Place of Pilgrimage
St. Patrick’s Purgatory, Lough Derg, is among the oldest centres of Christian Pilgrimage in Western Europe, supposedly dating back to the sixth century. Lough Derg lies about four miles north of the village of Pettigo in County Donegal, in the Diocese of Clogher. Station Island, the location of the Pilgrimage is often referred to as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory or simply Lough Derg.
This is a special place of peace and personal challenge. This small lake-island, renowned in Irish Christian tradition since the time of St. Patrick, has been receiving pilgrims continuously for well over 1000 years.
Island from mainland shore
Its importance in medieval times in indicated by the fact that it was among the principal landmarks on maps of Ireland. It was, for example, the only Irish site named on a world map of 1492.
The pilgrimage was very popular among Europeans at that time and there are records of pilgrims having travelled from Hungary (1363 and 1411), France (1325, 1397 and 1516), Italy (1358 and 1411) and Holland (1411 and 1494).
The association of the name of St Patrick with Lough Derg dates back as far as records go and the legends that link him with the place point to a tradition already firmly established by the twelfth century. While in a cave on the island, Patrick is said to have had a vision of the punishments of Hell. Hence the place came to be known as St Patrick’s Purgatory.
Each year the traditional three-day pilgrimage begins at the end of May and ends mid-August. Pilgrims must be at least fifteen years of age, in good health and able to walk and kneel unaided. The pilgrimage is a three-day fast incorporating a 24-hour vigil. Pilgrims arrive on the island between 11.00am and 3.00pm, having fasted from the previous midnight. They have one simple eal of dry toast, oatcakes and black tea or coffee on each of the three days. The central prayer of the pilgrimage is called a ‘station’. Each station involves the repeated praying of the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Apostles’ Creed, as pigrims walk or kneel or stand, barefooted. The greater part of a station is made on the Penitential Beds (these are thought to be the remnants of beehive cells used by the early monks). Three such stations are made on the first day. Four more stations are made in common in the Basilica during the night vigil and one is made on each of the second and third days.
In former times the emphasis was more on the physical penance and hardship of the pilgrimage exercises. Nowadays those who make the pilgrimage see it as a grace-filled opportunity to get away from the stress of modern-day living. They talk about the cleansing value of fasting and see the intensive and concentrated nature of the routine as giving opportunities for prioritising values and being physically and spiritually renewed. They find that the particular prayer-form, which they often refer to as ‘body-prayer’, is very satisfying and expresses in a non-verbal way what they often cannot put into words.
3-day pilgrims – penitential beds
Walking barefoot serves to emphasise what all have in common and creates a greater awareness of community. This is particularly effective in the celebration of liturgies on the island. The Sacrament of Reconciliation has always been and still is, very central to this penitential pilgrimage. Its celebration each morning in the Basilica is a moment of joy and hope for penitents and priests alike. However it is the Eucharist that most pilgrims experience as the high point of their pilgrimage. The liturgy of the Roman Missal is given full expression, with excellent response from pilgrims. Young people have key roles in the welcoming and music ministries.
St Patrick’s Basilica
Throughout the season pilgrims are offered opportunities for spiritual direction and a counselling service is provided for any who wish to avail of it.
One-Day Retreats were introduced at Lough Derg in 1992. The retreats are particularly suited to those who for various reasons cannot make the Three-Day Pilgrimage. These are structured days of prayer and contemplation and do not entail fasting or walking barefooted, and pilgrims are invited to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The day finishes with a celebration of the Eucharist.
The 2010 Pilgrimage Season
Details as follows:
2010 Season One Day Retreats Each Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday from Saturday 1st May until Saturday 30th May inclusive.
Three Day Pilgrimage From Tuesday 1st June until Sunday 15th August
One Day Retreats Resume Each Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from Wednesday 18th August until Tuesday 21st September inclusive.
Quiet Days Wednesday 5th May & Wednesday 1st September
Family Day Saturday 28th August.
With You on Life’s Journey Series
15th May Ken Needham ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’
17th May Bishop Ken Clarke ‘The Jesus I Know’
23rd August Desi Maxwell ‘This Is The Word Of The Lord’
31st August Very Rev Dr Ken Newell & Fr Gerry Reynolds ‘The Befriending God Who Turns Strangers Into Friends’
7th September Doug & Sue Barnett ‘Don’t Count Your Years, Make Your Years Count’
For further information on Lough Derg please contact:
Very Rev Owen J. McEneaney (Prior)
St Patrick’s Purgatory
Tel/Fax: +353 7198 61518