We started our day still in the city of Galway, and although we had an ‘early’ start to the day, we spent most of the morning in and around Galway. We had the opportunity to wander and ramble and explore the inner city until just after lunch, and so we did, each going their own way – although it was surprising how many times we could cross each other’s paths as we did so. Funny about that.
Mum and I explored the inner city across the pedestrianised streets, visiting the occasional store. The highlight of the morning for me, however, was the return to the Cathedral, to experience, once more, the ambience – the prayerful and welcoming ambience – of that glorious building. I wanted to go to the Cathedral bookstore (and yes, I did purchase something – no surprise!), but that was the ‘excuse’ (at least in my own mind) for wandering back into the warmth of that building, a warmth that was both physical and spiritual.
After a spot of lunch, our group of pilgrims reassembled and reboarded our coach, heading out of the city of Galway in the direction of Knock, and to the Shrine of Our Lady that is located there. It was only a short journey to the place where we would both stop and pray, and spend the night.
The Shrine at Knock is ‘huge’, located around the original parish church where the apparition occurred and stretching to encompass a basilica, a reconciliation chapel, museum, bookstores, facilities, etc., etc. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to simply wander the site, experiencing the wonder of this particular place that attracts so many visitors and pilgrims each year.
The highlight of the visit to the Shrine, however, was the opportunity to celebrate Mass with the members of our pilgrimage group (and some others) in the Chapel of the Apparition, the addition to the original parish church built out from the wall where the apparition was witnessed. You can see a photo of the sanctuary of the Chapel in the picture at the top of the page. It was a poignant moment in our pilgrimage journey; we had visited so many places of spiritual significance – Baggot St, Glendalough, Ardmore, the Gallarus Oratory, to name but a few – and had experienced such beauty and grandeur in the landscape we had travelled across, that, in one sense at least, this was the perfect ‘next stop’ on our journey through Ireland. To visit and to celebrate our faith’s most significant sacrament in this place of pilgrimage just simply ‘made sense’.
The basilica that stands on the site is an architectural and liturgical marvel. It can seat thousands, all of whom will have an uninterrupted line of sight to the sanctuary that stands at the very centre of the basilica. The artwork within the building is artistically beautiful as well as liturgically evocative, and there is a real sense of prayer and worship present in the very building itself. One cannot help but wonder what a liturgical celebration in that place would be like. Alas, we didn’t have the chance to experience it, but it is nice to wonder.
Our hotel for the night is located in the grounds of the Knock Shrine, and so it was a short walk to where we would be sleeping for the night. After dinner together, we adjourned at various points to our comfortable rooms, ready for another early start tomorrow as we continue our journey…venturing now into Northern Ireland.