Saturday, 16 June 2012

On the Pilgrim Walk around Dublin’s churches

Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Marlborough Street is the final stop on the Pilgrim’s Walk through Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

The International Eucharistic Congress has attracted a variety of international visitors to Dublin this week, and so far about 20,000 people have taken part in the city centre “Camino” or Pilgrim Walk, which has been taking place since last Saturday (9 June 2012) and comes to an end tomorrow (17 June 2012).

During this week, pilgrims have been walking the streets of Dublin, visiting seven designated churches in the city centre and spending time in quiet prayer and reflection in each church.

After taking part in the memorial service this morning in the Unitarian Church in Saint Stephen’s Green this morning for former members of the staff of The Irish Times, two us decided to set out on this “Pilgrim Walk.”

We started at Saint Ann’s Church in Dawson Street, where we collected the “Pilgrim Passports” that would be stamped in each of the seven churches we visited.

Our walk concluded at Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Marlborough Street, where we were presented with Pilgrimage Certificate of completion.

The first of the seven churches on the Pilgrim Walk was Saint Ann’s in Dawson Street. From there, we made our way to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Whitefriar Street; John’s Lane Church, Thomas Street; Saint James’s Church, James Street; Saint Mary of the Angels, the Capuchin Church in Church Street; Saint Michan’s Church, Halston Street, before ending at Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Marlborough Street.

The idea of a pilgrim walk has a long history in all the great religions, and several Psalms, notably Psalms 120 to 134, are called the “Psalms of Ascent,” songs sung by pilgrims as they made their walk to Jerusalem.

Throughout the 2,000-year history of Christianity, Christians have journeyed on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, to walk where Christ first walked. When the Holy Land was inaccessible, European Christians developed substitute pilgrim practices, walking in cathedral labyrinths, walking the Stations of the Cross, or joining pilgrimages to Rome or to the shrine of the Apostle James in Santiago de Compostela.

The essential nature of pilgrim walks – making a transformative journey to a sacred centre – remains a powerful spiritual experience for Christians.

Over the past week, the pilgrim walk in Dublin has involved:

● A visit to the seven designated churches in the city of Dublin.
● Receiving a “Pilgrim Passport” that is stamped in each of the seven churches with the parish seal and the date of the visit.
● Time in quiet prayer in each church, using the Eucharistic Congress Prayer.
● A concluding visit to Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Marlborough Street, where the “Pilgrim Passport” is stamped and the pilgrim receives the Pilgrimage Certificate of Completion.

During the Pilgrim Walk, each church has been open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with volunteers acting as Pilgrim Ambassadors, welcoming the pilgrim visitors.

Saint Ann’s Church, reflected in pools of rainwater in South Ann Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

At Saint Ann’s Church, Dawson Street, we collected our “Pilgrim Passports” and had them stamped in the church porch. This church is the only Church of Ireland church on the pilgrim walk, but it seemed such an appropriate ecumenical gesture that the walk should begin there.

This parish dates back to 1707, and has links with the neighbouring Mansion House, official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and with key figures from the past including Theobald Wolfe Tone, who was married there in 1785, and Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula.

The shrine with the relics of Saint Valentine in the Carmelite Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Aungier Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Our second stop was the Carmelite Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Aungier Street, known popularly to Dublin as “Whitefriar Street Church.”

The Carmelite community here says their story in this area dates back to 1279, but they were dispossessed at the Reformation, and the present church dates from 1825.

The church is best known for shrine that holds the relics of Saint Valentine – a gift from a previous Pope – and a shrine with the statue of Our Lady of Dublin.

The Royal Arms on the gallery in Saint Werburgh’s Church, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

From there we made our way through the streets behind Dublin Castle to Saint Werburgh’s Church, which was not on the list of pilgrim churches, but which was open this afternoon and welcoming visitors.

From there we dropped into Christ Church Cathedral, briefly, which was all abuzz with market stalls in the grounds, and we would return later in the afternoon.

The interior of John’s Lane Church is part of Dublin’s Pugin legacy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

From Christ Church Cathedral, we walked on to Thomas Street, where we had our Pilgrim Passports stamped for a third time at the Church of Saint Augustine and Saint John, better known to Dubliners as “John’s Lane.”

