Restoring the Faith: The Repainting and Maintenance of Catholic Devotional Statuary in Ireland
Catholic devotional statuary found in shrines and grottoes remains a familiar sight in Ireland despite
the diminishing influence of the church in a swiftly modernising society.
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.
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.
Unlike more prestigious religious artefacts preserved in elaborately crafted reliquaries, outdoor shrines
and grottos are widespread and are constructed from 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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