Halloween at St. Patrick’s

Photo by Craig Cloutier

Photo by Craig Cloutier

It was All Hallows’ Eve in Dublin. Fireworks, set off at random intervals by drunkards and juvenile delinquents, were exploding all over town, causing general mayhem and a number of small fires.
Trick-or-treating and jack-o’-lanterns originated in Ireland, so Halloween is always a wild affair in Dublin. Witches and warlocks roam the sidewalks with sacks of candy. Pale Druids lurk in the shrubbery, ready to pounce on unsuspecting passersby.
I wanted to go to the annual Samhain parade on O’Connell Street, but my mother had other ideas. After touring Dublin’s ghoulish Gothic churches (the mummified remains of a medieval
cat and rat locked in eternal chase are on display at Christ Church, and a 400-year-old desiccated nun can be viewed in the crypts of St. Michan’s), she got it in her head that we should attend a religious service at one of them.
Though the population of the Republic of Ireland is 90 per cent Roman Catholic, the two most famous cathedrals in Dublin — Christ Church and St. Patrick’s — are Anglican holdouts from the era of British rule. Being of Protestant persuasion, we decided to go to St. Patrick’s for evensong.
 
Rain drizzled down from a moonless sky, and the cathedral jutted over the green like a tombstone. Somewhere on these grounds, St. Patrick, during the first leg of his fifth century Irish tour, lined up a bunch of pagans at a well and baptised them into a trendy new religion called Christianity. Now, aside from a pair of glowing cat’s eyes under a scraggly hedge, the churchyard was completely desolate.
As we approached the iron-hinged door, a pigeon launched itself from the ledge above, startling us as it fluttered away. This got us over the threshold fairly quickly, but the interior was hardly more inviting. There wasn’t a soul to be seen, or a sound to be heard, save for the eerie whistling of the radiators. Little stone faces, hideously contorted, peeped out from Gothic arches with impish malevolence.
Ireland’s Remembrance Day ceremony takes place at St. Patrick’s every November 11, and
reminders of military sacrifice are everywhere present. In the choir loft, helmets and swords belonging to long-dead Knights of St. Patrick rest above grotesquely carved wooden seats as if waiting for their masters’ return. Tattered regimental flags crown the arches in the north transept, and marble memorials adorn the walls. In one nook there’s a thick volume listing the name of every Irish soldier lost in the great war. I counted 32 John Murphys.
We had just passed over the grave of Jonathan Swift, when a monkish figure emerged from a doorway. He skulked in the shadows for a few moments before approaching us.
 
“Here for evensong, are you?” he inquired, wrinkling his aged brow.
Now I could see that he wasn’t wearing a monk’s robe at all, but a woollen sport-coat, shapeless and frayed at the cuffs.
“Do they have it tonight?” I said.
“Oh, to be sureEvery night excepting Saturday.”
“There’s no one here.”
“True enough, but they have it all the same. Sit where you like. The choir will be along soon.”
He passed quickly — too quickly for such an old man — through another portal, and the cathedral returned to its mausoleum stillness. We walked down the nave, taking our seats in the second row of pews.
As Mother and I studied our hymnals, a young Japanese couple entered and sat on the other side of the aisle. I gave them a reassuring nod, though in fact I was far from assured. Since the old man had departed, no other human had stirred — none we were aware of anyway. My uneasiness intensified when he suddenly reappeared and slammed our pew door shut.
“What’s going on?” said Mother.
 
I pulled the latch, but couldn’t budge it.
“It’s locked,” I said“I think we’re about to become sacrifices in a medieval cult ritual.” 
A period of foreboding silence followed, during which I appealed to the Japanese husband with a look of concern. What I wanted from him I don’t exactly know. A rational explanation? A comforting word? Perhaps a pledge of unity against the forces of darkness. Whatever it was, he wasn’t offering it.
I, for one, wasn’t about to submit to this impertinent imprisonment, but before I could revolt, the
processional commenced.
As the St. Patrick’s Men’s Choir chanted its way to the dais, the proceedings finally began to resemble a normal Christian worship service. Choral song filled the cathedral, echoing from walls that have heard this same music for eight centuries. It was haunting, and, as the melismatic motets washed over me, I soon forgot all about our confinement.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, we rose and prepared to leave. I tried the pew’s latch, and
again met with resistance. I was contemplating a vault to freedom (Mother would have to fend for herself), when the Japanese couple came to our rescue. Smiling, the man took hold of the door’s outer handle and gave it a deft tug. It sprang open.
 
“There,” he said“Now you don’t have to sleep here tonightToo scary!”
As we exited the cathedral, the mysterious old man materialised once again. He uttered a gruff goodnight and swung the heavy door shut behind us.

Dan Morey

About Dan Morey

Dan Morey is a freelance writer in Pennsylvania. He’s worked as a book critic, nightlife columnist, travel correspondent and outdoor journalist. His creative work has appeared in the Chagrin River Review, Crack the Spine, the Jet Fuel Review and others. Find him at danmorey.weebly.com.

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