Trinity Church, Glendalough

Chapter 3: Trinity Church

15th February 2020

I am cradled in the Holy Trinity

I arise today ,
Through a mighty strength,
the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the creator of creation. (St. Patrick’s Breastplate)

Trinity church is a treasure hidden in one of the fields of Glendalough. It is only a short distance away from where the two roads meet. Few visitors go there but it is an essential place for the pilgrim to visit. Access to the site of the church is challenging and requires caution descending and ascending the steps leading to the site. The building itself is a fine example of a well preserved old Irish stone church of the 11th century. It was probably at the centre of a small monastery close to the larger Glendalough monastery under the leadership of a saintly man called Mocherog. The stones used in the construction of the building are from the local bedrock of granite and mica schist, both of which were first formed hundreds of millions of years ago. Each stone was once cut and fitted into place by a warm, skilful human hand. Look carefully at those stones because they too have a big story to tell.

The site is a special place to visit for prayerful reflection on the personal story. It is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and in the Christian faith all stories are cradled in the heart of the community of God. Catholic Christians begin prayers, journeys and work by making the sign of the cross, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This can also be expressed in different images and words that people nowadays find more acceptable and inclusive. An example of this is, ‘In the name of God, Source of all Being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit’.

God is named in traditional prayers as Three in One and One in Three. What is the explanation of that? The three basic laws of the universe at all levels of reality are differentiation, subjectivity and communion. That means that everything differs from every other thing, everything has an interior reality with both an inside and an outside and everything is related to everything else. Celtic Christians used simple images from the natural world to express this universal principle. An old Irish prayer expresses it as follows, ‘Three folds in a cloth yet one cloth. Three joints in a finger, yet one finger. Three leaves in a shamrock, yet one shamrock. Frost, snow, ice, yet all of them are water. Three Persons in God, yet one God.’

It is good to make the rounds before entering the church. This is continuing a traditional Irish custom of walking around a sacred site before entering inside, while reciting fixed prayers as part of the ritual. This practice of rounds could be done here without the formal prayers but with the intention of remembering all the outstanding moments and events that make up the experience of every individual’s life journey. As well as reviewing the personal story in the rounds it could also be an opportunity to look at the different images of God that influenced the various stages of life to this point. Images of self and images of God are usually closely connected. One image of God imagines God in terms of a circle. It is a wholesome image because everything and everyone is included in the circle. God sees things in all directions and not in one direction as human beings are inclined to do. A balanced view comes from recalling all the varied and complex experiences in the circle of a lifetime.

The entrance to the church is by a side door but once inside it is important to go to the original doorway which has stood at the centre of the western gable for over a thousand years. Stand still on the ancient threshold of that doorway. Threshold space and time was very important for our ancestor’s understanding of the world. They saw the changing of the seasons and the cycles of life as threshold moments that offered opportunities for reflection and ritual celebration. Life itself is a threshold experience between birth and death, the known and unknown worlds, time and eternity. Standing in this threshold space evokes much reflection including the need for openness, connecting the outer and inner experience, combining light and darkness, and the worlds of history and mystery.

Crossing the threshold into the church, the chancel arch becomes the centre of attention. This has been communicating a message written in stone for the past thousand years. The keystone holds all the stones of the arch in place together. There are seven stones on either side of it. These could represent the seven gifts of the Spirit and the seven sins which human beings experience through beauty and suffering, faith and uncertainty, life and death. The heart is at the centre of life holding everything in balance especially the thoughts of the rational mind. The heart of Jesus Christ beating at the centre of Christian faith is like the keystone in the arch.

Spiritual Practice

  • The reflection in Trinity church could be brought to an end by the wonderful invocation of the living cosmic Christ that concludes the St. Patrick’s Breastplate prayer.
  • Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me. Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ to shield me, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the eye of everyone who sees me, Christ in the ear of everyone who hears me. I arise today.
  • Listen to the recitation of the poem “The Bright Field” by R.S. Thomas on the CD