The faithful gasped, then the `Virgin' spoke her last

THE heart-shaped sign outside the grey-painted wooden farmhouse read: "No food, drink or pets in Apparition Room." A line of policemen, a fence and rows of seated nuns ensured none of the throng got close enough to peer through the windows. Inside, we were told, the Virgin Mary had just appeared and was giving a message to the world through a 47-year- old Georgian housewife and purported "visionary", Nancy.

Spread across a sloping grassy hillside, 100,000 pairs of ears strained to hear the muffled, unintelligible sounds of a woman's voice through the loudspeakers under the farmhouse eaves. A few believed it was the Virgin talking, most that it was Mrs Fowler mumbling responses. The believers, from all corners of the world, gasped, knelt, thrust their foreheads into the grass and prayed. It was a kind of religious version of Woodstock on what is known here as Fowler's Farm as thousands of cars, coaches and camper vans continued to pour on to the site.

And then it happened.

"There she is!" someone shouted and all eyes and cameras turned south towards a single puffy white cloud in a hazy blue sky. "See, it's the Virgin. She's holding Jesus, in that cloud, and she's moving." I tilted my head this way and that, but couldn't quite make it out. Many took Polaroid snapshots and turned them around until they were satisfied the Virgin Mary could be seen. "Look up there. The sun's spinning, it always does that when the Virgin appears," said the pilgrim squeezed against me on my right, Marguerite Nelson, from Dallas, Texas. I had the impression it was the cloud that was moving across the sun.

"You'll feel the drops of gold dust next, then it'll smell of roses," said Marguerite. Others had warned me of the same but, if it happened, the dust must have been extra fine, the roses wilted. Marguerite was kneeling on a spread-out olive green T-shirt with the logo "Top 10 reasons to stay Roman Catholic". I could see only that reason number five was "Great Pope!"

"I have a beautiful picture I took on a previous visit of the Virgin standing on the farmhouse roof. You can see little Jesus in her arms," said Ana Weidie, 59, a pilgrim kneeling to my left over a makeshift shrine she had strewn across the grass with crucifixes, photographs and rosaries.

That was when Mrs Fowler made her own appearance, a small, chubby, round- faced figure with unkempt black hair, dressed in a dark suit and black shirt, walking briskly on to the farmhouse porch, clutching a yellow notepad, looking as though nothing unusual had happened and she was rushing off to work. It was hard to imagine that she had just been in what a sympathetic neurophysiologist who knows her calls a "near-coma, delta activity, with only three or four heartbeats a minute".

She climbed on to a makeshift podium set up with microphones and read to the throng the message the Virgin had given her, word for word. An interpreter made sure the largely Hispanic crowd, mostly women, understood by translating a line at a time. Among the faithful were 60 busloads from Monterrey, Mexico, who had driven three days and two nights to get here. Others had flown in from as far away as Japan and Australia.

"Our loving mother gave me this message," Mrs Fowler said. "My dear children, I have come for the last time this way. The next time I will see you will be in heaven." Mrs Fowler, a former nurse, had initially passed her visitor's messages on to ever-increasing crowds during the 1990s on the 13th of every month. She had restricted it to an annual event, on the 13th of October, since 1994 and had said this time the Virgin had told her it would be her last visit. Hence Tuesday's largest ever crowd.

As her flock knelt on the hillside, many holding their arms aloft, Mrs Fowler continued to read the message in a barely audible, high-pitched girlish voice. "Children, be ready for heaven. My son has prepared a place for you. But please stop offending God. You have not yet seen the forces of nature." Some pilgrims turned to one another with gaping looks that said: "I knew it."

"For the first time, there were a multitude of figures in shadows behind our loving mother," Mrs Fowler went on. "She told me these were the souls of purgatory but that they would get to Heaven today." Her followers cried out "Ave Maria", and waved white handkerchiefs or rosaries above their heads.

A loudhailer from the bottom of the hill interrupted: "Move your car, now! You will be towed if you leave it there!" It was a bulky Rockdale County cop, trying to sort out the traffic still crawling on to the site. Rockdale's cattle farmers, many Protestant, many flying the southern Confederate flag alongside the Stars and Stripes on their porches, are not great fans of Mrs Fowler or her followers, and local officials consider her annual event something of a public nuisance. A few years ago, county inspectors found that "holy water" from a well on her farm - she said it had been blessed by Jesus in an apparition - was contaminated. She was forced to post signs warning that the water was holy but not recommended for drinking.

The Pope has not condoned her activity and the local Catholic church this week issued leaflets urging pilgrims to attend Mass in local churches. The hierarchy may be envious of the donations Mrs Fowler receives, as well as the income from books and videos about her visions.

Mrs Fowler shuns interviews and is secretive about her past. She says she was guided to the farm by Jesus in 1987 and that followers bought it for her. Before her appearance on Tuesday, a Bolivian neurophysiologist, Ricardo Castanon, had told the crowd why he believed in Mrs Fowler. When she visited Bolivia in 1995, he said, Jesus had told her he would leave a sign of his presence in that country. "The moment she left, more than 100 statues of Jesus began crying and bleeding," he said.

Why would so many people travel so far, at such expense to listen to a chubby middle-aged southern American housewife?Perhaps people need to believe more than ever. There have been increasing "apparitions" of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, particularly in the Americas, in recent years. There is a waiting list into the next century to visit the home of the paralysed 14-year-old Audrey Santo, who cannot speak and can barely move, in Worcester, Massachusetts. People believe she has been given divine powers and can cure ailments including cancer. And believers have begun flocking to the village home of a Mexican housewife, Fernanda Rivas, to see a cake she says came out of the oven miraculously carrying an image of the Madonna and child.

Back in Georgia, some are asking why the Virgin Mary says she will no longer visit Mrs Fowler's farm. The answer may be linked to the fact that the Georgia housewife, like many Americans who are knocking on a bit, is moving to The Sunshine State - Florida - next month. She will still accept donations to what she calls her non- profit group, known as Our Loving Mother's Children Inc.

Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
arts + entsBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Hydraulic Power Pack Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I recruit for contract mechanical design...

SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

SCO Supervisor Electrical

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client based in the Midlands is looki...

Ecommerce Executive

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Ecommerce Executive Working with an...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices