The Fatima Behind Fatima


                     Fatima in Arabic

     (Written and read from the right, what looks something like a "9" with a mark above it, is the letter faa'. It's followed, to the left, by the letter 'alif. The next letter with an upright on a loop, is the Taa'. Then, looking like a small written "s," is the letter meem, pronounced like the "m" in moon. Finally, you have what's called the taa' marbooTah, which isn't a letter of the alphabet at all, but a mark moreso of the feminine, and is commonly pronounced as the letter "a."
Sometimes letters are not joined, as is the case of the 'alif here; it doesn't join the letter that follows it, and is called a disjoined letter. The Taa' is a stressed "t." There is the letter taa' which alone (full form) looks quite a bit like an elongated English letter "u" with two dots above it.

     There's a story behind Fatima that long precedes the apparitions themselves, a love story of two  persons from different worlds.

     In the literary and political journal, the Dublin University Magazine, dated 1852, there's an account of it, placing it in the late 12th Century, when part of present-day Portugal was yet under Islamic control. South from Lisbon, a Christian force made a foray into enemy territory, to the city of Alcacer do Sal, on the River Sado which flows toward the Atlantic.

     It was during the reign of King Alfonzo Henriquez, who the founded the Kingdom of Portugal, that a Christian knight by the name of Gonzalo Hermiguez set out to make reprisals on the Moors for the captives they'd taken from his country. With a band of daring followers, he embarked in boats to the city then in Moorish hands
. "In the continual strife between the Moors and the Christians," Gonzalo became known as Traga Mouros, "the Moor Eater." (Port. Tragar = to swallow)

     This reprisal mission might be seen in light of what happened in the history of the Iberian Peninsula, much of which had been conquered by the Moors, except some in the Christian North. Yet, apparently at one time, there was Moorish influence there, too. The Moorish King of Cordova, Abdurrahman, extorted from Christian kings terrible treaties, one of which Christian writers of the time felt shame: It was "the disgraceful tribute of a hundred young maidens of noble birth and a hundred others of inferior rank, to be chosen annually from amongst the handsomest of the Christian females, and carried to Cordova, and distributed among the Mahometan harems." While this occurred earlier in the 8th century, something of this sort might've still been going on in the 12th. It was a loathsome and ignominious tribute to impose on the Christians, and was a grave injustice thrust upon the maidens.

     During the incursion mentioned, Gonzalo captured a maiden, a beautiful Muslim Princess with the name Fatima, the daughter of the Prince there. But the circumstances and outcome of her capture were not the same as it was for the poor souls taken in tribute. Gonzalo took his captive back into his territory, and she, in turn, captured the heart of her captor! The brief narrative refers to "his hallowed love," which of course speaks of an inner beauty, of a moral and holy quality.

     As related elsewhere, Gonzalo sought the king's permission to marry her, and the king agreed, providing she became a Christian, and of her own volition. The Dublin account says "his eloquence converted her to Christianity--love no doubt sharpening his controversial acumen, and softening down her prejudices; at her baptism she exchanged the name Fatima for that of Oriana, passing from the font to the altar she was wedded..."

     Oriana is from old French and means "gold, sunrise or dawn." Whatever Fatima had in mind in choosing her new name, it certainly was the dawn of a new life for her. And one might add, like gold, the Catholic faith truly lived with the grace available is quite valuable. Her golden name was also spelled Oureana, a version that linguistically looks like it's in the Portuguese language, as their word for gold is spelled ouro, whereas in French it's or and in Spanish oro.

     The married couple lived in a castle on an elevation that legend says Alfonso Henriques (another spelling) conquered in 1136 from the Moors, a fortress long considered impregnable. It was then called the Castle of Abdegas. He lured the enemy from the safety of its walls and sent a special force of knights under the guise of olive trees, up the opposite side of the mount. After what's been called a stunning defeat, Alfonso entrusted the fort to the captain of the knights, this same Gonzalo Herminguez.

