Why the 13th?

      Why did the Blessed Virgin appear on 13th of the month to the shepherd children at Fatima?  She was seen from May through October of 1917on this date, except in the month of August when the children were detained and jailed.  Is there any meaning attached to this particular day? 

       It would not seem a happenstance that the 13th was chosen as the date.  As it is, there are significances that would fit to the apparitions.

                                                                  A Statue of Our Lady of Fatima

                                      13th in the Portuguese Past

       There are instances of the 13th figuring into Portuguese history, which link to Mary.

       In October 22nd, 1383 the Portuguese king Fernando I (Ferdinand I) died, leaving no male heir, as his sons passed away in 1380 and 1382.   His only daughter, the Princess Beatrice, was married to the king of Castile, Juan I 1, and she became a claimant to the throne.  Beatrice was yet ten years old when she married, only a matter of months before her father’s death.  Her mother Queen Leonor assumed the regency in her daughter and son-in-law's name. 

       Strong e
fforts were made for Beatrice to succeed to the throne, and not everyone opposed her.  But it's stated that popular sentiment was against a virtual union of Portugal and Castile, and that most Portuguese freeman didn’t want to lose their independence.  A uprising began and the period from 1383 to 1385 saw crisis and political anarchy.   Some historians say that  Beatrice was a queen for a short time; others say that she wasn’t, and that Portugal was without a monarch (a period known as the Portuguese Interregnum).

        During this time, two Portuguese gentlemen would figure prominently in the future of Portugal.  One was the late king's half brother Joćo who had been made Grand master of the Order of Aviz, 2 nineteen years before Fernando breathed his last.  The other was a young general named Nuno Alvares Pereira , a descendant of Charlemagne.  He had joined the army at 13 years of age, and as a young man, was impetuous and brave.  He soon demonstrated himself a good leader.

        After the first act of hostilities in December 1383, merchants of Lisbon acclaimed  Joćo defender of the realm and he became the leader of those opposing the regency.  With Nuno's help he took Lisbon and certain other cities.  The Castilian king entered Portugal occupied Santarem, forced Leonor to abdicate the regency, and took control of the country.

        The Castilian army met resistance, and were defeated at the hands of Nuno's smaller army on April 6, 1384 at the Battle of Atoleiros. 3   King Juan himself crossed the territory of Portugal and laid seige to Lisbon in May, and blockaded the port.  Hemmed as it was, Lisbon couldn't hope for relief, since the army wasn't big enough to intervene.   The seige was hard on the people and they were to suffer from famine, but the Castilian army was also short of food, owing to harassment from Nuno.   An epidemic broke out in their ranks, forcing King Juan to withdraw in September.   In late 1384 and early 1385, Nuno was able to subdue most of the cities siding with Castile. 

       The Portuguese were successful in getting some reinforcements from England, about 600 men, mostly veterans of the Hundred Years War, who landed on Easter.  The English included some longbowmen. 

         On April 6, 1385 ― one year after the Battle of Atoleiros ― the council of the kingdom declared Joćo, the king of Portugal.  As Joćo I, he nominated Nuno as the Protector and 2nd Constable of Portugal, in effect, the head of the armies. 

      King Juan I of Castile disputed the claim of  King Joćo.  After sending a punitive expedition, which was badly beaten in May, the Castilians invaded the north central part of the country in June, with a large force led by King Juan.   They numbered about 30 thousand, and were accompanied by heavy French cavalry.  This action will bring us to the first 13th in history.

        King Joćo and Nuno met and decided to stop them before they got near to Lisbon,  to beseige it again.  A decision was made to intercept the Castilians in the vicinity of Leiria, and on August 7th, Nuno marched to battle, with an image of Mary embroidered on his standard. 

                                                   An August 13th in History

        On August 13th, 1385, Nuno brought his soldiers to what's called the plateau of Fatima, where King Joćo joined him.  They solemnly asked for the Blessed Virgin's protection.   The king knelt before her image and vowed that if they were victorious he would build Mary a beautiful monastery in her honor, and make a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Oliveira.

        There are differing narratives of what happened following the 13th, but what will be summarized here was mostly taken from an account that was more detailed and having maps of battleground tactics. 

         The next morning, on August the 14th, the Portuguese took up positions on a small flat hill with several steep sides and between two creeks.  They organized their defense on the north side of the hill with reinforcements behind.   From this vantage point, they would be able see the approach of the enemy. 

        Nuno's men were fasting for the Feastday of the Assumption on the day to follow, the 15th.  The Castilian force greatly outnumbered the Portuguese.  Nuno's army of defenders was far fewer in number, maybe 6,800, which included some university students from Coimbra.

        Coming from the north, the Castilian king chose not to clash with Nuno on the steep north side but started to go around the hill.  His scouts told him the south side was a gentler slope so that's where he decided to attack. 

