Last year I attended the pattern/patron day celebration in honour of St Laserian at Old Leighlin, Co Carlow. I had planned to write this post the following day but life got in the way as it so often does, and before I new it days, weeks, months and over a year had gone by. So better late than never.
Old Leighlin is a small sleepy village a short distance from Carlow town. St Gobban founded a monastery here in the 7th century. He was succeeded by St Laserian also known as Molaisse , who became the patron saint of the site and surrounding area. In 630 AD, during Laserian’s rule, a synod was held here to consider the correct time for the celebration of Easter (see my post on the Easter Controversy). Laserian died in AD 639 and tradition holds he was buried here and it is likely his grave was visited by pilgrims from an early date, although the site of his grave has long been forgotten.
Following Laserian’s death the settlement prospered and grew in strength and influence, becoming one of the foremost churches in Leinster. By the 12th century it became the see of the diocese to which it gives its name. All that remains of the medieval settlement are the medieval Cathedral church, a holy well, bullaun stone, two early medieval cross slabs and early medieval stone cross. Following the reformation the Old Leighlin Cathedral came into the possession of the Church of Ireland and it continues to function as a place of worship. I will discuss the medieval and post-medieval evidence for pilgrimage at a later date.
Today as in medieval times St. Laserian is the focus of a yearly pilgrimage at Old Leighlin on the 18th of April. The modern pilgrim celebrations at Old Leighlin takes place each day on the saint’s feast day, when an ecumenical service is held at the Church of Ireland Church (medieval cathedral of Old Leighlin) followed by a procession to the nearby holy well dedicated to St Laserian. This year in 2014 the feast day fell on Good Friday and it was held Easter Sunday.
The service is normally presided over by two bishops, the Anglican Bishop of the United Diocese of Cashel , Ferns, Leighlin, Lismore, Ossory and Waterford and the Catholic Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, highlighting the importance of St Laserian within both diocese.
In 2013 the ecumenical service was held in the evening at around 7.30pm. The Cathedral which is dedicated to St Laserian is a very beautiful structure.
The Cathedral has many interesting features such as a magnificent stain glass window designed by Catherine O’Brien, in the east gable. The window depicts Irish and Universal saints Moling, Bridget, Fiach, Canice, Patrick, John, Paul and Laserian.
The 2013 service was presided over by Right Reverend Michael Burrows, the Anglican Bishop of Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ferns, Ossory and Leighlin, as the Catholic diocese of Kildare and Leighlin was without a Bishop at the time. As well as commemorating St Laserian with prayers and hymns, 2013 marked a special occasion for Old Leighlin, with the unveiling of an icon of St Laserian that had been specially commissioned for the Cathedral.
The Old Leighlin pilgrimage is one of only a handful of modern Irish pilgrimages that incorporates a procession. Following service all of those present lined up and walked behind by the bishop(s) and clergy of both churches in a processional walk, from the Cathedral along the main road which skirts alongside the north wall of the Cathedral graveyard to St Laserian’s holy well.
The procession began outside the church leaving via the main church gates and on to St Laserian’s holy well a few hundred metres to the west of the church.
As the procession approached the holy well a band who had been waiting patiently in the car park, beside the holy well, began to play music as the pilgrims approached.
The well is located within a landscaped green field that slopes sharply to the south. The clergy gathered at the well, located at the base of the slope. Most pilgrims gathered at the top of the slope with a second group standing around the rag tree near the holy well.
Once everyone was assembled a short prayer service then took place and the waters of the wells were blessed.
Following the blessing of the water, and despite the rain most of the pilgrims assembled at the well to drink or take home its water. Many pilgrims had brought plastic bottles with them to carry the water home.
The evening ended on a very social note with most people heading to the nearby local community hall for a very welcome cup of tea, cake and a chat.
Each summer from mid June until the end of August the Old Leighlin Cathedral is open to the public from Monday-Friday from 10.a.m. until 4 p.m so I hope this post might encourage some of you to visit, as it is an amazing place. I plan to write another post about history of the Cathedral the more ancient pilgrimage traditions at the site later in the year so watch the space.
Links to information on Old Leighlin