Saints and Sinners

For centuries people have traveled the path to places of worship and revelation. Atlantic Europe is rare in that it has three great centres of pilgrimage within the region, as well as a total of eight UNESCO World Heritage sites which are or were places of worship.

Yet alongside these famous holy places stand other facets of history with very different stories to tell. All too often a site that has seen veneration of saints also has a darker tale of sinners, suffering or misdeeds close by.

Take the Basilica of Fatima in Lisbon. One of the most visited Marian shrines due to a series of reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1917 to three shepherd children. Lucia, the eldest, said that Mary exhorted the children to do penance to save sinners. She also revealed three secrets or prophecies, one of which was of a pope being killed at the foot of a cross on top of a mountain – later believed to be the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981 in Saint Peter’s Square. John Paul himself credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life and shortly afterwards he made a piligrimage there to thank her.

Another tale of holy sites and dark murder is, of course, Canterbury Cathedral near Dover. King Henry II made his good friend,Thomas Becket, Archbishop in 1161, hoping to bring the Church to heel. It was not to be. Stormy times ensued culminating in Henry’s famous words “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest!”. Four knights took him at his word. Becket was struck down before the high altar on December 29th . He was canonized in 1173.

Other tales of turbulent times can be found at Saint Miliau church at the Enclois Paroissaux. St Miliau was a Breton prince who was assassinated by his brother Riwod. The ‘enclois’ or parish close is now the site of a unique calvary dating back to 1581.

Also at the Cathedral St Vincent at St Malo, where Bishop Jean de Chatillon extended sanctuary rights to include the whole town, given the activities of wealthy ‘corsairs’ who were pillaging foreign ships in the channel.

Holy Trinity Capuchin Friary in Cork was also known as a place to find sanctuary – ‘the refuge of sinners’. And the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela near A Coruna is the resting place of the remains of St James the apostle, carried all the way from Jerusalem where he was martyred.

Atlantic Europe is a coastline full of cathedrals and turbulent history. From the exquisitely decorated gothic cathedrals and churches of Porto, to the Cathedral in Quimper where enraged revolutionaries plundered the religious furniture and statuary.

Cruise Atlantic Europe. The way to encounter saints and sinners.