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The Feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle
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Are You Up to the Ironman of Pilgrimages? Try St. Patrick’s Purgatory

Andreas F Borchett CC

Andreas F Borchett CC

Andreas F Borchett CC

Daniel Esparza - published on 05/13/16

The ancient Irish pilgrimage destination receives 15,000 visitors a year

The story of St. Patrick’s Purgatory, a cave located on Station Island in the middle of Lough Derg, in Ireland, is more than a thousand years old. Even though the better known map of the place dates back to 1666, the location is already clearly marked and detailed in older maps from the fifteenth century, and some written testimonies about pilgrimages on the site have been found in 12th-century manuscripts.

Public Domain

Legend has it that St. Patrick, discouraged because of the incredulity of the inhabitants of Station Island, who demanded incontrovertible proof in order to embrace the Christian faith, prayed the Lord for help.

His prayers were heard.

God showed Patrick a cave in which, according to tradition, whoever entered could see the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory, the torments of those in Hell, and the delights and joys of Heaven.

Andreas F Borchett CC
Andreas F Borchett CC
Andreas F Borchett CC

Actually, there’s no proof Patrick ever visited the island. However, it is well known that the ruined monastery on the island dates back to the fifth century and that it was most likely founded by St. Dabheog, a contemporary of Patrick’s. The monastery, which was under Augustinian custody at the beginning of the 12th century, already had an inn for the pilgrims who went to visit St. Patrick’s Purgatory.

This pilgrimage is known for being the hardest and most rigorous in all of Christianity. Several conditions must be met for the pilgrims to be allowed in it: you must be 15 years of age or older, able to kneel and walk by your own means, and able to endure the strictest of fasts for three days (water, oatmeal, bread, tea and coffee) and sleep deprivation in a vigil that lasts 24 hours. All of it barefoot, while visiting the nine stations of the pilgrim’s road.

Visiting St. Patrick’s Purgatory been nicknamed the “Ironman” of Christian pilgrimages, after the grueling triathlon event. If you think you can manage it, and want to see for yourself, click here for more information.


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