“The official Pilgrimage Season at Knock Shrine begins on Sunday 30th April.The 12 noon & 3pm Sunday Masses in the Basilica can be viewed live on the Watch page and can also be viewed afterwards on the Knock Shrine YouTube Channel”. – Knock Shrine Official Web Page.
Knock (or West Ireland Airport) is built in the middle of almost nowhere, the nearest cities are Galway to the south and Sligo to the north, both over forty miles away. It was built here following a campaign by Monsignor James Horan who had a sort of evangelical business plan to bring pilgrims to the nearby religious site of the Knock Shrine.
The Shrine is probably the most religious place in all of Ireland and as we were close by we thought that perhaps we should pay a visit ourselves.
The most religious country in Europe is Malta where in a survey in 2010 95% of the population said that they were practicing Catholics. Nearby Italy (where the Pope lives) only managed 74%. Ireland registered 54%. The least religious countries are all in the north where over 80% of respondents in Estonia, Norway, Denmark and Sweden all said that religion isn’t very important at all.
Interestingly this survey didn’t seem to include the Vatican State where I imagine the response would surely have been 100%.
The remarkable story of Knock began on the 21st August, 1879 when, at approximately eight o’clock in the evening, fifteen people from the village claimed that they witnessed a Marian Apparition* on an altar at the gable wall of the Parish Church. An Apparition of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, Saint John the Evangelist, a choir of angels, the Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) and a cross.
The witnesses watched the Apparition in the pouring rain for two hours whilst reciting the Rosary. Although they themselves were saturated not a single drop of rain fell on the gable or vision. Each of the witnesses gave testimonies to a Commission of Enquiry in October 1879 and the findings of the Commission were that the testimonies were both trustworthy and satisfactory. Hmmm!
As a consequence of this the site is now an important Pilgrimage centre with a four thousand seat Basilica, a Museum, a Research centre, the original Parish Church and the Holy Shrine itself. With an estimated million and a half visitors a year this makes it the most visited place in Ireland just ahead of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin.
Most of these visitors are genuine Pilgrims, not just nosey parkers like us, who come to celebrate Mass, make Confession, seek spiritual guidance or simply to lay hands on the wall where the Apparition took place. Actually there is only a small portion of the wall these days because so many people were chipping bits off for a souvenir that it had to be taken down and kept somewhere secret for safety.
The whole village is a religious enclave where every shop sells spiritual gifts, grave memorials, plastic bottles to collect Holy Water and Votive Candles. If you want to stay overnight in Knock then you are probably going to book in at The Shrine View Guest House, The Lamb of God B&B or the Divine Mercy Hotel.
The village and the Holy Site reminded me of the Greek Island of Tinos where there is a similar story of a divine miracle and a Basilica and a Pilgrim Trail to go with it.
As we walked around the Basilica not everyone was absolutely delighted by the experience and I overheard two Nuns in conversation – “So how do you like the place Sister, said the first, “Well, I am a bit disappointed” replied the second “ I have to say, I tort there would be more Priests and tings!”
The modern Basilica is quite magnificent and the best thing about is the Apparition Mosaic which depicts the scene as described in the testimony of the witnesses and donated by an individual donor in memory of his family and friends. That is quite some gift let me tell you, it is one of the largest mosaics in Europe consisting of over one and a half million pieces of hand cut marble and glass and crafted in Spilimbergo in Italy by Travisanutto Mosaics who are said to be the best in the World and also have mosaics in Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC.
I am really glad that I visited the Knock Shrine, I didn’t get any sort of Divine thrill I have to say, I am not a religious person at all, I only go to Church for weddings, christenings and funerals and remain sceptical about things such as this but if so many people believe in it then I feel obliged to keep an open mind.
* A Marian Apparition is a reported supernatural appearance by the Blessed Virgin Mary. The miracle is often named after the town where it is reported.