25 November-

saint-catherines-well-killybegs
St. Catherine’s Well, Killybegs, circa 1940. Valentine Photographic Collection, National Library of Ireland

Despite having spent all of her short life in Egypt Saint Catherine Alexandria was, at one time, among the most revered saints in Ireland. The many religious institutions named after Saint Catherine give some indication of the saint’s widespread veneration in Ireland over previous centuries, but it is perhaps Saint Catherine’s Bed, one of six penitential beds,  at Lough Derg that gives the greatest indication of the high position she previously held among the saints of Ireland.

As Saint Catherine is considered, at least in Ireland, to be the patron saint of  seafaring* it is natural that her cult has remained strongest in places like the coastal parishes of  Killybegs in Donegal and  Ventry in  Kerry,  both of which have Catherine as their patron saint. Saint Catherine’s Feast Day, 25 November, has continued to be observed in Killybegs and Ventry with pilgrimages and patrons at holy wells which, according to legend , were long ago blessed in Saint Catherine’s honour by survivors of shipwrecks, often monks, who believed the saint had intervened to spare them being drowned.  In Killybegs there is also a more recent legend, dating from the middle of the nineteenth century, in which a Protestant rector named Lodge decided to fill the holy well with soil, in an effort to put a stop to the well worship in the area, only to discover that after doing so a spring shot up through the floor-board of his house flooding his drawing room, leading the rector to have the holy well restored to its previous state.

 

 

* Internationally and in the Roman Catholic tradition Saint Catherine of Alexandria is considered to be the patron saint of many occupations including unmarried women, millers and archivists, however to the best of my knowledge, seafaring is only ascribed to her in the Irish tradition.

 

 

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