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)
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)