Interview with Jorge Leitão on the origin of Fátima Jewels
1. How did Leitão & Irmão’s relationship with Fátima begin?
J. Leitão – I think in fact the relationship began before the apparitions, which occurred in 1917. The relationship began with an order from our King Luís in 1877, for the Jubilee of Pope Leo XIII, if I’m not mistaken. A very beautiful chalice was made, which today is on display in the Vatican treasury, with a paten which says in Latin “Hail Mary Full of Grace“. So, I think that our relationship with Our Lady, at least in writing, began at that time, in 1877.
As a result of this order, and our relationship with the Vatican and the Church, in 1942 the Shrine of Fátima entrusted us with thousands of items of jewellery from a collection made all over Portugal, to make a crown for Our Lady of Fátima. The thousands of jewels offered were taken apart at Casa Leitão, to make use of the gold. Casa Leitão also provided the crown that Our Lady has always worn on the days of great pilgrimages, especially on 13 May, since the year she was first crowned in 1946.
2. The crowns for the image of Our Lady of Fátima came about as a gift for Portugal not entering World War II, which led to the manufacture of not one, but two crowns. What can you tell us about this? What are the differences between the two crowns?
J. Leitão – Our Lady is a woman and women don’t have just one outfit. And so, quite naturally, you have a crown for big ceremonies and a crown to wear every day.
3. The Precious Crown has an important story associated with Pope John Paul II. What happened?
J. Leitão – There are a lot of stories about Fátima and John Paul II and I can’t tell them all, but there is a particular one I can tell. The crown is a Queen’s crown because it has eight closed arches, a characteristic attribute of the crowns of a reigning queen or king. When it was made in 1942, like any crown with closed arches, these arches joined at a given point on top, where there is a sphere called the orb which represents the world, and on top of this sphere is a cross, and under the sphere there is a void.
If I’m not mistaken, in 1981 there was attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II in the Vatican on 13 May. He wasn’t a Pope who was very devoted to Fátima, but when he didn’t die, he understood that there had been divine intervention to save his life. As it was 13 May, he asked for the file on Our Lady of Fátima.
It is worth noting here because there is another person who also thinks that there was divine intervention: the doctor who operated on him and who says that the path of the bullet didn’t make sense. And there is a third person who also thinks that there was divine intervention: the assassin, whose name is Mehmet Ali Ağca and he’s been in prison and he’s very upset because he’s a good assassin, he’s a good professional, and he also understands that it’s only divine intervention that didn’t kill the Pope. This makes you laugh a little bit, but it is the reality.
The fact is, after he was saved, the Pope took one of the bullets that was extracted from his body and offered it to the Shrine of Fátima. This occurred in the Vatican, in the presence of the image of Our Lady with the crown that Casa Leitão made. The director at the time, Monsignor Luciano Guerra, brought the bullet back and didn’t know what to do with it. He had some divine inspiration as well; took out the crown and, in the place where the eight arches of a queen’s crown are, underneath the orb, which represents the world, he saw there was a gap the same size as the bullet. So, it was placed there, and there it resides to this day.
4. A film about Fátima will be released shortly. How is Leitão & Irmão connected to the film? How did it start and how did the company get involved?
J. Leitão – In 2010, when Pope Benedict XVI came here, at a marvellous, beautiful mass held in Praça do Comércio square in Lisbon, where the crowds backed up as far as Rossio – no-one has ever seen so many people in the square – Pope Ratzinger suggested that preparations for the hundredth anniversary celebrations of the apparitions at Fátima should begin straight away.
I was at that Mass, in the second row, with my son – it was a privilege to have a child go to Mass, it’s a rarity – and I started thinking “What are we going to do for the Fátima centennial?”. We had actually made the crown in 1942, so we started from the theme of the crown, and in 2014 we were very close to the hundredth anniversary of the Fátima apparitions.
So, I went to different congresses on the subject of Fátima, including the Congress for Our Lady of Fátima for Latin America and the Caribbean, which took place in Puerto Rico. It is worth noting this event because it shows that Fátima exists in every corner of the world: it is the greatest phenomenon in the world, it is Portugal’s greatest presence in the world. I met the director of the Fátima film at this congress, and since then we have had a close relationship in “getting the film on its feet”, always collaborating in whatever way we could to make the Fátima film a reality. It should have been released in 2017. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, it premiered last year, 2020, in the United States with remarkable success. I think it will premiere in Europe in 2021. So, our connection with the Fátima film really has to do with a strong connection that the Casa had with the centennial celebrations of the apparitions.
5. What led to the creation of the Fátima Jewels website with an online store? Besides the crowns of Our Lady of Fátima, which pieces would you highlight from this collection?
J. Leitão – The Fátima Jewels collection really started with the centennial pieces. While wondering what we would do for this centennial, we thought: “we made the crown in ‘42, let’s make reproductions of the crown”. But it wouldn’t make any sense to sell reproductions of the crown of Our Lady of Fátima, so we went in search of the person who made the image of Our Lady that is in the sanctuary and we found the nephew of the person who made the original image, who is still a wood carver in the North of Portugal. We asked him to make a small Our Lady, based on the moulds that he has from between 1920 and 1922. Mr. Thedim, that’s his name, made us a miniature of Our Lady that we reproduced in silver, here in the workshop. We crowned it with a miniature of the crown of Our Lady of Fátima, and that was the product we sold during the centenary year.
Then, the possibility arose of making a variety of products that have to do with this beloved theme – which in my opinion goes beyond the Catholic faith, being the Portuguese faith – the theme of Our Lady of Fátima. So, there are a variety of pieces in a collection known as ‘Fátima Jewels’, which appeals to peace, to love, as well as to Our Lady – when she was crowned in 1946, she was crowned queen of peace and love.
6. Before Fátima Jewels, there was the ”100 years of Fátima”. How did you come up with the new site and what changed?
J. Leitão – Really the world has changed a lot from 1917 to 2017, so that’s why we started working online, to be digitally all over the world at the same time. After 2020, with the pandemic, this became a necessity. So, we got a new stimulus for the Fátima Jewels collection to exist essentially online, available anywhere in the world, with the brand being the Portuguese event that has had immense repercussions worldwide, lasting for over 100 years.
7. Can people see these pieces in physical stores? Starting when?
J. Leitão – The pieces will be available in the physical store from 13 May, 2021, in the Largo do Chiado, and will be mainly available online, anywhere in the world.
8. What is the message of this collection, which for you goes beyond the religious figure of Our Lady of Fátima?
J. Leitão – There are various messages, but I think the main message is one of peace, because really Our Lady has been crowned Queen of Peace. It also conveys a message of sensuality and eternity because most of the pieces are made of gold, and gold is a metal that doesn’t change, that doesn’t oxidize; in 100 years it will be the same as it is today. So, I think that the main values of Fátima, which are common to all humanity and not exclusive to Christianity, are like gold, they last forever.