The Pattern Day at Clonmacnoise

The ecclesiastical complex at Clonmacnoise is truly an amazing place. Founded by St Ciarán in 545, the site  developed into a vast ecclesiastical complex and became one of the great power houses of the medieval church in Ireland.

Aerial photo of Clonmacnoise (from http://www.athlonespringshotel.com/attractions.htm)

I have  visited Clonmacnoise on many occasions and each time I spend hours walking around , there really is so much to see here.

Plan of the ecclesiastical complex at Clonmacnoise

This visit coincided with the Pattern Day celebrations of St Ciarán’s feast day on the 9th of September. Clonmacnoise is one of the very few Irish ecclesiastical sites to have an unbroken tradition of pilgrimage that stretches from the 6th /7thcentury to modern times. The history of pilgrimage during the early to late medieval period and  the early modern period is very interesting and complex and is best discussed in more detail in another blog post.

 

According to the Clonmacnoise Heritage Centre there are two special days of devotion here at Clonmacnoise. The Church of Ireland hold an open air  service on the last Sunday in July which I hope to attend next year, while the annual St Ciarán’s Pattern Day  is held on the third Sunday in September, or if possible celebrated on the 9th of September (St Ciarán’s feast day) as it was yesterday.

 

Pilgrims beginning to arrive for the Pattern day

 

The Pattern celebrations began around 3pm. From around 2.30 pm people began to come into the main ecclesiastical complex in small groups and before  the main celebrations began there must have been well over a 100- 150 people present. A local man I spoke too said that even more people would normally be present but  the All Ireland final between Kilkenny and Galway had kept many away.

Unlike the pilgrimage I documented earlier this year at St Mullins, pilgrims were spread out around the site. A large group of people were seat on chairs in front of the open air oratory, which was  built for Pope John Paul II ‘s visit in 1979,

Pilgrims seated in front of the open air oratory

Pilgrims seated in front of the open air oratory

the rest of the pilgrims were scattered among the gravestones and the ruins of other churches at the site.

 

Pilgrims scattered around the ruins of the churches

Like the  Pattern at St Mullins, there is also a social element to this occasion,  this it is time for people to catch  up and chat, it is also a time for people to remember those who have died. Many of  people who attended the pattern also visit the graves of loved ones buried within the main complex and the modern graveyard beside it. Visiting of the graves takes place  before and after the Pattern Day mass.

 

During the nineteenth century and up to recent times   St Ciarán’s well, located a short distance away on the Shannonbridge road,  was a central part of the Pattern Day.  According to one lady that I spoke too,  mass and the stations here are now the main focus of pilgrims  but  some people still visit the well on the saints feast before or after the mass.

St Ciarán’s Holy Well

 

Clonmacnoise is part of the Catholic Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise.  St Ciarán is one of the patron saints of this diocese. The pilgrimage  is an import part of the Diocesan Calendar, so much so that  the Bishop of Colm O’Reilly officiated at the mass, aided by 11 priests.

The pilgrimage began with the procession of the ‘Pilgrim Cross’ (a processional cross) around the  monastic complex while the rosary was recited.

Pilgrim Cross being carried in procession to the first station

Local people were invited to join in the procession but most preferred to pray where they were and only a small group of people joined in the procession. The first station began at the small oratory known as Temple Ciarán, the  traditional burial-place of St Ciarán.

 

The first station at Tempel Ciarán

The Pilgrim Cross then  moved  to the second station at the top of the enclosure  among the gravestones.

The second station among the gravestones

 

The cross was then carried on to the third station at the Cross of the Scriptures opposite the Cathedral church.

The third station at the Cross of the Scriptures

 

The Pilgrim Cross then moved on to the fourth station was at the Round Tower.

The fourth station at the Round Tower

 

The Pilgrim Cross was then brought on procession down to Temple Connor the fifth station. This is the only church at Clonmacnoise which is still use, built in 1010 by Cathal O’Conor, it has been used as a place of worship by the Church of Ireland since the eighteenth century and services are still held here.

Procession past Temple Connor, the fifth station

The stations ended with the bishop reciting a litany of the saints of Ireland .  The mass began and  just as the sermon was being delivered by Fr Liam Hickey PP of St Ciaran’s parish Hartstown , Dublin, who was originally from this  area, the heavens opened and the Clonmacnoise became a very pretty sea of colourful umbrellas.

The umbrellas come out with the rain

As quickly as it began the rain cleared away. As the mass continued a few curious tourists looked on taking photos, perhaps wondering what was happening.

Bishop O’Reilly giving communion to the pilgrims

 

Looking around at the Clonmacnoise I really felt like the site was transformed from a museum into a living place belonging to the community. There was also a real sense of history and tradition, the pilgrims scattered around the site were following the same age-old traditions of their ancestors,  arriving here to celebrate St Ciarán just as their parents and grandparents had done before them and their parents before them and so on. As I will discuss in another post on Clonmacnoise the pilgrim rituals have changed through the centuries but the core act of pilgrimage, the community coming together in honour of their saint  on his feast day is unchanged and I feel really lucky to have been here to experience this.

 

Pilgrims praying during mass at the Clonmacnoise Pattern Day

 

 

2 comments on “The Pattern Day at Clonmacnoise

  1. Sean Ascough says:

    Hi Louise
    Im delighted to have discovered your most interesting and uplifting blog. I have a keen interest in seeing the medieval monastic sites as placing of living prayer and pilgrimage rather than as museum glass box showcases reserved for “viewing only”. In fact some of my friends and I appear in your recent photos of the Clonmacnois pattern day! I was hoping to come along to your talk on 25th Sept and meet you however i cannot make it. What date is your talk in october? – i couldnt find it on your site when i looked now.
    Many thanks
    Sean Ascough

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