Saturday, 25 April 2009

Pilgrimage to Vicarstown

In contrast to the glorious weather in Cill Mhuire last Sunday, the feast of St. Mark was what the Gael calls a 'fine soft day' with foreboding skies and drizzle that was seldom absent. However, the sight of the Rock of Dunamaise towering over the Laois countryside as we turned off the motorway for Vicarstown set the scene for a spiritual experience that was at once both distinctly Irish and thoroughly Roman. It recalls to mind the words of the Dicta of St. Patrick (and, come to that, the motto of the Irish Ecclesiastical Record): " quae difficiles quaestiones in hac insula oriantur ad Sedem Apostolicam referantur, ut Christiani ita ut Romani sitis..."

A very respectable congregation of 67 persons, mostly from the Parish and the surrounding Parishes, started arriving well before the start of Mass. A Carmelite Priest, Fr. Des Flanagan, O.Carm., who recently celebrated his 80th birthday was in fine voice. However, he was well matched in a very vocal congregation who not only joined in the responses but performed a variety of Latin and traditional vernacular hymns that - as some told me after Mass - they hadn't heard or sung in forty years. However, it all came rushing back to them this morning.

What had the young people - and there were a few - to say. Some children had been brought by their parents but one brave youngster said that he wished he could learn how to serve Mass. However, the 'lost generation' was well represented too. I met two young ladies from a few miles down the road who had their interest piqued by the promise of Gregorian Chant but were as fascinated by the Liturgy as by the Music. I must say that they also remarked on how many of their neighbours could sing Latin from memory. It struck me too. I think it must also have struck the two local Priests who were in the congregation.

Vicarstown is not the most central spot in which to have a Latin Mass. There really isn't even a village to speak of beside the Church. However, it is a beautiful and a blessed spot. The beauty of the place - and the beauty of the Church - were ably matched by the warmth of the people and the hospitality of the local Priest and sacristan. May God bless them and keep them safe in His protection!

It is also a place of mighty history and immense sanctity. Just to the south is the site of the Celtic Monastery of Killeshin, founded in A.D. 545 by St. Diarmuit, succeeded by St. Comgan of Thomond as abbot and followed, though not immediately, by St. Muirgein.

Just to the west of Vicarstown is the site of the famous Monastery of Clonenagh, the Monastery of St. Fintan and of St. Aengus the Culdee, the greatest Monastic site in Laois and one of the most important in the whole Island.

To the South-west is the site of the Monastery of Oughaval , founded by St Colman Mac Ua Laoighse, who was a disciple of St. Fintan.

This was the home of the Great Book of Leinster, known as the Lebor na Nuachongbála, or the Book of Oughaval.

Fr. Flanagan took the opportunity of the conjunction of Scripture-writers (a pilgrimage for the Holy Year of St. Paul on the feast of Saint Mark) to illustrate the different approaches of the Evangelist and the Epistlist but to emphasise that their message was identical - the Person of Christ. He noted that their destination in earthly terms was also the same, Rome. St. Peter, the mentor of St. Mark, and St. Paul are the twin pillars of the Church, set upon the foundation of Rome by Providence.

Fr. Flanagan also reminded people of the next Mass organised by St. Conleth's CHA, a Requiem Mass for Bishop Thomas Keogh (1884-1969) in the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Skeoghvosteen, Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny, on Saturday, 23rd May, at 12 noon. I was particularly impressed by his suggestion that anybody who was present who was from the Parish but who didn't attend Mass regularly should attend Mass in this Church or the Parish Church. I've heard that announced at every Mass organised by St. Conleth's CHA that I've attended. It's a nice touch. As one member of the St. Conleth's CHA Committee remarked to me afterwards, the Latin Mass should be a blessing to a Parish.

I must tell you about this hidden gem of Church architecture. It is an Irish country Church. There's no mistaking it for a continental Cathedral! It is simple, cruciform, with clear-glass windows between simple wooden tracery throwing an immense light upon the interior. The high altar is untouched, with its adoring Angels and original Crucifix and Candlesticks, as is the side Altar of the Blessed Virgin. There is also some fine stencelling (to which my shaky camerawork does not do justice) on the Sanctuary walls and even - rare to see preserved - a plasterwork paraclete on the Sanctuary roof. Likewise a rare survival in Kildare and Leighlin are the end quarters of the marble Altar rails. It has no tower but has an elevated iron bell stand in the grounds, typical of many Churches in the Diocese. This is a beautiful Church, made the more beautiful by the rarity of finding such beauty intact after long decades of renewal.


Anonymous said...

This was my first Latin Mass. It was a really enriching experience. I wasnt sure what to expect but I can endorse what Doc Hannon says.

Anonymous said...

Is that St Bridet and Jesus and Mary and St Patrick on the wall paintings?

Anonymous said...

You can tell that its the Blessed Virgin from the moon at her feet and her foot crushing the serpent with the apple in its mouth. It looks like the bishop next to her is holding up a shamrock. If thats what it is its a clear reference to Saint Patrick. The figure pointing to the red emblem on his chest is undoubtedly Christ with his Sacred Heart but its not clear who the nun beside him is. She looks like she is an abbess holding her crosier but that could be many Irish saints.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't believe how many people remembered the chants. The latin chants have a powerful hold on the souls of the people. They should use them in the ordinary Mass and say the Latin Mass more often.

Anonymous said...

The excellent book "The Churches of Kildare and Leighlin 2000 A.D." which everyone should get a copy of if they are still available, says that the Church of the Assumption, Vicarstown, was built in 1841 by Fr. Cornelius Downing, who also built (and was buried in) St. Michael's Church, Timahoe, in the same parish, in 1832. It describes the Church in Vicarstown as "a large, slated, cruciform structure of stone, surmounted by a large stone cross. The front portion, facing the gateway to the chruch, is un-plastered and consists of regular blocks of cut stone in the wall and corner pillars. The windows are of Gothic design with the largest positioned above the entrance doorway.

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful church. How has it been preserved?