Wednesday, January 2, 2008

From Sizzling Spanish Beaches to Beautiful Spanish Churches
Whilst Spain is renowned for its glorious good weather and coastlines, I have found their churches equally seductive. Like Ireland was a few decades ago, the church is the central point of community life and the buildings treated with reverence and respect. There seems to be no experience here – as yet – of vandalism or theft; churches are open to the public but closed during siesta hours as are local businesses. ‘Igleses’ even in small villages are quite ornate with several dedicated alters appointed within, mostly to saints from the locality and to Our Lady, most alters having candle racks, using both traditional wax candles and electronic ones (hideous looking).

Our Lady here is hugely popular; every town and village in the regions of Orihuela, Murcia and Alicante has a church named for Our Lady, The Virgin or Madonna and each have special dedicated feast days eg – “Our Holy Lady of Solitude”, “Our Holy Lady of Dolores”, “Virgen de la Esperanza” etc. Celebrating the sacrament of First Holy Communion and Confirmation includes a town parade, marching bands and choir, fireworks and weekend celebrations all round – it is a huge occasion, with shop windows often displaying holy vestments and priest’s robes. Colourful posters are printed by the “Ayumiento” (town hall) and officially distributed for weeks before hand. There is a huge sense of jubilation, of pride and community during these fiestas. You could be forgiven for thinking it was something like National Hunt Raceweek. Local tourist offices and businesses give out calendars with the dedicated feast days highlighted similar to sporting events promoted at home.

More commonly referred to as Santuario Virgen de la Esperanza, this little chapel and centre is built near a town called Calasparra on the banks of the river Moratella. One could be forgiven for thinking you had arrived at a Disney Centre as the pillars at the entrance look a tad like those Euro Disney. Therein, the similarity ends; the sanctuary is carved into the black rock of the hills in the Sierra del Puerto region and the exterior stonework is simply stunning. The background to the sanctuary is vague, to say the least and the translation on the website is atrocious.

As best I could ascertain that a shepherd in 1609 found an image or statuette of The Virgin which was believed to date back as far as the twelfth century when passing Christian warriors would have traversed the area. I did not manage to find any authentic link to the twelfth century on any checks I made but read that the shepherd immediately notified the ecclesiastical hierarchy in Calasparra who were excited about the find especially as those who handled the “Pequenica” (small one?) found the weight of the statue unbearable and hard to hold. This was interpreted as a sign of greatness, of hope – and hence, The Virgin is referred to as “The Great One” or “The One of Hope”. I found the town of Calasparra officially adopted the symbol of The Virgin in 1840 “as the town pattern” and a church was built on the current site in 1898.

One of the attractive features about this church is the setting – huge steep hills and forestry in which the chapel ‘nestles’ with lovely walks and designated visitor areas underneath by the banks of the river. I saw families bathing infants in the river water as though it offered holy protection.

The nave of the church is small and dark, a cave really with water still running through the walls; stone balconies carved from the rock within are stunning but the alter, containing the ‘Pequenica’ is beautiful, heavily ornate with gold detail which oddly enough, blends beautifully with a vivid pink background.

It was the rooms behind the alter that fascinated me; a two storey facility had masses of wedding gowns, christening robes, communion dresses, uniforms and personal items of clothing hanging along the walls. I thought perhaps locals donated the gowns for resale or hire purposes towards the cost of running the centre but no, the items were given ‘in hope’ with special dedications to Our Lady eg. wedding gowns offered by brides trying to conceive; christening robes and childrens’ wear given to accompany special intentions for illness and health concerns. Many of the gowns had notes attached and even with my limited Spanish, I could identify some of the notes thanking Our Lady for the child’s recovery whilst others asked for the safety of the child’s soul to Heaven….. Sad.

Right behind the alter was a small room which startled me at first; wax candles moulded in body parts – heads, legs, arms, breasts and hearts - were hanging everywhere, again with special requests attached; plaits of hair, favourite hair bobbins, childrens shoes or bibs, photographs, favourite toys, passport copies – all cluttered the walls, looking to Our Lady of Hope well, for Hope. Even L Plates and exam certificates dotted the walls! Letters from as far away as Columbia and Brazil asked for special favours and others acknowledged favours believed to have been granted.

