighbour all his life, he would not have said this unless it were true. And you don't contradict the witnesses who are the blue eyed boys and girls. His report was different from the clear vision she reported. She said the vision was out from the wall though she exhibited some confusion about that matter. 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 Patrick 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.
Now do you see why his deposition had to be interfered with?
He made the following statement under oath on January 27 1936. "I, Patrick Beirne, of Knock in the County of Mayo, aged seventy-one years and upwards make oath and say, I remember the evening of the 21st of August 1879. My attention was called by another man named Dominick Beirne to a vision consisting of three figures, the Blessed Virgin, St Joseph and St John. It was then about nine o' clock. I was informed when I came on the scene that the vision was there since about a quarter to eight o' clock. The figure of the Blessed Virgin was in the centre; St Joseph was on the right; he was turned sideways and facing the Blessed Virgin. St John was on the Blessed Virgin's left. He had a book in his hand. The Blessed Virgin had a very brilliant crown on her head. She wore a brilliant white cloak. To the left of St John was a lamb lying on his side on the altar. 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. There were about fourteen or fifteen people there watching the vision with me; amongst them was Mrs Mary O Connell who is still living in Knock; she was then Mary Beirne. I remained there about an hour and then I went home."
In this one he exaggerates the brightness of the light. He does not say if the images were on the gable or at the gable. The priests obviously did not want him to testify that they were on it so they avoided asking him if they were on the gable or not. His claiming to have stayed for an hour is an outright lie. He says the rain was more drizzle than proper rain. That refutes the popular belief that the rain was torrential that night and he simply says it did not fall on the gable. If it was drizzle and not in the direction of the gable then the argument, "It was not a picture or painting or it would have been ruined" is invalid. The drizzle story is the truth.
The belief in heavy rain was started by the forged testimony of Bridget Trench.
He only says it did not look as if it fell on the images or the light. Notice that it might still have done so. He is careful not to say, "The rain did not fall on the figures or the light." That would be too definite. Nothing he says indicates a true miracle or vision.
In August 1936, he confirmed the 1879 Deposition as follows, "I confirm that deposition which I have now read, all except the statement, 'I remained only ten minutes and then went away'. This statement is incorrect. I came at nine o' clock and I remained until twenty past ten." Also during that occasion he was asked ,"Was the brightness you saw pale like the moonlight or like sunlight?" His evasive reply, "The whole gable was as bright as snow. I could not describe to you what kind the light was, but that it was there and it was brilliant. It must be some supernatural light." Light is just light. He didn't want to admit the truth that it was pale light like the moonlight.
And he was asked, "Were the figures very clear and distinct?" "They were as clear and distinct as you could see any human being here." That is a lie for he testified before that the figures were flat on the wall so they were not like the three dimensional people who were in the room with him.
One priest involved in the commission stated at that time that he had reason to hold that Patrick was not the most reliable witness. This perception arose from the priest talking with the man's neighbours. We have to remember that Patrick was keen to promote the apparition so when he said things that make it sound far from supernatural, he should be assumed to have been telling the truth. It was not what he wanted to believe or wanted others to believe.
There is more evidence that Patrick Beirne was telling the truth about the vision being like moonlight images. The best evidence comes from the "best" witness, Mary Beirne.
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). She said in her authentic July 1880 deposition, "I saw 3 figures on the west side of the gable." The on is of utmost importance.
The accounts agree in the biggest things but there is evidence that what they saw was not totally clear. There are some contradictions among some of the witnesses about the cross on the altar. It is best to take all that as evidence that the visionaries did not see a vision as clear as you see your friends in the coffee shop. The vagueness of the vision led to some misperceptions.
Judith Campbell said the lamb carried the cross. She had went up close to the vision. Patrick Hill also went up close and denied the lamb carried the cross.
The cross stood erect behind the lamb: "behind the Lamb a large cross was placed erect or perpendicular on the altar".
This forgery was put in Mary McLoughlin's testimony, "Behind the Lamb appeared the cross ; it was away a bit from the Lamb, while the latter stood in front from it, and not resting on the wood of the cross."
She protested when newspapers said she saw the cross. She claimed that was not true - see page 191, Knock: The Virgin's Apparition in Nineteenth Century Ireland.
Mary Beirne said, " I saw no cross nor crucifix". Her mother said, "I did not see the cross on the altar".
Mrs Flatley's testimony says she saw the three figures and thought they were statues the priest left outside. It is safe to assume she saw no altar. If she had, that would have got her attention for leaving an altar outside would have been a strange thing to do. And she would have remarked, "Strange the priest never said he was getting a new altar." The altar is the focus of the Church in Catholic churches. She mentions only thinking that the priest was ornamenting the Church. That is referring to statues for statues come and statues go. They are not as important as the altar. An altar is not an ornament, a statue is.

