A stand-off between Catholic Church authorities and a self-proclaimed visionary threatens to escalate into a major showdown next month.
Dubliner Joe Coleman claims the Virgin Mary appeared for a second time in three weeks at Knock Shrine on Saturday.
Around 15,000 followers gathered expectantly in the hope of witnessing a vision, with claims that the sun once again “danced in the sky”.
But the clergy is alarmed at the level of support for the “sightings”. The Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary deplored the proclaimed phenomenon as not healthy and argued that it brings the Mayo Shrine into disrepute.
Dr Neary said the Knock apparition in 1879 was neither sought, nor expected.
The crunch is likely to come on December 8, an important event in the church calendar as the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and also the date on which Mr Coleman has predicted a third apparition.
A crowd estimate between 12,000 to 15,000 from all over Ireland and abroad gathered on Saturday. An apparition had been predicted for 3pm on Saturday by Mr Coleman, from Ballyfermot, the self-proclaimed “visionary of Our Blessed Lady”.
Up to 4,000 expectantly waited outside the Apparition Chapel, the spot of the original reported Knock apparition in August 1879.
That historic apparition put Knock on the spiritual map and unlike the recent phenomena it is officially approved by the Church.
By 3.20pm on Saturday, anticlimax was stirring among the crowd, most of whom looked constantly upwards at the sky with their cameras and mobile camera phones in active service.
Hundreds were leaving disappointed. One man, a native of Knock, scoffed at what he said resembled “the pagan art of sun-worship”. But suddenly, there were |shouts that the sun had been seen dancing close to the Basilica, and men, women and children rushed towards it to get a glimpse.
This rush brought them to the Basilica, where Mr Coleman had forecast Our Lady would appear with a message.
Up to 7,000 people squeezed into the vast circular arena, where Mr Coleman and fellow visionary Mr Henderson were positioned before the altar. Mr Henderson knelt rapt in prayer. Mr Coleman shifted between kneeling and standing.
From time to time, Mr Coleman picked up a crucifix and kissed it. Their silence contrasted with chattering from the crowd.
Shortly before 2.30pm a woman ascended the altar and called the crowd to stop talking in church.
“Sing a hymn,” she ordered. After a rendering of ‘Pray for the wanderer, pray for me' the woman led off the Rosary, interspersed with lusty choruses of ‘Ave Maria'.
At 3.15pm, a few people started moving out of the building, but this turned into a stampede as word spread that people outside were witnessing “the sun dancing”.
People were shouting to friends that they saw “something small and round” in the sky. A security guard said this “hysteria” could have caused deaths.