Healing: Near and Far

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​One of the wonderful things about visiting a place steeped in saints is finding a new one; an unheard of one, at least unheard of by me. When I mentioned to our cousins about traveling to Wales to pilgrimage at my confirmation saint’s holy well, he immediately scoffed. “Ach, why ya goin’ there? We’ave one just up the road; that way, then left.”

When we returned from Wales, we indeed went right up the road and discovered a place of quiet beauty, spirituality pressing down from the clouds and whispering through the grass of the graveyard. Set between a field of sheep and a tremendous lake – Lough Neagh – and just below the ruins of an old church was the holy well of St. Olcan.

St. Olcan was a contemporary of St. Patrick. It is said that Patrick found Olcan as a baby with his deceased mother. He became a disciple of Patrick’s and founded the Armoy Monastery in Antrim, very near where his well stands today. After travels to Rome and Gaul, he was ordained by Patrick and became the first bishop in Ireland. Another story is that his mother was Patrick’sw sister, but of course, there’s no real way to verify that. Patrick did have a warm spot for Olcan, having taken him under his wing, becoming his mentor and in addition, gave to him some of the relics of Sts. Peter and Paul that had been in Armagh.

St. Olcan’s feast day is June 29, which corresponds with the pilgrimage to his shrine between May Eve and June 29 and the day that the water has risen so far that the amber pebbles overflow onto the land, making them easier to access. Pilgrims would come during that time for three consecutive days, walking the stations, bathing in the well, and praying for healing.

L-R: Holy water from St. Olcan’s well, two pebbles from the well and one stone from the Cranfield Church. (c)2017


Olcan blessed the well with healing properties.
The rising water brings the stones, and swallowing a pebble protects one from drowning, women in childbirth, and having them in homes protects them from fire and burglary.

I was told to bring a rag or some sort of cloth, dip it in the well, and wash the area on my body that needed healing. Then I was to tie the rag onto the tree (where there were dozens of other rags), and when it deteriorated, my affliction would be healed. While some holy wells are meant to drink, I’m not sure that this is one of those wells. Certainly, the directions do not include drinking or ingesting, and when I collected some for my ailment, it was brownish and had sediment floating in it. By contrast, the two other wells I visited were much cleaner and were meant to be drank.

He is also said to be buried at the church on the hill above the well. What’s left of the Cranfield Church is the ruins of a 13th century church, but that church was built and stands on the site of an earlier church.

Saint Olcan’s Well and Shrine on the shores of Lough Neagh adjacent to a sheep farm, just below the ruins of Cranfield Church. (c)2017


One of the things that amazed me about this church, and really many of the medieval buildings that I’ve visited is the sturdiness. Most are without roofs, and Cranfield was no exception, but the walls stood tall; sturdy. I am a toucher, and I ran my fingers along the cold stones, and leaned through window spaces and on walls to get just the right pictures at just the right angles, and I never felt unsafe.
Today, I was reminded of St. Olcan and his Holy Well when I attended my parish’s semi-annual  Anointing Mass. It was well attended. There is Scripture, music, a blessing and the anointing of the oil of the infirm and receving the Eucharist. There is also a community lunch. Today was turkey and mashed potatoes. I could eat turkey and mashed potatoes every day. I find the camaraderie and the fellowship of the meal as well as the coming together of our community just as healing as the prayers and the anointing.

Clockwise: From the anointing mass: Turkey luncheon, Music: I Know That My Redeemer Lives, Ornament table favor. (c)2017


Tomorrow, I will post pictures of St. Olcan’s well and the Cranfield Church. For now, take a few moments, and just be with your thoughts or no thoughts. Take a few breaths, and recharge. Don’t forget to exhale.

Reflection at St. Kateri’s Shrine

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[Note: This reflection ended up encompassing many things: travel, spirituality, prayer, politics, and again part of my year of mercy. I hope you enjoy all that it is, and that you see the National Shrine in Fonda, NY one day yourselves. It is a very peaceful place to visit, to sit, and to pray.]



In the early part of November, just because I was in the neighborhood, I decided to visit the Shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. I had a lot on my mind and in watching what was continually unfolding at Standing Rock in North Dakota, I felt helpless towards a people that had captured my imagination and inspiration since I was a child.

I remember playing cowboys & Indians. That was a thing in the 1970s. I always wanted to be an Indian. In college I chose a class titled North American Indians as my anthropology elective. As a preschool teacher, I changed the curriculum for Thanksgiving to avoid making headdresses. I added Native foods to our school’s Thanksgiving feast. Instead of the headdresses, we made more Native American crafts and listened to the drum beats and chanting of Native American music. I can still hear the cassette in my mind as I write this.

On the hill above the Shrine, I went up to the spring, but when I followed the signs to the spring, and walked through the crunchy leaves carpeting the path, I saw the way down and the supporting handrails. I could hear the water.

But I was alone and the rest of the way was steep and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to climb back up, so I missed the spring. I chose not to go down on the slippery leaves. I still felt okay, though, because the spring was the cherry.

At the Shrine, I stood by St. Kateri’s plaque which included the dates of her veneration and canonization. I looked out passed the sign of the cross to the rustic looking buildings to the close knit trees, their narrow trunks rising into the sun. The sun was bright that day, coming down in rays through the pines. The green grass was beginning to be covered in their shedding pine needles.

The buildings themselves were closed for the season, but you can’t close the sky or the air or the land.

I stood there and I prayed. I asked St. Kateri for her intercession for North Dakota and the Sioux and their companions and their supporters. Water protectors. An end to DAPL. An end to the violence against them by more people trying to take their land. Again.

There were water protectors in Bismarck – the citizens and politicians. Dogs weren’t sicced on them. They changed the route to the pipeline. Maybe if there were water protectors in Flint, Michigan they wouldn’t have allowed lead to be in the water.

I guess you could call this a kind of pilgrimage; with purpose and spirit. It was spontaneous and it felt right and it fit in with everything I was trying to do in this past Year of Mercy. I was guided to action, something I could actually do and my heart swelled.

I prayed for peace and I prayed for resistance and strength and the outcome that protects the land and the spirit of the land for everyone who comes after us.

At the Shrine, at the Native American Peace Grove, is the following prayer:

Speak evil of no one, if you can say no

Good of a person, then be silent.

Let not your tongues betray you into

evil. For these are words of our Creator.

Let all strive to cultivate friendship

with those who surround them.

-Handsome Lake – Iroquois Prophet