Mary Beirne's sister Margaret stated, " I saw there an altar. I did not see a lamb and a cross." I did not see a lamb and a cross was crossed out.
Dominic Beirne Senior, "I saw an altar there, and figures representing saints and angels traced or carved on the lower part of it" is contradicted by Mary Beirne's "I saw only a plain altar."
Some witnesses never mentioned the altar and the lamb at all never mind the cross.
Imagination had a role to play in the apparition too. For a time, there were a number of dubious tales about lights been seen at the gable. When an apparition story engrosses the people, such experiences are common.
Patrick Hill expresses no doubt in his existing testimony that the vision was ultra-clear and distinct. Nobody knows how much altering his testimony got.
His testimony also says, "I saw St. Joseph to the Blessed Virgin's right hand; his head was bent, from the shoulders, forward ; he appeared to be paying his respects ; I noticed his whiskers ; they appeared slightly gray ; 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." So without the line you wouldn't tell Mary and Joseph apart. That does not sound like a super-clear vision. Mearing means boundary. Its an old Anglo-Saxon word and was used in the days of the apparition to refer to the permanent boundary that a landlord needed to know where his property started and finished. Please read up on mearing on page 70 of The Apparition at Knock, The Ecumenical Dimension. I think that the line must have been very big and dark in order to warrant being called a mearing. Why not just call it darkness or a line?
Testimony of Mary M'Loughlin " 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". Her expressions suggest that it was hard to tell if what was there were images or just shapes or figures. She says they were like Mary and Joseph and a bishop - this suggests that the images were not as clear as the Church would like you to think.
The original testimony is lost. Sullivan transcribed her testimony and it seems his transcriptions were close to the originals. It is strange that her detailed account of what she saw has been eliminated from the accepted version. In Sullivan's version of her testimony we read that "the figures were, as appeared to me, nearly life-size" and "they were all radiant with a silvery whiteness, which appeared like silver, to reflect a bright light, which attracted my attention". If the figures were too small and looked like silver paintings that a light was shining on then we can understand why her stuff was excised. You can read Sullivan's transcription of her testimony on page 114, The Apparition at Knock, The Ecumenical Dimension. The same resource remarks that it is interesting how she could see all the details that the Sullivan version of her testimony says she saw for she stood at a distance of about 30 feet away from the vision (page 133, ibid.).

She worked for the parish priest and went to tell him about the vision at the gable and he told her he didn't believe it and would not go to the gable. The trouble is he had a clear view of the gable. The light, if really bright, should have shone in his back windows. Surely he would have been looking out of his windows at some point? There was no street lighting in those days. The strange light at the gable if it were really as bright as some said would have drawn his attention on that reportedly exceptionally dark night.

