Although they were not accompanied by a verbal message (such as the other more famous appearances of Our Lady at Lourdes, La Salette, and Fatima), the highly symbolic imagery of the apparitions at Knock may have communicated a message in itself. If we examine the prophetic symbolism of this vision in closer detail, we find that the imagery of the Knock apparitions alludes to several biblical passages which have rather distinctive apocalyptic overtones. And when we analyse these apparitions in the context of the other important private revelations of the late 19th century, we find that the thematic content of each of these apparitions are mutually complimentary, and all point to the significance of the 20th century as the starting point for the unfolding of the eschatological events depicted in the Book of Revelation.
The apparitions at Knock, in County Mayo, Ireland, were witnessed by at least 22 villagers of varying ages (young and old) over a course of several hours on the evening of 21st August, 1879. Although they are not considered among the list of officially Church approved apparitions (since the Bishop of Tuam never made any definitive pronouncement), the shrine was visited on the centenary of the apparitions by Pope John Paul II in 1979, who conferred it with a rarely awarded golden rose, and elevated the site to the status of basilica. A token act which constituted the highest level of official support.
The vision itself took the form of a tableau vivant - a scene attempting to communicate a story through a "living picture", which was a commonly used practise in popular Catholic devotions of the time period. The below account is the original eyewitness testimony of Mary Byrne (who was 29 at the time of the apparitions), given to the first Commission of Enquiry established by the Diocese of Tuam, in 1879:
'I live in the village of Knock, to the east side of the chapel. Mary McLoughlin came on the evening of the 21st August to my house at about half past seven o'clock. She remained some little time.
I came back with her as she was returning homewards. It was either eight o'clock or a quarter to eight at the time. It was still bright. I had not heard from Miss McLoughlin about the vision which she had seen just before that.
The first I learned of it was on coming at the time just named from my mother's house in company with Miss Mary McLoughlin, and at the distance of three hundred yards or so from the church. I beheld, all at once, standing out from the gable, and rather to the west of it, three figures which, on more attentive inspection, appeared to be that of the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and St. John. That of the Blessed Virgin was life-size, the others apparently either not so big or not so high as her figure.
They stood a little distance out from the gable wall and, as well as I could judge, a foot and a half or two feet from the ground.
The Virgin stood erect, with eyes raised to heaven, her hands elevated to the shoulders or a little higher, the palms inclined slightly towards the shoulders or bosom. She wore a large cloak of a white colour, hanging in full folds and somewhat loosely around her shoulders, and fastened to the neck. She wore a crown on the head, rather a large crown, and it appeared to me somewhat yellower than the dress or robes worn by Our Blessed Lady.
In the figure of St. Joseph the head was slightly bent, and inclined towards the Blessed Virgin, as if paying her respect. It represented the saint as somewhat aged, with grey whiskers and greyish hair.
The third figure appeared to be that of St. John the Evangelist. I do not know, only I thought so, except the fact that at one time I saw a statue at the chapel of Lecanvey, near Westport, Co. Mayo, very much resembling the figure which stood now before me in group with St. Joseph and Our Blessed Lady, which I beheld on this occasion.
He held the Book of Gospels, or the Mass Book, open in his left hand, while he stood slightly turned on the left side towards the altar that was over a little from him. I must remark that the statue which I had formerly seen at Lecanvey chapel had no mitre on its head, while the figure which now beheld had one, not a high mitre, but a short set kind of one. The statue at Lecanvey had a book in his left hand, and the fingers of the right hand raised. The figure before me on this present occasion of which I am speaking had a book in the left hand, as I stated, and the index finger and the middle finger of the right hand raised, as if he were speaking, and impressing some point forcibly on an audience. It was this coincidence of figure and pose that made me surmise, for it is only an opinion, that the third figure was that of St. John, the beloved disciple of Our Lord, but I am not in any way sure what saint or character the figure represented. I said, as I now expressed, that it was St. John the Evangelist, and then all the others present said what I stated.
The altar was under the window, which is in the gable and a little to the west near the centre, or a little beyond it. Towards this altar St. John, as I shall call the figure, was looking, while he stood at the Gospel side of the said altar, which his right arm inclined at an angle outwardly, towards the Blessed Virgin. The altar appeared to be like the altars in use in the Catholic Church, large and full-sized. It had no linens, no candles, nor any special ornamentations; it was only a plain altar.
Above the altar and resting on it was a lamb and around it I saw golden stars, or small brilliant lights, glittering like jets or glass balls, reflecting the light of some luminous body.
I remained from a quarter past eight to half past nine o'clock. At the time it was raining.'
