by Zsolt Aradi
"The island of saints and scholars" is very rich in holy places. One could almost say that every inch of its soil reminds the visitor of "the Golden Age" of Ireland, when Irish missionaries carried the message of the Christian faith into the remotest parts of Europe. They never would have been able to perform their great task if the Christian life in Ireland itself had not been deeply lived. Drawing on these infinite resources and fortified by the spirit of Christ found in their own religious communities, they set out to fulfill the most noble task of the Church, given her by the Master: Go ye and teach…
Looking at the list of the medieval abbeys and friaries of the country, we find that most of them date back to the fifth or sixth century when great parts of Europe had not yet emerged from the endless troubles of the great migrations, when Attila the Hun threatened West and South. But at that very time, a great part of Ireland was engaged in missionary endeavor. Consider the inner strength of the noble St. Brendan the Navigator, who founded many monasteries in Ireland and Brittany and, according to legend, even reached the shores of North America. This faith built monastic settlements and towns, and provided many important and stable elements to the foundation of European Christianity, and thus to entire Western civilization. Many of the great missionary saints, including St. Brendan himself, dedicated their work and monasteries to the Blessed Virgin. Alas, the later savage destruction of the Reformation and the Cromwellian era left very little tangible evidence of these early shrines. A few of the images were taken to safety in various European Catholic centers; the image of Our Lady from Clonfert (also a foundation of St. Brendan) reached Hungary in the middle of the seventeenth century where the miraculous picture is called "the Irish Madonna" and is an object of veneration to this very day.
Ireland endured great hardships while fighting for its faith and for the integrity of the nation's soul. As long as the monasteries and holy places flourished, they remained the main source of spiritual energy to the people. While the wars raged throughout the centuries, the people and the clergy united more closely in spirit and resolution and came to rely more and more on the help of the Blessed Virgin. During these long years the people felt her aid in innumerable personal graces accorded to those who showed particular devotion to Her. In 1697, the Image of Our Lady taken from Clonfert to faraway Hungary shed blood and tears for three hours, weeping for the besieged people of Ireland whose priests, by decree of Parliament, had been expelled, whose dead could not be buried in the religion of their forefathers. But finally, after centuries of desolation, the Blessed Virgin visited Ireland in a spectacular manner. August 21, 1879, had been an ordinary day for the inhabitants of the village of Knock, County Mayo in Western Ireland. There were few people on the streets when it started to rain. Knock is an ordinary village, its inhabitants normal, God-fearing, hard-working peasant farmers. Yet one of these stolid men first noticed that evening that the gable end of the chapel was bathed in a soft, white, flickering light. The wall was surmounted by brilliant stars twinkling as on a fine frosty night. Fifteen people subsequently saw the lights and then Our Lady appeared with St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist. One of the first persons who witnessed the miracle, an elderly lady, approached the Blessed Virgin with outstretched arms: the figure of the Madonna receded though smiling at her. Another man ran excitedly into the dark streets of the village, shouting that all should come to the chapel to see the vision. It is estimated that the visitation lasted two hours. Immediately, a commission of inquiry was set up by the Archbishop of Tuam to establish the facts.
While the inquiry was still in process, another apparition took place on January 6, 1880, followed by two more on February 10th and 12th of the same year. These latter were seen by numerous people. The vision remained identical. Our Lady stood in the center of a group, her hands raised to the heights of her shoulders. On her head, she wore a brilliant crown, which blazed like fire. St. Joseph stood on the right and St. John on the left. To the left of the group, there was an altar with a large Cross; at the foot of the Cross was a Lamb. The altar had no adornments, but behind the Cross, the onlookers could see angels in adoration and prayer. The witnesses swore that the figures had no resemblance to a painting; the figures of Mary, Joseph and John were distinct, and the observers could move around them. After the commission finally handed in a thoroughly favorable report, the fame of Knock spread through Ireland and the influx of pilgrims grew constantly. Knock soon became celebrated as one of the great Marian shrines. It has been the scene of hundreds of cures, all carefully attested to and recorded by a commission of doctors, many of them non-Catholic. The visitor encounters scenes similar to those in Lourdes. At the annual pilgrimages, thousands move toward the church and to the shrine, which depicts the actual scene of the apparitions where the humble folk had seen Mary as the Queen of the Angels.
This item 3051 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org