KNOCK  - THE QUESTIONS THAT RAISE SUSPICION

 
About 15 people said they saw the Blessed Virgin Mary appear in a great light flanked by St Joseph and St John at the gable wall of the Roman Catholic Church in Knock on the 21st August 1879. A lamb standing on an altar was also reported.
 
The Church teaches that:
 
* Miracles, by definition, are exceptional.


* And therefore you need very good evidence that they really happened.
 
So far so good. But does Knock fit into the miracle category?
 
There are so many claimed apparitions in the world that there has to be a few, just by chance, that seem believable and miraculous. And that is usually through luck. It doesn't mean that they are really miraculous.
 
Insufficient Evidence that the Sight was Supernatural
 
Mary, Joseph and John did not appear at Knock. Their statues did. The evidence that the figures were alive is almost non-existent. A witness, Mary Beirne, at a distance thought the figures moved. Everybody else said they stood still. At a distance its easy to think that an image or statue is moving and especially if you mistake it for a live being. However, she agreed with the rest later that they were motionless. Clearly, Beirne was only saying she thought they moved at the time but later she realised they didn't move. She did not mention the moving in the deposition - so she realised it was a misperception. And moving does not necessarily indicate life.
 
Patrick Hill said he saw them move but seems to have meant that the figures moved in and out. That was the only movement he mentioned and suits the idea that the vision was caused by a projector.
 
We just have the testimony of an old man - John Curry in 1937 that the apparition appeared to be alive (page 56, The Apparition at Knock). But he annulled this by saying the figures didn't move (ibid, page 56). Also, John Curry's testimony is invalid as he was only 6 at the time of the apparition. Curry never stated why he thought they were alive so we can pay no attention to his claim. It may be because he believed that Mary and Joseph and John would appear in person - the thought of an apparition of statues is absurd.
 
Bridget Trench said they didn’t move (page 29, The Apparition at Knock) and in 1880 Mary Beirne said, "The figures gave no indication of life" and that the image of St Joseph looked the most lifelike because he had more colour in his face (page 48, The Apparition at Knock). If this were a real miracle, the Blessed Virgin would look the most healthy and normal. It is accepted that all the visionaries came to agree that the figures never moved (page 185, 197, 211, Knock The Virgin's Apparition in the Nineteenth Century). Archbishop Murphy of Tasmania asked pilgrims to pray that the figures of Mary had not been an image of her but really her (page 197, Knock The Virgin's Apparition in the Nineteenth Century).
 
The evidence that the figures were rounded is poor. The witnesses said the image seemed to go away from you onto the wall if you went too near. So nobody could know for sure if they were really rounded. Mary Beirne said they "seemed" to stand out from the wall but go close to the wall if you went near (page 48, The Apparition at Knock). Mary Beirne added that, "When we went near the wall, the figures seemed to go back to the wall, as if painted on it. Then when we came back from the wall, they seemed to stand out and come forward" (page 51, The Apparition at Knock).
 
Margaret Beirne left the sight at about 15 minutes. And Mary McLoughlin left after an hour. Blessed Virgin fanatics like the poor people of that locality were simply do not behave that way. Its an indication that the vision was not supernatural and not as impressive or obviously miraculous as we have been led to believe.
 
No evidence can suffice to satisfy sensible people that the vision was really from Heaven as they were not there that night. Only those who see miracles or experience them can believe in them and still be rational and sensible.
 
Evidence that the witnesses were malleable
 
The fact that they did not think the bishop that appeared was St Patrick is very strange. Mary Beirne had too much influence over them for they took her word for it that the bishop was St John.
 
If the light at the gable was as bright as they said then why did nobody outside the village but Patrick Walsh seem to notice it? Walsh is contradicted by those witnesses who said the light was soft.
 
A dying woman Mrs Campbell was ignored as the people watched the vision. She was left on her own. Her daughter was a major witness - Judith Campbell later Judith Salmon.
 
It is hard to believe that all of them left the apparition at the gable to help her when she was found lying at the door of her house. It didn't take the whole town to help.
 
In those days, a lot of callers visited houses where the dying were. Why was the number of witnesses at Knock so small?
 
An Analysis of the 8 October 1879 Depositions


General Problems: Amazingly not one of the witnesses said that the Virgin was beautiful. It is typical of apparition witnesses to claim that they saw the most beautiful woman imaginable.

Testimonies about how honest the visionaries were are useless. Why? Because even the honest person will often tell a lie that doesn't do much harm and when he or she is reasonably sure he or she won't be found out. That's human nature. The visionaries may not have known that it was a serious sin to lie about an apparition. If so, we cannot say, "They knew it was a serious sin and they were devout Catholics who frequented Confession and Communion so they would not have resorted to such sin." The Church is clear that a person inventing messages from Heaven is a mortal sinner but what if the person is only saying they saw something from Heaven that didn't speak - like the silent Knock apparition? That would be different. It would be in a different league. Also, what is a mortal sin normally might not be a mortal sin under certain circumstances. For example, if the visionaries lied in order to make a Lourdes of their village and get the people out of dire poverty could it be possible that that really was a mortal sin? No.