       The Portuguese maneuvered to meet them on that side, and constructed some obstacles for the foe.    About six in the evening, the Castilians initiated the battle.  The French cavalry charged full force, but their attack was largely nullified by the arrows of archers, and pits and ditches.  Their losses were heavy.  Support was late coming and the knights who didn't perish were made prisoners.  At this point the main force entered the fray. 

       Their line was great in number but was disorganized by the squeezing effect of the creeks.  They advanced uphill and were squashed by those behind them and the Portuguese defensive works.  A rain of arrows from the longbowmen, fell into their ranks.   Dismounted knights had to break their long lances4 to fight alongside  infantrymen.    The losses were heavy on both sides, especially among the students who held off armored knights on horseback trying to flank the Portuguese.  Another flank attack was described as being more successful but only briefly. 

       An hour into the battle, at sunset, the Castilian situation had become desperate.   When the king's standard bearer fell, Castilian troops at the back thought the king had been killed, and the demoralized soldiers panicked and began to flee.  The king, who was indeed alive, ran to save himself.   The Portuguese pursued those running away, and victory was theirs at Aljubarrota, a victory the Pope described as miraculous.  

        In his battle report, King Juan said his men were tired from the march, and that would seem to be true, but one may wonder of the Portuguese whether they were not as well fueled for fighting as they would've been otherwise, for fasting means going without food.  

        Good to his word,  King  Joćo went 150 miles on foot with his knights in thanksgiving, to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Oliveira.   To further fulfill his vow, the church and monastery of Batalha were built. The monastery was constructed in a valley north of Aljubarrota, not far from where the historic battle took place.  The historian William Walsh said in his book Our Lady of Fatima, that eight miles west from the place of the apparitions, was a tiny, unpretty chapel where King Joćo promised if Mary gave him victory over the invader, "he would raise a more fitting temple in her honor.  He kept his promise by building, across the road, one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in the world, the incredibly graceful and majestic abbey of Batalha."

         Batalha means “battle”in Portuguese, and Nuno, the commander of the Battle of Aljubarrota and the mastermind of the victory, is remembered with an equestrian statue in the courtyard around the church.  

        From the Batalha monastery, devotion to the Rosary spread throughout Portugal.   In gratitude for another victory, that at Valverde in Castile, Nuno started to construct the monastery and shrine of "Our Lady of the Scapular of Mount Carmel" near Lisbon.  From his young years, Nuno was devoted to Mary, her Brown Scapular and the Rosary, all part of the Fatima message, yet to come, centuries off in the future.  He is, in fact, known as the "Precursor of Fatima."  

         Nuno himself adds to the historical significance of the August 13th in Portugal: by his spirit as a person and his actions.  He gave wealth away to help the poor, knelt in battle to pray 5 and fed the hungry of the Castilian opposition out of his own pocket.   There's a story that one time his hunger was such that "he traded his horse for six loaves of bread," but then gave the loaves to some knights in search of food.

       Part of his epitaph read: "His worldly honors were countless, but he turned his back on them.   He was a great Prince, but he made himself a humble monk."   He died in poverty on Easter Sunday 1431 as the priest was reading to him the Passion of Christ.  Just as he read Christ's words from the Cross, "Behold thy mother," Nuno left this world.  In tribute to his life, Pope Benedict XV beatified him in 1918, and Pope Benedict XVI canonized him Saint Nuno Alvares Pereira on April 26. 2009, in St. Peter's Square.

                                                      A May 13th in History

       It was another date of 13, a May 13th, that Pope Boniface IX (1389-1404) ordered that all Portuguese cathedrals be dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was done at the request of King Joćo I.

       These historical events of the 13th, fit appropriately to Fatima.   On the 13th of August 1385, they sought Mary's protection and asked her intercession.  Her very coming to Fatima makes manifest her protective and intercessory role, for the world and for us.   The dedication of the cathedrals to her on a May 13th, also dovetails to Fatima, in that the Brown Scapular is not only a sign of Mary's protection but also a sign of our dedication to her.   It personalizes dedication.  Thus, what happened in Portugal centuries ago, continues in our time.

                                                       A 13th in the Bible

       A 13th of a month is also found in the Bible, in the Book of Esther, where the Jews were scheduled for execution of the 13th of the month of Adar, and Esther saves them.

      Esther is among the Old Testament persons who are types of Mary, who included Judith, Rachel, Deborah, Sarah and Miriam, the sister of Moses. The Dictionary of Mary draws this comparison: Esther went before the king at the risk of her life to plead for her people, and her charm and beauty saved both them and herself. "Hence, Esther is a type of Mary who won God's love by the splendor of her goodness, drew Him into her heart, and saved her people from the devil by the Redeemer whom she bore, while she became Queen of the World in the process."

