Purgatory, St. Patrick's

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A famous place of pilgrimage on the island of Lough Derg, County Donegal, Ireland. Although St. patrick preached in the neighborhood, his connection with the island remains obscure. The pilgrimage dates probably from the 12th century, when a community of Canons Regular of St. Augustine settled on Saints' Island in the lake. Jocelin of Furness, Henry of Saltrey, giraldus cambrensis, and others made the little sanctuary known to the great European public. According to legend, an Irish knight named Owen (c. 1153) was condemned to do penance on the island and while so doing had a terrifying vision of purgatorial punishments. By 1186 the pilgrimage was efficiently organized. Each pilgrim had to be accepted beforehand by the bishop of the diocese. He then proceeded to Saints' Island, whence, after nine days, he was rowed to Station Island, where he spent a day and a night in the purgatorial cave. He then returned to Saints' Island for another nine days of prayer and penance. Pilgrims from France, Hungary, Portugal, and England left exciting accounts of their experiences and visions.

Alexander VI's order (1497) to close the cave was carried out to the letter: the cave then in use was rejected as spurious, but another was opened nearby. The pilgrimage was never interrupted, though the cave, the chapel, and all buildings were destroyed by order of the government in Dublin in 1632. By that time the Franciscans had replaced the Canons Regular as spiritual directors. A new arrangement of the exercises is mentioned by the papal nuncio to England, Chiericati, who made the pilgrimage in 1517. The cave remained in use until about 1790, when it was replaced by a chapel large enough to accommodate the ever-increasing number of pilgrims. A priest of the Diocese of Clogher, nominated prior by the bishop, succeeded the Franciscans as director. The three-day order of exercises still observed is based on a scheme drawn up in 1613. The season begins on June 1 and ends on August 15.

Bibliography: s. leslie, Saint Patrick's Purgatory (London 1932). a. curtayne, Lough Derg: St. Patrick's Purgatory (London 1944). georgius miles de hungaria, Visiones Georgii, ed. l. l. hammerich (Copenhagen 1930). d. o'connor, St. Patrick's Purgatory, Lough Derg (Dublin 1895).

[j. ryan]