Reek Sunday

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Reek Sunday

Type of Holiday: Religious (Roman Catholic)
Date of Observation: Last Sunday in July
Where Celebrated: County Mayo, Ireland
Symbols and Customs: The Reek
Related Holidays: Lughnasa


Reek Sunday is an Irish Christian event celebrating St. Patrick. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ, a title derived from the Greek word meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, Jesus was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.

With nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe, Christianity is the largest of the world's religions. There is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects.

Reek Sunday is the day on which thousands of pilgrims climb the mountain known as Croagh Patrick in County Mayo to pray on the spot where Ireland's patron saint, St. Patrick, is believed to have started his ministry. The tradition has been in existence for more than 1,500 years: It was here that Patrick, according to legend, fasted for forty days and forty nights in 441, and where he banished the snakes from Ireland. But the date for the pilgrimage was not set until 1432, when the pope sent a letter granting a relaxation of penances to those who climbed to the top of Croagh Patrick on the Sunday before the Feast of St. Peter's Chains (August 1) and gave alms for the support of the chapel there.

Because it is so much easier for modern-day pilgrims to get to Croagh Patrick and because their numbers have increased so dramatically, the pilgrimage season has been expanded to run from June into September. Local people make their own pilgrimage on the Friday before Reek Sunday, while other groups make their pilgrimages either in early July or on August 15, the FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY . But it is on the last Sunday in July that the largest number of pilgrims-at least 25,000-make their ascent.

To climb the mountain, they follow a winding trail about three miles long that rises from the village of Murrisk at the southern shore of Clew Bay. Many climb in bare feet with rosary beads wrapped around their fingers as they pray. There are three "stations" where the pilgrims pause. The first is the statue of St. Patrick a few hundred yards up the trail, which they circle seven times while reciting prayers. This is followed by a steep climb, where many pilgrims fall victim to the stones, gravel, and mud covering the precipitous slope. Volunteers from the Order of Malta are standing by to take the injured down on stretchers, although occasionally an Air Force helicopter must be called in from Donegal. Most falls actually occur on the way down, where people are more likely to be overcome by weakness or vertigo. A number of people have died while climbing THE REEK , as the mountain is known locally.

At the summit, pilgrims observe the second station at Leaba Phadraig (Patrick's Bed) or, more traditionally, by walking fifteen times around the whitewashed stone oratory built in 1905, again reciting prayers. Masses are said on the summit every half hour from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. by twenty priests, who also hear confessions. The third station, an ancient mound known as Reilig Mhuire (Our Lady's Cemetery), is just a short distance down from the summit on the west. Once all three stations are completed, the pilgrim obtains a plenary indulgence (a remission of all temporal punishment due to sin).

At one time it was customary to engage in dancing, singing, and feasting after the pilgrimage was completed, but the festivities often got out of hand and the Church put a stop to them. Enterprising vendors are always waiting at the foot of the hill, however, to sell the weary pilgrims sandwiches, lemonade, and souvenir "certificates" to prove they've made the climb.


The Reek

Local people have referred to Croagh Patrick as "The Reek" for as far back as anyone can remember. The cone-shaped mountain is 2,510 feet tall, with a volcanic quartzite peak. Leading up to the summit are two rough tracks-one from the east and one from the west. Most pilgrims climb the track from the east, setting out in the dark so they will reach the top shortly after dawn.

Some scholars believe that The Reek is part of a pre-Christian pilgrimage route that stretched for 32 miles. There are actually a number of reasons to believe that it played a part in pre-Christian tradition. Reek Sunday is still known as Domhnach Chrom Dubh in the west of Ireland-Chrom Dubh being the pagan god of the harvest, and August 1 being the original date for celebrating the start of the harvest season. It was during the pre-Christian festival of LUGHNASA, also observed on August 1, that people traditionally visited hilltop sites to pick berries.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Long, George. The Folklore Calendar. 1930. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Trawicky, Bernard, and Ruth W. Gregory. Anniversaries and Holidays. 5th ed. Chicago: American Library Assocation, 2000. Weiser, Franz Xaver. The Holyday Book. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956.


Croagh Patrick Visitor Centre

Westport Tourist Office
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Reek Sunday

Last Sunday in July
In County Mayo, thousands of pilgrims climb Croagh Patrick on the last Sunday in July to pray on the spot where Ireland's patron saint, St. Patrick, is believed to have started his ministry. Those wishing to maximize the arduousness of the journey ascend the 2,510-foot mountain, known locally as the Reek, in bare feet and at night. The traditional time to begin the ascent is midnight and the climb takes about three hours. There are stopping points along the way where pilgrims pray before continuing. Many visit the small chapel at the top where masses are celebrated.
Croagh Patrick has been a pilgrimage site since at least the 12th century and possibly as far back as the seventh century.
See also Crom Dubh Sunday
Westport Tourist Office
The Mall
James St.
Westport, County Mayo Ireland
353-98-25711; fax: 353-98-26709
Croagh Patrick Information Centre
Teach na Miasa
Murrisk, County Mayo Ireland
353-98-64114; fax: 353-98-64115
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 485
RelHolCal-2004, p. 99
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
The Irish Air Corps came to the aid of the woman in her mid-40s on "Reek Sunday" and she was being treated at Mayo General Hospital last night.
Around 110,000 people climb Croagh Patrick annually with more than 20,000 pilgrims taking place on the holy mountain on Reek Sunday in late July.
The 32-year-old fatherof-two normally climbs the mountain at different times during the day, although today he will hit the top at midnight for Reek Sunday.
The pensioner plus 12 other adults and children suffered injuries on the treacherous 764-metre slope in Co Mayo during Reek Sunday. Around 25,000 were battered by relentless rain and strong winds as they battled their way up and down the mountain on the annual day of pilgrimage.
But that does not deter the faithful who gathered with the faithful at the foot of Croagh Patrick on Reek Sunday.
The pensioner and 12 other adults and children got into difficulty on the treacherous 764-metre slope in Co Mayo during Reek Sunday.
Over 25,000 pilgrims are expected to climb the holy mountain today as part of the annual "Reek Sunday" pilgrimage.
EIGHT people required medical assistance during this year's Reek Sunday pilgrimage up Croagh Patrick.
More than 20,000 people are expected to climb Mayo's holy mountain for the annual Reek Sunday pilgrimage.
The distraught five-month-old animal was discovered on the roadside close to the foot of Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo on Reek Sunday in July.
Reek Sunday, as it is known, is traditionally wet with a thick mist over the mountain.
The centuries' old Reek Sunday pilgrimage had been cancelled due to bad weather but hundreds of pilgrims ignored the warnings not to make the ascent.