Pope Ven. Pius XII is best known as having served as the Vicar of Christ during the Second World War (the heroism of his fight to save Jews from the Holocaust has been recently vindicated by new research). He is also known for being one of the few popes in history to explicitly invoke ex cathedra papal infallibility, in his case to declare the dogma of the Assumption.
But what isn’t very well known is that he privately experienced the “miracle of the sun” on four occasions at the Vatican, which he interpreted as supernatural confirmation of his new Marian dogma.
But first, what is a “miracle of the sun”? A miracle of the sun is when the sun appears to do strange, unnatural things, such as changing colors, darting around the sky, spinning, flashing, dulling its brightness so people can look at it for long periods of time, or some combination of these things.
The most famous miracle of the sun occurred on October 13, 1917, when somewhere between 30,000 to 100,000 people in Fatima, Portugal witnessed the sun dull its brightness, spin, and zig-zag around the sky with radiant colors for about 10 minutes. What made this especially incredible was that it occurred at the exact time and place that a group of children said that the Virgin Mary would perform a miracle so people would believe in her apparitions to them.
Since then, many others have reported seeing miracles of the sun around the world – including even the late Ven. Pius XII.
“I have seen the ‘miracle of the sun,’” Pius XII wrote in a note that was only made publicly available in 2008, “this is the pure truth.”
At 4pm on October 30th, 1950, he was walking through the Vatican gardens and arrived at the Our Lady of Lourdes statue when he “was awestruck by a phenomenon that before now I had never seen.”
“The sun, which was still quite high, looked like a pale, opaque sphere, entirely surrounded by a luminous circle. […] [I could look at the sun] without the slightest bother. There was a very light little cloud in front of it.”
“The opaque sphere… moved outward slightly, either spinning, or moving from left to right and vice versa. But within the sphere, you could see marked movements with total clarity and without interruption.”
What could it all mean? What happened the next few days solidified in Pius XII’s mind what the miracle signified.
The very next day, October 31st, he saw the same phenomenon again. Then again on November 1st, and finally one more time on November 8th. After that, he never saw it again.
Something else very important happened around that time: on the very same November 1st in 1950 that he saw the miracle of the sun for the 3rd time, Pius XII invoked papal infallibly to declare ex cathedra the dogma of the Assumption of Mary.
Given the connection of the miracle of the sun with the Marian apparition at Fatima earlier in the 20th century, Pius XII interpreted his experiences as supernatural confirmation that he was doing the right thing with the new dogma.
What an incredible story!