By Michael H. Brown

       Miracles were reported in the vicinity of Fatima, Portugal, nearly a thousand years before the famous 1917 apparitions.

       As far back as the 1100s an impoverished young girl from the nearby hamlet of Reguengo do Fetal spotted the apparition of a woman who told her to go home and look in her cupboard. When the girl did she found fresh bread where before there had been no food and a miraculous well was also revealed in the area.

          That was in the Middle Ages, centuries before Columbus set out for America. And there is more. In the 14th century around 1380 another miraculous spring was found near Aljubarrota and associated with a poor woman named Catarina Anes. According to historical accounts one day Catarina went to the forest on a mountain called Valle de Deus to search for firewood and when she did heard a voice. It was a woman who offered to help her and when Catarina later went to the top of the mountain as instructed and dug a hole, a spring of crystal-clear water was found. "Now go and tell the people of your village that here they will find a remedy for all their infirmities," said the woman, who was apparently the Virgin Mary.

       The vision was accepted by the local bishop. D. Pedro de Castillo, when a blind man washed his eyes in the water and regained his vision.

       In the same vicinity around the same time a third marvel was recorded as a knight named Nuno was headed for Aljubarrota. He spotted a small church dedicated to Mary in what is today the county of Ourem. Getting off his horse, Nuno entered the church and knelt before the altar, invoking Mary before heading into a great battle between Portugal and the Castillian army, which outnumbered his force. After the prayers the knight marched to battle and while passing through the village of Fatima felt a heavenly presence. The horses suddenly lowered themselves as if to kneel and a number of knights claimed to see angels, including the Archangel Michael. Invoking him, they then went on their mission and claimed victory on August 15, feast of Mary's Assumption.

        It was in this very area in 1915, 1916, and 1917 that Lucia dos Santos would see a similar angel identified as the "Angel of Portugal" but thought by many to have been Michael.

       In the 1400s a deaf girl from another nearby hamlet called Casal Santa Maria, which is about a mile and a half from Fatima, saw the Virgin Mary over a cluster of ortiga bushes. Mary smiled and made an odd request. She asked the girl, who could suddenly hear, for one of her lambs. It was a test of obedience. Suddenly the girl spoke as if deafness had never afflicted her. "I would have to have permission from my father," she said. And Mary smiled as the girl scurried off to do just that.

       Naturally her father was flabbergasted, amazed to hear his daughter speak. He told her that the Virgin could have the lamb and anything else she wanted. As news of the miracle swept the area, pilgrims came to see the formerly mute child and on one occasion found a wooden statue in the midst of the ortigas.

       It was Mary holding the Christ Child, her cheeks rosy, her stare intent and straightforward. Full of fervor the townsfolk took the statue to the village but that night it disappeared. It was found back in the bushes at the spot Mary had chosen for a chapel.