Knock Shrine

One of Europe's Major Marian Shrines in County Mayo

Heading for Knock Basilica ... past the Holy Water
© Bernd Biege 2016

Knock Shrine, one of Europe's major Marian Shrines (which also include Lourdes in France and Međugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina), lies right in the middle of nowhere in the Eastern part of County Mayo, surrounded by boglands and wilderness. Neither is the landscape very attractive nor are there any notable attractions - yet tens thousands of visitors arrive here every year. The religious as well as the curious.

So, let us have a closer look at Knock Shrine.

Knock Shrine - The Story of the Apparition and the Pilgrimage

The year was 1879 and the small village of Knock in County Mayo was, at best, a provincial backwater. This all changed dramatically on August 21st - in the evening a group of people (aged from five to 75 years) witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist (so the figures were identified at least) at the south gable of the local parish church, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. They also saw what appeared to be an altar with a cross, and a lamb, plus some adoring angels.

A clerical commission quickly established by the Most Rev. Dr. John MacHale, Archbishop of Tuam, concluded that the testimony of all the witnesses was trustworthy and satisfactory, thereby giving the Marian apparition the first ecclesiastical rubber stamp. A second commission confirmed this conclusion in 1936.

Knock never looked back, and quickly became a major pilgrimage site for mainly Irish Catholics.

In 1979, at the centenary of the apparition, Pope John Paul II himself visited Knock. The well-travelled Polish Pontifex made it clear that the shrine was the ultimate goal of his visit to Ireland. This approval directly from the Vatocan and the unstoppable activities of Monsignor Horan (who gave the impetus to the building of both the Basilica and nearby Knock Airport) made Knock Shrine a major pilgrimage site worldwide.

Who Actually Visits Knock Shrine?

Visitors to Knock Shrine fall into two groups - the by far largest one being pilgrims, Catholic pilgrims to be precise. A smaller group are tourists, and the plain curious. A sizeable minority might also have a foot in both camps ... though faced with the religious trappings at Knock they'll tend to veer towards the religious side.

What to See at Knock Shrine?

This would entirely depend on who you are, why you are there - those on a pilgrimage will have a very clear idea on how to spend the day, and will try to take in all the major religious stations, maybe a service or tow, and confession. Those on a less rigidly framed visit will certainly also want to take in the whole site and dip their feet here and there.

The main places of interest at Knock are:

  • The old-fashioned Church of Saint John the Baptist, the original parish church - located near the main road and still in use as a parish church. The outside gable where the apparition was said to have taken place is now preserved under glass (in effect a large, church-like room of its own), complete with an artistic interpretation of the apparition and benches for the faithful.
  • The stunning Basilica Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland - a modern building seating for around 10,000 of the faithful, a short distance from the old parish church and dominating the area. To cope with the multitude of pilgrims, entrance and exit areas are similar to football terraces.
  • The Chapel of Reconciliation - a subterranean, modern structure with a multitude of confessionals and a striking altar background.
  • The small Knock Museum - a folk-cum-apparition-museum giving details of rural life in 1879 and the apparition itself.
  • The Old Cemetery with the Witnesses Graves.

There also is a special area off the main street devoted to souvenir shops ... which nobody should miss, but which will make a very different impression depending on your reason for a visit. Let it suffice to say that small bottles of holy water in the shape of the Blessed Virgin Mary, opened by unscrewing her celestial crown, are definitely not among the great religious artworks of the world. They are not cheap either.

How Much Does a Visit to Knock Shrine Cost?

Apart from the Knock Museum, all the above-mentioned areas are free, donations are gratefully accepted.

One word of warning though - Knock itself is not exactly a cheap place. Having a bite or a cuppa tea can be expensive. Bring your own or check the prices before you sit down.

When Best to Visit Knock Shrine?

If you are a religious visitor, the shrine's website will give you the important dates. If you are simply curious, choose these dates if you want to see the devoted. If you want to take in the shrine in peace and quiet, however, come on a winter's day. Knock is open all year.

Is the Way to Knock Shrine Worth Taking?

For a visitor with a religious background, this question is superfluous - all others should decide for themselves. In short: Knock is interesting, even if you do not believe in anything that makes it a pilgrimage site. On the other hand, it is out of the way... you decide.