RELIGION

The Extraordinary Sacred Sites Where People Have Seen Visions Of The Virgin Mary

Here are just some of the places where Catholics believe the mother of God has visited.

Sightings of the Virgin Mary can happen in the unlikeliest places. Some people encounter her high in the mountains of the French Alps, while others find her in a school playground. Sometimes, Mary comes awash in a bright light. Other times, she's in tears. 

In the 20th century alone, there were about 386 sightings of Mary "reported at a level beyond local rumors," according to The New York Times.

The bishops of local dioceses study these apparitions. In any given case, a bishop might have to make sure the sighting isn't a moneymaking scheme, or confirm that it doesn't contradict church doctrine. Church authorities also evaluate the backgrounds of the witnesses, sometimes even making use of psychiatric exams and brain scans.

If local bishops put their stamp of approval on the apparition, the site often becomes a place of pilgrimage for the faithful.  

The Catholic Church celebrates Sept. 8 as the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the day when the woman Christians believe to be the mother of God was born in Jerusalem. In honor of her nativity, here are just some of the sites where Mary is said to have appeared.

  • 1531, Guadalupe, Mexico
    Mary is <a href="http://www.britannica.com/topic/Our-Lady-of-Guadalupe-patron-saint-of-Mexico">believed</a>&nbsp;to have appe
    DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI via Getty Images
    Mary is believed to have appeared to Juan Diego, an Aztec convert to Christianity, in 1531. According to the story, she asked that a shrine be built to her at the site of the apparition and left her image on the inside of a cloak. That image is now venerated at the Basilica of Guadalupe. 
  • 1830, Paris
    According to <a href="https://udayton.edu/imri/mary/a/apparitions-approved.php">tradition</a>, Mary appeared to a young novic
    Apic via Getty Images
    According to tradition, Mary appeared to a young novice named Catherine Laboure (pictured here), who was part of the society of the Girls of the Charity.
  • 1846, La Salette, France
    A group of pilgrims travel to a holy site in the French Alps, where Mary is said to have appeared to two young shepherds.
    Keystone-France via Getty Images
    A group of pilgrims travel to a holy site in the French Alps, where Mary is said to have appeared to two young shepherds.
  • 1858, Lourdes, France
    Pope Benedict XVI blesses worshippers as he arrives at the Massabielle cave of the Lourdes shrine, in Lourdes, France, in 200
    PASCAL PAVANI via Getty Images
    Pope Benedict XVI blesses worshippers as he arrives at the Massabielle cave of the Lourdes shrine, in Lourdes, France, in 2008. About 6 million people are drawn to Lourdes every year to pray at the place where Mary is said to have appeared to a teenager named Bernadette Soubirous. Many of the pilgrims are sick and disabled and come to the spot in hopes of healing.
  • 1879, Knock, County Mayo, Ireland
    Many Catholics believe that at least 15 people saw Mary appear over the altar of a village chapel in Knock, Ireland, along wi
    PAUL FAITH via Getty Images
    Many Catholics believe that at least 15 people saw Mary appear over the altar of a village chapel in Knock, Ireland, along with Joseph, John the Apostle and a lamb.  
  • 1917, Fatima, Portugal
    The Vatican has <a href="http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000626_message-
    FRANCISCO LEONG via Getty Images
    The Vatican has called the visions at Fatima the "most prophetic of modern apparitions." A group of young children reported seeing the Virgin six times while they were tending sheep in Fatima.  
  • 1932-33, Beauraing, Belgium
    Five children <a href="https://udayton.edu/imri/mary/a/apparitions-approved.php">said</a>&nbsp;that Mary appeared to them in
    AFP via Getty Images
    Five children said that Mary appeared to them in the playground of their convent school in Belgium.
  • 1933, Banneux, Belgium
    On Jan. 15, 1933, a young woman named Mariette Beco was <a href="http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2011/12/07/visionary-wh
    Mark Renders via Getty Images
    On Jan. 15, 1933, a young woman named Mariette Beco was reportedly standing at her kitchen window when she saw the Virgin Mary calling her from the garden. She claimed that she saw the apparition seven more times that year. 
  • 1980s, Kibeho, Rwanda
    The Virgin Mary allegedly <a href="http://www.kibeho.org/en/history.php">appeared</a>&nbsp;to&nbsp;several high school childr
    PASCAL GUYOT via Getty Images
    The Virgin Mary allegedly appeared to several high school children in Kibeho, Rwanda, in the 1980s. Some believe she warned them of a "river of blood" that would flow across the country, which was thought to be a foretelling of the mass killings that would later sweep through Kibeho during the Rwandan genocide.
  • 1981, Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina
    In 1981, six children <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/virgin-mary-apparitions-medjugorje_n_7548398">reported</a>&nbsp
    ELVIS BARUKCIC via Getty Images
    In 1981, six children reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary with a child in her arms. Unlike with other sightings, some of the witnesses in this case claim they have continued to see the apparitions over the subsequent decades. As a result, the Medjugorje visions are contested within the Catholic Church. Although the region's local bishop has said that he doesn't believe the apparitions are authentic, more than 1 million pilgrims visit the site every year. The Vatican has investigated the apparitions and is preparing to release its findings.

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