St. Patrick

I’m thinking today of St. Patrick and those holy days in July when we were on pilgrimage in Ireland.

The stained glass window above is in Saul Church, the site of Patrick’s first church. It is the only depiction we saw with Patrick clothed in blue rather than the green we know today.

I wrote this reflection there in that holy place.

St. Patrick, I thought I knew you, the saint of stained glass and mitres, of shamrocks and crosiers.

Today we celebrate your feast day with parades and green beer. But the color of your adopted country is blue. And the old ones took your feast day as a time for abstinence and prayer.

Let me see past the 21st-century Patrick to the Patrick of 432, the man called to return to his place of bondage and bring the word of love.

Let me reclaim your remembrance as a holy time, an opportunity for service to the poor, the hungry, the enslaved. For you once were poor, hungry, and enslaved. Let me reclaim your remembrance with gratitude and humility.

Pray for me. Pray for us, Patrick.

Brigid of Kildare

The Feast Day of Brigid of Kildare is February 1. When we were in Ireland in July, we walked in Brigid’s footsteps in Kildare at her cathedral and at her well. But Brigid was everywhere we went, and it was in the west in County Donegal where we learned to make Brigid’s crosses and heard the story of how the cross of reeds became her symbol.

Brigid was explaining Christianity to her father and took up the reeds from the floor of the cottage and wove them into a cross. On St. Brigid’s day, people still make Brigid’s crosses and remember Brigid.

A Blessing for All Saints Day

On the Ireland Pilgrimage in July, we visited the ruins of the monastic community of Glendalough. There in the 6th and 7th century, Christians lived and died, sang and prayed, loved one another. We spent a day walking through the city, ending in the ruins of the Saint Mary’s church, the place where the religious women would have worshiped. We had a eucharist service there, led by women.

I went back early the next morning to record this blessing for All Saints Day that is in my book. I’m so grateful to be able to share it with you.

For more information on my book, learn more.

Columcille’s Stations

We walked in the steps of Columcille during our pilgrimage to ancient, sacred places in Glencolumcille.

Born in this County Donegal in the 500’s he was a “descendant” of Patrick’s Christianity.

Columcille blessed the ancient places, the neolithic markers and holy wells.

And now, thousands of years later, Margaret and Marian take us on this sacred pilgrimage.

If we had been here in June 9th, the feast day of Columcille, we could have joined the old ones walking, barefoot, the night before.

The Place of the Knees, the Height of the Cross, St. Columcille’s Chapel, St. Columcille’s Chair, St. Columcille’s Well. We walked between them in community, in silence.

I felt honored to be shown this ancient ritual. I worried about intruding on another culture’s sacred places.

And then I realized that this pilgrimage is part of my Christian culture. For I am descended, our church is descended from these Celtic saints who brought Christianity to Ireland and to Scotland. 

I am, we are, recipients of the faith of Patrick and Brigid and Columcille and Kevin. Thanks be to God for this gift.

Glencolumbkille to Dublin

Today we travel back across Ireland from County Donegal to Dublin. On the way, we will stop at the Knowth passage tomb in the Boyne Valley.

We so grateful for the beauty and openness and hospitality of Donegal. We have two more nights before we start the journey home. 

Turas Cholmcille

Yesterday we took a very special pilgrimage to ancient stones in the Glencolumkille village in County Donegal. 

The traditional name of the pilgrimage, Turas Cholmcille, means Columcille’s Stations (in Gaelic). We were led by two women from the local community, Margaret and Maura, who are trying to revive the pilgrimage. What an honor to have this walk shared with us. 

It is thought that Columcille lived in this community and, finding standing stones from ancient times, had Christian symbols carved on them. Then developed the tradition of a pilgrimage to these sites in reverence and penitence. 

The whole pilgrimage would take six hours to complete (barefoot) as the pilgrims visited the fifteen stations. We visited eight stations in the three hours we journeyed. (I kept my hiking boots on.) 

I am still reflecting on the experience. But wanted to share this. 

Pick up three stones,
The leader said,
And we will carry them up
To the cairn at Columcille’s Well.

I picked up three small stones And began to walk up and up and up
Along the trail, beside the sheep.

We stopped to rest
And looked out
At the valley below us.

I imagined the cairn we were traveling to …
A small, rounded pile of stones by the holy well.

When we walked around the curve in the mountain,
We found not a small rounded cairn,
But a mountain of stones.

How many pilgrims,
Each with three rocks,
Have made this climb?

Thousands and thousands of
Pilgrims have carried their stones
And left them there.

Thousands and thousands of
Pilgrims have walked three times
Around this cairn,
Setting down a stone each circuit.

Thousands and thousands of
Pilgrims have prayed here,
Have touched the holy water.

God of healing,
We lay before you these burdens,
These hopes, these sorrows.

St. Columcille,
You walked these paths and
Carried these stones.
Pray for us
That we might follow
The one who heals,
Who loves,
Who walks with us.