New Basilica in Fatima to Accommodate 10,000 Pilgrims

Designed by Orthodox Architect Alexandros Tombazis

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FATIMA, NOV. 23, 2003 ( Fatima plans construction of a new basilica to accommodate the growing numbers of pilgrims to the shrine; the first stone will be laid in December.

The Basilica has been designed by Greek Orthodox architect Alexandros Tombazis, who has combined light and technology in a circular structure.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims arrive in Fatima where, 86 years ago, the Virgin Mary appeared to three young shepherds: Francisco and Jacinta — beatified by John Paul II on May 13, 2002 — and Lucia, a Carmelite nun who is living in a convent in Coimbra.

In fact, some 10,000 people attend Mass on Sundays in the existing Basilica, which has a capacity for 900. Because of the lack of space, most of the faithful must stay outside.

The growing number of pilgrims to Fatima made it necessary to come up with a plan, among other reasons, to shelter them from the inclement weather.

As a result, an international architecture competition was convoked four years ago, which was won by Greek architect Tombazis.

In an interview published last Thursday in the Italian newspaper «Avvenire,» Tombazis said that his Orthodox faith posed no problem as «an architect must be able to respond to different needs.»

The new building will face the existing Basilica, on the opposite side of the esplanade. Its inauguration is planned for May 13, 2007, on the 90th anniversary of the apparitions.

Foremost in the architect’s mind was «the spaciousness of the esplanade, where 400,000 people gather.»

«The shape of the Square, which descends slightly to the center only to rise again toward the Basilica, reminds one of a great wave that rises to indicate the infinite. In my plan, I have tried to respect this atmosphere and its profound sense of peace,» Tombazis said.

Aware of the fact that «architecture re-works light and can make it peaceful or dramatic,» Tombazis has given priority to daylight, which will come down on the new shrine from above, from the roof. It will be possible to change the lighting in different places and with varying intensity, with the help of a computerized system.

«For example, one can opt to light up the chancel and the area of the perimeter leaving the congregation more in the dark,» he explained.

Similarly, in the central aisle there is a series of skylights, «pointed to the north,» looking «symbolically to the present shrine. So the aisle, from the entrance to the altar, will be enhanced by a particularly intense light,» the architect continued.

‘In this plan I also wanted to introduce a mirror of water that transmits calm and that, while reflecting the colors of the sky, will reflect the serenity inspired by this place: a great Square in which the sound of the bells will reverberate as an echo of infinite peace,» Tombazis concluded.

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