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Second statue at Laventille to be damaged by lightning

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

There’s a saying ‘Lightning never strikes twice in the same place’, however contrary to this lightning has struck and destroyed the statue of Our Lady of Fatima–twice. The first time August 12, 1938 and more recently on Wednesday, September 9.

On May 18, 1947, then Archbishop Finbar Ryan blessed the new 98-foot statue. The occasion was the dedication of Our Lady of Fatima RC, Picton Road, Laventille as a national Marian Shrine and unveiling of the Our Lady of Laventille statue on top of the tower at the shrine.

Catholic News file photo of Our Lady of Fatima Shrine nestled in Laventille’s hills (2016)

In a front-page report of the Catholic News of May 24 1947, Archbishop Ryan refers to the history of the church at Laventille and first statue erected at the site. “…a number of Portuguese came from Madeira. They brought with them the memory of their own holy mountain in that island and they thought this hill as being, in its own way, a reproduction of the sanctuary which they had left behind, and so a new structure began in honour of Our Lady of the Mount,” he said. The report continued, “Later on a statue on a fairly prominent pedestal was set up of Our Lady to dominate the city and Gulf of Paria.” Beneath the statue were the words from holy scripture: “They have placed me as a Guardian”. Archbishop Ryan said this first statue did not remain long because of fragility.

“It was succeeded by another statue which you will remember was placed upon this tower and which was struck by lightning at the beginning of the last Great War. It was as though the spirit of evil was determined to deprive us and our people and our Colony of the protection of Our Blessed Lady. But no sort of evil can ever overthrow our Queen,” Archbishop Ryan stated.

He observed that the fall of this second statue stirred in the hearts of the people “a firm determination to replace it by one much more grandiose and splendid, to establish it in solidity that, humanly speaking, it could not be overthrown.” It took nine years. Archbishop Ryan said the generosity of donors contributed to the new statue which was erected firmly on a pinnacle.

Lightning struck the top of the statue

At about 1.30 p.m. Wednesday lightning struck the top of this statue knocking the head off, and leaving a large crack along the rest of it and parts crumbled off. There was a contractor on site with workmen. Fr Dwight Merrick, the former parish priest said, “he and his men were in the Church working. It was bad. He himself…got thrown some distance because of what he was leaning up on. “

Parish secretary Gerard Forbes reported that no-one was injured.

Personnel from the Property Building and Restoration Unit of the Chancery visited the site today. Also present, was the consultant specialising in historic buildings who worked on the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception restoration project.

Vicar General Fr Martin Sirju said upon examination it was found the broken pieces of the statue on the ground were not shattered. The body left standing on the pinnacle will be inspected to see its condition and if it will have to be removed. A report will be submitted to Archbishop Jason Gordon.
“Based on that we will decide how we move forward,” Fr Sirju said. The Our Lady of Fatima RC and Shrine is on the Heritage Asset Register of the National Trust. He explained, because of this certain protocols of the Archdiocesan building committee and their consultants must be followed.

Although there are persons interpreting the damage as an omen, or blow against idolatry, what precipitated the damage, a thunderstorm, is normal during the rainy season. According to the “Thunderstorms are no stranger to Trinidad and Tobago, occurring year-round. These storms produce some of our highest localized rainfall with accompanying lightning and gusty winds, particularly during the Wet Season, during the latter half of the year”.
National Geographic stated: “Lightning can—and often does—strike in the same place twice. Tall buildings and monuments are frequently hit by lightning”.