As August 13, 1917 was approaching, word of the Fatima apparitions spread throughout the country. The liberal Masonic press took a special interest in the matter, sparing no opportunity to denounce it and spread falsehoods concerning the three shepherd children. When these tactics could not sway the masses of pilgrims, who faithfully traveled great distances in order to be present when Our Lady appeared, the press declared in classic anticlerical fashion that the clergy were deceiving the people in order to draw profits. The press strongly encouraged the local authorities to take action.
Fatimas local authority, Artur de Oliveira Santos, who was the Administrator of the district of Vila Nova de Ourem, was an anticlerical fanatic. Also known as “The Tinsmith,” he was a Freemason who enjoyed much power through his position, and ruled his district in a tyrannical fashion, imposing restrictions on churches and religious services on his slightest whim. The Tinsmith decided to end the popular piety resulting from the apparitions at Fatima, through whatever means necessary.
On August 10, the fathers of the three seers of Fatima, Manuel Marto and Antonio dos Santos, received an order to appear with their children the following day at Vila Nova de Ourem. It was a journey of nine miles, of which the only available means of transportation were either to walk or ride a donkey. Manuel Marto refused to have his two young children make the journey or appear before a court, and decided to go alone. Antonio dos Santos, however, was determined that his daughter, Lucy, answer for herself. The Tinsmith was furious at the absence of Francisco and Jacinta.
Recalling her experience with the Tinsmith, Lucy writes:
At the Administration office, I was interrogated by the Administrator, in the presence of my father, my uncle, and several other gentlemen who were strangers to me. The Administrator was determined to force me to reveal the Secret and to promise him never again to return to the Cova da Iria. To attain his end, he spared neither promises, nor even threats. Seeing that he was getting nowhere, he dismissed me, protesting however that he would achieve his end, even if this meant that he had to take my life.1
On August 12, masses of people began arriving at the Cova da Iria, in anticipation of the apparition of the following day. On the morning of August 13, the Administrator arrived at the Marto home to see the children. He convinced the childrens fathers that he desired to “attend the miracle” with them, and together they first went to meet with the village priest. After being questioned, the Administrator had the children get into his carriage. The carriage at first made for the Cova da Iria, but suddenly turned and flew off in the other direction. The Administrator attempted to calm the children by saying that they were first going to meet with the priest at Ourem. To keep pilgrims on their way to the Cova from seeing the children, he wrapped them in a rug. Finally he arrived in triumph at his house, believing that by keeping the children from the Cova, nothing supernatural would happen and the business of the apparitions would be given up.
When they arrived at the Tinsmiths house, the children were shut up in a room and told that they would not be let out until they had revealed the Secret. They were given lunch by the Tinsmiths kind wife, who let them play with her children and saw that they lacked for nothing. The following day they were forced to undergo nine interrogations, but the children, strengthened by a special grace, remained steadfast.
The Tinsmith wanted to learn the Secret from them at any cost, but he could neither extract it nor trick the children into contradicting each other. He even called in a doctor to accuse the children of hallucinations and hysteria. The doctors conclusions have never been published. This fact speaks volumes, for had the doctors conclusion been that the children were hallucinating, the Administrator would have wasted no time in publishing the doctors testimony.
The Tinsmith then put the children into a prison cell full of other prisoners. They were then interrogated separately, after which the Tinsmith threatened to boil them in oil if they still refused to divulge the Secret of Fatima. In the presence of the children he ordered that a cauldron of oil be heated, and threatened to put the children in the cauldron if they did not cooperate. The children believed the Tinsmiths threat. A man in the same prison cell tried to persuade Jacinta to give in, telling her that she could avoid being killed by simply telling the secret. Jacinta responded, “Id rather die!”
The Tinsmith took Jacinta away first. Francisco and Lucy believed that she had gone to her death. The Tinsmith returned and told the children that Jacinta was dead. He again demanded that the secret be revealed, or Francisco and Lucy would also be boiled in oil. Francisco was next taken to his apparent death. The Tinsmith then threatened Lucy with the same fate if she did not cooperate. Lucy remained faithful, though she believed that her two cousins had been killed. However, none of the children were killed; the threat had been empty. Yet even after this final threat, the Tinsmith could not obtain the Secret. The next morning (August 15), after one last interrogation, having accomplished nothing he returned the children to Fatima.
- Frère Michel de la Sainte Trinité, The Whole Truth About Fatima, Volume I: Science and the Facts, (Immaculate Heart Publications, Buffalo, New York, 1989) p. 218.