Thursday, June 26, 2008


Sometime on the evening of August 21, 1979, upwards of fifteen residents of the town of Knock in County Mayo, Ireland, reportedly witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary (upright, a few feet off the ground), St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist. On St. John's left appeared an altar; on the altar was a cross and a lamb. The group stood in the pouring rain for over two hours, reciting the Rosary. At one point, 75-year Bridget Trench approached the Blessed Mother with idea of kissing her feet, but -- as she later reported -- "...felt nothing in the embrace but the wall and I wondered why I could not feel with hands the figures which I had so plainly and so distinctly seen." A church Commission of Inquiry determined that the witnesses were credible, a finding upheld in 1936 by a second commission.

Since then, the Knock Shrine has become one of the most visited religious sites in Europe, visited annually by over 1.5 million people including Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Mother Teresa in 1993. The facility has swollen into a great sow of a place that includes a shop, a chapel, a church, a counseling center, a rest and care center, and such amenities as an endless row of holy water fonts.

Nestled against the facility like so many suckling piglets is a plethora of shops and kiosks offering religious kitsch such as wall rosaries and the holy water containers shown above. A crass mixture of capitalism and Christianity, the shops have the spiritual presence of small city of convenience stores. Honestly, I find it harder and harder with each visit to get a kick out of the kitsch, feeling more the cynic each time. Nonetheless, there have been some real finds. My favorite remains a plastic hand of God with the infant Jesus glued onto the palm, all fastened securely by a rubber band onto a prayer card. I look for a really good (bad) snow globe, but haven't had any real luck so far. We went today because Premium T. needed some illustrated holy cards for the postcards she 's making. (She had no trouble finding them.)

Luckily, we got lost on the way. Getting lost is one of the many pleasures of driving in Ireland. It's inevitable, so you might as well enjoy the countryside and learn a few new roads. In this case, I missed a left turn in the town of Kiltimagh, a turn that turned out to be unmarked. Well, it wasn't like we didn't have the time.


Scrumpy's Baker said...

If I had been there, my eyes probably would have rolled so far back in my head, they never would have seen the light of day again.

Foxessa said...

The photos on Premium T's blog are so much prettier!

Love, C.

K. said...

SB: It's worth visiting once on a rainy day out of sheer amazement.

F: Well, we're both fallen away, but my experience Growing Up Catholic was more negative than hers. I guess the anger and bitterness comes through in my choice of photos! Oddly, I like the holy wells here even though I'm not much of a believer. With them, you get the pagan/Christian mix that can have a profound impact.