You can find this account, along with the other 15 recorded eyewitness testimonies, at the official Knock Shrine website here. Note that in many of these original eyewitness accounts, the figures are described as being three dimensional (yet incorporeal) in nature - a fact which hugely discredits the theory that the apparitions were faked using a magic lantern. One of the witnesses, Patrick Hill, gave the following testimony which clearly describes effects which are impossible to duplicate through a projected image:
"The figures were full and round as if they had a body and life; they said nothing; but as we approached they seemed to back a little towards the gable."
Hill further went on to state that he had approached so close to the apparitions so as to be able to see the full detail in the eyes of the Virgin Mary, as well as the very lines of text in the book held by St. John. A statement which corroborates Mary Byrne's account above, who recounted how the apparitions "stood a little distance out from the gable wall". The projected image of a magic lantern on the Church gable would be quite incapable of producing such incredibly life-like images, and its light would have been blocked by any people in such close proximity. Additionally, the projected light of a magic lantern would be easily traceable back to its source, and would not have held up to two hours of scrutiny by more than 20 witnesses. Instead, these apparitions recall the three dimensional images of the appearances of Our Lady (and likewise also occasionally accompanied by St. Joseph) above St. Mark's Coptic Church in Zeitoun, Egypt, which were witnessed by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people over a three year period (see the previous posts Our Lady of Zeitoun and the Slaugther of the Innocents and Our Lady of Light and the Apocalyptic Nativity).
One of the most notable features of the Knock apparitions is the presence of other figures alongside the Virgin Mary - that of St. Joseph and St. John; with the central focus of the tableau being directed on Christ as the Agnus Dei - the Lamb of God. The depiction of Jesus as the Lamb of God is a distinctive feature of Johannine christology, and we find the only Scriptural references to Christ as the Lamb of God contained in the Gospel of St. John and the Apocalypse. Indeed this fact is one of the points used to argue in favour of common authorship of the Fourth Gospel and the Book of Revelation. So the figure of St. John in the Knock apparitions, pointing the attention of the witnesses to the Lamb standing on the altar of God, is highly apt here; reaffirming to the audience that the saintly figure is indeed that of the Beloved Disciple. The most immediate biblical passage reflected in the posture of St. John towards the Lamb standing on the altar is the famous Johannine verse recollecting the words of St. John the Baptist: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). But while we find the first depiction of Christ as the Lamb of God in the Gospel of St. John, the imagery behind the scene of the Lamb standing on the altar in the Knock apparitions is chiefly derived from chapter five of the Book of Revelation - when the Lamb of God opens the scroll with the seven seals, setting in motion the chain of events that unfold throughout the rest of the Apocalypse:
Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
The presentation of Christ as the Lamb of God is by far most frequently used in the Apocalypse. While Jesus is called the "Lamb of God" only twice in John's Gospel, the term "Lamb" is used for Christ well over twenty times in the Book of Revelation. So the Book of the Apocalypse is the most likely point of Scriptural reference which the Knock apparitions allude to. The presence of other motifs shared between the Knock apparitions and the Apocalypse helps to reinforce this conclusion. For example the altar which the Lamb is seen standing on in this vision almost certainly represents the Golden Altar of Incense frequently mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Given the importance of the altar in interpreting the significance of the Knock apparitions, it should be worthwhile examining this motif in the Apocalypse in more detail.
The Book of Revelation uses the imagery of the inner workings of the Temple in Jerusalem to portray events which the author witnesses as unfolding in the Temple of God in Heaven. In the Apocalypse, the altar is described as being located standing before the Throne of God, and is directly associated with the Altar of Incense, or Golden Altar, which stood before the Qodesh Haqodashim (the Hebrew word for the Most Holy Place, otherwise known in Latin as the sanctum sanctorum) in the Temple of Jerusalem.
The Jews considered the sanctum sanctorum of the Taberancle and the Jerusalem Temple to be the dwelling place of the Shekhinah (the Divine Presence), where the Presence of God (or the Holy Spirit) would rest over the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. The sanctum sanctorum containing the Ark of the Covenant was covered by a curtain, separating it from the Holy Place of the inner sanctum, which contained the Menorah and the Golden Altar of Incense.
The Menorah and the Golden Altar standing in the Holy Place, seperated from the Holy of Holies by the Temple curtain.
The layout of the inner sanctum was closely modelled after the Tabernacle used by the Israelites from the time of the wanderings in the wilderness until the construction of the First Jerusalem Temple by King Solomon.