Ourem Castle, from Ourem | Travel in Portugal site: "Imposing hilltop castle which dominates the medieval town below. Founded in the 12th century there is also a 15th century palace within the walls."

     Tradition says Oureana became the "Lady of the Castle," but the romance of their life was short-lived, as she died after about a year. But during that year's time, it's said she was so loved that the name of the castle was changed to honor her. It's said "Ourem is an abridged form of Oureana."

      Another account of the exploit of Gonzalo (spells it Gonçalo ) is found in an old writing of 1720 called the Chronica de Cister, printed in old Portuguese. I've attempted to translate it, and sought without success to have it checked for accuracy by Portuguese, even sending it to the Cistercian monastery of Alcobaça in Portugal. Excerpts are presented here with the original text, so that a reader may see and decide for his or her own self. Noting the differences in spelling of Fatima's Christian name, it seems there might've been an account originally in Spanish. From what I can tell, the action in the Chronica action differs from the action in the Dublin account, in its circumstances, in the capture of Fatima, in its violence and in its approach to attack ...hus por mar outros por terra (by sea, and by land).  

Map of route to Alcacer do Sal (Right)

Gonçalo Hermingues da en boscada, & postos os seus em concerto, madou (??try mandou) tocar as trombe. tas, (trombe+tas = trombetas) & gritando por Santiago, derao nos Mouros desarmados, & vestidos de festa, ...   Gonçalo Hermingues came forth from his hiding place, together with his people from theirs. He commanded the trumpets be blown, and crying "Santiago"(alleged war cry of Iberian troops during the Reconquista) they caught (??) the Moors unarmed and in festive dress...

& os barcos do rio remando co toda a furia para os contrarios, puzerao tudo em grande confusaoAnd the boats in the river rowed with all fury toward the foes, drawing everything into great confusion...
aconteceo ver Gonçalo Hermingues entre outras Mouras cativas hua, cuja estranha fermosura    Gonçalo Hermingues happened to see among the other captured Moorish women, an unusual beauty...

...vio que hum Mouro de cavallo a tomava para se recolher com ella, & a pòr em salvo
...he saw a Moor on a horse, who took it upon himself to pick her up, to save her...

& pondo as pernas ao ginete se lançou atras do Mouro co tanta velocidade como hum rayo, with his legs the skilled rider urged his mount on, thrusting behind the Moor, with the speed of a lightning bolt ,

pelo que apertau tanto o cavallo, q houve de chegar ao Mouro, a quem ferio de hua cruel lançada, & cobrou a Moura, com a qual se tornou à escaramuça,

in view of which, he prodded hard his horse and rode up to the Moor, cruelly speared him, and regained the Moorish maiden, with which he turned the skirmish.

tomarem os passos, fez tocar a retirar, & com gentil ordem se forao despedindo dos inimigos, a quem foy por muytos annos assas lamentavel aquelle dia, porque nelle perderao entre morta, & cativa a flor, & nobreza de sua villa,    they took steps to withdraw, and set off with gentle order, turning aside two enemies who were for many years regretting that day, because they lost among the dead and captive, the flower and nobility from their villa    

hia (??) com ella sustentada no braço esquerdo amparando-a co a adarga, & com a lança na direyta, rebatendo alguas arremetidas, que os inimigos vinhao fazendo na retaguarda  with her borne in the left arm, upheld by the shield, and with a lance in the right hand, repelling some attacks, the enemies were making on the rear guard   

En vindo a repartir os despojos, escolheo Gonçalo Hermingues para si a Moura, que, gànhara por sua lança.
In dividing the plunder, Gonçalo Hermingues chose for himself the Moorish maiden, won with his lance

sem querer nenhua outra cousa, com a qual acabou em breve tempo que, renunciada a ley de Mafoma, se convertesse à de Jesu Christo para se poder casar com ella, & no baptismo mudou o nome de Fatima em Oriana Hermingues, como lhe chama a memoria, de que vou tirando toda esta historia.      Without wanting any other thing, it was briefly concluded, that she renounced the rule of Mohammad (Mafoma, an archaic form), and converted to that of Jesus Christ so he would be able to marry her, and at Baptism she changed the name of Fatima to Oriana Hermingues, how she's remembered, from that, taking all of this history.