It is eerie though, looking at the pain of someone else’s life, is it not? One letter depicted a photo of a happy young couple but the note asked for The Virgin’s forgiveness for the loss of his beloved and to ask her help him live out his life with respect and courage? What was the story there, I wonder. The sanctuary clearly has become a place of hope – a wax candle can hardly restore a lost limb – is it superstition or the power of faith?

The original statue and current images of The Virgin depict Our Lady wearing a navy mantle with gold décor, white and gold gown and heavy gold grown yet the redproductions in the visitor centre were utterly tasteless – statuettes sporting green glitter mantles and red sparkling gowns…. ‘Made in China’, if they weren’t in the image of Our Lady, they would make perfect Christmas tree ornaments…..Our Lady of Hope would not be impressed.
See but the translation is just appalling

Caravaca de La Cruz was one of my favourite towns; named after ‘the cross’ (la cruz), this town boasts many churches of various influences and sizes. The main church-cum-castle sits high on the hill overlooking the town, as much a fortress as a religious centre. Within the Castle-Sanctuary of the Santisima and Vera Cruz (True Cross), sits a smaller nave which hosts a piece of timber in its tabernacle, a cherished piece of wood supposedly taken from the original cross on which Jesus was crucified. The cross in Caravaca is distinctive – an Eastern style ‘lignum crucis’ with an additional two smaller horizontal ‘branches’across the top; the history of Caravaca claims a priest captured and imprisoned during Muslim domination of the area (thirteenth century) aroused the interest of his captors. Having heard about the practise of mass, the Muslims donated gifts from the Holy Land and were fascinated with the service; the priest, Gines Perez Chirinos refused to continue saying mass without a proper crucifix on the alter.

Documentation from the era report that on 3rd May 1232, two angels appeared carrying the ‘lignum crucis’ and alighted to place the cross on the alter after which the Muslim leader, the ‘sayid’ Abu-Zeit from Valencia and his court members asked to be baptised and became good Christians….

The town of Caravaca has many interesting archaeological features with Iberian, Roman, Argaric and Aeneolithic sites having been excavated over the past few decades.

It boasts an exhaustive number of churches including The Holy Church of El Salvador, renaissance style with ornate silver and gold works; The Holy Church and The Monastery of Santa Ciara (1609)simple Baroque façade; The Holy Church of San Jose, single nave, Rococo style from the 18th century; The Holy Church and the Convent of Our Lady Carmen, inhabited by Carmelite monks, built in the 17th century; The Holy Church of La Purisima Concepcion contains a belfry, a reredos and a sculpture of note by Francisco Fernandez-Caro; the other churches include The Chapel of San Sebastian (16th century – stunning lategothic paintings), The Church of the Company of Jesus also 16th century, non demoninational, The Church of Santa Elena (which is situated next to the monument of The Wine Horse – herein the solemn kissing of feet takes place every March), The Chapel of La Reja, a small church, the only one left of the original 14 that marked “The Way of the Cross”, offers spectacular views of the town.

Throw in the Bullring, The Town Hall, The Templete, The Museum, monuments relating to the Christian-Muslim wars, the town’s steep streets with dozens of tiled dedications to various saints and Our Lady sprinkled on street corners, the Fiesta of the Wine Horses, Folk Dancers and the Glorification of the Santisima and Vera Cruz, La Caravaca is a wonderful town to visit. If you are interested in history or ancient civilisations, the Museum and various visitor centres have tools, jewellery, coins and weaponry displayed from Roman times, the Middle Ages etc.

Cehegin, a small town en route to Caravaca is worth a visit for its many pretty little churches; Cartagena, Alicante and Orihuela also have many cathedrals and churches of diverse influences.

And you thought I spent the weeks lying on the beach….

Rose B O Donoghue

Vatican. The Golden Orb.

A small slip of paper fell from the book I was reading. It was a cutting from the London Times of July 9th 2005 and pertained directly to the matter of the book, ‘Rome’, the city, stating: “Workmen on the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, have discovered that the palla di bronzo (bronze ball) between the cross and the dome is in fact covered in gold. The workmen also found the date 1593 and the signature of Giacomo della Porta, one of the architects who designed the basilica, engraved on the ball’s surface. The narrow windows of the hollow palla give dramatic views over the city, but it has been closed to the public since the 1950’s.”
The book, titled ‘Rome’, retrieved from a skip, is a massive tattered tome weighing eight lbs, liberally illustrated with fine engravings, published 1872 by Chapman and Hall, London, and is the written work of Francis Wey, when during 1865, he explored its monuments and buildings both civic and religious; its arches, aquaducts, viaducts and ancient roads, from their original foundations. Excavations have exposed buildings and cultures down to four habitations deep, one directly below the other, from the 17th century back to the time of Romulus, 753BC.
It is a book of journeys, as Wey travelled day by day on foot or by horse-drawn carriage street by street among the famed ‘Seven Hills’ of Rome. On finding the slip of paper, I reverted to Wey’s descriptive explorations at St. Peter’s Basilica and re-read his narrative, as he ascended the galleries of the cupola, or dome, to the palla di bronzo in 1865. Although this dome is not as expansive as its greater companion, the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) in Florence, it is taller. The approach galleries to the top are between inner and outer roofs, with windows or ports to view the city below. It is a colossal structure, built by a colossus, Michelangelo Buonorotti. Here, we follow Francis Wey to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica: “…above all do not shrink from the ascent of the cupolo of St. Peter. Let us conclude by examining this monument.
“A gentle interior slope, cut by some very low steps, and that sheep might ascend, raises you to the platform between the summit of the façade and the drum of the dome; it is the first plateau of this artificial mountain. Advancing immediately towards the piazza, to throw a glance from this height upon the pavement, I leaned against an upright rock, posted there like a Druidical altar; and as other similar masses disclosed their outlines at my side, I recognised the twelve statues of the apostles which crown Maderno’s façade. Turning right round, I had in front of me a sort of plain, ending in the monstrous tower of which the cupola is the roof. To the right and left like hills the small octagonal domes, now become considerable, bound the valley which is the flattened roof of the three aisles. The country is inhabited; there has been formed in it a small hamlet, with workshops, huts, sheds for domestic beasts, a forge, a carpenter’s stores, wash-houses, ovens; some little carts are stabled; a fountain sparkles in a rivulet which conducts it to a large basin or small lake in which the dome mirrors itself; you feel that there is up here an organised existence. For several families in fact, it is a native land; the workmen of St. Peter, called san Pietrini, succeed one another from father to son, and form a tribe. The natives of the terrace have laws and customs of their own. From this spot, whence you discern the height of the building in full development, there are still two hundred and eighty five feet to climb.
“Another point of view over the interior of the church is contrived in the entablature which describes the circumference of the cupola. This border is more than two metres high, although from the pavement you would take it for a simple moulding; it seems narrow up here, when you undertake on such a slip a circular walk of three hundred paces. From this height the church seems to you like the bottom of an abyss; the canopy of the altar sinks into earth, the pillars attenuated at their base by a retreating perspective form a reversed pyramid, and the faithful are dots; a bluish haze increases the enormousness of the space. And as your eyes ascend the walls of the dome, the freize discloses in capital letters seven feet high the famous inscription, Tu es Petrus, which from below does not seem more than six inches high. On the pedentives I had remarked a St. Mark of reasonable stature; seen from here it stretches under the cupola like a cloud; the pen with which he writes is a metre and a half in length.
“At length the real ascent begins between the two shells of the cupola, and this strange journey in which as you climb you lean over curved and inclined planes, at last by a curious sensation robs you of all feeling of a horizontal line, and consequently of a perpendicular. You are then in a state of considerable amazement, when you come out upon two sights of a most singular effect; in the inside, seen from a circular balustrade devised in the lantern, the pavement of the church as if seen from the end of a telescope with the object at the small end; outside, from a narrow gallery around the lantern, a perspective that is almost unbounded; it embraces all the old Latin world from the Sabine hills to the sea, and from the heights of Alba to Etruria. Only when you come out from the inner arches into the full and dazzling sun of this eagle’s nest, you are not only dazzled, but almost lifted up in the air by hurricanes of wind which come from the Mediterranean to dash themselves against this height. You have now only to seek the ball of bronze, which from below has the effect of a melon, and which is capable of holding sixteen persons. You reach it by an iron ladder absolutely perpendicular.
“The percussion of the wind makes this iron globe constantly musical; it is pierced with loopholes invisible from below, and through which, seated on an iron ledge, you prolong your gaze far over the mountains. Seen thus from the blue tract of the skies, the Roman campagna loses its russet glow in a green mirage; the flattened slopes no longer justify the many windings of the Tiber, and the seven hills of Rome – which are in truth ten - recede among the abstractions of history.
“These perspectives are still more magical from the Giro dei Candelabri where, commanding the cupola with its arches descending like the slopes of an escarped island from a lower height, you measure the extent of the Burgo and the Vatican palaces, which with their square buildings and labyrinthine gardens produce the effect of a heavenly Jerusalem in the illuminations of some old missal.
“The dome, which makes the cross sparkle over the horizon of Rome higher than the eagles of Jupiter ever flew, is the true mountain of this spiritual empire, and the hills make a circle of homage around it. For the basilica of St. Peter is even more a prodigy of human will; it is the sensible translation of a thought; it is the history of Christianity sung in a poem of stone and marble, and attested by the witness of proofs in the spot where they actually occurred. For all sects, for all belivers of whatever faith, St. Peter’s is one of the sacred enclosures of the universe. Let the work be more or less perfectly achieved as to detail, it will still remain mightier for its ideal and mystical value, than for the accumulation of gold and marble.”
Michael Ward.

