Maria dos Anjoy may just be sitting on the world’s biggest secret. But if keeping it is proving burdensome she is hiding it well.
Maria dos Anjos is the niece of the last Little Shepherd of Fatima.
She was born just a year after Lucia entered the monastery where she was to spend her entire life, and just three years after Our Lady appeared for the last time to the three children.
The Fatima Sanctuary will draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims on Friday to commemorate the Miracle of the Sun.
Pope Francis, who is believed to have been bequeathed the secrets of the spiritual world has already been this year to commemorate an earlier visitation.
They come also in their hundreds of thousands to Fatima village and to the porch of Maria dos Anjos’s humble house to meet the grand old lady, 97-years-young, and I dare say to ask for the secret.
I figure the last person she’ll tell, if she does know, is a journalist and instead I sit at her hand and join her in The Lord’s Prayer.
I have come to Fatima to mark a centenary but I’ll let you into my own little secret, I had a different anniversary on my mind when I set out, and no, it’s not even my own wedding anniversary which will fall on the Sunday we are here.
No, the miracle I had in mind was 50 years ago when 11 men, all within a 30-mile radius of my hometown of Glasgow, won the European Cup for Celtic in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.
And I intend to worship at the Studio Nacional before the trip is done.
I cried like a baby 50 years ago which is allowed as I was only 18 months at the time. I am tempted to ask Maria dos Anjos to put in a word to Our Lady for this season but figure some things are beyond even the power of the Mother of God.
And besides the Portuguese have already used up their football miracle with God’s gift, Cristiano Ronaldo, who led them to the European Championships title last year and who is venerated even here in Fatima where I pass a stall where they are selling, among other things, a Cristiano Ronaldo beach towel.
Venerated, yes, but he hasn’t won over the wife yet, who lets an aghast Jose know that she thinks he, Ronaldo, is arrogant.
Fatima is a glorious mystery but that’s no secret.
The rest of the region Centro is, although not to our guide Jose, proud native of Coimbra, Portugal’s third city and hoe to the world’s eighth oldest university.
It was Coimbra’s students who lit the fuse for the Revolution which ousted Antonio Salazar in 1974.
Jose, our Special One, breaks us in gently on the first evening of our four-day break…. do you like fish?
For the love of Cod, do these people like fish? By the end of our holiday we have devoured everything and anything that has swum anywhere nearby, octopus, cod, swordfish, lobster, clams squid, and visited the villages where they are mined and laid out for our inspection.
I swear one flatfish smiled at me in costa Nova – i wonder if he had been sucking air in glorious mid-sleep when the hook took. And of this fish is washed down, of course, with the wine of the Gods.
Did I mention the port? You’d need to go for a midnight swim to work all this off. Sarah did while I slept it off in a hammock under the stars of our New Age boutique hotel in Fatima.
Centro Portugal very loosely runs between Porto in the North and Lisbon in the South, way South is the Algarve we know from family sun and sea holidays.
Centro Portugal has its sun and sea too, in fact better. Our first billet is the Fouradouro Boutique Hotel Beach & Spa where we gaze over the balcony at a gentle Atlantic Ocean.
It’s livelier in Peniche and Nazare, surfing Meccas, and where Hawaian Garret McNamara (there must be some Irish in there somewhere) set the world record of 23.77m for a wave.
While the surfers play, the fishermen are busy earning their living and confronting a cruel seas.
In olden days the women would stand by the stonewashed wall looking out to the horizon and clicking their rosary beads praying that their men would return home safely… the old women still do.
A gloriously ornate church in the background is extra insurance.
Churches> There are as many as there are fish in the sea and Jose feels we need to visit all the houses of God while I am here. he may be right, we need to purify our souls after spending the previous night in Case das Ratas, or house of the rats (or in Portuguese vernacular house of the lady parts) in quirky Tomar.
It is an old-fashioned Portuguese inn which celebrates revelry, football and the female form and where glasses rich sangria are clinked and oaths exchanged.
Enough bawdiness, well just a little ore, we did stop off for some naughty shaped candy in a charming cafe – for the office you understand.
But this is my wedding anniversary weekend and I must pledge my troth again I now know the very place. Aveiro, the Venice of Portugal where I take Sarah to my arms and look longingly into her eyes atop the Bridge of Ribbons, a photograph that must never find its way into our children’s hands incidentally.
If you have a special occasion to celebrate and wish to commemorate it with a keepsake then visit the Vista Alegre factory, a self-contained 19th Century works village in Ilhavo that has made porcelain for royalty. Well, anything for my queen!
Queens? In this very matriarchal society, Portugal hold theirs dear. Learn more about the Mother of the Nation Queen Elizabeth, a saint, friend to the poor and devoted wife of King Denis, Portugal’s first king.
Jose proudly tells us her earthly remains reside for eternity in Coimbra, her spirit is, of course, in Heaven.
Perhaps it’s because it’s our wedding anniversary and I’m feeling soup but I can’t help picking up on our whistle stop tour around Centro’s historic sites, all UNESCO honoured, that these Portuguese are a romantic bunch. Their kings and queens are even holding hands on their tombs.
Fast forward to today and these old lovers like to hold hands too, clambering the stones up to the 12th Century castle of Almourol which has the most captivating views of the valley, and through the cobbled stones of the medieval town of Obidos.
ObIdos was part of the dowry gift to King Denis from Elizabeth’s people and is now a literary town where every available space, even churches, are given over to tomes and an international festival is held every October.
On our last night we make a toast to Jose and his beloved Centro, and to love with Champagne in The Literary Man hotel in Obidos which houses 45,000 books including those scattered around your bed.
Jose too was married 23 years ago this month, to his sweetheart, Anna. and also has a son and a daughter, and the way he speaks of Anna, it is clear that theirs is a true love story.
I am feeling all nostalgic too and am in the mood to rekindle an old romance.
I pic up a book on the Lisbon Lions from the shelf to take to bed… it is only the story of how 11 footballers, all from a 30-mile radius around Glasgowwon the European Cup.
How to get there
Dublin-Porto, five flights a week with Ryanair www.ryanair.com. Dublin-Lisbon, daily with both Ryanair and Aer Lingus www.aerlingus.com.
Where to stay
Furadouro Boutique Hotel Beach and Spa **** www.furadourohotel.com/ Luz Charming Houses www.luzhouses.pt/ Hotel dos Templarios **** www.hotel-dostemplarios.com/ Hotel Rio do Prado www.riodoprado.pt/ The Literary Man Hotel www.theltieraryman.pt/
What to do
Boat tours in Ria de Aveiro. Visit Costa Nova Beach in Aveiro, the fish market in Costa Nova, Ilhavo. Alegre Factory. See www.centerofportugal.com/vista-alegre-factory/. Visit Fatima, BAtalha, Tomar, Convento de Cristo,the Castle of Almourol, Bairro do Viscond, Peniche and Obidos.
Where to eat
Art Nouveau Museum Casa de Cha Bairro Restaurant – http://obairro.pt/. Restaurant Dom Goncalo – www.hoteldg.com/en/restaurant. Burro Velho – http://burrovelho.com/restaurant Casa das Ratas.