Tao estranho foy o amor, que ambos se tiverao, q por maravilha se fallava nelle em Portugal, & o mostrao bem alguns versos, que lhe fazia, de que porey alguns...  Very unusual, was the love they both had, that the marvel in it was talked about in Portugal, and manifested in some good verses, that he made, of that some poor (??)...

(There was difficulty to collect the sense of the verse in the Portuguese)

Here is one of the verses, but from the English of the Dublin account:
Oriana, dearest! Trust the lay (ballad) thou hearest;
Life to me is only life since blest with thee:
Life no value knowing, save of thy bestowing--
Thou prize, that battle gave me, dost, in turn enslave me,
For nothing fairer, dearer, thro' all the world I see!

Of their life together and her early death, the chronicle said:
"solennizava Gonçalo Hermigues os amores da sua querida Oriana, quando a ventura lhe roubou de entre as maos...porque de huma enfermidade chegou ao fim de seus dias, & deu seu espirito ao Senhor com mostras de grande Catholica, deyxando o marido tal com sua ausencia"     Gonçalo celebrated the affections of his beloved Oriana, when death stole the happiness from out his hands. She became ill, gave her spirit to the Lord, showing herself a great Catholic and left her husband feeling her absence.

A grieving Gonçalo joined the Cistercian monastery of Alcobaça, the Chronica recording this:
E como ao tempo da profistao deste alguns bens patrimoniacs ao Mosteyro, entre elles foy certa herdade, pouco distante da villa de Ourem,
na qual, por ser lugar solitario, & accomodado para se fundar hu Mosteyro de Religiosos
   And as to the time of the profession, [he gave] some goods of inheritance to the Monastery, among these was a certain country estate, a short distance from the villa of Ourem; being a secluded place, it accommodated the founding of a Religious Monastery.

mandou o Abbade de Alcobaça ao proprio Frey Gonçalo Hermingues co outros cinco Religiosos a fundar alli moradas para si, & começar hum modo de Convento,   The Abbot of Alcobaça sent [their] own, Frey Gonçalo Hermingues with another five Religious, to found homes for themselves, and commence a Monastic way.

A legend says Gonzalo "quickly had the remains of his beloved Fatima brought to him; the place then took her name and is still called Fatima."

The Chronica goes on: & foy dedicada a Igreja em honra da Virgem Maria Senhora nossa, onde Gonçalo Hermingues acabou santamente, & outros muytos Religiosos,   and a Church was dedicated in honor of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady, where Gonçalo Hermingues ended [a] holy life, and many other Religious.

It further states:
& hoje [M.DCCXX] permanece o proprio Mosteyro, & Igreja antiga com o titulo de Santa Maria dos Tamaraes, onde cocorre muyta gente em romaria, & faz o Senhor muytos milagres em pessoas doentes de varias enfermidades.
   And today [1720] remains the very same Monastery and old Church, with the title of Santa Maria dos Tamaraes where many people stream in pilgrimage, and the Lord performs many miracles on persons sick with various infirmities.

     These historical narratives and legend tell us of the persons behind the name of Fatima, the famous place near where the Blessed Virgin appeared in Portugal in 1917: the Knight Gonçalo and the Princess Fatima. But there is more that may and could be said, even gleaned from the accounts, and from just plain reasoningof what is possible or credible.

      It seems reasonable to believe her Arabic and Muslim name might've been first applied to her burial site and the grounds around it, and afterwards applied to the town now called Fatima

      Her given name Fatima was the same as that of Muhammad's favorite daughter, (615-632), who died young, and in accord, with her will, was buried in an unmarked grave. Her mother Khadija died when she was five and she was brought up by her father. "Moderately tall, slender and endowed with great beauty," she was also called the "Lady of Light" for her virtues. She lived simple. Her compassion was such such that no poor person left her door with nothing. Often she gave all the food she had, going without herself. Her father regarded her so highly that he used to stand when she came to him. Her character might factor into the future, with whom her name would become associated.

