A religion that endures: the medieval legacy in Irish popular piety
Ryan, Salvador (2005) A religion that endures: the medieval legacy in Irish popular piety. The Furrow . pp. 131-141.
There is a story told about a boy who wanted a bicycle for Christmas and who prayed earnestly to God, promising, in return, that he would be good for a whole month. He soon thought better of pledging such a long period of virtue and revised it to a week and, finally, to a single day. Realising that he might not have the necessary resources even for that length of time, he chose an alternative approach. Seeing a statue of the Virgin on top of the mantelpiece he took it down and wrapped it in a towel, addressing God once more in the words ‘If you ever want to see your mother again …’ We may remember hearing such a tale recounted at parish missions or novenas, conducted by members of religious orders in our youth, or on other occasions as part of an homiletic ice-breaker. Yet, many may not realise that the story itself has a long history. In a poem entitled Bláth an Mhachaire Muire (Mary’s Field-flower) by sixteenth-century Irish bardic poet, Aonghus Fionn Ó Dálaigh, a version of this story appears in which a woman praying to the Virgin for the release of her son from captivity seizes the Child Jesus from a statue of the Virgin and Child as a pledge of his safety, enjoining upon the Blessed Mother to act quickly if she is ever to see her son again. The Virgin complies and the issue is resolved. Morality tales (exempla) such as these were common across Europe in the Middle Ages. In the late medieval popular mindset, the heavenly society was seen to work in much the same manner as the earthly one and being astute as children of this world guaranteed one’s efficiency at dealing with the community of light. What should be particularly noted, however, is the direct link between the present-day recounting of this story and the medieval period that spawned it. If the past is, indeed, a different country, there is no doubt that we have retained quite a lot of its vocabulary.
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