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Faith

Believe in miracles

Thursday, 11 October, 2018

Healing wells were traditional shrines dedicated to the miraculous powers of water, which is the fons et origo of life itself. They were incorporated by Christianity and country people still make pilgrimages to the holy wells to seek relief for a variety of ills from rheumatism to cancer. A great many wells are supposed to cure eye problems and it’s customary for the petitioner to leave a token piece of clothing, usually hung on a bush or a tree, so that the healing power of the water can act through it.

Believe that a farther shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney (1939 – 2013)

At the holy well


Necessary superstition

Monday, 3 September, 2018

Writing in UnHeard, Giles Fraser recalls a visit to Fátima and his impressions of that place of pilgrimage: “This is the sort of religion that so-called ‘thinking people’ tend to dismiss scornfully as popular superstition — ‘the religion of feeble minds’ — as Edmund Burke once called it. But I have something of a soft spot for this sort of superstition, and regret that I have been distanced from it by a ploddingly empirical, secular education that means I find it all but impossible to suspend my disbelief.”

That’s a snippet from Why we need more superstition. Fraser places the enigma of Fátima in historical and political context by pointing out that the First Portuguese Republic, which overthrew the monarchy in 1910, was enthusiastically hostile to the Catholic Church and ordered the closure of its schools and monasteries and banned the ringing of church bells. “Fátima was religious populism springing up as a groundswell of resistance against the totalising ideology of state atheism,” he notes, adding: “And there is something of a class aspect to all of this. The Fátima pilgrims were, and continue to be, generally working class. Their cultural despisers are generally middle class.”

For my mother, Knock in the West of Ireland was Fátima and the ritual of visiting the shrine, the “devotions” observed there and the bottling of the Holy Water were all part of a belief system that she believed protected her and those she loved from the many threats that faced them. It meant something. It was part of being human.

Knock


Happy Pattern Day!

Wednesday, 15 August, 2018

The “drawing in” of the hay was a typical activity around the Pattern Day and a trip to the meadow on the horse-drawn “float” was a really big adventure. On board (right to left): Madeleine, Jacqueline, Helen, Mary, Eamonn and Michael John. Head and shoulders above us all is Father, in his prime.

On the float

Background: Ireland has thousands of “holy” or “blessed” wells. These ancient water sources were attributed mystical powers in pagan times and the related customs and beliefs were incorporated by Christianity when it arrived on the island some 1,600 years ago. The converts assigned a “patron saint” to each well and thus began the custom of the “Pattern Day” (from the pronunciation of the Irish Pátrún, “patron”). The “Pattern Day”, then, is the feast day of a parish’s patron saint and entails a pilgrimage to the sacred well and the saying of specific prayers in a certain sequence. Bottles are filled with the “miraculous” water, which is often applied to wounds or sprinkled on children, visitors, travellers and animals for their well-being.

Ethnologists describe patterns as “community generated festivals”. In 1810, Crofton-Croker counted up to 15,000 people at the Pattern of St. Declan, which is still held annually on the 24th of July in Ardmore, County Waterford. This tradition of vernacular religious practice and the carnivalesque continues in Ballylanders, County Limerick, where the 15th of August, the Feast of the Assumption, is the local Pattern Day.


Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word

Monday, 16 April, 2018 0 Comments

German director Wim Wenders will be back at the Festival de Cannes (8 to 19 May) with a new documentary titled Pope Francis – A Man Of His Word. According to Wenders, it’s “a personal journey with Pope Francis rather than a traditional biographical film about him. A rare co-production with the Vatican, the pope’s ideas and his message are central to this documentary, which sets out to present his work of reform and his answers to today’s global questions from death, social justice, immigration, ecology, wealth inequality, materialism, and the role of the family.”

Note: Today is the 91st birthday of retired Pope Benedict XVI. Felix dies Natalis tibi!


Buona Pasqua!

Sunday, 1 April, 2018 0 Comments

Easter Sunday dawns to the choir of Clare College Cambridge celebrating the Resurrection. Aurora lucis rutilat is a unique example of Venetian polychoral technique in motet form by the Franco-Flemish composer Orlande de Lassus. Happy Easter!


Sabato Santo

Saturday, 31 March, 2018 0 Comments

Questo è il giorno che arriva prima o poi nella nostra vita
quando la tenebra sembra vincere sulla luce,
ogni porta è chiusa e sbarrata,
il silenzio inghiotte ogni voce
e la morte sembra aver l’ultima parola.
Ma noi speriamo la luce al di là della porta chiusa!

Enzo Bianchi

Ma noi speriamo la luce al di là della porta chiusa!

For our friend Jim Martin, because we all hope for the light beyond the closed door.


