On the evening of August 21, 1879, Mary McLoughlin and Mary Beirne, two women from the small Irish town of Knock, were walking home in a drizzling rain. As they reached the town church, they were startled to see an apparition at the back of the church. The Mary Pages at the University of Dayton describe what the women saw:
“There against the wall of the church stood the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, and an altar with a lamb and a cross on it. Flying around the altar were several angels.”
The women called several other people to the church. They too saw the apparition. What they and thirteen others saw in the still-bright day was
“…a beautiful woman, clothed in white garments, wearing a large brilliant crown. Her hands were raised as if in prayer.”
Although the woman never spoke, all of the fifteen people gathered at the small church understood that this was the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus and Queen of the Angels.
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On February 28, a mosaic commemorating the apparition was unveiled at the church in Knock. The mosaic, which is 46 feet high and 46 feet wide, was designed by renowned Irish artist P.J. Lynch, and took nearly ten months to complete. The team of artisans, from Travisanutto Mosaics of Spilimbergo–near Venice, Italy–worked on the mosaic for eight months in their Italian workshop before transporting it in sections to Ireland during January 2016.
The Irish Bishops Conference describes the mosaic and its creators on their website:
The mosaic is understood to be one of Europe’s biggest pieces of mosaic on a flat surface. It was crafted from some 1.5 million individual pieces of mosaic. It has been inlaid on the wall behind the sanctuary in the newly refurbished Basilica at Knock.
Travisanutto Mosaics have already worked on some of the best known religious sites around the world, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and the Basilica at the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception in Washington DC, the largest Catholic church in the US.
The mosaic is the final stage of a refurbishment project at Knock Basilica. The project, titled “Witness to Hope,” was launched two years ago by Fr. Richard Gibbons, rector of Knock Shrine.
In his homily at a liturgy celebrating the unveiling of the mosaic, Archbishop Michael Neary, archbishop of Tuam, said,
The various ministries which are exercised here in Knock form a mosaic of witness to hope – youth, evangelization, care of the sick and invalids by the stewards and handmaids, the healing ministry exercised by priests in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Sacrament of Anointing. All of this contributes to enabling us to appreciate a God who is with us and his mother who cares for us.
May this beautifully restored Basilica continue to be a beacon of light and hope for all pilgrims for years to come. May pilgrims who look upon this mosaic with the eyes of faith be drawn ever closer to a welcoming and merciful Lord and a loving Mother.
The Irish Bishops Conference has posted several photos of the unveiling on its Flickr page. Here, a detail from a section of the mosaic:
And here, for your listening enjoyment, is Irish singer/songwriter and politician Dana Rosemary Scallon singing the song she composed in honor of Our Lady of Knock: