On Thursday night past I came upon that rarest of rarities, a Catholic Church that was unlocked and open, and in the late evening, no less, about 9 PM after we had eaten dinner. Of course, in fairness I have to admit I had to go some distance to find it, all the way to Dingle, Ireland. I scoured up a church bulletin, but the contents were entirely in Gaelic. I finally found the name of the church on an old plaque, St. Mary's, around the corner from an excellent pub I visited tonight. (Friday)
I took a red eye from New York Wednesday night and arrived in Shannon, Ireland, Thursday morning. After a stop in Limerick, my wife, who has experience driving on the narrow country roads of Ireland (and it is a trick) got us safely to Dingle, along with her two 30-something nephews. Both young men are well versed in the humanities and make excellent traveling companions. We are staying here in an excellent B&B until tomorrow, when we move on to a cottage on Valentia Island.
This is my first trip to Ireland, and I am very glad to have started on the western shore of startling rolling mountains, strewn with rocks but verdant green. Sheep are everywhere, and they are quite noisy when they get a mind to be. We will be here for a good while before heading into Dublin and other locations.
Today was that rarest of rarities, a sunny day for the most part, but extremely windy, and as we climbed out on some promontories I actually thought we might be in some danger of being blown off the edge into the ocean below. We made quite a day of it, starting of course with a "traditional Irish breakfast." If you have been here, you know that such a breakfast is "substantive;" to balance it off, I walked 18,000 steps according to Fit Bit, which also gave me credit for 81 flights of stairs, which gives you a good idea of the terrain.
I had the opportunity to visit several ancient church sites including the Gallerus Oratory, a rather extraordinary sacred space built in the "beehive" style with natural stones. Gallerus dates back 1300 years, to the 700's AD when a Christian community gathered there. It is speculated that the community was scattered or destroyed by Viking invaders. My first cursory impression is that the primitive Irish church had a distinctive architectural style which outlasted the communities who built them. When the medieval revival occurred, there was more effort to copy what was being done on the European mainland, and surviving churches of, say, 1200 take on more of the appearance we are used to.
I did catch a very good film at the Dunbeg Fort information center, which raised an interesting point. I had been wondering if it was possible to get inside the thinking and experiences of the people who built the beehive oratory with thousands of stones. The narrator of the Dunbeg film admitted that archaeology can tell us only so much. He stated that one must enter the myths and stories of a culture as the best clue of its experience.
This is a side of historical theologizing that is not my strength. But I do see the point, and I started asking myself about the Christian tales and myths that have shaped our historical continuity. And along those lines, what is the "sub-story" if you will that we fall back upon in 2015, and what myths (i.e. expressions of self understanding) do we pass along in the catechetical process.
Only about eight hours till another "traditional Irish breakfast."