Monday, the 1st
The Mass celebrating St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, presided by Joe, was a sending forth to Glendalough, introducing us to a ‘pilgrim attitude’ which was to be sought for the following days. And indeed, we reached this wonderful place by car (but Joe stayed at home, and Barnabas dared to reach it by bike!… and of course, Elias was still missing), crossing Dublin and its harbor, going through countryside and mountains of County Wicklow, until we reached a lovely house and spirituality centre. After getting settled in, we first took some photographs and sat down to a quick lunch. We then had a film at the interpretive centre and a guided tour of the ruins of this ancient monastery. We had two days to discover and enjoy this beautiful place and its rich history through reading, walks, conversations and prayer.
Glendalough was already an important place, even before the arrival of Christianity. It is no wonder this rugged landscape, with its forests and mountains, its lovely valley with two lakes, waterfalls and streams, attracted so many mystics throughout the ages. In the 6th century, the hermit St. Kevin began an ascetic life in this scenic valley, and other monks joined him, creating a community following the spirituality of the desert fathers. They founded a monastery that became a famous pilgrimage site over the centuries, until it declined in the 13th century, when it was eclipsed by new religious orders and the relocation of the diocesan see to Dublin. The monastery was thereafter sacked by English troops. Rather than a monastery as we imagine it (ie: with a single, large building inhabited by consecrated people), this was more of a Christian community inhabited by monks, lay people and families.
Tuesday, the 2nd
In the morning, we had a short talk by Fr. Michael, a former missionary to Kenya who retired to Glendalough to spend the last twenty years helping pilgrims enter into the spirit of the place. He gave a moving testimony of his own experience of Celtic spirituality and recent developments in Irish Catholicism. As he pointed out, this beautiful, rugged setting speaks of the deep natural roots of Irish spirituality. He also spoke of St. Kevin’s heroic Christian life, the many legends about him and his companions, and the Christian community in the monastery, all of which spoke to the sacred radiance ofs this special place. Though most of the site is in ruins today, the round tower (one of the best preserved in Ireland) and several small churches are quite impressive to visit. Among the many graves (the whole site later became a cemetery), along the roads, around the lakes, high in the mountains or deep in the forest, people coming from different spiritual experiences can find here an atmosphere of contemplation and reverence, a feeling of greatness and intimacy altogether, conducive to prayer, encountering the Creator and Saviour.
In the afternoon, we met for Mass, presided by Fr. Michael in a small domestic chapel, with an atmosphere much like that of the first simple home church.
That evening, we had a delicious meal, thanks to Jacques, and much time for free and ranging conversation (alas, without Elias …)
Wednesday, the 3rd
Today, on our final morning at Glendalough, we had a last opportunity for a walk – short or long – during which we met (or not), sheep, goats, deer and other surprises along the way. We were delighted that much wildlife is visible in the area.
After lunch, we returned to Manresa by car (except for Barnabas who cycled home!), with the feeling of “home sweet home” after a long and intense pilgrimage.
We concluded with evening Mass, celebrating the memory of a Jesuit saint, Francis Borgia. As our presider, Jozef, pointed out, for this great saint, nothing really mattered except the knowledge of Christ as our only true treasure.
And we were happy to see Joe again, not to mention Tommy – and his wonderful home cooking … even if Elias is still missing!