Details of the apparition and the importance of the Shamrock are explained below.
The Apparition at Knock
The Marian Shrine of Knock is a well-known place of Catholic pilgrimage in County Mayo in the west of Ireland.
On the evening of the 21st of August 1879, Our Lady appeared at the gable of the church. On her right stood St. Joseph, head bowed respectfully towards her. On her left, St John the Evangelist holding a book of the Gospels. He appeared to be preaching although no words were heard. He so stood that his back was neither turned to the Mother of God nor to the Lamb that stood upon a plain altar. Fifteen witnesses watched and prayer for over two hours in the pouring rain and while the wind from the south was driving against the gable, it remained perfectly dry. The witnessed present testified that the Apparition seemed to be so alive that they could not understand why they could not touch with their hands what they so clearly saw with their eyes.
The Blessed Mother spoke no words; her presence was a message of comfort to the Irish people who were suffering greatly in the wake of the Irish Famine and the failure of the crops.
The population of eight million had been reduced to four million due to starvation and persecution. The fact that the Blessed Mother never spoke, has been interpreted as a message of comfort by her presence, and assurance of God’s love for them in their time of pain.
The witnesses, aged between five and seventy four gave their testimony to a commission of Enquiry later in 1879. It found their words “trustworthy and satisfactory.”
At the time of the Apparition, Knock was typical of the villages in the West of Ireland. It was a small collection of thatched houses with the parish church at the center
An estimate 1.5m pilgrims from across Ireland and across the world flock to the shrine every year to pray at the place where an apparition of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ appeared in August 1879.
Since the apparition, pilgrims have come to Knock in search of healing, reconciliation and peace. Some of them are praying for a cure
In addition to Pope Francis, two modern day saints have visited and prayed at the Shrine, St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta.
‘I saw everything distinctly. The figures were full and round as if they had a body and were alive. They said nothing but as we approached, they seemed to go back a little towards the gable.’
Patrick Hill, age 11 years, witness to the Apparition.
The theological significance of the shamrock lies in the fact that, according to legend, St. Patrick (A.D. 385-461) used it to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity to the native Irish, this illustration (like many of that in use today), helped make the Christian concept of the Trinity intelligible to the non-Christians St. Patrick evangelized, contributing to the massive wave of conversions to Christ that occurred under his ministry.
St. Patrick himself was very firm about the doctrine of the Trinity, referring to it repeatedly in his writings.
Thus in his Confession, he records an ancient Irish creed of faith in the Trinity:
“There is no other God, nor ever was, nor will be, than God the Father unbegotten, without beginning, from whom is all beginning, the Lord of the universe, and His son Jesus Christ, whom we declare to have always been with the Father, He was made man , and, having defeated death, was received into heaven by the Father; and He has poured forth upon us abundantly the Holy Spirit, the gift and pledge of immortality, who makes those who believe and obey sons of God and joint heirs with Christ; and Him do we confess and adore, one God in the Trinity of the Holy Name.” (Confession of St. Patrick 4 A.D. 452)
Because of its theological significance, the shamrock has become a national symbol of Ireland as an expression of the faith of the Irish people in the Trinity St. Patrick’s Day for example has no shortage of symbols, but for those who celebrate on March 17, one symbol stands above the rest: the Shamrock.