Trial and death

Oliver was presented before a kangaroo court. Within 15 minutes the jury returned with their verdict and St. Oliver was found guilty of High Treason and spreading the Catholic faith — now seen as a false religion by the British government. To the charges he responded, “Deo gratias” (thanks be to God).

Dragged through the streets of Tyburn to the roaring of a crowd similar to that of Calvary in the Gospel, Oliver was hanged until nearly dead. He was then drawn — disemboweled — and finally quartered, having his head and arms cut off and body parts thrown in the fire. His forearms were placed in two tin boxes and sent with faithful Catholics as relics to Rome. His head was brought to Armagh and then finally to Drogheda, where it rests now since 1920. He was canonized in 1975 by Blessed Pope Paul VI, the first Irish saint to be recognized in over 750 years.

Getting to know Oliver

Reading books on theology and prayer is one way to get close to God, but it doesn’t help us truly know him. I’m suddenly reminded of a text by Evagrios the Solitary: “If you pray truly you are a theologian and you are a theologian if you pray truly.” Therefore the highest form of theology and getting to know God is in the form of simple prayer and practice of our faith.

I’ve discovered recently the same is true with getting to know the saints. All the information I’ve read regarding St. Oliver over the years, I never felt like I really knew him. Although I would not be able to go all the way to London, I was at least able to piece together an important image we Irish have of him before he left this island to face a most gruesome death in Tyburn, England.

Just as I thought I’d photographed it all and finishing up seemed inevitable, something new about Oliver would emerge. It was certainly true that divine providence also played a significant role in unearthing the historic life of St. Oliver. How was I ever to know that photography would play a vital role in coming closer to a saint, getting to know him better? Furthermore, the idea that I’m now using that gift to take you with me means we can all get to know him and form a more in depth picture from a unique angle unseen by most until now.

In this exclusive photographic series I take you with me from where Oliver was born within the tower of a church at Loughcrew, the megalithic tombs that were his playground as a young boy,  onward to his life as a shepherd to his flock in disguise from authorities, and places where he celebrated Mass in secret, and finally to his providential march towards his martyrdom.

It is my hope you will put down your books on Oliver and be inspired to visit these places; allowing for the actual sites of Oliver’s life and ultimate persecution to speak to you. Will you — as I did as I stood upon these grounds — hear echoes of laughter from the stone walls of his birth place at Loughcrew, or the cries of his parish people whose martyred blood enriched the sacred grounds at the sites where Oliver once celebrated Mass?