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Popular Devotion to the Virgin. The Marian Phenomena at Melleray, Republic of Ireland / Dévotion populaire à la Vierge. Le phénomène marial de Melleray en République d'Irlande - article ; n°1 ; vol.67, pg 125-144

21 pages
Archives des sciences sociales des religions - Année 1989 - Volume 67 - Numéro 1 - Pages 125-144
20 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.
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Sandra L. Zimbars-Swartz
Popular Devotion to the Virgin. The Marian Phenomena at
Melleray, Republic of Ireland / Dévotion populaire à la Vierge. Le
phénomène marial de Melleray en République d'Irlande
In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 67/1, 1989. pp. 125-144.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Zimbars-Swartz Sandra L. Popular Devotion to the Virgin. The Marian Phenomena at Melleray, Republic of Ireland / Dévotion
populaire à la Vierge. Le phénomène marial de Melleray en République d'Irlande. In: Archives des sciences sociales des
religions. N. 67/1, 1989. pp. 125-144.
doi : 10.3406/assr.1989.1373
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/assr_0335-5985_1989_num_67_1_1373Arch Sc soc des Rel. 1989 67/1 janvier-mars) 125-144
Le récit de apparition de la Vierge Marie Melleray en août 1985
comporte des messages de réforme morale destinés au grand public
Les événements survenus la grotte de Notre Dame de Boola et les
messages ainsi transmis suggèrent il conviendrait de situer
Melleray parmi les apparitions apocalyptiques publiques survenues
la fin du XIXe et au cours du XXe siècle Des facteurs externes tels
qu une pluviométrie particulièrement élevée en Irlande pendant été
85 une menace de récoltes ruinées un déclin du tourisme les
prochains accords avec Irlande du Nord et une perte notable de
autorité de glise dans le domaine de la morale individuelle ont
sans doute contribué la montée de ferveur religieuse occasionnée
par apparition et par le phénomène des rumeurs répandues travers
les régions méridionales et occidentales au sujet de sculptures mou
vantes Or la thèse avancée se résume ce qui suit la clé de énigme
qui explique pourquoi le peuple est réconforté dans idée de la
présence présumée de Marie dans une grotte irlandaise réside dans les
messages rapportés de Melleray Les messages apparitions anté
rieures sont répétés et modifiés représentant ainsi des points de
repère permettant aux croyants de saisir la portée religieuse des
événements survenus la grotte et notamment le rôle qui revient
Irlande empêcher une catastrophe imminente car les Irlandais
seraient les messagers de Marie Aux yeux äes croyants Irlande revêt
ainsi une identité religieuse positive et de ce fait elle devient un haut
lieu de religiosité apocalyptique
Belief in apparitions has been part of Christianity since its inception An
apparition may be understood as the appearance within the physical environment
to one or more individuals of person whom they would not expect to be within
their immediate perceptual range Apparitions arc generally distinguished from
internal visions or locutions which arc experienced as part of mystical state and
which arc sometimes described as being perceived by the eye The
possibility of apparitions in Christianity is suggested first of all by the so-called
resurrection appearances of Jesus But Jesus is by no means the only figure
reported to have appeared thus to Christian believers During the Middle Ages
devotees of particular saint often reported that the saint had appeared to them
Most popular of all the saints was the Virgin Mary and reports other appearances
to her faithful abounded Common too were reports that statues of the Virgin
moved or came alive and interacted with human beings While the Reformation
brought about the demise of these phenomena in those areas most subject to its
influence they have continued within Roman Catholicism and other parts of the
Christian tradition
Reports of apparitions and of statues which move or come alive have not
ceased with the advent of the so-called modern world Bernard Billet reports that
between 1928 and 1973 more than two hundred reported appearances of the
Virgin Mary came to the attention of Roman Catholic authorities In 1985
accounts of such phenomena began to come from the Republic of Ireland In
February ofthat year reports that statues the majority of which were of the
Virgin Mary were moving changing color being transformed into the image of
Jesus or saint or pope or had come alive and given messages to the people of
God By September over thirty statues had been reported moving
The purpose of this article is to describe and analyze the events associated
with one of those sites Our Lady of Boola near the Cistercian monastery of
Mount Melleray particularly as they have been understood by the believers
themselves and to provide preliminary assessment of the Marian apocalyptic
thought in the context of which they have been incorporated into coherent
