Virtual Pilgrimage – Downpatrick, Northern Ireland

Although I’d been to Ireland several times in the past, I had hardly ever ventured into the beauty of Northern Ireland. A year and a half ago I had the chance, once again, to visit. I ventured to some of the sites outside of Belfast. I was privileged to travel, with a group of people from Faith Journeys and Music Celebrations International, when offered the chance to do a familiarization trip (where we travel together to ‘preview’ sites to provide us more in-depth understanding of the culture and terrain) to Ireland and Scotland. Although there were many high-points of the trip, including several places I had never visited, one of my favorite stops was Downpatrick.

One of the first sites we visited was the St. Patrick Centre, a modern and interactive museum dedicated to the history of Ireland and the myth and fact surrounding St. Patrick’s life and work.  The IMAX presentation they offer was the perfect start to our visit and allowed us to explore Patrick’s life and the major impact of Irish Missionaries on the Dark Age in Europe.

After leaving the visitor’s center, it was just a short 5 minute walk to Down Cathedral. The Cathedral is part of the Church of Ireland (Anglican Communion) and not Roman Catholic, as many would think. Although it’s unknown how long Christian worship has happened on the site, it appears that Down has been recognized as a Cathedral since the 12th century (St. Malachy was its first Bishop). Through years of change, turmoil, and disrepair, in 1790 restorations began to make it, once again, an active worshipping Cathedral community. The work was competed in 1818. One object of note, at the East end of the Cathedral is an 11th century stone cross that once stood in the center of the town.

Just beside the Cathedral is the most visited site in Downpatrick, the gravesite of St. Patrick. Although this wasn’t the place he died, or even where he was originally buried, it is said that 60 years after his death, a shrine was constructed in Down by Colum Cille and St. Patrick’s remains were placed there. There is also a legend that the remains of Saints Brigid or Kildare and Columcille (who we may know as Columba), were brought to Down in 1186. This gave rise to the well-known couplet:

“In Down, three saints one grave do fill,                                                                                                                                             Patrick, Brigid and Columcille.”

If you get a chance to go to Ireland on a pilgrimage and find yourself standing before the grave of the great St. Patrick, be sure to pause and reflect on how his life and legend have influenced Christianity and society throughout Ireland and the world. And, if you have time, kneel and pray his most famous prayer, “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”. (Here’s an excerpt.)

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

If you’d like to see the entire prayer, here’s a link: