Although it tops out at only 2,500 feet, it is still an impressive mountain.
It’s called, Croagh Patrick.
Located on the west coast of Ireland, the cone-shaped, rocky mountain is rich in history and legend.
Historical evidence has revealed that the summit was once a frequently visited location for pre-Christian pilgrims. A ring fortress, encircling the summit, was discovered that may date back hundreds of years before Christ. Additionally, the remnants of a small, stone building—called an oratory—has also been discovered there, and most scholars have linked it to the age when Christianity swept across Ireland. It is likely that the stone enclosure was a place of retreat for early monastic Christians.
Less certain is the connection that the mountain has with the patron saint of Ireland--St. Patrick. As the story goes, St. Patrick spent 40 days on the mountain for a Lenten ritual of fasting and prayer. Furthermore, it is widely believed that St. Patrick banished all of Ireland’s snakes from atop the summit.
Because of this history, and out of devotion to St. Patrick’s Christian witness, nearly a million individuals hike to the summit of Croagh Patrick each year. ‘Croagh’ means stack, hill or mountain. It is a pilgrimage site where the faithful from around the world journey to immerse themselves in a wilderness experience as Jesus, himself, once did.
Like the path we trod in our daily lives, the pilgrimage hike to Croagh Patrick requires a significant investment of time and energy. It is not an easy ascent. The most penitent hike the trail barefooted.
Although it is unlikely that I will hike it without footwear, I plan on reaching the summit of Croagh Patrick sometime during the first week of March. I will be in Ireland for a week doing research on the history of the Church in Ireland—often called Celtic Christianity--for my Doctorate studies.
My first semester at Campbell University Divinity School this fall exceeded my expectations. As many of you are aware, I made frequent trips to Buies Creek. My classwork consisted of readings, presentations, dialogue and debate. As my grades will attest, I’m proud to say that I have successfully removed the cobwebs from my academic skill set and have a good strategy in place as I make plans for my Doctoral project, or dissertation.
This semester, my time at Campbell is cut in half. Instead of eight trips, I will only make four. My class load is the same as the fall, but one of my classes is an advanced elective. In addition to the exegetical class I’m taking in Buies Creek, I am working with a faculty member to design a class that will serve as a building block for the project that I will execute in the fall of 2019. I have crafted this independent study so that I can do a historical examination of the early Church in Ireland from the 5th to the 10th centuries. As my readings are already making clear, there are things our modern church can learn from the Celtic expression of the Christian tradition.
I will be using my week in Ireland this March to help me to see, touch and feel the legacy of Christianity in a unique and fascinating context. I will visit the ruins of ancient churches and monasteries, see the Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin and peer out on the western plains of Ireland from the summit of Croagh Patrick to where the Saint first began his evangelical pursuits.
When I return, I will be sharing with you what I’ve learned about the origins and legacy of Celtic Christianity. I will be offering a three-week presentation and study—complete with pictures and firsthand recollections from my research trip—about the Church in Ireland in May. I look forward to sharing my interest in Celtic Christianity with you.
I am most-grateful for the chance to study and to be stretched both academically and spiritually. The cohort of colleagues that I am a part of has blessed me greatly these last months and has proven to be a source of encouragement and accountability. What I especially love, however, is that the Doctoral program is designed to be a blessing for the congregation that the minister serves. My studies and my project are all intended to help and encourage our church and the Church Universal.
So no, I don’t expect the hike up the face of Croagh Patrick to be easy. But I know I won’t be traveling alone.