      Fatima is reported to mean "one who weans an infant or one who abstains."   Another source attributes it to a woman who weans and "abstains from forbidden things."  Abstain can mean not  participating in something or refraining from eating food or certain food, which may become part of the Message of Fatima, of making personal sacrifices.  We can see even the daughter of Muhammad went without. 

     And the Princess being so-named, by association, links her to the Muslim faith, which, in turn, at present evokes the problem of their conflict in the world with others.   The name Fatima is like a sign pointing to this problem. 

       But as to the when of she appeared to the children on the 13th of the month, we should turn to the Holy Bible. The timing likely refers to the Book of Esther, in which the Jews were scheduled for slaughter
in Persia, on the 13th of the month of Adar. The Persian queen, Queen Esther, a Jewess herself, intervenes to save them, a story of salvation in its own right, which bears some similarity to what Mary requested of at Fatima. The link to this Book is further shown by the star that appeared on the gown of Our Lady of Fatima, the name Esther meaning "star" in Persian. (Compare this to the Spanish for star, estrella, and the Classical Greek, aster or astron.) That star is meant to shed some light.

     The Jewish nation faces peril today. As recent as September this year, the head of the Iranian army threatened to lay waste to Tel Aviv if Israel's leaders make mistakes (whatever he means by that). This came before Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu was to address the UN. Iran is also known as Persia, and today a kind of Shia Islam is the official religion of that country, professed by 90 to 95% of its people. We can see the threat of laying waste to Tel Aviv, from the present-day Persia, forming a parallel to the threat of slaughtering the Jewish people in old Persia

     The holy site of Fatima and what comes forth from it, appears to be the groundwork that God laid down in times past, for us to deal with the present problem that's unfolded in the Middle East and the world, between the Jews and those who threaten them. Of course the peril we're facing in the world is even wider now with the grave threat to us from North Korea.

     While the message of Fatima is a quest for peace in the world, there is something else about the way or one may say the pathway that Mary took to appear at the Cova do Iria, that might suggest that she was not only appearing for peace among peoples, but also that she was also connecting her appearances to the very person of the Princess herself, not just to the name Fatima.

     This connection partly involves where the Princess lived on Mount Ourem.   I've read "The Castle of Ourém is also known as the "Castle of the Queen of the World" due to the fact that the light that transported Our Lady to her apparitions at Fatima in 1917 was seen to form directly above the castle mount."   It further said that "
In 1967, Pope Paul VI reconfirmed this designation to Bishop John Venancio of Leiria when he flew over the castle on his way to Fatima for the 50th anniversary celebrations." Note it says "directly above the castle mount." Mary could've come from another direction but chose this specific route from heaven to earth. One event followed the other, two places of heavenly light in sequence, both places, from what we are variously told, were named for the Princess.

     But we may ponder why was her route to the Cova da Iria by the way of Mt. Ourem? Does it have any significance?

It would seem so. If Mary is calling attention to the Princess it would likely be in the spiritual context. Mary's our spiritual mother. Princess Fatima herself epitomizes a true conversion to the Catholic faith and the living of it out. We're told she left this world, in a strong embrace of her new-found faith. The Chronica used the words that she died "com mostras de grande Catholica" (manifesting herself a great Catholic). In Latin America today you may hear a similar expression "muy Catolica," for one who is very religious, one really living his or her religion. The description in Spanish seems to echo the words describing the Princess. Such a conversion world wide, would do so much to bring peace in the world!

     Mary leads us to her Son Jesus, the Son of God, Who's the Way, the Truth and the Life. It makes sense that she would wish the Muslims be led to her Son as well, away from their erroneous belief that Jesus is not the Son of God and their disbelief in the Trinity. This is a big problem which has spread through the world, perhaps not as well known and understood in the West, as it should be.