religious worldview The events are here examined as constituting religious
phenomenon with social dimension which William Christian whose studies
have focused more on the social dimension has called the public apocalyptic
apparition In such apparitions Mary appears to one or several seers and
delivers messages intended to effect spiritual and moral reformation in the public
at large In the late-XIXth and XXth centuries the public character of such
apparitions became particularly evident as large crowds gathered around the
person or persons who were seeing the apparition and reporting the messages
Christian has compared these events to missions and revivals with the Virgin as
the missionary and the visionary merely the medium for conveying her presence
One purpose of these events is to revive flagging faith on social scale and ith
ga properly emphasizes here the importance of the public ritual In times
of social crises he argues believers have recourse to phenomena which apppeal
to the emotions and buttress traditional ideologies But while external factors
such as social crises may very well underlie and precipitate ritual response it is
the content of the ritual which constitutes the religious meaning and in the case of
the public apocalyptic apparition the messages themselves are the focal points of
this religious meaning Messages of previous apparitions are repeated and
modified as the contemporary event unfolds becoming points of reference for the
believers for understanding and establishing the meaning of the contemporary
The initial 1985 reports of moving statues in Ireland concern not the Virgin
but statues dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus On February 14 seven-year-old
Elizabeth Flynn saw two statues move in small church in Asdee Co Kerry The
statue of the Sacred Heart first beckoned to her she said and then the statue of the
Virgin Mary moved its eyes Accompanying Elizabeth were her sister Mary 12
years old and her brother Connue years old After the apparition these three
ran from the church and summoned about thirty other children who also
claimed to see the statues move As news of the event spread the small church in
Asdee became the focus of such religious interest that by the 11.00 Mass on
Sunday February 17 the three-hundred seat church was packed and an overflow
crowd was outside By late evening the church had to be closed pews piled
around the statues in order to protect them from the hundreds of pilgrims waiting
for another instance of movement This event was followed by another report in
mid-March from Ballydesmond in Co Cork Here the claim was made again by
children that statue of the Sacred Heart had moved in the Church of St Patrick
The parents dismissed this claim on the basis of over-active imagina
tions At this time Msgr Dermot Sullivan issued statement that the moving
statues of Asdee would not be accepted as miracle by the Roman Catholic
Church until all other possible explanations had been throughly and meticulously
checked out In the meantime he said the Church would do nothing to encourage
people to visit Asdee or Ballydesmond on pilgrimage
In mid-July two women claimed to see the statue of the Immaculate Concep
tion move at the Lourdes-style grotto near Ballinspittle Co Cork This grotto and
dozens of others like it were established in the Marian year of 1954 the centenary
celebration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception The statue of the Virgin
Mary which is illumined at night by lighted halo is situated near the top of
hill while at the bottom is statue of kneeling St Bernadette gazing upwards
The two women had stopped by the roadside grotto on Monday night July 15 had
seen the statue move and had reported their experience to neighbors Hundreds
of people gathered at the grotto and many reported that they had seen the statue
move backwards and forwards left and right and open its hands and that they
had seen the face of Mary transformed into that of Jesus or Padre Pio Reports that
some senior gardai policemen and reporters both presumed to be sceptical
about such events had seen the movement gave credence to the notion that
significant were unfolding at the grotto Media coverage of the events
increased at the end of July and one resident remarked that after Radio Telef
Eirean had picked up the story everyone wanted to come to Ballinspittle
To accommodate the influx of visitors physical improvements in the site
began almost immediately The Cork County Council helped with the construction
of temporary toilets Two telephone booths were installed by the Bord Telecom
stream running alongside the road was diverted and sidewalk was put down to
facilitate access to the hill opposite the grotto grotto committee set up public
address system and provided volunteers to lead the crowds in recitation of the
Rosary and the singing of hymns The committee also began collecting accounts of
experiences and healings at the grotto The Eirebus Company in Dublin began
offering return trips to Ballinspittle for special rates Crowds began to flock to the
