Travel in Thin Places

St. Gobnait’s Holy Well – Ballyvourney

by , on
May 1, 2015
St. Gobnait - image by Patricia Banker

St. Gobnait – image by Patricia Banker

In the early 6th century when Gobnait fled her home in County Clare, she went to Inis Oírr. We don’t know why she fled, only that she believed she would find refuge in the Aran Islands.

Legend states that an angel appeared to her there and told her that her place was not on Inis Oírr, and instructed Gobnait to go on a journey – to seek her true place of resurrection. “Go until you find nine white deer grazing” the angel told her. “It is there that you will find your place of resurrection.”

So Gobnait wandered about the southern coastal counties of Ireland – Waterford, Cork and Kerry – searching.
She saw three white deer in Clondrohid and followed them to Ballymakeera where she saw six more. But it wasn’t until she came to Ballyvourney to a small rise overlooking the River Sullane that she saw the nine white deer all together – grazing … just as the angel from Inis Oírr had prophesied.

She crossed the river and settled there. She founded a religious community for women, performed memorable – some say miraculous works, and it was there she died and was buried.

Thin Places Mystical Tour
St. Gobnait’s shrine and holy well are stops on our Places of Resurrection tour .

DEVOTION TO ST. GOBNAIT

February 11th is St. Gobnait’s feast day -the day her memorable life is celebrated. She is one of the few Irish saints that is not only remembered in her native region, but has been proclaimed by the Irish bishops to be a national saint. There are shrines and places of devotion to St. Gobnait in all the places she is believed to have stopped on her journey – including Inis Oírr. But Ballyvourney, where she carried out most of her ministry, is the place that draws the greatest number of pilgrims devoted to this saint.

St. Gobnait tomb Ballyvourney

Today there is an active church on the former monastic site. St. Gobnait’s grave and marked spots around the churchyard are places where pilgrims pause for devotion and reflection. It is here that they can do the “rounds” or turas, always moving in a clockwise direction – a tradition that has pagan roots.

One of the strongest mystical draws on this site is St. Gobnait’s Holy Well, with its arched entryway that takes the pilgrim into a deeply shaded path. Just next to the well is a sturdy tree, and hanging from it are hundreds of tokens or clooties that have been placed there by pilgrims hoping to leave behind a part of themselves or loved on in need of healing. There are taps and cups available for drinking from the well or for pouring into personal vessels to take holy well water home.

Entrance to St. Gobnait's Holy Well

Entrance to St. Gobnait’s Holy Well

St. Gobnait was best known for her care of the sick. There is a legend that tells of her staving off the plague from Ballyvourney by drawing a line in sand with a stick and declaring the village “consecrated ground.” Inside the church today, there is a medieval (possibly 13th century) figure of St. Gobnait which is kept in a drawer. Every year on her feast day, the parish priest brings out the figure to celebrate a devotional tradition. He holds up the ancient figure and the faithful each step forward with a piece of ribbon. They hold the ribbon up and measure it against the length and around the circumference of the figure, then take it home as a blessed relic used for healing or further devotion.

A tall statue of St. Gobnait that was erected in the 1950s stands near the monastic site. She appears with a nun’s habit standing on a bee hive surrounded by bees. Gobnait is the patron saint of bee keepers, and there are several legends recalling Gobnait forcing invaders out of Ballyvourney by setting swarms of bees upon them. It’s probable that Gobnait had a close relationship with bees and used honey in healing efforts.

Statue of St. Gobnait at Ballyvourney

Statue of St. Gobnait at Ballyvourney

PLACE OF RESURRECTION

Dan and I visited St. Gobnait’s monastic site many years ago. It is indeed, a thin place. The stories of St. Gobnait specifically mention a “place of resurrection.” I heard Dara Molloy use this phrase when referring to his home on Inis Mór and have seen a few authors reference the phrase. But regarding thin places … a place of resurrection is the pinnacle – that place where one’s spirit is totally whole, at home, with no longing or yearning to be anywhere else. A place of resurrection is not only the place where one’s spirit will resurrect from its lifeless body upon death, but also the place where that spirit is most alive inside the living body. And I believe that a place of resurrection is the spiritual home where one is most completely alive and able to create, to discern, to prophesy … to be wise.

