Reader writes: the Abbey at Holy Cross
A visit to Holy Cross Abbey in the middle of Tipperary stirred the senses and imagination of reader Margaret Flanagan.

Perhaps I was in need of some spiritual mending when I spied a sign for Holy Cross Abbey. It beckoned me to its site and without hesitation I answered. Whatever intangible longing I had was not going to be fulfilled on the roaring M8 ahead of me. An amazing vision unfolded before me.

A cluster of quaint thatched cottages sat high upon a panoramic view. Beneath; a river poured into sight, sparkling under an ancient arched stone bridge. Grassy banks of flowers, shrubs, irresistible picnic, fishing and viewing spots, all framing this medieval Abbey at Holy Cross.

As I stepped over the threshold I was transported back in celestial time. I could easily dream up visions of chanting monks, ringing church bells. Their robes swishing through the stone corridors. A plentiful supply of fresh garden produce, new inventions to trial and perhaps even mead recipes to sample, in a space where time was in abundance.

This holy space instantly captivates. A sense of peace and calm poured over me. I sat among the cloister benches, confident of spiritual restoration in a place where centuries of contemplation and prayers had taken place. Overhead; latticed wood supports, with simple wooden pegs, held hefty beams in place. This was repeated across the overhang around the entire cloister, reflecting a skilled and uncomplicated lifestyle.

The mixture of crafted stone walls, wood work, architecture and a labyrinth of winding pathways. All this is set beside a certain spirituality harnessing an air of timelessness and serenity, making this a unique encounter. Each stone fits into its exact own place as in a pattern and rhythm, just like the monks who dedicated their lives to this Abbey so many centuries ago. They each had their own accomplished craft, invaluable to the Abbey's community.

A creak from the wooden door resounded through the quite of the Abbey as I entered. Smells from incense and candles flowed out to greet me. Rows and rows of inviting pews for me to rest and pray upon. Light spilled in through varied angles and patterns from stained glass windows. As I gazed heavenly towards the vaulted ceiling, white washed walls meet intricately woven wooden beams. Magnificent spanning arches with sculptured supports curve downwards. The customised Stations of the Cross are in sole view along these white walls. They jogged at my faith strings.

Encased within a glass viewing box is the rood or relic of the true cross. Pilgrimages came from all over the world to view this relic, which marked Holy Cross Abbey as a principle place of pilgrimage in Ireland for over 800 years.

As I sit on a monk’s bench I can't help but wonder what his life was like here centuries ago. He wore an un-bleached wool robe. Sanitation was poor, which caused many illnesses. Work included harvesting, fishing, milling, herbalism, bee-keeping, wine making, carpentry, stone masonry and copying manuscripts. While prayer and self-contemplation took up a large part of their day, manual duties were included in a daily schedule. A simple but austere lifestyle.

Suddenly, in the distance, in my imagination, I hear horses galloping over the ancient bridge. The ghost of the King of Munster, Donal Mor O'Brien who founded the Abbey in 1168 returning to view his domain. He proudly pondered upon this breath-taking scene of to-day. How much has changed he thought? “These metal boxes strewn everywhere, toilets, gushing clean water and light from the roof". After a moments reflection he asked, “Where is my very own handwritten charter and my relic of the true cross?"

"Carefully minded in the National Museum in Dublin – the relic is here your highness," comes a whispered reply. Satisfied he rides off on his ghostly white horse, back to his own century.

The first Cistercians aimed at a silent and hidden life, thus their plan was to live in remote areas where meditation came easily. They also had a rule of self-sufficiency thus their need for quite a vast estate to be self-supporting. A state of powerfulness was important to monastic style living and all that it involved.

Left in ruins after the 15th century the Abbey was declared a National Monument in the 1880. It was carefully restored in 1970s. Following a special sitting of the Dáil in 1969, the Abbey was re-consecrated to allow it to be a functioning parish church. Guided tours can be organised to fit around the Abbey's religious commitments.

Today you can still sit, pray and contemplate the world as the monks did 800 years ago in this holy, calm and very soothing space.

For more information about Holy Cross Abbey click here.

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