Knock from Gale Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology

KNOCK - Irish village in county Mayo that was the scene of apparitions of the Virgin Mary ....On the evening of August 21, 1879, shortly before dusk, three strange figures were observed by one or two parishioners of the village. The figures were standing motionless by the gable of the Roman Catholic church. At first this occasioned no surprise, since the parishioners assumed that the figures were statues ordered by the parish priest. As the evening advanced, however, the figures appeared to be surrounded by a strange light, and soon a small crowd of villagers assembled to observe the apparitions. The main figure was a woman clothed in white, wearing a golden crown. On each side of her was a man, one wearing a bishop's mitre, the other elderly and bearded.

Because it was raining at the time the crowd eventually dispersed. Some villagers went home to dry their clothes, others to assist an elderly woman who had collapsed on her way to church. The priest's housekeeper went to tell the priest about the apparitions, but he was not impressed and did not go to the church to see for himself. Later that night the apparitions disappeared.

The apparitions had been witnessed by nearly 30 people, and a few weeks later the archbishop of Tuam set up a commission to investigate the phenomenon and interview the witnesses. Fifteen villagers were interviewed, ranging from a boy of six to an old woman of 75. Their evidence was given in a frank, down-to-earth manner that carried absolute conviction, and their accounts never changed throughout their lives. Minor variations between accounts were no more significant than might be expected from a number of individual witnesses to a remarkable event.

[Not true.  They did not discuss it apart mainly from Mary Beirne whose tale got better as time went on.  And the testimonies were altered.  One witness said there was nothing there only a glow like from the moon making shapes.]

A Marian shrine for pilgrimages was constructed at Knock with the permission of the Roman Catholic Church.---


From time to time, skeptics have revived the theory— considered in great detail in 1879—that the apparitions at Knock were the work of a prankster projecting magic lantern slides. However, this theory is based solely on the fact that the images appeared static—as distinct from the reported living and moving images of the Virgin Mary seen at other locations—and there is no direct evidence to substantiate the slide projection theory.

Notable points from witnesses seem to negate the magic lantern theory. The apparitions were first seen in daylight, just before sunset, and continued after dark. It was raining, but this did not affect the apparitions. Various witnesses saw the apparitions from different angles of approach, and some would surely have observed a characteristic beam of light proceeding from a magic lantern, even assuming that it could project images in daylight as well as dusk and be unaffected by rain.

[This is assuming that the machine was put before the wall.  It would have been put elsewhere.]

In 1880 a reporter for the London Daily Telegraph interviewed a policeman who said he saw only "a rosy sort of brightness, through which what seemed to be stars appeared. I saw no figures … but some women who were praying there, declared that they beheld the Blessed Virgin" he said. Asked whether he looked around to see where the brightness came from, the policeman replied, "I did, but everything was dark. There was no light anywhere, except on the gable."

The Daily Telegraph reporter also made a detailed investigation of all possible sources for a magic lantern projection, as other investigators had done earlier. His finding was as follows: "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."

One of the witnesses, a Mrs. O'Connell, later recalled how two church commissioners took her statement in the schoolhouse and a fortnight later 20 more priests arrived, and carried out elaborate tests with magic lantern slides. "They wanted to make out," she said, "that the pictures were like the ones we saw, but they were no more like them and no one could make them like the apparitions."

The Catholic Church is normally skeptical of reported miracles and is prepared to endorse them only after most careful and extensive investigation. Moreover, in the case of Knock, the commission of inquiry had barely completed taking depositions from witnesses when further visions were reported. Amid scenes of great religious fervor, similar appearances on the same church gable were reported on February 9 and on March 25 and 26, 1880. The probability of a prankster being able to maintain a hoax over a period of several months, in the presence of investigators and newspaper reporters, seems low.

[The later visions were to be expected.  People imagine things.]

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, one of the three commissioners. In support of the theory, a document from the State Papers in Dublin Castle was cited in which Cavanagh, parish priest of Knock, 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.

Over the years, many remarkable miraculous cures have been reported in connection with Knock Shrine, including cures of three archbishops, and Knock has become known as "the Lourdes of Ireland."

[It is not true that the cures were that unusual or miraculous].


Berman, David. "Knock: Some New Evidence." The British and Irish Skeptic 1, no. 6 (November/December 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).

Coyne, William D. Our Lady of Knock. New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1948.

MacPhilpin, John. The Apparitions and Miracles at Knock, also Official Depositons of the Eye-Witnesses. Tuam, Ireland, 1880. 2d ed. Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, 1894.

Neary, Tom. Our Lady of Knock. London: Catholic Truth Society, 1976.

Rynne, Catherine. Knock 1879-1979. Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1979.

Walsh, Michael. The Apparition at Knock: A Survey of Facts and Evidence. Tuam, Ireland: St. Jarlath's College, 1959.

Webber, Muriel I. Knock: Who Goes There? London: Protestant Truth Society, 1980.