The contagious mass psychosis of 1917

By Tom Quiner


I was sitting on my patio last summer sipping on a glass of wine and enjoying the company of some good friends when the conversation took a mysterious turn.

Carol told of something extraordinary she witnessed years ago at Veterans Auditorium here in Des Moines. She was the reluctant attendee of something called a “Marian Conference.” For my non-Catholic readers, a Marian Conference is devoted to the study and veneration of Mary, the Mother of Christ.

Carol was roped into attending by an aunt. She admitted she was a little tentative attending an event that seemed a little “out there” to her.

During a break, she stood outside with a group of people when it happened. She saw the sun begin to move erratically in the sky.

Does this sound a little crazy to you? Well, it did to me, which is why Carol is reluctant to talk about it. And yet other people saw it, too. I know, because when Carol told her story, our friend Jeane exclaimed: “You were there, too? My parents were there and saw the same thing.”


This phenomenon of the dancing sun is known as the “miracle of the sun.” It has been witnessed by thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people over the past 94 years.

It is always associated with the Blessed Mother.

What would Stephen Hawking have to say about such nonsense? Something like this:

“The universe is governed by scientific laws. These laws must hold without exception.”

Watch the brief video clip of the renowned scientist above for the complete quote.

So what are to make of this miracle of the sun?

The phenomenon was first observed on October 13th, 1917 in Fatima, Portugal. According to published reports somewhere from 30,000 to 100,00 were present to witness this event.

That’s a lot of witnesses!

So what happened? The sun appeared as an opaque, spinning disc in the sky. It cast multi-colored lights across the ground and the people watching the phenomenon. It danced and zigzagged in defiance of Mr. Hawkin’s scientific laws. It even careened toward earth leading some frightened observers to think it was the end of the world. (This is surely relevant in light of tomorrow’s reported end of the world!)

The anti-clericical Portuguse newspaper, O Seculo, reported on the event as follows:

“Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws — the sun ‘danced’ according to the typical expression of the people.”

Here’s what a doctor saw, Dr. Domingos Pinto Coelho, writing for another newspaper, Ordem:

“The sun, at one moment surrounded with scarlet flame, at another aureoled in yellow and deep purple, seemed to be in an exceedingly swift and whirling movement, at times appearing to be loosened from the sky and to be approaching the earth, strongly radiating heat.”

And then another reporter saw the following as published in O Dia, a newspaper in Lisbon:

“…The silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds… The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands… people wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they.”

The miracle of the sun phenomenon has been witnessed on other occasions, each associated with a “Marian” site including in Lubbock, Texas in 1989 and Denver, Colorado in 1992 to name a few.

Interestingly, not all present at these events witnessed the phenomenon.

Interestingly, there were people present who witnessed the event who were not the least bit religious. By the same token, some in attendance who were very religious did not see anything unusual.

We’re left with the following possibilities:

1. The tens of thousands of people who witnessed the event suffered from a mass psychosis, sharing the same delusion at the same time. Even more, this mass psychosis proved to be contagious as others contracted the same delusion over the years, including my friend, Carol. (She seems normal to me otherwise!)

2. Perhaps that’s what happens to folks who stare at the sun too long. In other words, maybe it’s their retinas playing tricks on them. (What’s wrong with this hypothesis is that it rained in Fatima immediately preceding the event, and people’s clothes were totally dried within minutes. Heat goes beyond a phenomenon of the retina.)

3. People lied about the story and made it up. But this doesn’t make much sense since so many detractors of the Church witnessed the same phenomenon. We’re talking a ton of witnesses, too many for a lie to be believed.

4. A miraculous event took place.

This leads me back to Mr. Hawkings. The miracle of the sun seems to have been an event outside the system of natural causes. I agree that the laws of nature must hold without exception … unless the Designer of natural causes, God, wishes to “bend the rules.”

As the philosopher, Peter Kreeft, puts it:

“Now the Creator of the universe has authority over all creation. It is truly odd to call his suspending this or that regularly observed sequence a ‘violation,’ as if it were something he should feel guilty or embarrassed about. A miracle violates nothing. When one happens, God has (mercifully) modified the scheduled of the day.”

Scientists rightly revere the laws of nature. They lend a certain order to our lives. But for Mr. Hawkings to even discount the possibility that a Designer exists who created these laws is, well, just plain illogical.

In the meantime, let us ponder the miracle of the sun as one of those wonderful modifications in the schedule of our day.

If you see the sun dancing tomorrow, it might not be all bad!

1 Comment

  1. Jeane Bishop on May 20, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Excellent post, as usual, Tom.

    Reminded me of a book I recently read called Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo. The author’s young son had a near death experience. At one point in the book young Colton responds to his Dad’s question about fighting monsters with swords by saying “Yeah, Dad, but it’s okay. Jesus wins. He throws Satan into hell. I saw it.” It’s great to know how the story ends.

    Also wanted to mention that Peter Kreeft is coming to Des Moines in September.