grotto An estimated 8000 people were present on the night of July 30 and some
20000 were present for the Feast of the Assumption on August 15 By the end of
September some 500000 people had visited Ballinspittle collection of articles
on the moving statue phenomena the majority of which concerned Ballinspittle
was edited by journalist Colm ib and published under the title Seeing Is
Believing Further coverage and analysis was provided by journalist Tim Ryan
and psychologist Jurek Kirakowski in Ballinspittle Moving Statues and Faith which
was published in November 6)
Ballinspittle may be seen as prelude to wave of reports of moving statues
and apparitions in late summer and fall By July 31 two other reports of moving
statues had been received from Courtmacsherry and Dunmanway Co Cork On
that date the public press reported statement issued by the Rev Michael
Murphy Bishop of Cork and Ross regarding the events at Ballinspittle Direct
supernatural intervention is very rare happening in life so common sense must
demand that we approach the claims made concerning the grotto at Ballinspittle
with prudence and caution he said understand that crowds are gathering
there in great spint of prayer and this is praiseworthy thing It is in keeping
with the devotion and respect that is expected at all shrines Despite the cautious
public stance of church officials reflected in Bp statement reports of
the phenomena continued to surface and by late September approximately thirty
sites could be identified Although not all reports can be exactly dated the
majority seem to fall between the Feast of the Assumption on August 15 and the
traditional date of the birthday of the Virgin on September 7)
All of these sites appear to have generated some interest on the part of
believers and attracted crowds for at least week or two Ballinspittle has
remained the best known and undoubtedly the most visited pilgrimage site The
events associated with the grotto of Our Lady ofBoola near Mount Melleray may
be of more interest to the scholar however for here believers claim the statue did
not simply move but came alive and over the period of about week conveyed
messages to the people of God
Our Lady grotto
The grotto of Our Lady of Boola is Lourdes-style grotto about mile from
the famous Cistercian monastery of Mount Melleray founded in 1832 It is
reached from the Cappoquin-Waterford road 72) and is about five-minute
drive from Cappoquin twenty minutes from Waterford and an hour from Cork
City Prior to the events in mid-August the grotto would not have been readily
visible from the bend in the road on which it is located Trees briars and scrub-
brush covered the fifty yards between the road and the small ravine which forms
the setting for the grotto Father Celestine monk at the nearby monastery
established the grotto in 1982 He directed the placing of the quarter-ton statue of
the Immaculate Conception in small rock niche on the hillside The of
Bernadette was placed near the stream which flows along the base of the hill into
the Glenshelane River Three benches and kneeler were placed in semi-circle
around the statues
Some improvements in the site were made after the events of mid-August
with concern for the comfort and safety of those visiting the grotto The
approach was cleared of briars and scrub-brush and asphalt was laid down with
railings defining the area of access Chairs and more benches were added and
small hut capable of holding about ten people was built at the back of the area
Electricity was introduced for lights loudspeaker and portable heater in the
hut The Melleray Grotto Committee was considering the construction of toilets
during the summer of 1986 As of June 1986 the area reserved for devotion was still
relatively small and capable of accommodating only about one hundred and fifty
The following reconstruction of events at the grotto is based on these
two visits to Melleray in October 1985 and June 1986 for the purpose of
conducting interviews with the principal seers and members of the Melleray
Grotto Committee In October conversations were held with Ursula Rourke
16 years old) the first person to have reported an experience at the grotto
Michael Donnell 45-50 years old) local farmer who was the first to report
having received clear public message and Tom Cliffe 12 years old and his
cousin Barry Buckley 11 years old) the two youngsters who claimed to see the
Virgin each night over the course of five days In June interviews were held with
the interim parish priest with Father Celestine and with twenty-seven members
of the Melleray Grotto Committee
review in October of the events of the week with Michael and Cait
Cliffe parents of Tom and partial transcription of their written account Mrs said that each night when they returned home from the grotto while the
events were still fresh in the boys minds they sat down together The boys dictated
the messages and visions which she then wrote and rechecked with the boys
