February 19, 2012

Morning at St. Mary's

St. Mary's CathedralIt was around 11am, church started at 11:15, and I was lost. I'd meant to go to a service at one of Limerick's beautiful old churches since I arrived, and I had finally hauled myself out of bed on time, only to find that the bus didn't run early enough on Sunday mornings, so I would have to walk the four kilometers to King's Island, an unfamiliar part of town that holds, among other things, St. Mary's Cathedral, the oldest building still in daily use in the city. I made it into the town okay, but I wasn't sure where I needed to turn to get across the river, and I was flushed from walking fast and frankly a bit sleep deprived...

And then I heard church bells, and gave up on following my scribbled down directions and just followed the sound.

I ended up crossing a bridge into a part of town labeled "English Town" with stone streets and colorful houses, and as soon as I turned the corner I saw the cathedral soaring up in the center of all of it, surrounded by medieval walls. (I knew they were medieval because they had plaques that said so, but I was so intent on getting to the church that I didn't stop to read.) The bells weren't just ringing - they were caroling, this amazing melody that I wish I could somehow write out here. I found out later that St. Mary's has a competitive bell-ringing group. But at the time, the music just seemed to come from the sky itself, echoing off the rooftops of the pink and yellow houses, and I didn't even mind that I had to walk around the whole church before I finally found the front gate because it meant I got to spend more time in the sunlight listening to the song.

It was like something out of a movie, hurrying down this picturesque little street towards music that filled the whole town. I must have been grinning like a fool by the time I finally got inside the church. By the time I'd settled in the bells had died away and the organ had picked up so smoothly you hardly noticed the change, and I spent the entire prelude gaping at the huge ceiling and the stained glass and just the oldness of it all. The cathedral was built in the 12th century, and the walls are worn so you can see the stones that make up the columns. I don't think I've ever been anywhere so old.

The service was lovely (though the choir wasn't there that day, so we had to attempt to sing on our own. I didn't know any of the songs, but I finally caught on when we sang one to the same tune as Blue Boat Home, the UU hymn. Afterwards I had tea and chatted with some nice Irish grandmothers, who also helped me find the self-tour pamphlet for the cathedral so I could have a quick look around before they closed for the day. Now I have a dilemma. I want to go to all of the churches in the city (I'm thinking of going in order by age - this one's the oldest, I think next would be St. John's.) But the people at St. Mary's were just so nice, and the place just so beautiful, that I think I could happily go there every Sunday!

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