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The Doves of Bombarral

Margaret Galitzin
In 1946, Portugal was celebrating the third centenary of the dedication of Our Lady as patroness of Portugal under the title of the Immaculate Conception.

The statue of Our Lady of Fatima at the Cova da Iria was chosen to preside over the ceremonies, which would begin in Fatima on November 23, 1946. Then the statue, carried on a platform on the shoulders of priests and laymen, would travel through the country until reaching the Cathedral of Lisbon. There, on December 8, feast of the Immaculate Conception, the consecration of Portugal to this great patroness would be renewed.

black and white photograph of a statue of Our Lady of Fatima with three doves at the base

The doves flew upward and then returned to the base of the statue

What happened en route in the city of Bombarral, located about 40 miles north of Lisbon, was an extraordinary event that has come to be known as the Miracle of the Doves.

As a tribute to Our Lady, five doves were released as the statue of Our Lady of Fatima passed in procession through the streets of Bombarral on December 1. Large crowds were singing hymns to Our Lady and hardly noticed the release.

Then, something remarkable happened. Three of the doves, instead of flying upwards and away, flew to the statue and alighted at Our Lady's feet. There they remained, despite a few attempts of hand clapping and arm waving to chase them off.

Sentinels of Our Lady

During the days that followed, as the statue moved from one town to another on its way to Lisbon, the doves remained at the base of the statue like faithful white sentinels of Our Lady. One witness wrote: "The noise and cries of the crowd, the singing of hymns, the bursting of festive fireworks, the lights at night, the heat of the sun or heavy rain of some days, the movement of the statue on its flower-covered stand as it entered various churches, the prayer vigils and night ceremonies that took place - nothing made the doves abandon the touching image of Our Lady." (1)

Despite every distraction, the doves remained. Occasionally they took to air and encircled the statue, as if to prove to disbelievers in the crowds that they were not tied down. Throughout the journey the three doves of Bombarral remained at Our Lady's feet, refusing all food or drink. Even the secular press took note, narrating the extraordinary fact in the daily papers; the story was picked up by newspapers throughout Europe and the United States.

black and white photograph of altar boys with a procession statue of Our Lady and three doves at its base

Despite every distraction, the doves remained with Our Lady

The statue arrived at Lisbon on December 5, the platform triumphantly carried by Third Order Carmelites. The streets were packed with many thousands of faithful devotees as well as curious onlookers eager to witness what was already being called "the miracle of the doves." None was disappointed. The doves did not abandon their post of honor at the foot of the statue even as it entered the brightly lit Church of Our Lady of Fatima for the final celebrations of the Marian centennial. Throughout the day Masses and night vigils of December 5 and 6, the doves remained perched at the feet of the statue.

In the evening of December 7, the statue was conveyed in a noisy and excited candle-lit procession to the Cathedral. Fireworks exploded, bands played, flowers were tossed to Our Lady. The doves, flapping their wings occasionally to keep their balance, faithfully kept their place at the statue's feet.

The doves suddenly fly

When the image finally reached the Cathedral at 1 a.m. on December 8, feast of the Immaculate Conception, one of the doves flew to the top of the tower and remained there for almost an hour and, then, resumed its post at Our Lady's feet. Throughout the night, the church filled to capacity, the doves remained, quiet and still.

Black and white photo of a statue of Our Lady with doves flying around it

The doves took flight at the Consecration of the Mass

It was the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, Manuel Cerejeira, who offered the feast day Mass and made the re-consecration of Portugal to the Immaculate Conception. During that Mass the crowds witnessed another incredible episode in the history of the three doves. At the ringing of bells for the Consecration of the Sacred Host just before the elevation, there was a sudden fluttering of wings. An eyewitness, Canon J. G. de Oliveira, made this report:

"To the utter amazement of all, two of the doves suddenly flew ... after two weeks of refusing food or drink and of remaining at the feet of the statue ... One sped straight to the Gospel side of the altar, and the other to the Epistle side! There, as the Bishop straightened to raise the Consecrated Host, they alighted and folded their wings – one on each side – as though in adoration!

"As the Mass progressed, the two doves remained there to the bewilderment of the celebrants and servers and the stupefied congregation. But, this was still not the climax.

"The third dove had not left the statue. Suddenly, at the moment of Communion, the third dove flew up and perched on top of the statue’s golden crown, placed there by the Cardinal Legate, who personally represented the Holy Father the previous May 13 at Fatima. As the celebrant turned and held up Our Lord, saying 'Ecce Agnus Dei' ("Behold the Lamb of God"), it spread its white wings and held them open!" (2)

That evening, the statue was carried in ceremony to a decorated frigate for its transport across the River Tagus to be honored in the courtyard of the Seminary of Almada. The three doves, indifferent to the fireworks, noise of engines and whistle blasts from the hundreds of accompanying boats, remained at Our Lady's feet. (3)

On the journey back to Fatima, the doves would fly away, only to be replaced by three others who took up their posts. And so they remained with Our Lady until her return to Fatima on Christmas Eve.

After this remarkable pilgrimage of Our Lady in 1946, many statues of Our Lady were sculpted with three doves at her feet, a memorial to the miracle of the doves of Bombarral.

It is worthy of note that on that same day at a High Mass in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a white dove entered the Church and flew straight to the altar where it rested on an arm of the Cross and remained throughout the ceremony. (4) In 1946, the United States was also celebrating the first centennial of our country's dedication to the Immaculate Conception, but, sadly, no such marvels were reported here.

three doves


  1. Fr. Joseph Cacella, The White Doves of Peace (NY: Vatican City Book Co., 1949), p. 4.
  2. John Haffert, Russia Will Be Converted (Washington, NJ: AMI, 1950), p. 195.
  3. Joan Carroll Cruz, Mysteries, Marvels and Miracles in the Lives of the Saints, pp. 498-499.
  4. Ibid., pp. 499-500


Posted December 9, 2017


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