Rosserk Abbey & St Mary’s Well, Co Mayo


Last weekend hubby took me out for a mystery adventure. A mystery to me, as I had no idea where we were heading. Turned out to be here.

This is Rosserk Abbey, or Friary, built about 1440. There is quite a lot of it left to explore.

I had a friend come over my first year in Ireland, and she wanted to see castles. Well, not so many of those about. But there are lots and lots of religious buildings.

Please ignore the immensely idiotic date stamp. I took this one with Hipstamatic, but had the wrong film set up. I can’t be arsed to remove the dumb-ass date.

We got a tiny bit lost finding the place, but when we backtracked we were the only ones there. Not alone for long, soon we had Spanish and English tourists roaming about, too.

The main tower, from below.

The view from a tiny, tiny room only the two of us could fit into. I got uncomfortable waiting for himself to take the shot and asked him to move so I could escape. He wanted a pic of the fairy tree. That’s an older tradition/belief than what inspired the abbey to be built so long ago.

Incredible stonework detail, holding fast despite being open to the wind and rain. You can still see every feather on those wings. A true marvel.

The only other picture worth sharing that I took at the abbey. I didn’t have the fancy-pants camera, iDJ did, so I was restricted to what I could see with the iPhone.

Next. St Mary’s Well. Now, I expect there is more than one St Mary’s Well in Ireland. However, this was my first ever visit to such a place. I’m going to preface these photos with a reminder that I am not Catholic, and I have little understanding of the faith. That means I have no understanding of what I was about to see. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, exactly, but I was in for a shock.

First, there was quite a long walk to get to the well. Walking access only. There’s the Abbey, across the field of yellow iris. So many iris!

The well itself is inside the small stone building with the tree growing out of the roof. The walkway came in from the right, and you can see the tiny stream running from the building and off to the left, under the little bridge. The stones were numbered, in Roman numerals.

Number V – looking back up toward the statue of Mary where the first picture was taken. I believe the idea is to walk the stones as if they are stations of the cross, or count the rosary. I didn’t think there were enough stones for either, but what do I know?

Jesus, Joseph and Mary (and oooh, Mary looks very Irish, doesn’t she?) a small statue buried in weeds in front of the entrance to the well. Hubby had to tell me it was meant to be Joseph. Because he has a marble for a head. Oooohhhh-kkaaayyy… But that wasn’t what set the hair on the back of my neck to rising.

The main entrance to the well. Clearly it is very small, and choked with offerings. I don’t understand this.

Hair ties, barrettes, watches, coins, candles – antacids? It got weirder.

The tree growing out of the roof is festooned in… stuff.

The bushes up by the statue of Mary had a heavier load.

Mary herself was decked out the most.

It really, really surprised me to see the tokens left behind. Mostly, they were things that were close to hand and could be left behind. But what of the items clearly brought for the purpose? The photo of the baby – it breaks my heart. I can’t imagine the desperation of faith in bringing that photo all that way, to leave in the hands of a plaster saint, in the hopes that it can help in some way. I’m sure most visitors to the well came away feeling something quite different than I did. I was startled, dismayed, and it felt more like we’d visited Tibet and seen a tree bedecked in prayer flags. It was just that foreign, to me.

I am still fascinated how a place that used to be revered as an unusual and unexplained source of fresh water so close to a large salt-water body turned into a place where trolley-tokens and baby pacifiers are left as offerings.

20 responses »

  1. Extraordinary post. Truly fascinating, in so many ways. The pix are brilliant, especially of the Abbey. Very, very moving. Thank you so much for sharing this. I feel as if I came along for the tour. A wonderful respite.

  2. I’m both creeped out and complacent. If religion isn’t an everyday thing, it isn’t anything. No fan of pacifiers or baby photos or anything suggesting the larval, I’m still impressed by the commonplace nature of the things left for Herself as shorthand for human yearnings.

    There’s Catholics, and then there’s Her Ladyship. I think there’s a quiet guerrilla movement within the former.

  3. Gorgeous abbey. I visited a similar one in Scotland a few years ago. Brought back some glorious memories. Love your photos. Who needs a fancy camera??? Thanks for sharing.

  4. The abbey is delightful – sculptural in it’s current bare form
    The well was surprising – it looks very much like something seen in Mexico or Hispanic communities here.
    A little disturbing ( both there and here)
    Does all that stuff just stay there or does the church or someone gather it up after a bit? Some of it looks like Mardi Gras beads from New Orleans. Trinkets brought? Works as well as treasures given up?(Mary surely would prefer to be more elegant…or at least color coordinated?) not trying to be disrespectful, but antacids? (what’s being promised there?) The baby picture I could understand, but the bracelets? Glad someone brought flowers – I think she’d like that

    • I wonder about the accumulation of stuff myself. The beads of any sort seemed to be either rosaries or tat bought in Knock – our very, very local shrine on the same par as Lourdes (supposedly). I can’t imagine what a local newspaper key ring could be meant for. I don’t get one tiny bit of it, myself. It’s…out of my frame of reference.

  5. I understand both your confusion and the mind-set of those who left the offerings, having been raised non-Catholic and then having spent a lot of years as Catholic (now, not Catholic). It’s like a memento to someone you love, “here, take this, keep it with you and don’t forget me.” Whatever they had in their pockets, etc. Or just a “present” for Mary because she’s loved. The antacids might have been like the crutches at Lourdes, or just something that was on their person, or a gesture to thank her for an answered prayer for a cure.
    I personally love the idea of offerings, but I don’t do it much anymore. It’s an ancient way of connecting with the divine. Great photos, and loved seeing what you saw.

    • Hubby is also a not-Catholic but useta be. He wasn’t nearly as weirded out as I was. I guess a good part of my surprise is the apparent youth of those who left things – not too many old folks will have a snazzy hair clip or pacifier handy.

  6. I really love your vision of religion, as described under the last picture. It stuns me how so many people in the 21st century are still relying on such faith. Tide goes in, tide goes out.

  7. Loving your new camera – some great photographs. Yes, we’ve been to many churches in France with the same extraordinary selection of offerings. The building itself is rather impressive – you can half-close your eyes and see it like it could have been as it seems that only the roofs have fallen in – not like the religious buildings in England where the reformation saw so much devastation.

  8. Oddly it doesn’t seem all that strange to me and I was never catholic or anything close. Maybe it was the time when I would have described myself as “pagan”. Now what I am doesn’t have a name. When we were in the French Quarter for All Saints Day stuff like this was a common site. Actually all around Marie Laveau’s (the “voodoo queen”) crypt was festooned in gifts. Some where just gifts to someone they felt was powerful, some where thank yous and some where an offering for a wish or prayer. Even odder her who crypt is COVERED (as are a couple nearby crypts) with series of 3 x’es. Apparently those circled were fulfilled wishes. Anyway, it never seemed odd so much as strangely beautiful. In those gifts were peoples hope, dreams, wishes, heartaches and joys. Some were strange though, like nail files and beers. All the eatables and drinkables were usually consumed by a homeless man who felt he held her soul or some such. Weird but fascinating.

Thoughts? Gardening tips? Cocktail recipes? Don't just like and leave, please - I can talk for Ireland and would love to prove it!

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