for corrections Both the Cliffes and Jimmy Buckley father of Barry asserted that
the boys were concerned for an accurate description of what they had seen and
heard This account is relatively brief approximately six pages in length hand
written on the front and back
review of accounts printed as leaflets by the Melleray Grotto Committee
The first three leaflets all prior to October 1985 are one page summaries
of the events reporting only few sayings and no visions The fourth leaflet
printed during the spring of 1986 is four pages in length and gives day-by-day
account of some of the messages and visions reported by the boys Approximately
20000 copies of this leaflet had been distributed in about two months In June
1986 the Committee was negotiating with Mercier Press for the publication of
small book which would contain an account of the week of events and the
testimonies of visitors to the grotto concerning their experiences The editorial
work on the leaflets and book has been primarily the responsibility of William
Deevy local veterinary surgeon
number of newspaper accounts through December 15 1985 8)
These sources do not agree in every detail on the events which transpired
between Friday August 16 when the statue of the Immaculate Conception is first
reported to have come alive and Saturday August 24 when the last public
message was given Nor does complete minute-by-minute account of each
activities exist Rather each written account reflects what the author or
authors have considered important The following reconstruction is composite
account Where differences among the sources have appeared significant they
have been noted in footnotes The purpose of this is to provide
critical chronological record of the events and of the public messages and visions
reported by Tom and Barry and recorded in the written account made by their
parents No attempt has been made to determine or assign cause natural or
supernatural to the events nor to discern the motives either of the visionaries
and their families or the neighbors who are actively involved in the care of the
grotto Rather the interest here is to provide basis for further study and in the
analysis which follows to indicate the interpretative framework which is being
brought to the events by the believers
Reconstructed account of the events
The events at the grotto of Our Lady of Boola begin at about 8:00 PM on
Friday August 16 when Ursula Rourke went there to pray with her mother her
brothers John 24 years old and Donan years old) and her sister Mary 12
years old Ursula said that she sat close to the railing while the other family
members sat towards the back Her mother gave out the Rosary and the others
made the responses When the Rosary was finished the rest of the family went to
the car but Ursula stayed behind for few minutes to pray She had been
watching Donan at the prompting of John say goodbye to Our Lady of
Lourdes When she turned her attention back to the statue she said she saw it
moving The head of the Virgin was moving in four directions looking up to
heaven then down to the grotto then to the left and to the right her cloak was
blowing in the wind For Ursula the statue had come alive she could no longer
see the pedestal She looked at the statue of St Bernadette she said reasoning that
if she were imagining things this would be moving also St Bernadette was
however stationary At that point Ursula reports that she became frightened and
felt her blood rushing through her body She blessed herself saying You are the
Queen of Heaven Why me Bless my family Then she ran out of the grotto to her
family in the car and crying related her experience
family decided to walk back into the grotto with her Her brother
John and sister Mary said they could see the statue move also John said Our
Lady of Lourdes pray for us Donan was crying and Ursula surmises that he saw
something also Her mother saw nothing They left the grotto around 8:30
resolving not to tell anyone Ursula returned to the grotto on Saturday but it was
raining and she saw nothing She again on Sunday afternoon at about
4:00 PM and neighbors began telling her about the experiences that few others
had on Saturday Breeda Coleman and her daughter Sandra for example had
seen the statue change color while others saw the Virgin with her hands down at
her side Those reports gave Ursula the confidence that her own experience was
not merely an illusion experience on August 16 has not been repeated
Nonetheless she remains central figure at the grotto since she is specifically
mentioned in several of the messages given to Tom Cliffe and Barry Buckley
That same Sunday evening August 18 Michael Donnell local farmer
from Salterbridge Cappoquin came to the grotto with his two children He said
that his experience began with vision of the statue moving the eyes looking out
to the road and down at the grotto the face of the statue was transformed into the
face of Jesus and Padre Pio Then he said the background shrubbery got really
small and he no longer saw statue but real lady who began to walk toward
