Today's experience was quite different from our previous travels on the pilgrimage. For the past four days, we had traveled across the Irish countryside, allowing me personally (as well as the other group members, I'm sure) to see God in nature, and see how the Celtic and Pagan religions influenced the ideas of modern Christianity in Ireland.
So it was a sudden and drastic change today when we threw ourselves into the bustling city of Dublin. Highlights included seeing two tremendously beautiful cathedrals (I can say proudly that they were both Church of Ireland, the Anglican church in the country) and visiting a gigantic park. One of the cathedrals, St. Patrick's, had a Norwegian choir give a short performance, allowing for some quiet reflection and meditation, as well as some time for admiring the tremendous acoustics of the church.
Music plays a special role in my religious life and life outside of church, and to hear beautiful music being sung in a beautiful cathedral was refreshing for me, as well as some of the other musically inclined pilgrims.
We also saw the Book of Kells at Trinity college, a copy of the gospel copied by monks in the 9th century AD that is both well preserved and remarkably gorgeous.
Despite some entertaining free time wandering the city in the afternoon and some delicious fish and chips, the earlier part of the day was the most powerful to me. In the morning, we went to Kilmainham Gaol (jail), which was a brutal prison that operated by the British for hundreds of years.
It demonstrated to me both the best and worst characteristics of the human race. We were told stories of atrocities that were barely imaginable: 14 political prisoners in the ongoing battle for Irish independence in the early 20th century were executed, one by one, over the course of many days in 1916. All of these men had organized a rebellion. One of them had contracted gangreen and was dying, however, he was taken to the prison from the hospital in his wheelchair and executed anyway.
Another story that was told to us was about a prisoner sentenced to death who was engaged. Although he and his wife were allowed to marry, no one was allowed to attend, the only words that were allowed to be said were their vows, and the wife only got to see her husband for ten minutes afterwards (he was executed the next day). Word of these stories got out, and the Irish populace became outraged, and British popularity in the country diminished rapidly.
To come into that prison and hear about the monstrosities that were committed had a deep effect on me. Although these political executions were not directly related to Christianity or religion, I could not help but wonder where God was while these people were getting executed, and prisoners were being shoved into a prison that was literally bursting at the seams. Learning about these things, and realizing that they were committed by human beings, just like me or anyone else on this pilgrimage, was disheartening to say the least.
But then to see the Irish nation as a whole join together in outrage at those who had committed these crimes (which if you didn't know, for the Irish, is quite a feat), assured me that God was at work among them. Standing on the very ground that these 14 men were shot was an experience for me to say the least. Despite the horrible things that had happened, it gave me some hope for a humanity that is littered with senseless killings and other inhumanities, oftentimes in the name of God. I was also given assurance that God is at work among us and everyone.