Parents, teaching staff, pupils past and present paid tribute to our own Danny Boland, who recently retired as principal of St Kevin’s national school. At a special mass and celebration party organized by the people of Hollywood, gifts were presented to Danny from many sections of the community. Fr. Prendiville made a special presentation on behalf of the parish; Marian Kelly presented a painting of the Boland home in Dingle on behalf of the Parents Association; Micheal Kelly on behalf of local G.A.A; Lorna Tutty represented the pupils from St Kevin’s and Carmel O’Neill made a presentation of behalf of the teaching staff, past and present members.

Fr. Prendiville and Fr McGowan celebrated the mass and Bishop Eamonn Walshe dropped into the reception afterwards to pay personal tribute to Danny and wish him well in his retirement. Now Danny can enjoy more family time with wife Joan and sons, Niall, Barry and Brendan and pursue some of his past-times.
Local Roots
Danny began his education in St Kevin’s itself where he was transported there by family friend, fellow Kerry man and school principal, Padraig Brosnan. Having mastered a bicycle, Danny traveled to Scoil Mhuire from the age of eight where he completed his primary education before going to The Christian Brothers, Naas for his secondary education.
In 1969 he began his primary school training in St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra; having graduated in 1971, the young teacher from Bishopsland took up his first teaching position in Dolphins Barn C.B.S. before returning to his native Ballymore in 1973 where he taught for five years before he was appointed principal of St. Kevin’s, Hollywood.
Like ‘Master’ Brosnan before him, Danny is a native Irish speaker, a keen local historian and a great supporter of GAA sports (with Kerry blood in him, how could he be otherwise?). Danny actually spoke on Radio na nGaeltachta regarding ABCD’s landmark appeal to An Bord Pleanala against the controversial proposed development at Broadleas. Aside from the love of his native language and history, Danny is interested in farming and enjoys the sports of horse racing and greyhounds and hopefully, he will now have the time to visit a more racetracks!
Impressive Achievements
During his tenure as principal, Danny oversaw the extension to St Kevin’s, an impressive development which incorporates a new hall and fully equipped computer room. Not only has he always encouraged his pupils to be involved in GAA sports, both football and hurling but he promoted basketball and the school has an impressive record at competitive level in all sports.
It was clear from the atmosphere and level of attendance at the tribute night, that Danny was highly regarded by parents and fellow teaching staff, past and present pupils of St Kevin’s. We can only join in the good wishes of the people of Hollywood and wish you, Danny a happy, long and healthy retirement plus of course, eternal good fortune at the racetrack…
Rose B O’Donoghue

New C.E.O. for Russborough.

Eric Blatchford has been appointed Chief Executive of the Alfred Beit Foundation. Eric comes to Russborough from BWG foods and previously Irish Distillers. Following his appointment Eric commented “ The Russborough Estate contains one of the finest houses in Ireland, built in a unique and tranquil parkland setting with magnificent views of the Wicklow Mountains.”
Already well established in the tourist market with house tours, maze, café and the newly opened walks, an extended programme of Indoor and outdoor music and theatre, exhibitions and all forms of entertainment is planned. A Farmers Market will be launched in the Autumn together with the return of the Cadlelight Evenings. “Sephira” will give a concert in Septemebr. Rooms are also available for hire by clubs, and the corporate sector.
Contact Eric for details on the facilities on 045 865239.

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