Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 22, 2003
Beware the curse of St. Munchin
Wise little monk lives on as the patron saint of Limerick, Ireland
St. Munchin -- Feast Day -- January 2
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Although the Irish celebrate his feast day each winter, many others might not recognize the name of St. Munchin, patron of Limerick, the island's fourth largest city.
Tradition holds that early missionary Mainchin (Munchin) performed a most unsaintly act when, long ago, he was supervising the construction of a church on the banks of the mighty Shannon River.
Apparently, local bystanders refused to assist his workers who were having difficulty moving an unusually large stone. Some passing strangers (Danes and Norwegians?) gladly offered to help with the chore and received Munchin's "best benediction" and "a bob" for their efforts.
Pastor casts curse
The pastor is then said to have pronounced the locally famous "Curse of St. Munchin" on his neighbours, wishing them all sorts of ill fortune, including never getting out of "the muck of robbery, ruction and jobbery!" And over the centuries, when times were difficult for Limerick natives, visitors seemed unaffected by misfortune.
Not much is known about the city's patron. He is said to have lived in the seventh century, was the area's first bishop and bore the name Mainchin in Irish that means "little monk" so that we know him only by an apparent nickname.
Old records indicate that he was given the island of Sibtand at the head of tidewater on the Shanon estuary by a local chieftain. Here, at Luimneach ("bare spot of land"), Munchin built his church.
This unseemly shepherd must have abandoned his vindictive ways later on to merit the honour bestowed on him as an (uncanonized) Irish saint. He's described as "the Wise" and is the patron saint of the Limerick Diocese. And parishioners are familiar with the orison "Naomh Mainchin Gui orainn" - St. Munchin pray for us."
Munchin's "problem" church is long gone so that today the neighbourhood's Catholics worship in an attractive new sanctuary, put up in 1922 to replace earlier post-Reformation structures of the same name. It faces east across Clancy's Strand on the west bank of the river beside the High Road where it crosses the historic Thomond Bridge to King John's Castle/Museum and the old city centre.
It's a Romanesque cut stone building with a simple nave. Extra worshippers can be accommodated by galleries at the ends of the transepts, separated by polished stone pillars from the main body of the church. Behind the altar, the semi-circular apse is lit by stained glass windows portraying Our Lady of Sorrows and Sts. Munchin and Michael. Statues of familiar saints occupy places of honour throughout the church - Therese, Anne, Bridget.
St. Munchin's is a comfortable church to visit. Worshippers to the crowded Sunday noon Mass are welcomed by a recorded rendition of the Angelus from the diminutive bell tower. The parish shares staff with nearby St. Lelia (Lile) Church, once part of the parish of St. Munchin. Weekday Masses are offered at both churches and the Eucharist is celebrated three times on weekends at each.
Shades of ancient times! Tradition dies hard on the banks of the Shannon. After Mass, personable pastor Father Michael O'Shea graciously offers to bestow on visitors to the parish his personal blessing. But before the euphoria wears off, travellers are hurried out of the church while an elfin sacristan studiously and carefully closes up the building and padlocks the ornate wrought-iron gateway to the church grounds. He's not securing the property against the neighbours?
Perhaps only in Ireland could Munchin be revered, maybe with a touch of native humour. He did treat strangers as a Christian should and his spirit seems to still infuse "his" stone church on the River Shannon.
Naomh Mainchin Gui orainn.
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