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The fourth Station: Faith

Friday, 27 November, 2015

When pilgrims visit Saint Sedna’s Well in the grounds of Clonbeg Church in the heart of the Glen of Aherlow, they tie a piece of cloth on the overhanging tree and bless themselves with its water. Faith and folklore have it that this water will cure eye ailments.

Saint Sedna's Well

My mother’s faith was a theatre of belief and the stage props included places of pilgrimage, holy wells, blessed medals, prayer books, rosary beads, candles and relics. Her spiritualism had all the hallmarks of a Catholicism that was deeply influenced by the elements and the environment. In this way, it harkened back to an ancient time when other-worldly powers could be called upon to help with suffering that no earthly treatment could heal. This confidence in “cures” was also rooted in the memories of the poverty when when people could not afford conventional medical treatment. Even when the rising tide of modest prosperity that swept over rural Ireland in the second half of the 20th century and provided greater access to doctors and hospitals, Saint Sedna’s and Saint Pecaun’s holy wells always offered hope when the diagnosis was grim.

Faith was the glue that held my mother’s notion of community together. Funerals were occasions of grief, of course, but the murmured rosary declared by the bereaved and their friends helped to soften the loss. Happy occasions were enriched by mass and precious memories were kept alive with the help of lighted candles. More candles were brought out when exams threatened or illness occurred. No trip could be made without a sprinkle of holy water on those leaving the house.

Faith was also an occasion for excursions to Knock, Lough Derg, Rome and Lourdes. It was a bond between the believers and it gave them an excuse to talk and laugh. Faith was friendship.

Above all, faith provided the strength to endure. Regardless of the hardships and the humiliations, faith gave comfort. Yes, misfortune was complained about, but it had to be “offered up” and the prayers continued to be said and the candles were lit. The faith was kept.

Our next station in this series of meditations on 14 photographs is Writing.


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