      In 4:16 Esther says, “Go, and gather together all the Jews whom thou shalt find in Susan, and pray ye for me. Neither eat nor drink for three days and three nights: and I with my handmaids will fast in like manner, and then I will go into the king, against the law, not being called, and expose myself to death and to danger.”   Note the words “pray” and “fast.”

      In Chapter 14 we read that Esther, fearing the danger at hand, “had recourse to the Lord.”   She laid away her royal garments and clothed herself in those of weeping and mourning. Instead of ointments, and I imagine sweet scents, she put ashes and dung on her head, and humbled herself with fasting. In places of rejoicing, she put her torn hair.  And she prayed.

      In summary Esther asked the Jewish people for fasting and for prayer in an effort to save them.   She herself did likewise, and even more, she made sacrifices of pleasantness by the ashes and perhaps camel manure that she put upon her head.

      At Fatima Mary asks for prayer, specifically the Rosary, and for sacrifices.   She seeks our salvation from the punishment of sin.

       But we may see even more of a parallel between the two, than in the aforementioned respects.  In 4: 14, Esther's uncle Mardochai raises this question with Esther: “And who knoweth whether thou art not therefore come to the kingdom, that thou mightest be ready in such a time as this”?  Esther played a key role in saving the Jews from death, and Mardochai wonders whether she has been placed there by Providence. Mary was chosen by God for the historical role of being instrumental in the salvation of mankind, and in our time, she intercedes to save us from harm.  At Fatima she says that only she can help, and this of course in accordance with God's will and choosing.  She is given a key role in modern times in saving us from the consequences of sinand the consequences of serious sin is spiritual death.

       In an analogy, not all points need be alike, but there needs to be enough of a similarity to draw a comparison. There are points of similarity, for us to see a parallel between the roles of Esther and Mary: beauty, being a queen, prayer, sacrifice and saving people

       In addition to this and this may not be very well known there was a star on the gown of Our Lady of Fatima. Among sources or meanings, one says that Esther derives from the word for star in Persian; another says that it is most likely related setareh
in Persian meaning star, and to astra, Median for myrtle, whose blossom is said to resemble "a twinkling star." Compare this with star in other languages: estrella in Spanish, stella in Italian, estrela in Portuguese and astir in Greek. And compare it as well with the Greek elements "astro-, astra-, astr-."

       The star is there for a purpose, and a reason that makes sense, is that Mary's directing us to that story of Esther in the Bible and its Scriptural lesson. The star would then reinforce what the date signals to us.     

These 13th's from history and Scripture intertwine with  Fatima...along with the spirit of St. Nuno Alvares Pereira, become saint in our time.       
John Riedell

. Instead of using John I of Castile and John I of Portugal in English, the Spanish Juan and Portuguese Joćo are used to differentiate the two.
2. Military body of Portuguese Knights.
3. Nuno formed his cavalry into a square, surrounding it with rows of infantry holding lances.  He rode in the middle, encouraging and giving orders.  Before the battle, after speaking to his soldiers, he leaped down from his horse and knelt before a banner which depicted Our Lady at the Cross on one side, and the Nativity, on the other.  The whole army followed his example and prayed.  Then came the roar of the advancing foe.  Nuno jumped up on his horse and his men answered to the enemy's war cry  with "Portugal! St. George!"(Patron Saint of Portugal, and slaying a dragon he's regarded a military saint)   Their lances impaled the horses and stalled the charge, and they rained arrows on the troops behind.  Confusion and terror resulted, and the Portuguese were victorious.  The next day in thanksgiving Nuno walked barefoot over rough ground and stones to a shrine of Our Lady six miles away.  He found the shrine dirty as the Castilians had used the church to quarter their horses, and he personally cleaned it out by hand.
4. They were four metres long.   Metre is a different spelling of meter and four of these today would come to more than 16 ft.
5. A notable instance of this happened at the Battle of Valverde The Castilian army was pressing the attack and Nuno couldn't be found.  Panic swept through Portuguese ranks.  An officer found the Count kneeling between two large rocks, and holding a reliquary with thorn from Our Lord's Crown.  The officer cried out in despair.  Nuno said, "My friend, it is not yet time.  Wait a bit."  He continued in prayer.  Then, after a bit, he arose with his helmet, mounted his horse, and pointed out to the standard bearer that they must go to the top of the hill with his standard.  He led the way.  The Portuguese surged forward as the Castilians gave way.  Their foe didn't counterattack as they were badly beaten. 
                                                                           *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

Note: The above picture was taken of the National Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Fatima, when it was brought to St. Mary's Catholic Church, Metamora, Illinois, in 2009 by its escort Bill Sockey.  Rev. Don Roszkowski is the pastor there and has a First Saturday Mass with prayer and devotions, including a procession in the church. The previous pastor Rev. John Verrier also observed First Saturday and was noted for praying a Hail Mary after his homily.                                                                         

Return to Home Page    


Copyright © 2006 - John Riedell - All Rights Reserved
Site Last Updated on 02/20/10