All posts in Research

  • Going on Pilgrimage – Book of Lismore

    Going on pilgrimage without a change of heart brings little reward from God. For it is by practising virtue and not by mere motion of the feet that we are brought to heaven. – Book of Lismore

    This quote has been placed at the beginning of Tóchar Phádraig at Ballintubber Abbey establishing a meaning of pilgrimage which draws on the early Irish Church. I have referenced this quote in numerous public presentations and it is a sort of definition of pilgrimage that really resonates with people. It nicely combines the idea of pilgrimage as a physical journey and a spiritual/emotional (or meta-physical) journey.  As I have previously discussed, pilgrimage involves a number of characteristics that distinguish it from other types of travel and this quote captures that idea well. Pilgrimage is a type of meaningful movement, a journey or undertaking of significance, one that takes shape in doing, feeling and believing.

  • Spiritual Directions

    Brass Compasses, Iran, 1800-75. V&A Museum No: 574-1878; 762-1998; 307-1887

    Brass Compasses, Iran, 1800-75. V&A Museum No: 574-1878; 762-1998; 307-1887

    These beautiful brass compasses on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum reminded me of the importance of direction within Islamic Prayer. These compasses would have been used to establish the direction of the Ka’bah in Mecca, or the Qiblah. The cases contain engravings of the coordinates for Mecca from different cities in the Islamic world.

    This feature of Islamic prayer is a very clear example of a spiritual or religious geography. In this case, there is a very literal connection between location and faith. These compasses hint at the efforts that individual Muslims most undertake to perform their faith. The requirement of regular prayer necessitates that each person must have an awareness of directions in their daily lives. As a geographer, this rich connection between belief and location is fascinating.

  • Máméan Pilgrimage

    Máméan is a mountain pass pilgrimage located in Galway between Connemara and Joyce Country. The traditional pilgrimage is practiced on the first Sunday in August, linking back to the Celtic harvest feast of Lughnasa. Pilgrims walked, sometimes barefoot, from either side of the Maum Turk Mountains to the site. St Patrick’s Bed, two holy wells and a number of leachtana are the focus of older customs, while more recently a revival of the pilgrimage has involved the performance of the Stations of the Cross and the saying of mass.

    The more recent additions of the small chapel and the statue of St Patrick stand next to the grotto containing St Patrick's Bed.

    The more recent additions of the small chapel and the statue of St Patrick stand next to the grotto containing St Patrick’s Bed.

    Pilgrims circling on of the leacht at the site. They throw a stone into the centre after completing their rotations.

    Pilgrims circling on of the leacht at the site. They throw a stone into the centre after completing their rotations.

    Tobar Phadraig or St Patrick's Well, one of two wells on the site. It is rounded as part of the pattern.

    Tobar Phadraig or St Patrick’s Well, one of two wells on the site. It is rounded as part of the pattern.

    The cross leads the pilgrims around the site, with prayers, reading and singing at each station.

    The cross leads the pilgrims around the site, with prayers, reading and singing at each station.

    The group following the cross in completing the Stations of the Cross

    The group following the cross in completing the Stations of the Cross

    These photos were taken during the 2012 pilgrimage.

  • An on-going prayer

    Rotating and kneeling, flow and pause, the intentions of the pilgrims immerse and emanate in this prayerful event: performing the Penitential Beds on Lough Derg.* The movements, gestures and bare feet call out in silence, a scene of activity, harmony and stillness.

    One of the aspects I find most appealing are the patterns of movements. Rotations around and within each bed continually being performed and punctuated by pauses. This beautiful, unfolding scene is an ongoing prayer. A prayer that continues every day throughout the summer.

    A certain reassurance radiates from these events, reminding me that all through the pilgrimage season (1st June-15th Aug) there are pilgrims praying on Lough Derg. Praying for personal intentions but also more universal themes of peace, well-being and hope. They are praying for me, for you, for us all. While I go about my daily life there are people praying the beds, as I eat they are fasting and every night as I go to bed, I think of those pilgrims preparing to undertake their Vigil. On a small lake island in Donegal, while we rest, they keep Vigil.

     

    * This short video clip of pilgrims on the beds, taken from the roof of the male dorms and enhanced through a Vimeo filter, captures some of the unique character of St Patrick’s Purgatory.

  • Lines

    Lines are traced and followed, made and extended, grooved and lived. I’m concerned with the lines of the pilgrim path. Using the ‘Pencil Sketch’ function on MS Powerpoint I altered some fieldwork photos taken while walking Tóchar Phádraig as part of different groups over the past few years as a way of exploring the role of lines. Starting with the literal lines of the images rendered as drawings, I wish to explore the others lines and meanings present.

    Robert Stoddard, in his 1987 article Pilgrimages Along Sacred Paths, explored the geography of sacred space as points, lines, or areas, with the lines category referring to the routes of travel of activities associated with religious motives. This classification draws attention to the line itself, that is the pilgrim path in this cases, as having significance, rather than being a mere route to a sacred site (spot). Elsewhere, the anthropologist Tim Ingold, in his book Lines: A Brief History, explores the potential of the line as movement, through the concept of wayfaring.  The line is a pathway, it is movement, it is the means through a person engages with the surrounding environment.

    Through a few (geo) poetic stanzas I trace some thoughts on lines in this pilgrimage. I wonder where they will lead?