“And you shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. It shall be made with cherubim skillfully worked into it. And you shall hang it on four pillars of acacia overlaid with gold, with hooks of gold, on four bases of silver. And you shall hang the veil from the clasps, and bring the ark of the testimony in there within the veil. And the veil shall separate for you the Holy Place from the Most Holy. You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place. And you shall set the table outside the veil, and the lampstand on the south side of the tabernacle opposite the table, and you shall put the table on the north side."
The symbol of the Lamb in the Book of Revelation is a synthesis of various elements taken from Old Testament typology. The Apocalypse combines the concept of atonement through sacrifice in the festival of Yom Kippur with the paschal lamb, whose blood was used during the Exodus at Pesach (Passover) to save the Israelites from the Angel of Death. The paschal lamb which was traditionally slain at around 3pm on the eve of Passover (14th Nisan) - which according to the Gospel of St. John, was the date of Christ's Crucifixion. So the Book of Revelation melds the sacrifices of Yom Kippur and Pesach together in order to portray Christ as the one "like a lamb" prophesied in the Servant Songs of the Book of Isaiah - the Suffering Servant whose sacrifice bears the sins of humanity in order to reconcile us with God.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter...
The use of the image of the Golden Altar in the Apocalypse is used to denote this sacrifice, which is added to by the suffering of the martyrs. It was at the Golden Altar where the blood of sacrifice was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement. And in a further act of symbolism, the coals used in the Golden Altar to burn the incense were taken from the Brazen Altar, where the remains of the sacrifical victim would be mixed together with the coals. So the remains of the sacrificial victim in the coals brought to the Golden Altar were symbolically carried towards heaven through the aromas from the burning of the incense. This is the reason that the souls of the martyrs are seen under the Golden Altar of Incense in the Book Revelation, as this was considered to be the place where the offering was ultimately transmuted into the final form of sacrifice acceptable to God:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
The Lamb is seen standing on the altar in the Knock apparitions, because although its sacrifice has been carried toward heaven along with the smoke of the incense and the prayers of the saints, the victory of the Resurrection means that the Lamb has overcome death. Instead of the smoke of incense rising above the Golden Altar we see the Sacrifical Victim itself reemerge like the Phoenix raised from the ashes, and we are left with the final victorious image of the Lamb "slain, but standing":
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
Here, the author of the Apocalypse describes the Lamb as standing in the midst of the Heavenly Temple, between the Throne of God, the Four Living Creatures and the 24 Elders - in the exact location that the Golden Altar was located in the Jerusalem Temple. But the image of the Lamb here is fused together with the other object in this location - the seven candles of the Menorah, which symbolise the seven spirits of God. Earlier in the Book of Revelation, we are told that the seven lamps on the Menorah symbolise the seven spirits of God. But now they are represented in the figure of the Lamb itself in the form of seven horns (which deliberately contrasts with the seven heads of the Dragon). The Lamb, emerging intact from His sacrifice at the altar of God now stands amongst the seven golden lampstands with the keys to Death and Hades in His hands (Rev 1:12-20), and is ready to open the scroll sealed with seven seals.
"Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation..."
The vision of St. John in the Knock apparition, standing with an open book in his hand and pointing towards the Lamb almost certainly references this exact passage. It was noted by the witnesses that the saint appeared to be attempting to forcibly impress a point on his audience whilst making these gestures. In doing so, St. John seemed to be warning those present that the Lamb was about to open the scroll with the seven seals, thus ushering in the events described in the Apocalypse. The open book held in the hand of St. John recalls the opening of the scroll with seven seals by the Lamb, which we are told elsewhere in the Book of Revelation was given to St. John himself.
Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.” And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
In this "prequel" to the opening of the seven seals, we are shown how the scroll first comes to be sealed with the seven seals, which we are told are used to contain the secrets of the seven thunders. John is ordered not to write down the secrets of the seven thunders because they will be sealed in the open scroll held in the hand of the angel, after which it can only be opened by the Lamb. Immediately before this section, we are shown the vision of the sixth trumpet (and second woe), which recapitulates the release of the four (fallen) angels at the opening of the first four seals.
Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind.
Here, a voice from the Golden Altar (which is most likely that of the Lamb, who we are told earlier is standing in the area this object would be located in the Heavenly Temple) issues the command to release the four fallen angels, who like the fallen angels described in 2Pet 2:4 and Jude 6, have been kept bound in chains (see the earlier posts The Four Beasts and the Four Horsemen and The Jewish Holocaust in Biblical Prophecy which delve into this subject in more detail). Now that the angel of the first woe has opened the abyss however, these four fallen angels are free to emerge from their bondage (see also Tunguska, Pope Leo and the Opening of the Abyss). So in Rev 9 and 10, the contents of the scroll with seven seals are yet again linked to the actions of the four fallen angels (who like Daniel's four beasts, represent four warring end-time world powers).
