Knock knock. “Who’s there?” No one, its just an apparition.
That’s what the villagers of Knock, County Mayo, Ireland had to say about what they saw. It is an apparition of Our Lady cried one of them as he ran back to tell some others. They came outside, saw the same apparition, and went to fetch more people. Within an hour a dozen of them had gathered and, looking towards the gable end of a building, witnessed the same thing. They all said it was Our Lady Mary. Beside her was a small alter with a lamb standing on it. Don’t all lambs love their alter? Above them were some angels with their wings outstretched forming a halo over the same scene. That’s what angels do all the time, don’t they. To the left were a couple of Saints, of course. Now I don’t wish to be sceptical, I’m not usually so, but I just don’t think this is credible. I’m going to get into trouble for this. It’s 1879, you are in western Ireland, a poor, remote area. It’s a wet August evening, 8pm, and you’ve been on the hooch all day. It doesn’t take much of a stretch of your imagination does it?
Some very important people were persuaded to go and investigate. They took testimonies from a wide age range of witnesses, but all Knock villagers, who saw the apparition. Eventually, the wise important people declared that the testimonies were accurate and credible. It was official. Our lady had appeared before them. I read some of the testimonies. They don’t mention hooch, but they don’t claim their sobriety either.
Well that was handy. Now their poor remote village started receiving visitors. And so it grew. People flocked there. Even Pope John Paul II visited. Now, would you believe it, there’s an airport, tarmac, lots of it, a shrine, a basilica, a museum, a hotel, conference rooms, some quite attractive little gardens, and a few statues. There’s also plenty of opportunities to have tea and cake in the village, and also buy empty Holy Water bottles if you wish.
I am sorry for feeling like this. No, really I am, sorry. I don’t wish to offend anybody who believes this sort of thing. I truly wish I did. I have observed many times, and fully recognise, that plenty of people around the world gain a huge amount of pleasure from their faith. I have watched Southern Baptists being baptised in the River Jordan, pilgrims crawling on their hands and knees as they come into the Cathedral Square in Santiago de Compostela to come a see a finger of James* , and many more. Each time I have wondered if I am missing something. I quickly conclude that I am not. I am quite content recognising that religion, anybody’s religion, offers hugely important moral guidance to us all. All the little details, like apparitions, just seem to complicate the basics, and separate one religion from another. Those differences of course have led to arguments, wars and death for over a thousand years. Protestants against Catholics in Belfast, Sunni against Shia in the Middle East, Christians against Muslims in the Crusades, and so on. I prefer to live with the rules that unite us, not separate us. Don’t kill, don’t steal, love your neighbour, look after others who cannot look after themselves, etc. Do you recognise your religion?
* In the 9th.century, Catholic leaders decided that they wanted to bolster support in the north west region of the Iberian peninsula that is now Spain. Conveniently someone found a body buried there and said it was that of the apostle James. They obliged people to go on a pilgrimage to visit it, which they did, and so northern Spain was occupied for catholics, mostly from France. Much cheaper than raising an army. You can go and see his withered blackened digit in the Cathedral if you are so inclined. Irrespective of the finger I think the “pilgrimage” to Santiago is a wonderful thing to do. There are also many non-Christians en route seeking to find something else in their lives, and succeeding.
My early April 2017 tour of the Emerald Isle took in Cork, Dingle, Shea Head, the Cliffs of Moher, the Giant’s Causeway, Belfast, many other places you heard too much about during the “troubles” for all the wrong reasons, and Dublin. I met no-one who wasn't ridiculously friendly, no field that wasn’t green, and enjoyed the craic in a Dublin pub. Perfect start I would say. On to France.