him down clay steps with masses of roses on either side As the lady came Mr Donnell began to walk backwards He heard voice say Reserve
Sunday for prayer He collapsed and neighbors helped him up He looked up
and saw the lady still coming toward him and collapsed again Although his
experience has not been repeated in its entirety he has continued to see the face of
the statue transformed as on Sunday night
The locals present at the grotto on Sunday night decided to organize for
themselves Rosary which they scheduled for Tuesday night Their plans were to
be preempted by the interest generated by the reported experiences emerging
from the grotto On Monday night ninety-seven cars were counted along the
narrow road leading past the grotto By Tuesday night according to Mrs Mary
Murphy member of the Melleray Grotto Committee thousands of people were
present That night the Grotto Committee was organized Gardai came to direct
traffic and civil defense and Red Cross personnel came to deal with crowd
problems such as fainting or injuries Crowds were present at the grotto from late
afternoon until late evening through the next Sunday August 25 after which the
visits of the devout and the curious to the grotto are reported to have been more
evenly distributed throughout the day
Tom experiences at the grotto began early Sunday afternoon when he
saw the face of Jesus on the statue He left the grotto and went home but then
returned At about 4:00 PM he went down to the railing to pray and heard voice
He tell whether the voice said want you too or want two He
reported the experience to his mother woman in the crowd said to Mrs Cliffe
The Blessed Lady wants your child Mrs Cliffe said that she and Tom cried and
that Tom became distressed and want to return to the grotto On Monday
afternoon Mrs Cliffe took Tom and Barry who was spending the day with her on
errands and suggested that they stop by the grotto She surmised that Tom would
be less afraid if his cousin were with him The boys had two sets of experiences on
Monday one in the afternoon and one in the evening On the following days the
experiences were in the evening beginning at about 8:00 PM and lasting for
approximately two hours
The experiences reported by Tom and Barry took place in the presence of
hundreds and by Tuesday thousands of people Monday when both boys began
hearing the Virgin speak to them they reported the experience to those around
them who passed the word through the crowd By Wednesday night loudspeaker
system had been set up and the boys held microphone and spoke directly into it
so that their reports were heard directly by everyone including the crowd standing
in the road According to the boys they saw and heard the same thing With only
few exceptions noted below the cousins reported that the Virgin spoke to both of
them father Jimmy Buckley said that when one of the boys became
distracted for example by question from the crowd or by mosquitos the other
boy would pick up and continue the message Several of the sayings reported by
the boys appear to be directed to the crowd and its behavior The boys also said
that the Virgin prayed the Rosary with the people sometimes saying it in Irish
They described her as having long blonde hair tan complexion and sweet
voice Her clothing was like that of the statue white cloak and gown with blue
sash She wore brown sandals and walked down steps with roses on each side The
following day-by-day account of the sayings and visions reported by the boys
based on the record made by Mrs Cliffe
MONDAY August 19 Afternoon
The command to behave initiates the sayings and apparently has reference
to the confused behavior of the crowd present at the grotto at the time The boys
reported to those around them that the Virgin had started to cry when the
behavior of the crowd change At that point according to Mrs Cliffe the
people near the boys realized that something was happening between the boys
and the statue The boys were told to ask the Blessed Virgin why she was
want prayer This was apparently in response to the query about the cause
of her crying When the boys reported the saying the people began the Rosary
and according to the boys the Blessed Virgin prayed with them The boys said
that at the completion of the Rosary she said Thank you
The boys then reported two visions They first saw Mary with six apostles
standing on each side of her Tom then reported having vision of the twelve
apostles and Jesus sitting around table in big room Outside the house he saw
street full of beggars people sweeping the street with brooms and dogs barking
He saw Jesus with his finger raised as if to scold one of the apostles Here Tom
became frightened feeling that he was the object of the scolding and he began to
cry Barry reported that Mary appeared to him and said Tell Tom to stop crying
Tom then looked up at who said Be happy be happy Tom 9)
This episode ended at about 7:00 PM when Mrs Cliffe told the boys it was
