University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Page View

Chambers, Robert, 1802-1871 / Chambers's book of days, a miscellany of popular antiquities in connection with the calendar, including anecdote, biography & history, curiosities of literature and oddities of human life and character
Vol. I (1879)

June,   pp. [unnumbered]-832 PDF (75.4 MB)

Page 726

unless we see them.' So, the saint, miraculously
causing the earth to open, showed them the
flaming entrance of the place of punishment;
and the unbelieving heathens were at once
converted to the true faith. St Patrick, then
placed a gate on the cave, and building an abbey
near it, entrusted the key to the prior, so that he
had the privilege of admitting pilgrims. The
penitent who wished to enter had to pass a
probation of fifteen days in prayer and fasting;
and, on the sixteenth, having received the sacra-
ment, he was led in solemn procession to the
gate. Having entered, the gate was locked by
the prior, and not opened till the following day.
If the pilgrim were found when the gate was
re-opened, he was received with great joy; if
not, lie was understood to have perished in the
Purgatory, and his name was never after men-
The knight, having duly performed the pre-
liminary ceremonies, entered the cave, and
travelled till he came to a spacious hall, where
he was kindly received by fifteen venerable men,
clothed in white garments, who gave him direc-
tions for his future guidance. Leaving the old
men, and travelling onwards, he was soon attacked
by troops of demons, whom he successfully
resisted by earnest prayer.  Still pushing on,
he passed through four ' fields' of punishment,
by fire, ice, serpents, &c., that need not be too
particularly described. He ascended a lofty
mountain, from whence he was blown by a
hurricane into a horribly filthy river; and,
after many adventures, surrounded by millions
of demons, and wretched souls in dreadful tor-
tures, he succeeded in crossing a narrow bridge,
and found his troubles over, the malignant
demons not daring to follow him farther. Pur-
suing his journey, he soon arrived at a wall as
bright as glass, and entering a golden gate,
found himself in the garden of Eden among
those happy souls who had expiated their sins,
and were now waiting to be received into the
celestial Paradise. Here, Owen wished to remain,
but was told that he must again return to the
world, there to die and leave his corporeal fabric.
As he was for ever exempt from the punishment
of Purgatory, he was shown a short and pleasant
road back to the mouth of the cave; where he
was received with great joy by the prior and
monks of the abbey.
The legend, in its original Latin prose, soon
spread over all Europe, and was repeated by
Matthew Paris as a historical and geographical
fact. It was also rendered into several metrical
versions in the vulgar tongues. It was introduced
into an Italian romance of chivalry. Don Quixote's
favourite work, entitled Guerrino il Meschino;
and later still it was dramatised by Calderon,
the celebrated Spanish poet. It was introduced
even into a Dutch romance, founded on the story
of Fortunatus, and in the forms of a chap-book
and broadside, is current in Spain and Italy at
the present day.
The earliest authentic record of a visit to
Lough Derg is in the form of letters testimonial,
granted, in 1358, by Edward III. to Ungarus of
Rimini and Nicholas of Beccaria, in proof of
their having faithfully performed the pilgrimage
to St Patrick's Purgatory.    There are some
documents of a similar description in the archi-
episcopal archives of Armagh; and in 1397
Richard II. granted a safe conduct pass to
Raymond, Viscount Perilhos, and Knight of
Rhodes, to visit the Purgatory with a retinue of
twenty men and thirty horses. Raymond wrote
an account of his pilgrimage, which is little more
than a paraphrase of the Legend of the Knight,
interspersed with personal history and political
matters.* There is yet another account of a
pilgrimage by one William Staunton in 1409,
preserved among the Cottonian MSS. in the
British Museum. Staunton's story differs slightly
from that of the knight. He was fortunate
enough to meet with a countryman in the Pur-
gatory, one St John of Bridlington, who protected
him from the demons. He also had a romantic
and affecting interview with a pre-deceased
sister and her lover there; and was ultimately
rescued by a fair woman, who drew him out of
the fiery gulf with a rope that he had once
charitably given to a beggar.
Later, however, in the fifteenth century,
doubts began to be expressed regarding the
truth of the marvellous stories of the Purgatory;
and these, with the increasing intelligence of the
age, led to its suppression, as thus recorded in
the annals of Ulster, under the date 1497 : 'The
Cave of St. Patrick's Purgatory, in Lough Derg,
was destroyed about the festival of St. Patrick
this year, by the guardian of Donegal and the
representatives of the bishop in the deanery of
Lough Erne, by authority of the Pope; the
people in general having understood from the
history of the knight and other old books that
this was not the Purgatory which St Patrick
obtained from God, though the people in general
were visiting it.'
The learned Jesuit, Bolandus, in the Acta
Sanctorum, ascribes the suppression of the
Purgatory to the inordinate rapacity of its cus-
todians. The story is exceedingly amusing;
but want of space compels us to curtail it. A
pious Dutch monk, having obtained permission
* The above cut, representing a pilgrim entering St
Patrick's Pureatory, was copied by the writer from aa
illuminated manuscript of the fifte nth century in the
Bibl othbque Nationale, Paris, No. 7588, A.F., and pub.
lished in the Ulster Journal of Archwology. A g-od view
of the island is given in Doyle's Tours in Cldter.

Go up to Top of Page