If St. John was indeed warning that the Lamb was about to open the scroll sealed with seven seals in the Knock apparition, then the timing of this urgent message was impeccable. The apparitions took place in 1879 - just 5 years before Pope Leo XIII recieved his vision warning that the world was about to experience the "little while" given to Satan described in Rev 20:3, which would occur over the span of 100 years (the 20th century). Twenty years after the Knock apparitions, in 1899, Pope Leo would consecrate the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus just in time for the turn of the century, marking the exact moment when this period of trial would begin. And thirty years after these apparitions, in 1909, the Tunguska event would herald the fulfillment of the first woe of the Book of Revelation, when the Apocalyptic Locusts first emerged at the dawn of the First World War - which would be used to devastating effect at the outbreak of the Second World War thirty years later, in 1939:
And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth.
A further link between the Knock apparitions and the Lamb opening the scroll with seven seals can be found in the presense of the angels surrounding the Lamb on the altar. Some of the witnesses to these apparitions reported seeing angels around the Lamb of God in the vision. As mentioned above, Mary Byrne's testimony detailed how the Lamb was surrounded by a number of star-like luminous objects:
Above the altar and resting on it was a lamb and around it I saw golden stars, or small brilliant lights, glittering like jets or glass balls, reflecting the light of some luminous body.
Another of the witnesses, Patrick Hill, described these star-like figures as angels:
Behind the Lamb a large cross was placed erect or perpendicular on the altar. Around the Lamb I saw angels hovering during the whole time, for the space of one hour and a half or longer; I saw their wings fluttering, but I did not perceive their heads or faces, which were not turned to me.
This vision of the Lamb surrounded by star-like angels is partially based on Jacob's dream of the ladder leading up to heaven, which in his Gospel, St. John associates with Christ Himself.
These angels should be identified with the seven spirits of God represented by the seven lights of the Menorah and the seven horns of the Lamb.
And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!
And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Here St. John uses the imagery of Jacob's laddar to convey the fact that Christ is the only path to heaven, who he describes elsewhere as the door of the sheep-pen.
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
But the image of the angels surrounding the Lamb in the vision of Knock is primarily based on the seven stars held in the hand of Jesus described in the Book of Revelation, which are associated with the seven lights of the Menorah standing before the Throne of God:
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
In the earlier post The Seven Wandering Stars and the Heads of the Dragon, we have already went into some detail how this portion of the Apocalypse appears to be associated with an alignment of the seven classical planets - which is described as the key to the opening of the Abyss in Rev 1:18 and Rev 9:1. And just such an alignment of the planets occurred at the start of the "little while" granted to Satan (according to the vision of Pope Leo XIII) at the turn of the 20th century, in the year 1899 - twenty years before the Knock apparitions.
(It should be noted that the seven stars represent the seven archangels Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Remiel and Saraqael, which are in turn parodied by the seven fallen angels represented by the heads of the Beast. The first book of Enoch, on which the New Testament writings on this matter are largely based, details how the seven archangels have diabolical counterparts in the seven fallen angels who stand at the entrance to the Abyss. Therefore the seven classical planets can represent the seven archangels who stand before the Throne of God (Tobit 12:15), as well as the seven fallen angels with "blasphemous names" (Rev 13:1) - and can switch between these two aspects depending on the point of view).
So in addition to announcing that the Lamb was about to open the seven seals of the Apocalypse, the Knock apparitions also appears to included a reference to the seven stars/angels held in the hand of Jesus, which are the keys to Death and Hades (Rev 1:18). But the inclusion of the Holy Family in this vision, with the Virgin Mary being accompanied by St. Joseph, also appears to signify how Satan is to be ultimately defeated. The fact that Our Lady is wearing a crown in this vision points directly to the passage concerning the Woman Adorned with the Sun, who bears a crown of twelve stars:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
We have already went into some considerable detail elsewhere how this section of the Book of Revelation describes the final defeat of Satan, when he is cast from Heaven to earth. Using the story of the Nativity as template, chapter twelve of the Apocalypse elucidates how Satan is crushed under the feet of the Woman Adorned with the Sun - a victory which has been won by Christ's sacrifical death on the Cross:
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
The final victory over Satan is won by the "blood of the Lamb", whose sacrifice is poured out on the altar before the Throne of God.