 

A serious if not fatal problem is how the believers are forced to embellish the story to make it look like a believable account of a miracle. Here's a major example. When Mary Beirne told the Weekly News in 1880 that the apparition was lit up by a soft light like moonlight, believers say this was a mistake she made or that the witnesses who saw a super-bright light around the images were talking about a different time than her. Some even say that the paper misrepresented what she said. All of these excuses are worthless speculation. If we have to speculate, then by the rules of logic we have to speculate that something natural but perhaps strange happened so it was not a miracle.

NOT ALL THE TESTIMONIES INDICATE THE SUPERNATURAL
 
Only Trench and Hill, two out of 15 testimonies definitely indicate that there was something supernatural going on and that is only at face value. And sadly for believers the current version of the Trench testimony is fraudulent.
 
It is said that more than the 15 saw the vision. Was the 15 considered sufficient or were the others not interviewed for their testimony would cast doubt on the miraculous nature of the vision?
 
A couple of testimonies clearly indicate a possible supernatural cause but they are no good for evidence.


The light, the clarity of the images, the way they could not be touched even though they looked three dimensional can be explained without a miracle.
 
The rain battering in the direction of the gable and not wetting it or the ground under the vision would be miraculous. Patrick Hill says for at least an hour and a half there was very heavy rain. McLoughlin mentions rain but does not clarify if it rained all the time. Walsh merely says it was raining heavily at 9. Margaret Beirne says it was raining but doesn't say it was raining all the while. Trench says it was raining heavily at the time - from the lines before that she meant when she tried to kiss the feet of the Virgin. It may have dried up after. Campbell says that night came on when she was at the vision and it got wet and dark. She does not clearly say it rained all the time. There is only one testimony as to the heavy rain being constant. If the rain was really hitting the gable as Trench alleged, why was the child Curry not put on the other side of the wall four foot high around the Church for shelter? Hill said he was not on the side facing the Church and had to be lifted on top of the wall. Why not just put him on the other side?
 
Mary and Margaret Beirne denied seeing a cross on the altar. This contradicts Patrick Hill and Mary McLoughlin and Judith Campbell whose depositions said there was a cross. The other witnesses never mentioned the cross. If Hill was wrong about the cross was he wrong about the rain lasting all the time? Was the gable simply dried up by the wind?
 
The evidence for the miraculously dry gable is weak. It's insufficient.
 
It has been noted that Father Lennon from Maynooth wrote a neutral report on the evidence for the Knock apparition being a miracle and devotees just select what suits their agenda, namely to promote the vision as genuinely supernatural, from it (page 184, Knock The Virgin's Apparition in Nineteenth Century Ireland). It is impossible to deny that most supporters of religion do that. That is why we would expect the visionaries at Knock to have been cross-examined properly and questioned using techniques similar to those deployed by the police. For example, no witness should have been allowed to hear what the other witnesses were saying. And because religious people can be so unfair with the evidence, we can be suspicious of the priests who investigated the apparition.

The aspects of the testimonies that indicate the supernatural are very minor. You expect small mistakes in testimonies - that is human nature. What if these things are the mistakes?
 
The investigation only lasted one day (page 211, Knock The Virgin's Apparition in Nineteenth Century Ireland). That is enough to stop one taking it very seriously.
 
The investigator Canon Bourke was a gullible fool. He wrote a letter which you can read on page 97 of The Apparition at Knock, The Ecumenical Dimension, Eoin de Bháldirathe, Bolton Abbey, Kildare, 2013. It says the 21 August 1879 Knock vision really happened and was real. It accepts further visions - apparitions supposedly took place on New Years Eve and New Years Day. The Church rejects those visions as mere mimicry. Bourke and other priests investigated and described the visions. It puts forward hearsay about a Protestant seeing lights at the gable and healings including a dumb girl recovering her speech as believable! This was one of the men who functions as giving Knock credibility! In his letter, he spoke about the 21 August vision but treated subsequent stuff as more important!
 
Mary Beirne testified that she went to ask Dominick to see the apparition at 8. Catherine Murray went to tell Margaret and ask her to go at around 8. Margaret then went to tell the mother get her at 8.15. This is very strange for when they all lived in the same house three journeys to the one family to tell them should not have been necessary (page 248, Knock The Virgin's Apparition in Nineteenth Century Ireland). What is worse, is how they were only living a stone's throw from the chapel!
 
The Knock apparition is certainly the best attested miracle of all time. Minor details are used to persuade people that this apparition was really miraculous. One witness seemingly said the ground was dry beneath the apparition (not true for the testimony was fabricated but we will forget that for the moment). Another said that the apparition was crisp and clear and not like an image made by a magic lantern. The main details do nothing to show that the apparition was not a trick. But the minor details are insufficient as evidence for we know that if you have people witnessing some event and ask for their testimony, they will all give the same rough outline and the details will contradict one another. 
 
