For the last 74 years, one of the most recognizable royal crowns in the world is the one worn by Our Lady of Fatima at her shrine in Portugal.
Pilgrims in Fatima can see this crown on the original image of Our Lady of Fatima during the anniversaries of the apparitions and other great celebrations. Her canonical coronation took place in Fatima on May 13, 1946, when Venerable Pope Pius XII sent Cardinal Benedetto Masella, his pontifical legate, to personally preside over this coronation of Our Lady of Fatima, Queen of Peace and of the World, as Pius XII named her.
This exquisite crown for Our Queen was the work of Casa Leitão & Irmão, jewelers of the Portuguese crown, located in Lisbon. The crown was made by Jorge Leitão’s grandfather.
“We had 12 people working on it for three months. It was an amazing job,” explained Jorge Leitão (LAY-tow), who is carrying on a centuries-old family tradition as managing director of Casa Leitão & Irmão (Leitao-Irmao.com). “It was done with only gold and precious jewels that were given by the Portuguese to Our Lady of Fatima. I would like to emphasize the ‘giving.’ No money was involved. The crown was made for free by us.”
Jewels for the Queen
He said Portuguese women gave their gold and jewels “to say ‘Thank you’ to Our Lady that Portugal did not take part in the Second World War. The sons of the mothers did not die.”
Fatima seer Sister Lucia wrote Pius XII in 1940 specifically about why Portugal was protected: “Our Lord promises a special protection to our country in this war, due to the consecration of the nation, by the Portuguese Prelates, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary …”
The path to the crown began in 1941, when a group of Portuguese women launched a national campaign to specifically collect jewelry — not money — to make a crown for Our Lady of Fatima. They brought thousands of pieces of gold and gems to the shrine, which then entrusted Casa Leitão to design and complete the unique crown using the gold and the 2,992 precious stones. “It was made like the crown of a queen,” Leitão said.
Portugal has long revered the Blessed Mother as “Queen.” King John IV of Portugal crowned Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, as “Queen of Portugal” in 1646 by royal decree. “From that day on, no Portuguese queen had a crown because Our Lady is the Queen of Portugal for almost 400 years,” Leitão explained.
Leitão described the royal design as a “closed crown” because its eight arches come together to close at the top. “And on top of the crown is a sphere, which represents the world, and on top of this there is a cross, which means that this person moves on earth by divine commitment.” He added, “This is the heraldic to every crown of a ruler because they are supposed to be placed there by God.” The meaning is, he emphasized: Our Lady is the Queen of the World by the will of God.
The crown was completed in 1942; but the papal coronation was postponed for four years. Casa Leitão actually completed two queen’s crowns in 1942. The gold one gleams with 1,400 diamonds, 950 rhinestones, 313 pearls, 260 turquoises, 33 sapphires and 17 rubies, emeralds, amethysts and aquamarines. It’s considered the most notable work of Portuguese jewelry of the 20th century. The second tiara is of silver gilt and adorns Our Lady of Fatima’s image at the Chapel of the Apparitions at the shrine daily unless the occasion calls for the golden-jeweled crown. These occasions include Our Lady of Fatima’s feast day on May 13, the 13th day of each month she appeared to the Fatima children, and papal visits.
Almost 40 years after the official canonical coronation in 1946, one more major addition was made to the crown. On May 13, 1982, one year to the day after the assassination attempt on his life, Pope St. John Paul II came to Fatima to thank Our Lady of Fatima for saving him and to offer her the bullet that struck him. Leitão explained that the rector, wondering what to do with the bullet, went to the crown and found one empty space into which it would fit “where the eight arches come together. The empty space had the same caliber that fit the bullet from John Paul II. The bullet found the perfect fit in the empty space left in 1942 at the union of the eight stems that make up the Queen’s crown.” Using a gold weld, Casa Leitão then affixed the bullet permanently in that one open space in the crown, which prophetically was waiting to be filled.
Papal and Royal Connections
The jewelers had more connections with St. John Paul II. Leitão said that when the new Basilica of the Holy Trinity was being built at the shrine in Portugal, “the Pope had a piece of stone cut from the tomb of St. Peter and shipped it to Fatima. It was a 3-inch by 3-inch piece and would be the founding stone of the new basilica.”
Because the altar is considered the founding stone, Casa Leitão got the call to somehow incorporate this piece of stone into the altar. Leitão described how the company found a place for the stone to rest beneath the altar where the only light on it is reflected by silver around it that makes the stone look as if it is suspended in space.
Casa Leitão was not new to designing and completing treasured items for the Church. Leitão said that for Pope Leo XIII’s jubilee in 1888, Portugal’s King Luís had “my grandfather make a chalice as a gift for the Holy Father’s celebration. The Pope wrote a letter to the king that the piece is superb. The king spoke with my grandfather and wanted to give him a title. He didn’t want duke, etc. He wanted the title of ‘Crown Jewelers.’”
The connection between the crown and the Leitão house dates back to the 1830s. In the 19th century this also led to the jewelers being named “Goldsmith of the Imperial House of Brazil” because the founder had a good relationship with Pedro IV of Portugal, who became the first emperor of Brazil.
Founded in the 18th century, the jewelers also completed Church-related work late in that century and into the next by providing jewels, for example, for the sacred vessels used to say Mass.
As Leitão recalled, “Our connection with the Church was always very important.”
For the Fatima Centennial in 2017, Leitão described how a request came from Brazil for a crown to honor an image of Our Lady of Fatima in that country, “not exactly the same one [as at Fatima] but the same feeling, the same idea and the same spirit — something new, so theirs is unique.” The jewelers designed it, “showed it to the shrine in Fatima, and it was approved.”
They made a second identical “Centenary Crown” for the Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima that Pope St. Paul VI blessed in 1967. To begin the Fatima Centennial celebrations in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols crowned this statue on Feb. 18, 2017, in London’s Westminster Cathedral with the newly designed crown that had been blessed by the bishop of the Diocese of Leiria-Fatima. Devotees of the World Apostolate of Fatima in England and Wales subsequently traversed the country with the statue.
Casa Leitão made a third identical centennial crown for the image of Our Lady of Fatima in Lisbon Cathedral, known as the Sé.
Above all, Mary’s queenship is in service to the King. As St. John Paul II said during a general audience in 1997, “She is a Queen who gives all that she possesses, participating above all in the life and love of Christ.”
To learn more about Our Lady of Fatima, visit the website of the forthcoming movie, Fatima: FatimatheMovie.com.