The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John

Friday, 30 March, 2018 0 Comments

This powerful image of by Hendrick Jansz ter Brugghen was painted around 1624 for a Catholic “hidden church” in the city of Utrecht, where Catholicism was tolerated but not encouraged. The colour combinations and the light evoke Ter Brugghen’s experience of Caravaggio in Rome, but the angular figure of Christ and the reverential figures of Mary and John are very much his own. The Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John expresses the devotional intensity that Good Friday has evoked down the centuries.

Good Friday


Last Suppers

Thursday, 29 March, 2018 0 Comments

Today, Holy Thursday, commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles. That simple meal of bread and wine was to be the last time he dined with his disciples.

The English journalist A. A. Gill set out to write about “Last Suppers” in September 2009, but he abandoned the project on the grounds that it was one of those things like “Make a list of the 10 sexiest women ever.” He said: “You have all the anxiety of choice but none of the pleasure of execution.” So, in the middle of the project he switched from last suppers to the challenge of picking the food he would choose for the rest of his life, if he had to live with other people’s national cuisine. Gill couldn’t settle on one, so he picked four regional cuisines:

South-west France: “Foie gras and cassoulet, all sorts of duck, figs and Roquefort… This is the food of old Gascony, of Cyrano de Bergerac: a cuisine for the last leg of life, of post-prandial naps, of meals that soak into each other, of a languid, replete and easy life. I could live with that.”

Northern Italy: “Piedmont and the Po Valley, where they grow rice, make risottos, collect truffles, cook with butters, lard and the light olive oil of Genoa and have the youngest veal. I’d have to stretch it a bit to Parma, to take in hams, cheese and ice-cream, but that would do me.”

The North-West Frontier: “The mountainous, tribal lands of Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan: the very best lamb curries, biryanis, pilaus, apricots and quail, Peshawari naan, yoghurt and pomegranate juice eaten with gusto and arguments.”

Vietnam: “I love the food of Vietnam. It is an ideal combination of delicacy and panache. It has enormous variety of flavours and textures without being irredeemably twee. It’s refined but it’s also assertive. It has tiny little finger food and dog.”

In the end, Gill came to the following conclusion: “If you’re going to have a perfect food retirement, it would be Vietnam for breakfast, northern Italy for lunch and then alternately south-west France and the North-West Frontier for dinner.”

Background: A. A. Gill died of cancer in London in December 2016, at the age of 62. Adrian Anthony Gill was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29 and he followed the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) “12-step plan” to recovery. In tribute to the fellowship, he began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television, life and travel.

The Last Supper


Bob Dylan: Trouble No More

Monday, 26 March, 2018 0 Comments

Back in 1979, Bob Dylan announced to the world that he had converted to Christianity. He then became a man of The Word, touring inexorably, performing concerts only of songs that expressed his born-again message. One of the concerts was filmed but the material was never released. There was talk in recent times that it might form basis for a documentary, but Dylan intervened and demanded the commissioning of a series of “sermons” to be preached between the songs before the film could be screened. The writer Luc Sante was contracted to compose the sermons and Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon was cast as the Preacher. Jennifer LeBeau was tasked, as they say, with directing the “gospel service.” The result, Bob Dylan: Trouble No More, will be shown on Good Friday night on BBC Four. Praise the Lord!

“She said, ‘This man, this man, He must be a prophet’
She said, ‘This man, this man, He must be a prophet’
She said, ‘This man, this man, He must be a prophet’
‘He done told me everything I’ve ever done'”


Patrician peak

Saturday, 17 March, 2018 0 Comments

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir! (Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you all!)

The holiest mountain in Ireland is Croagh Patrick, five miles from the town of Westport and overlooking island-dotted Clew Bay. According to local belief, Saint Patrick fasted for forty days and nights on the summit during Lent in the year 441 AD, and on the last Sunday in July every year (“Reek Sunday”), pilgrims from near and far climb the mountain in honour of Saint Patrick.

In 1972, the great Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka climbed Croagh Patrick and captured the quintessence of rural Irish Catholicism in one iconic image. The kneeling pilgrims pictured are, from left to right, Sean Pheat Mannion, Paddy Kenny and Martin Mannion from Connemara. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam.

Croagh Patrick


A day for shriving, for making shrift

Tuesday, 13 February, 2018 0 Comments

It’s Shrove Tuesday. It’s the day when many people get ready to sacrifice something they enjoy for the next 40 days and nights so that their lives will be filled, perhaps, with something different. The extravagant Mardi Gras feasting of today will be replaced tomorrow by Ash Wednesday’s cold embers, a reminder that so much of what we treasure is momentary, that the things we want to keep forever cannot be kept forever. T. S. Eliot addressed this, and much more, in his poem The Four Quartets, specifically in the fourth section, “Little Gidding“, from which this passage is taken:

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.