     We cannot bury our head in the sand but need to face the horizon of reality. For tranquility in the world, Muslims need to face their own history and reality: while they might cite a certain text like the 109th chapter of the Koran as peaceful or tolerant, there is violence in other of their writings, (for example, Koran 9:5 and 5:33), and if some want to follow the book, then there's trouble originating from within their religion itself.

     And this has happened in recent times!  Osama bin Laden quoted seven Koranic verses in his 1996 Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places (3:145, 47:4-6, 2:154, 9:14, 47:19, 8:72 and 9:5 [Verse of the Sword] ).   In March 2009 five Muslims (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) accused in plotting the 9-11 attacks, wrote an Islamic Response to the Government's Nine Accusations, in which they quoted the Koran to "justify their jihad war against the American Infidels." In their Response they said "In God's book, he ordered us to fight you everywhere we find you..."

     If a conversion is ever to be brought about, it appears that it isn't going to be easy. It may even seem an impossible task, and it seems it would require some heavyweight moving of the Muslim mind. I would venture to say something Almighty!

     With God nothing is impossible, and He can work through whomever He wishes. With the Muslim regard for the Blessed Virgin, this would seem to be a natural bridge, for Islam to come over to Christendom.

     Muslims already hold that Mary is higher in heaven than Fatima, Mohammad's favored daughter. If Muslims were to apply logic to this, then they should ask why do they believe she is she higher? It's providential that they do believe this. Further, Muslims hold that the devil touches every child who comes in to the world, except two. No, one is not even their Mohammad. The two are Mary and Jesus, both of whom were extraordinarily and immaculately conceived! One account describes it as pricking the child, which would indicate a certain discomfort. Even though error has crept into Islamic beliefs, this "not being touched" may reflect the truth of Mary's Immaculate Conception, which Muslims accept, but which sadly, some Christians do not!

     But it isn't just Fatima to consider in regard to the site of Mary's apparitions. The Abbot of Alcobaça assigned Brother Gonzalo to the task of establishing another religious house. It would make sense that the location for it would be at the aforementioned country estate, "a short distance from the villa of Ourem," that Gonzalo had given to Alcobaça.   Beyond Gonzalo's leadership skills, the Abbot may have figured Gonzalo was already familiar with area and the people. One might visualize him saying to Gonzalo, something like: "You gave the land to God, now go establish on it a place for his honor and glory."

      And recalling what the Chronicle said, when printed in 1720, "today remains the very same Monastery and old Church, with the title of Santa Maria dos Tamaraes, where many people stream in pilgrimage, and the Lord performs many miracles on persons sick with various infirmities."   This suggests that, with his brother monks, Gonzalo's labors in the vineyard of the Lord brought forth more than a little spiritual fruit. Today there's a need for such fruit an abundance of it from prayer and fasting. (It's curious, regarding fruit, that the Portuguese tamara means the "fruit of the date tree" and tamares is its plural. Their uva tamarez is "a sort of excellent grapes so called." (grape or date, take your pick. Pun intended)

     The foundation stone of Gonzalo's monastery a stone we may assume he himself helped to lay   may've been in a real sense the foundation stone of Fatima, that is the place name associated with the appearances of Mary.   Note that the country estate where it might've occurred, was not far from the villa of Ourem. Fatima is less than seven miles from Ourem where the Princess was so loved. It seems possible that people from Ourem would've come to pay their respects to her at her burial site, reflecting the love she stirred in their hearts.

     While both Gonzalo and his wife were wed together in their earthly life, both of their lives intertwine with the great spiritual movement of faith that has grown up on Portuguese soilarising from the visitations of Mary. In a sense Fatima was partially founded on their lives together, and yes, and even upon their lives separated by death. They're woven in its story not just from 1917, but from across the centuries.

      Theirs was a bond of love that knitted these two persons from differing worlds those of the Crescent and the Cross. Theirs is the kind of bond that heaven envisions and wishes for usthat translates into togetherness among nations and peoples.  
John Riedell

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