The church was designed in the French Gothic style by AWN Pugin’s son, Edward Pugin (1834-1875), and Edward Pugin’s brother-in-law, George Ashlin (1834-1921). This year marks the 150th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the church, which John Ruskin once described as “a poem in stone.”

A carved image of Daniel O’Connell, the “uncrowned king of Ireland,” wearing a crown, at the main door of Saint James’s Church, James Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

We then walked west along Thomas Street and James Street, to the fourth church to have our “Pilgrim Passports” stamped at Saint James’s Church. The foundation stone of the church was laid in 1844 by Daniel O’Connell. But the church claims a link with the tradition linking this part of Dublin – Saint James’s Gate – with the Camino de Santiago de Compostella since the 12th century.

In a side chapel, there is a banner of Saint James of Compostella, and Irish pilgrims on the Camino have their Pilgrim Passports stamped here before they set out for Spain.

Saint James’s Church, the former Church of Ireland Parish Church, looks sad and abandoned behind padlocked gates (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Across the street, the former Church of Ireland parish church of Saint James, which was designed by Joseph Wellard, has been closed for years. Until recently, it was a shop and showrooms, but it is now vacant, and looks sad and forlorn behind padlocked gates.

McCarthy’s flamboyant facade in Church Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

From there we walked down Steeven’s Lane to Heuston Station, crossed the River Liffey at Kingsbridge, and made our way to the Four Courts and then up Church Street to our fifth pilgrim church, the Capuchin Church of Saint Mary of the Angels.

I have often passed this church, but I think this was my first time inside. Although the history of the Capuchins in this area dates from the 1680s or the 1690s, the foundation stone for present church, designed by James J McCarthy was laid in 1868.

McCarthy, who claimed he was Pugin’s successor, designed the church in the Decorated Gothic style. The facade is a riot of Gothic decoration, but the interior is much simpler. The church has a long narrow nave without aisles, with a semicircular apse and a high wooden, hammer-beam ceiling.

The interior of Saint Michan’s ... “a subdued but attractive Gothic style” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Finding the sixth church proved to be a little more venturous than we expected. The map in the Pilgrim Passport clearly indicated we were to head down to Saint Michan’s, the Church of Ireland parish church on Church Street, which is the oldest parish church on the north side of the river.

This would have been the second Church of Ireland parish church on the pilgrim trail. But the church was closed and a sign outside pointed us back to the Capuchin Church in Church Street.

Eventually we realised we were supposed to be in Saint Michan’s Roman Catholic Church, hidden behind Green Street Courthouse, between North Ann Street and Halston Street.

The church was built in 1817 in what can be described as “a subdued but attractive Gothic style.” The earlier facade on North Ann Street is similar to that of Saint Michael and Saint John in Temple Bar on the south side of the river. The more elaborate facade and tower on Halston Street was erected by George Ashlin in 1891, which makes another link between these pilgrim churches and Pugin.

A decaying office block on the corner of Greek Street and Chancery Street ... a reminder of Greek economic and political woes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

From Halston Street, we walked back past the City Fruit Market and onto Greek Street, where the sad sight of a decaying office block on the corner of Greek Street and Chancery Street could have served as an illustration of the sad state of the Greek economy too and a reminder of tomorrow’s elections in Greece.

Tintin in Dublin ... but surely not on the Pilgrim’s Walk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Across the street, behind the Four Courts, a clever piece of public art shows Tintin in O’Connell Street as a “Real Dub.”

The dome inside Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Marlborough Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Our seventh and final stop on the pilgrim way was Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Marlborough Street.

The cathedral was busy with pilgrims arriving at the end of their wandering ways. I wonder how many realised in the course of their wandering that today was Bloomsday, which recalls James Joyce’s great literary account in Ulysses of Leopold Bloom wandering through the streets of Dublin?

We received the seventh and final stamps on our “Pilgrim Passports” and were presented with certificates marking our completion of the 2012 Pilgrim Walk.

After one double espresso and one Americano in Insomnia on the corner of Marlborough Street and Abbey Street, we returned to Christ Church Cathedral, in time for Choral Evensong, sung by Past the Choristers’ Association.

