August 07, 2020
Restoring the Faith – The Repainting and Maintenance of Catholic Devotional Statuary in Ireland
Catholic statuary found in shrines and grottoes remains a familiar sight in Ireland despite the diminishing influence of the church in a swiftly modernising society. Most statues are cast from concrete, fibreglass or plaster, few are far from immaculate and many require ongoing repainting and maintenance from the pervasive damp climate.
For a short period of time at the end of the twentieth century many sites featured repeatedly in the newspapers. Supernatural events including weeping madonnas, swaying statues and miracle cures quickly turned the most obscure location into a destination for both fervent pilgrim and curious sightseer.
Established through different circumstances and events, statues symbolise the contradiction between approved church narratives and more local interpretation. Superstitious beliefs remain an enduring influence, especially at natural springs or wells which share a lineage with pagan rituals and Pattern Days. As described by Patrick Kavanagh in The Green Fool – the folklore, customs and practices connected with these sites had little to do with the church and piety was not an essential prerequisite for the visitor.
Unlike more prestigious religious artefacts preserved in elaborately crafted reliquaries, outdoor shrines and grottos are widespread and constructed of less precious materials. Most are cast from concrete, fibreglass or plaster, few are far from immaculate and many require ongoing maintenance from the pervasive damp climate. Painted, repaired and continually retouched, they are blank templates for official stories retold in a local visual dialect.
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