The Apparition at Knock A Critical Analysis of Facts and Evidence is the third edition of this book by Monsignor Michael Walsh, first published in 1955. A native of the area, Monsignor Walsh has revised and annotated this immensely edifying and important document on the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 21 August 1879. The huge numbers of people still visiting Knock today bears testament to the historical relevance of the Shrine for the prayer-life of men and women in Ireland and all over the world. Reflecting this, The Apparition at Knock is a timely and significant publication, from a leading authority on the event. It is not only informative and inspirational but also deeply nourishing and spiritual.
Michael J. Walsh, Michael Walsh has written or edited over a dozen works on the history of the Church, both ancient and contemporary. He was until recently, Librarian at Heythrop College, University of London, UK.
This is one of the most important books on Knock, certainly in modern times. Yet oddly it has been out of print for over half a century. Its re-appearance in a revised and enlarged edition will be warmly welcomed by many.
When it first appeared in the mid 1950s the author worked under the rigid rules of the old system (which dated back to the time of Urban VIII). This strictness was an essential to the mind of the Church to avoid occasions of self-delusion and imposition. (Recent events in Ireland and in Herzegovina show how right they were.)
As he remarks in his new preface, "in the pre-Vatican II era it was sometimes very difficult to provide a definite decision that an apparition was authentic. However, Vatican II enhanced the status of approved apparitions by its statement on the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit.
His long chapter of inquiry into the historical facts of the matter, which fills about a quarter of the book, discusses all the evidence in detail. Recognising that most of his readers will have long ago accepted that the apparition was authentic, he suggests that such devout folk need not read this chapter. Though the historian bridles at this notion, it is quite understandable. People are inclined to become entangled in the over-agued detail of such an affair. They lose the wood for the trees. Such disputes are rarely edifying.
The events of 1879 quickly became controversial. They were written about largely by journalists; both nationalist writers, including TD Sullivan, later founding editor of The Irish Catholic, and antinationalists such as Andrew Dunlop. (Surprisingly the author seems unaware of the special inquiry made in March 1880 by Dunlop for the radical liberal London Daily News, or of his acidulous comments on Archdeacon Cavanagh and his claims of local cures in his book Fifty Years of Irish journalism [19111.)
Though the Church inquiry concluded the evidence was trustworthy, there was little positive approval from the diocese. However, when the Coynes began to promote the shrine in the 1930s, another inquiry was undertaken. And while this was more of an historical investigation than a judicial inquest it laid the basis for the Church acceptance and further promotion of the shrine, now associated with many more claims of miraculous cures.
The debate about the events of 1879 still goes on, for the apparitions are often made the focus of skeptical comment by rationalists, agnostics and atheists. Some Catholics were (and are) unsettled by the fact that unlike Lourdes and Fatima there was no "message" at Knock - though the meaning of what was seen has been developed by judicious theological inquiry, as Msgr Walsh explains.
In spite of such skeptics we are by this date entitled to judge Knock by its fruit. Knock is (to adopt that phrase of T S Eliot in Little Gidding) one of those places "where prayer has been valid".
Another fifty pages of Msgr Walshs book are de?¼voted to a meditation on the Eucharistic significance of the apparitions. This would seem to be for the author the most vital part of his work, revealing the true historical relevance of Knock. This for the author, and so for his readers, is the spiritual heart of the book.
The shrine has proved a place of immense consequence and important in the lives of many. People even spend Christmas there. Some would see Knock, as parish life declines in so many ways, as one of those spiritual power-points from which a renewal of faith might be generated in the coming decades.
Msgr Walshs book, which every visitor to Knock today should read, will doubtless have an important role to play in that development.
The Shrine on film
At the Knock Museum during Heritage Week, on August 29 and 30, the Irish Film Archive will be presenting "Glimpses of Knock", a special programme of amateur and professional documentary films on the Shrine, dating from the 1930s to the 1970s. The screenings include footage of thousands of pilgrims arriving for the 50th and 100th anniversaries of the Apparition. This is a rare opportunity not to be missed.
- Peter Costello, The Irish Catholic 27th August 2009
This is the third edition of a book first published in 1955, abridged and update in 2008 and with a preface by the present Archbishop of Tuam. It is a detailed account of the event that took place in Knock on the evening of 21 August 1879, as recounted by the witnesses, given to the tribunal of enquiry in October of that year. There is an account of the develop?¼ment of devotion there, of the life and times of Archdeacon Cavanagh, parish priest of the time, and of the involvement of successive local Archbishops from MacHale to Walsh, and some reflection on the meaning of the apparition. There is an appendix giving the text of a talk on Knock given in Rome by Pope John Paul II in the course of a series of reflections on Marian shrines throughout the world. for anyone wishing to be fully informed about Knock, this book is a valuable and indeed indispensable resource.
- The Furrow, November 2009