The Depositions of the Witnesses are Inconclusive
 
The depositions did not even tell us where the witnesses stood.  That was vital.  They stood as shown in the picture which means they did not have the good view you would be led to think they had.   

 

 

At times one deposition is too similar to another for comfort.
 
The Second Commission which took place in the 1930's stated that it seemed to them that ALL of the 1879 documents were "cast into form by someone" (page 185, Knock The Virgin's Apparition in Nineteenth Century Ireland). Why was that interference necessary? Was it because some witnesses were saying things that cast doubt on the vision being really from Heaven? Even believer Father Michael Walsh declared that it is unknown how the commission worked out the visionaries were telling the truth (page 185, Knock The Virgin's Apparition in Nineteenth Century Ireland). He said they created the testimonies from what the witnesses said (page 185, Knock The Virgin's Apparition in Nineteenth Century Ireland).
 
Archdeacon Cavanagh is suspected of having altered the testimonies to suit his agenda (page 186, Knock The Virgin's Apparition in Nineteenth Century Ireland). For example, somebody changed Mary McLaughlin's mention of a bishop having appeared to St John the Evangelist.
 
There is no evidence that leading questions were forbidden. The signs that they were indeed asked is evident. Hynes says that the statement that leading questions were used to prompt the visionaries is an understatement (page 188, Knock The Virgin's Apparition in Nineteenth Century Ireland).
 
Attempts were made to manipulate the witnesses to say they saw people in the light at the gable not statues.
 
No evidence that the witnesses read the depositions before signing them or had them read out properly to them is reported. This makes them useless. We would be basing faith on speculation if we overlook this.
 
The Archdeacon headed the first investigation and he was desperate to have the apparition accepted and believed.
 
Conclusion:
 
We do not have to try and explain what happened at the gable that night. Knowing that the evidence that it really was a miracle is unsatisfactory is enough. The burden of proof is on those who say it was a miracle.
 
Do they escape the burden of proof by saying that it may have been a miracle or that it is possible that it was a miracle? No.
 
The evidence for the miracle apparition is worthless never mind insufficient. Had a real miracle taken place, divine providence would have been able to preserve the evidence if there had been any. The investigation would have been divinely guided.
 
Miracles by definition are unlikely. Suppose the depositions were convincing. Then is the miracle that they are convincing or that the apparition really happened? A miracle could delude them to remember the event differently and be convincing while the event itself was pure trickery. The smallest miracle would be the good depositions. The bigger miracle would be the apparition. Considering that miracles are unusual, the smaller miracle is the least unusual. So its the one we have to believe - if any. By default, the depositions cannot establish that a miracle apparition happened.
 
BOOKS CONSULTED
 
Margaret Anna Cusack, The Nun of Kenmare, by Catherine Ferguson CSJP, Gaelbooks, Co Down, 2008
 
Knock The Virgin's Apparition in Nineteenth Century Ireland, Eugene Hynes, Cork University Press, Cork, 2008
 
Knock: Some New Evidence. The British and Irish Skeptic, Berman, David. Vol 1, no. 6, November/December 1987
 
Knock 1879-1979, Rynne, Catherine. Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1979
 
Looking for a Miracle, Joe Nickell, Prometheus Books, New York, 1993
 
Our Lady of Knock, John MacPhilpin, Tom Neary, London: Catholic Truth Society, 1976
 
Our Lady of Knock. William D Coyne, New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1948
 
"Papal Visit Resurrects Ireland's Knock Legend." The Freethinker (October 1979). Reprinted in The British and Irish Skeptic 1, no. 1 January/February 1987
 
The Apparition at Knock, A Survey of Facts and Evidence, Fr Michael Walsh, St Jarlath’s College, Tuam, Co Galway, 1959
 
The Apparition at Knock, The Ecumenical Dimension, Eoin de Bháldriathe, Data Print, Athy, 2013
 
The Apparitions and Miracles at Knock, also Official Depositions of the Eye-Witnesses. Tuam, Ireland, 1880. 2d ed. Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son, 1894.
 
Mother of Nations, Joan Ashton, Veritas, Dublin, 1988
 
The Book of Miracles, Stuart Gordon, Headline, London, 1996
 
The Cult of the Virgin Mary, Michael P Carroll, Princeton University Press, 1986
 
The Evidence for Visions of the Virgin Mary, Kevin McClure Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, 1985
 
The Thunder of Justice, Ted and Maureen Flynn, MAXCOL, Vancouver, 1993
 
The Wonder of Guadalupe, Francis Johnson, Augustine, Devon, 1981  
 
Why Statues Weep, Editors Wendy M Grossman and Christopher C French, The Philosophy Press, London, 2010
 
Venerable Archdeacon Cavanagh, Liam Úa Cadhain, Knock Shrine Society, Roscommon Herald, Boyle, Roscommon, Ireland, 2004