Tree at St. Gobnait Holy Well Ballyvourney

Tree at St. Gobnait’s Holy Well – Ballyvourney, Co. Cork

The connection between the eternal world and the physical is nearly unidentifiable in a place of resurrection – as they are knitted together in an inextricable pattern where neither can be separated from the other. The place of resurrection then is unto itself the combination of both worlds particularly suited to that specific spirit. … and Ballyvourney was St. Gobnait’s place.

What is yours?

Image of St. Gobnait courtesy of Patricia Banker; Copyright by Patricia Banker, All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission.

The Mystical Faces of Harry Clarke in Dingle

by , on
Jan 2, 2015

Harry Clarke –  Icons in Stained Glass
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Harry Clarke,famous for his stunning stained glass windows scattered all over Ireland, crafted a series of windows depicting the life of Christ that now hang in an obscure chapel in Dingle. To see one Harry Clarke Window is a gift. To see twelve at once is an mystical experience.

The Dingle Peninsula in Ireland’s south west corner is a magical place.  Apart from the well-known sites like Slea Head, Gallarus Oratory, the mysterious Blasket Islands, bee hive huts, and Mount Brandon, the Harry Clarke windows in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart at the old convent of the Presentation Sisters are hidden jewels often undiscovered by the traveler who walks the streets of Dingle town.

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Perhaps it’s no wonder that Dingle – one of the thinnest places in Ireland – drew unto itself one of the largest collection of Harry Clarke windows installed in a single location.

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The windows are housed is a small chapel situated next to St. Mary’s Church on Green Street. Visitors can stop in the An Diseart Visitor Centre and ask for a guided tour, or contact the Centre ahead of time and secure a appointment to view the windows.  The young woman who conducted my personal tour explained that this was once a convent and the chapel was solely for the nuns.  They were the only beneficiaries of this magnificent art except for on rare occasions.

Illustrator turned Stained Glass Artist

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Harry Clarke was the son of a craftsman. He started working with stained glass under his father’s direction when he was in his teens. After he completed his education, Harry Clarke began his professional career as an illustrator. His illustrations adorned books of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen and Edgar Allen Poe. It was Clarke’s craftsmanship as an illustrator that set his stained glass windows apart from other famous stained glass artists. The detail to fine lines and his method for using lead to carefully outline his figures was unique. His use color, particularly his shades of blue, made his windows stand apart.

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This little chapel next to the grand St. Mary’s Church houses twelve lancet stained glass windows by  Harry Clarke. Many churches in Ireland will claim one Harry Clarke window as an element to attract visitors.  (And viewing one window IS worth a visit anywhere).  But to have twelve all together in one spot is enough to take one’s breath away.  Each pair of double windows depicts one of six scenes from the life of Christ – Visit of the Magi, Baptism by John the Baptist, Suffer the Little Children, Sermon on the Mount, Agony in the Garden, and Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene.

The Faces in the Chapel

The faces of Harry Clarke’s characters in theses windows draw the admirer into the work of art – connecting on a deep level. The eyes of the figures follow you as you move around the chapel, and the expressions on the faces are full of emotion. They haunt you after you leave.

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The series of windows transports the gazer … lifts the spirit into another realm. They stimulate the imagination.

In 1929, mystical writer George Russell (aka AE) wrote, “Harry Clarke is one of the strangest geniuses of his time … He might have incarnated from the dark side of the moon.”  ~The Irish Statesman

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Viewing the Harry Clarke Windows at the Diseart Centre

If you’re in Dingle, ask about the Clarke windows.  Anyone can direct you to St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The former convent – now theAn Diseart Visitor Centre is next door. Only escorted tours are offered and the hours of operation for the Centre vary so call ahead and inquire about a guided a tour.

The tour takes about and hour and there are beautiful walled gardens as well as a hidden tunnel that can be explored with a guide. But make the chapel the last thing you see, because everything after that will be underwhelming.

The Harry Clarke windows in Dingle are on the Places of Resurrection Tour in 2015

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