    TP Lines
    Pilgrims:
    A row setting out
    Near departure, pace emerging
    Movements and motions linking each person to the next
    Each person is the line
    Leading and following, a common rhythm, an alignment
    Pilgrims as line

    TP 3 Lines
    Path:
    The path is active
    It has been walked and will be walked
    Stretching across the boggy terrain
    A trackway towards the Reek,
    but also approaching other places
    Lines roaming out, in and beyond

    TP 2 Lines
    Landscape:
    Sweeping, reaching, gliding
    The path, the land, the pilgrims are spaced
    Each line mingles and flows
    The path is landscape, landscape is pilgrim, pilgrim is path
    All are lines

  • Within the Well

    St John 1

    Clam and shade on a sunny late June morning. June is the time to visit St John’s Well. Trees encase the site, as the beehive structure encases the well itself. Noises drift in from out of sight, while rays of sunlight piercing the canopy catch the broken glass spread across the ground, asserting the space’s hosting of other activities. A small flow of water gently emerges, the water which restored sight and started veneration. The edge of the well, the small rectangular entrance, is the cusp. The exact point of significance, the well water is accessed here before flowing off, the sacred diluting into the profane.

    St John Inside 1

    Within the well another realm awaits. An inner sanctum, the tabernacle within the church. Reaching down to collect, to drink or bless draws you into this sphere. The cooling ambiance of the water, the reflections onto the vaulted walls, sparkle and shade on rock, moss and mould. Inside the beehive structure is reminiscent of subterranean consistency. It is calm here, removed from that which is outside. Temperate, dusky and muted; perhaps it always is.

    The steady dripping of the water is a further layer of consistency. It captures an essence of the place. Always present, known but unobtrusive. It invites reflection and appreciation. The water – the substance of the well – emerging from the earth, gathering and flowing. It quietly splashes and echoes about, the reverberations affirming the chamber. Water sounds defining purpose and giving space.

    Within the well remains. A steady emergence: earth, water, well.

  • Path Croagh Patrick

    Path: Croagh Patrick
    Flesh & surface meet
    Foot & rock slide
    Belief & tradition imprint
    A pilgrimage, for some

    DSC_0001

  • Lady’s Well, Cork: Renovations

    I had previously commented on the deteriorating state of Lady’s Well in Cork city. Thanks to works by Cork City Council* the site has been cleaned up and new structures have been put in place around the well. The necessity for grids over the well may be seen as unfortunate, but will not impinge on the well excessively as does not seem to be used for religious-spiritual reasons. These additions will ensure the preservation of the site and perhaps a revival of devotional activity in the future?

    DSC_0847 DSC_0854

     

    *I had raised the matter with one of my local representatives, Kiernan McCarthy (corkheritage.ie), who has done significant work in promoting Cork’s heritage.

  • Votive Offerings at St Brigid’s Well

    Whenever I’m in the Burren or the north-western part of Clare, I try to call by St Brigid’s Well near Liscannor. It is a wonderful site complete with a marvelous collection of votive offerings, for which it is known, in the grotto leading to the well.

    The vast collection of offerings which fill the grotto leading to the well.

    The vast collection of offerings which fill the grotto leading to the well.

    Votive offerings are beautiful objects each of which as an intention behind it. It has been left there for a particular reason by a person who firmly believes in the power of the place and the saint and the benefit of partaking in this custom. While some of the intentions may appear obvious, others relating to seemingly odd items are shrouded from everyone except the believer and the saint.

    The grotto spaces is crammed full of offerings, with every conceivable space being used to leave and insert items.

    The grotto spaces is crammed full of offerings, with every conceivable space being used to leave and insert items.

    Initial fascination with these objects, is replaced by curiosity, concern and speculation on their intentions. This is a rich material-based cultural practice, linked both to Catholicism and folk customs, but it is also people’s lives. Dreams, despairs, anxieties, losses and a host of deeply personal motives are materialised. Accordingly, regardless of your beliefs they and the place should be treated with respect.

    A small bible (wettened from the exposed spae above the well), with rosary beads inside, sits next to a whiskey bottle filled with some of the (presumably) well water.  The rest bwetween a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a cushion.

    A small bible (damp from the exposed space above the well), with rosary beads inside, sits next to a whiskey bottle filled with some of the (presumably) well water. The rest between a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a cushion.

    A collection of offerings hanging from the ceiling, including rosary beds, miraculous medals and a feather.

    A collection of offerings hanging from the ceiling, including rosary beds, miraculous medals and a feather.

    The rag tree which is over the well, with a selection of rags tied to the branches.

    The rag tree which is over the well, with a selection of rags tied to the branches.

  • ‘Doing the Rounds’: Video

    ‘Doing the Rounds’: Pattern Days at Holy Wells

    This is a collection of short clips of pilgrims completing the rounds at different holy wells. It captures some of the movements and circumambulations that occur as part of the annual Pattern Day at these places. The completion of the practices continues established traditions in honour of a patron saint, while also ensuring that the site remains an active devotional space.

    Featured in the video: St Gobnait’s Well Ballyvourney, Co. Cork, 11th Feb 2013; (2.01) St Fanahan’s Well, Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, 25th Nov 2012; (2.34) ‘The City’, or Cathair Crobh Dearg, Shrone, Co. Kerry 1st May 2013; (5.29) St Brigid’s Well, Liscannor, Co Clare, 1st Feb 2013.