Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Knock Shrine c.1885
from Schofield/Sexton

This is a useful time to look at Knock, Co. Mayo, where the Blessed Virgin Mary is reputed to have appeared on 21 August 1879, so we are fast approaching the 134th anniversary of the apparition.

I have a particular interest in Knock, having been on many pilgrimages there in my youth. My father was born in Ballyhaunis, just down the road (7 miles) and visits to the old homestead, then still inhabited by my Granny and Aunt Mollie, always included a trip to the church at Knock.

This was not the Knock of today. There was no basilica only a church with a gable end. Mind you it was a very important and controversial gable end, but a gable end no less.

There was no church of reconciliation with as many confessionals as there are weeks in the year.

And the holy water was freely available in unlimited quantities from a common tap in the corner.

Then there were the huxters stalls along the street, selling all sorts of religious artefacts and holy sounvenirs.

A decade of the rosary, a trimming or two, some momentos, and that was it. Private and no fuss.

So the picture above, is nearer to what I experienced than is the one below. It is a very interesting picture, taken within a few years of the apparition, and it testifies to a huge well of faith among those who visited in those early years. The crutches on the wall represent cures of one sort or another. Whether through divine intervention, the power of faith, or sheer mind over matter, an amazing number of cripples appear to have walked away.

For that reason, it is a very powerful picture. All the more powerful when you know the background of the times.

Irish faith was local and built around the monasteries, parishes and old practices.

There were patterns (mini-pilgrimages/visits), holy wells and other pisreogaí (superstitions). Rome, with the active connivance of Cardinal Cullen, was attempting to stamp out all this stuff and impose Rome rule (homogeneous and done by the book). Bishop McHale was the people's champion but he lost out in the long run.

In parallel with this conflict the land war was hotting up in this very area. Evictions were rife as was land agitation, and the church was divided, some priests opting for the old and others going with the new. This was the part of the country that gave us the boycott the following year. And, of course, 1879 was the year of the Gorta Beag (mini famine).

So it is not stretching it too much to say that Knock had a collective nervous breakdown around the time of the apparition. Eugene Hynes is great reading on all of this.

The narrative of the apparition, as it hit the wider public consciousness, was filtered by the church to ensure theological orthodoxy and the result has a bit of the camel about it.

The picture below of the gable as it is today, shows the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist and the Lamb of God. As motley crew as ever there was. That's what I mean about the camel - a compromise creature designed by a Committee (for which read church).

The modern decor, and holy complex, was instituted by that great dancehall promoter from Toureen, Monsignor Horan. A holy entrepreneur extraordinary. He ran rings around Charlie Haughey (Taoiseach/Prime Minister) by challenging him to validate his Mayo credentials and support the construction of a nearby airport. He even got Pope John Paul II to visit the shrine on the 100th anniversary of the apparition. Some operator.

Anyway, I just thought I'd give the BVM a mention seeing as how she is tending to slip from view in this modern materialistic world.

The Gable End today

1 comment:

Póló said...

By the way, the title of this post is a clue to the solution of one of these.