time to leave They said that the Virgin appeared sad Mrs Cliffe told the boys to
tell her that they would return In response to this promise according to the boys
the Virgin smiled
MONDAY August 19 Evening
have message According to the boys Mary made this announcement
from the top of the grotto that is from the higher part of the hillside where the
statue of the Immaculate Conception is located She then walked down steps with
roses on either side to the edge of the water which flows along the base of the hill
to deliver the next two messages
My message is peace and prayer
Tell the people that the water is blessed According to the boys Mary was so
close that Tom reached out to touch her She said No Tom 10 then
returned to the top of the grotto
God is angry with the world
People must improve and pray
My message is for all the people of Church We have ten years to
improve and pray If not this is what will happen Here the boys reported having
vision of ark They said that the shrubbery on the hillside disappeared
and the stream at the bottom became big river They saw dam and big village
of huts Noah was building the ark with ten helpers The other people of the
village were jeering him and according to the boys taking seats and windows out
of the church in the village and making carts and gates out of them When Noah
was finished wind and rain came The boys saw Noah bringing in the animals
and saw man riding alongside the giraffe with rope around its neck to lead it
into the ark They said the people of the village were trying to make the dam
higher but the wind and rain were too strong The people then began climbing up
the mountain The boys described the ark as having three floors the bottom floor
for the small animals the top floor for the big animals and the middle floor for
Noah and his wife young man and his wife and two children and an old man
They said that Noah closed the ramp and went to the back of the ark to look at the
dam The dam split in two and the water hit the ark and sent it flying into the air
along with the people from the village The ark landed in the water again The
boys said that were trying to climb the mountains and were shouting and
screaming but the water covered the mountains and the people were drowned
The boys were requested to ask the Virgin why there was suffering in
Ethiopia They said that the Virgin replied the cruelty of the world
Someone wondered whether statues were moving elsewhere or only in
Ireland The boys reported that the answer was only in Ireland They also said
they saw Mary with the cross in front of her She had her hands on the arms of the
cross and dark cloud hung over the vision 11)
TUESDAY August 20
love the Irish people 12 am praying with the people of God to forgive
the Irish people want the Irish people to spread my message to the world The
boys were requested to ask the Virgin how spreading the message could be
accomplished They said the Virgin replied Ye have ways yourselves of spreading
my message
The world must improve
want the people to accept the message from the children
The people must pray more
The must go to Mass more and receive my Son more often
want the people to believe the children
The world has ten years to improve It must improve ten times more than it is
want people to stop saying bad things about me and not to be mocking
Mr Buckley asked the boys to request Mary to intercede with Jesus to know if
the weather would improve so that the harvest could be saved According to the
boys she replied When the people will pray more the weather will improve
woman in the crowd passed note to Tom which said What about
Dermot? According to the boys Mary disappeared and Jesus appeared He put
out his finger at Tom who experienced pain in both ears The boys said that
Mary then reappeared and spoke with Jesus for long time Then Jesus left and
the pain left ears Mary said to Tom Sorry 13)
Tom and Barry then reported vision of Mary with six apostles on either side
They were in house and were sitting on the floor in circle One apostle was
talking to the others The boys said that outside the house they saw slaves with
chains on their legs being whipped by soldiers They described the soldiers as
wearing golden helmets and red cloaks One soldier was in front on white horse
The boys saw Jesus appear in the room with the apostles All of the apostles but
one nodded their heads Jesus walked over to that apostle and showed him his
hands and feet and the apostle put his finger on the wounds
want hymns and prayers According to the boys the Virgin asked several
times for the hymn Peace is flowing like river
am pleased with Ireland 14)
Ireland will be saved
Have Ireland convey my message to the world
Ye will know the best way yourselves
am praying for the sick
bless the sick
Here the boys reported vision of the disciples and Jesus on boat They said
that Jesus was asleep and that there was storm and it was raining The disciples
were frightened and they woke Jesus According to the boys Jesus stood up and

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