Mary Beirne testified in 1936, "Mary McLoughlin, housekeeper to Archdeacon Cavanagh, went to the parochial house to acquaint the parish priest, of the occurrence. He, however, did not visit the scene, believing, as he told his housekeeper, that it was a reflection from a stained-glass window erected some time before." She gave the same testimony during the 1880 interview with the Weekly News. Sounds like Mc Loughlin described a vague apparition to him that could pass for a reflection.
The next day he had to be informed about the apparition on the way to say Mass and said he had forgotten that he had heard about it from the housekeeper (page 9, The Apparition at Knock). Mary McLoughlin his housekeeper testified that this was so (page 23, The Apparition at Knock). He doesn't seem to have been impressed.
Canon Bourke took down McLoughlin's testimony and declared, "Mary M'Loughlin had gone away before Patrick Hill came. Their testimony relates to two distinct and separate times while the Apparition was present. She saw it, like one who did not care to see it, and in a transverse direction, not straight ; he saw it directly and fully, and like confiding child, went up calmly to where the Blessed Virgin stood." Bourke wanted this note kept with her testimony. Nothing in her existing testimony necessarily contradicts what Patrick Hill said in his existing testimony. It is clear that the two did not agree so the Church began to argue for a changing apparition to account for contradictions. The original, the authentic, testimonies would be interesting but are sadly lost.
The claim that Bourke wanted to diminish the importance of her testimony so that Hill's would be reckoned more important is pure speculation. It is nonsense. Bourke was merely stating that as she looked at the apparition ALL THE TIME from an angle and a distance, it might not be that dependable. She supposedly got a short look at the vision on the way to visit in Beirne's house. She looked at it for an hour on the way home. None of that was a close examination or a straight-on view like Hill's That was all he intended to convey. Those who accuse Bourke of being that petty and biased need to ask why they trust the testimonies he got from the witnesses and which he recorded for them?

Testimony of Catherine Murray - a girl of about eight years and six months, grand-daughter of Mrs. Beirne. I am living at Knock ; I was staying at my grandmother's. I followed my aunt and uncle to the chapel ; I then 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 where I was ; I saw them all for fully twenty minutes or thirty minutes.
A young Catholic girl would have known from pictures and statues which were everywhere what Mary and Joseph looked like. If she didn't figure out that one image was of Mary and another one was Joseph then the images must have been more than a bit hard to make out. "I 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 where I was" implies that the images were so unclear that she needed to be told what they were. She should have known from religious statues what the images were - unless they were indistinct. 


The above testimony of Judy Campbell says she ran up and saw three figures of Joseph and John and the Virgin. This had to be altered to three figures representing Joseph and John and the Virgin. Why the change or tampering? She was denying that what she saw should be considered images of those beings.

The testimony of Brigid Trench is a fabrication. This is her real testimony, "


The fabricated testimony speaks of an apparition which was detailed and clear. It says she reached to touch the Virgin's feet and despite the images being so lifelike and clear her hands passed through the feet.
The need to fake a testimony designed to refute the indistinctiveness of the apparition is telling.
Trench died a couple of years after the apparition which was advantageous to the Church and to those who said she tried to touch the image - if the Church and they were lying.
Mary Beirne's brother Dominic testified "the eyes of the images could be seen: they were like figures, inasmuch as they did not speak." This is an odd statement. You don't say things are like statues or figures just because they don't talk.
John Curry was a young boy, about six years old. The record of the testimony of John Curry is as follows, "The child says he saw the images — beautiful images — the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph. He could state no more than that he saw the fine images and the light, and heard the people talk of them, and went upon the wall to see the nice things and the lights."
Even a child could notice the images were only things not people. What is astounding is that the lad said they were images several weeks after the event. He prefers the nice things and the lights to the images. That could be significant.
Despite everybody saying three people appeared at the gable or three statues he stated that they were images. He didn't let them pressure him to say what they said. He said what he saw was a picture! Worse for Catholics, the testimony tells us, "He could state no more than that he saw the fine images and the light". Thus the priest writing the testimony was making it clear that Curry did not actually say he saw the "the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph". This was the priest's note. The priest was introducing his own interpretation. Curry was allegedly put on the wall to see the images by Patrick Hill. Curry's testimony does not fit the detailed and obviously exaggerated account given by Hill.
John Curry told the newspaper New York Tribunal in 1937,that Brigid Trench touched the picture. The images were then flat on the wall. He says the images appeared to be alive. But this contradicts his claim that Mary had a face like a statue. He said the Lamb may have been under Joseph's arm and not on the altar like the others said. All this indicates that the vision was not as clear as crystal.

Patrick Hill said the vision was very clear and detailed and described it in terms that make it likely to have been supernatural. Other parts of his testimony indicate he was exaggerating.
The Church argues that the vision was a miracle for it was seen in daylight - indicting that projector was not used for it would not have been very good in daylight. It also says the gable where the images appeared was miraculously dry. It claims the light around the vision was so bright that no human being could have created it.

