The story of Knock and the miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary, St Joseph, and John the Evangelist, in the small, hillside village 135 years ago, has been well-documented in Mayo and beyond. Few people who attended a school in this county could have managed to get through without hearing it at least once or twice.
However, the story of the 15 witnesses, the unassuming villagers whose incredible accounts of the events on that rainy night of August 21, 1879, has never really been highlighted.
“They were a group of ordinary people who witnessed an extraordinary event,” says Grace Mulqueen, curator of Knock Museum.
Indeed, the reports from those 15 people, aged between five and 74, went on to make the unlikely village of Knock one of Ireland’s most visited tourist sites, attracting a staggering 1.5 million people every year and even a visit from Ireland’s favourite Pope, John Paul II.
Now, Knock Museum is working to tell the stories of the witnesses themselves, giving an insight into their lives before and after the apparition and examining the impact it had on them, in a new exhibition to open this summer.
Ms Mulqueen explained that the witnesses were unassuming people who worked hard and that even though it was their testimony, and their testimony, alone that established Knock as one of the world’s biggest Marian Shrines, they never really got a lot of attention.
“It was the way society was at the time,” said Ms Mulqueen. “Despite what they witnesssed, these people weren’t put on a pedestal in any way and they never sought any type of fame or stardom. The apparition itself was always the main focus. But without these witnesses, there would have been no apparition.”
Did the visionaries return to life as normal after that night? That will be one of the questions the new exhibition at Knock hopes to answer.
“We want to look at what became of these people. And particularly how their story was passed down in their family from generation to generation.”
Ms. Mulqueen said many people who visit the museum are hungry for more information and insight into the Knock witnesses. “Visitor Exit Surveys conducted at Knock Museum indicate that the public really want to know more about these people,” she said. Anyone with information or a story to tell about the witnesses to the Knock apparition can contact Grace at the museum on (094 ) 9375034 or email [email protected]