Many delegates from the International Eucharistic Congress were present, and it felt so appropriate after a day like this to be robed and in the sanctuary.

The anthem was by Hubert Parry was inspired by the words of one of those “Psalms of Ascent,” Psalm 122: “I was glad when they said unto me: we will go into the House of the Lord.”

The Bridge at Christ Church Cathedral this afternoon ... I was glad when they said unto me: we will go into the House of the Lord” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

‘Now, if the harvest is over and the world cold’

‘Give me the bonus of laughter’ (Sir John Betjeman) … a Gothic gargoyle on the façade of the Unitarian Church in Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

Mark 4: 26-34

Saturday 16 June 2012

Unitarian Church, Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin

Memorial Service for former staff members of The Irish Times.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Tomorrow morning, in the Gospel reading (Mark 4: 26-34) in most of our Churches, Christ tells two parables.

The first is the story of how seed that is scattered on the ground sprouts, grows and produces full grain at harvest time.

The second is the story of how the mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, grows into the greatest of all shrubs.

It is an unfortunate fact of life that people who set out to be high achievers regret that over the span of a career they have never blossomed into great trees. Instead, they think that in the sight of others they have remained small twigs or leaves on the tree, and that when they die, like a falling leaf, they will be forgotten and be of no further value to others.

Yet, when death is at our doorstep, none of us is going to be worried about the obituary pages or whether we will be judged by our achievements.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who has worked for several years in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She has counselled the dying in their last days and has tried to find out what are the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives.

And among the top, from men in particular, is: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

Despite what the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman once said about end-of-life regrets, there was no mention of more sex. Nor was there any mention of bigger by-lines or better job titles.

In her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware lists the top five regrets we have when we are dying:

1, I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2, I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3, I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4, I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5, I wish that I had let myself be happier.

What’s your greatest regret so far?

And what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?

As I listen to the names read here each year, I am reminded that the value of each and every one of us is not the big by-line or the big story.

Indeed, we have all been part of telling the stories, big and small, in our own way.

The names include the great by-lined writers. But the vast majority are those of us who have ploughed the ground, planted the seed, tended the early shoots, trimmed the branches, and harvested the crop.

Over the decades, all have played a part in telling the stories.

The readers may remember the great stories, and listening to the names being read here this morning, many of us are conscious of so many of those great stories and those who told them.

But those with recognisable names would have been among the first to pay tribute to the roles played by those who went without by-lines, those who went unnoticed, yet who – like little mustard seeds – helped the reader to see the full picture.

Our intrinsic, individual value does not depend on how useful we were to the projects of others. It is seen, instead, when we were truly ourselves, when we spent time with those we love and those who love us, when we were in touch with our feelings, when we valued our friendships, when we were happy rather than ambitious.

Occasions like this morning are always tinged with sadness. But this morning is also made up of moments of joy too, moments when we realise that love is more important than ambition, when we know friendships are more important than careers, when we know we are blessed by others not because of what they do, but simply because they are.

And when we love, when we can cry together, then we can laugh together too.

John Betjeman was a press attaché in Dublin during World War II, and he plays an interesting role in journalism in Ireland at that time.

He was an immensely popular figure during his time in Dublin, learning the Irish language, socialising in Irish pubs, and becoming friends with many of Dublin’s journalists and literary figures.

When his official stay in Dublin came to an end in 1943, his departure made one of those great stories on the front page of The Irish Times.

In one of his less well-known poems, ‘The Last Laugh’, included in his 1974 collection, A Nip in the Air, John Betjeman wrote:

I made hay while the sun shone.
My work sold.
Now, if the harvest is over
And the world cold,
Give me the bonus of laughter
As I lose hold.

As we recall our friends and family members who have lost their hold on life, let us put their regrets behind them. As part of the great tree of life, whether they were tiny twigs, small leaves, little branches or great big trunks, we can remember them with the bonus of laughter and with the bonus of love.

For without them, we would not be who we are today.


Part of the reredos in the Unitarian Church in Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, inscribed with the Beatitudes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and a former Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times. This reflection was shared at a memorial service in the Unitarian Church, Dublin, for former staff members of The Irish Times on Saturday 16 June 2012.