A testimony, Mary Beirne's, seems to say the images were visible in daylight. The original however says no such thing.
"It was either eight o'clock or a quarter to eight at the time. It was still bright" is different from the original which goes, "It was about 8 o' Clock and dusk."

Testimony of Mrs. Hugh Flatley, widow of Hugh Flatley, states : — I was passing by the chapel of Knock on the evening of the 21st of August, about eight o'clock, and I beheld most clearly and distinctly the figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and that of St. John the Evangelist, standing erect at the gable-end of the chapel, towards the south side ; I thought that the parish priest had been ornamenting the church, and got some beautiful likenesses removed outside.
This testimony could well be a total fabrication. The McPhilpin book, The Apparitions and Miracles at Knock, contradicts it, "As some persons were hurriedly going along the road which leads to the chapel, at about half-past seven P. M., they perceived the wall beautifully illuminated by a soft, white, flickering light, through which could be perceived brilliant stars twinkling as on a fine frosty night. The first person who saw it passed on". Also, "The time at which the apparition appeared was some twenty minutes after sunset". This slip is very important. It refutes those who say, "The images were not made by a projector for projector images would not have been so plain in daylight." It is claimed Flatley saw them before it got too dark! When a work supportive of the apparition being authentic says this.









Patrick Hill




Mary McLoughlin




Mary Beirne





Patrick Beirne



Maggie Beirne



Dominick Beirne


Said eyes could be seen so we assume he went close up and saw them.


Mrs Flatley



Bridget Trench



Catherine Murray



John Curry



Judith Campbell


But she contradicted the others by saying the lamb carried the cross.  And her signature was forged on her testimony. 


Margaret Beirne 2



Dominick Beirne Sen



John Durkan


Why do so few of the seers say the vision was clear and distinct? Surely the priests would have asked, "Was the apparition clearly seen?" The silence indicates either that the investigation was slack and careless or that the apparition was vague and the priests didn't want to record that. Either case means that there is insufficient grounds for holding that a miracle happened. You can only say a miracle possibly happened if the evidence is clear enough and good enough. But we can't say that of the Knock depositions.
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 questios as the priests didn't want people to think a magic lantern was used to make the vision.
Why did so few go up close? There is no independent evidence that any of them did apart from Trench. Hill said she went up close. They stood a distance away as if they had to be far away to see the vision right. No wonder the priests probably didn't encourage anybody to consider saying how clear the images were!
Why do so few of the seers claim that the apparition was not flat against the wall? Even those that say the figures were rounded indicate that they might have been mistaken.
Why were the seers not asked why some of them disagreed about there being a cross? If they were, we need the record. Where is it? A proper investigation would have kept the explanation for us.
The Church says heavenly beings miraculously appeared at Knock. But evidence for a miracle at Knock is weak. The vision was nothing to write home about. It was dull white images of statues. There is no need to bring the miracle hypothesis in at all. And we have to remember how human nature can see patterns and familiar shapes in strange lights that are not there or not clear. Do not forget that the vast majority of the Knock witnesses (11) were told what to expect to see before they went to the gable - this predetermined their perception (page 204, 207, The Cult of the Virgin Mary, Psychological Origins, Michael P Carroll, Princeton, New Jersey, 1986). They feared imminent eviction so they had a psychological need to believe that somebody in Heaven cared (page 211, ibid). Cynics might say they made the story up to lift the economy up and be able to afford the rent!
And its odd how nobody mentioned how they felt inspired by the vision to be better people and better Catholics and how they were gripped by the beauty of the Virgin. Nobody even cared to ask them. The so-called miracle is not about what the Bible calls real religion but about superstition and magic.

Margaret Anna Cusack, The Nun of Kenmare, by Catherine Ferguson CSJP, Gaelbooks, Co Down, 2008
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Looking for a Miracle, Joe Nickell, Prometheus Books, New York, 1993
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Venerable Archdeacon Cavanagh, Liam Úa Cadhain, Knock Shrine Society, Roscommon Herald, Boyle, Roscommon, Ireland, 2004