During the most ruthless ethnic cleansing that has ever taken place in western European history (1649–1653) Oliver Cromwell massacred the Irish. Doctor Walter Lynch, Bishop of Clonfert was one of the bishops forced to leave Ireland at that time. Bishop Lynch always carried with him the picture of the Madonna from Clonfert Cathedral, fearing that this treasured relic might fall into Cromwellian hands. Clonfert was a very important ecclesiastical site in early Christian Ireland and throughout the middle ages until its desecration at the time of the reformation in the sixteenth century.
Bishop Lynch Escapes
Walter Lynch, Bishop of Clonfert, and some of his fellow prelates were arrested and herded to the island of Inisbofin, off the Galway coast where they were detained for transportation. In 1652, with some members of his group he succeeded in escaping to the Continent, where the Irish refugees were warmly received in various countries. Bishop Lynch spent some time in Belgium and Portugal. He later traveled as far as Hungary, for what reason we do not know, although he was doubtless acquainted with the close medieval ties that bound that nation to his own.
10 Years in Gyer
Bishop Lynch lived in poverty until his plight became known to Bishop János Pusky of Gyer, who invited him to his cathedral city, where he was appointed a canon, given a house, and a decent income. Eventually he became auxiliary bishop of the Diocese. The Irish Bishop learned Hungarian and worked for ten years among the faithful. Bishop Lynch’s life in Gyor is described as that of an exemplary ‘humble priest.’ He spent his income supporting the poor. ‘The people of Gyor truly loved this foreigner for his generosity and devotion’. Although grateful for the hospitality he received, his heart still longed for his native country. Thus, after ten years when the persecution in Ireland had subsided, he prepared with great expectation for his homeward journey.
From Clonfert to Gyer
On the eve of his departure back to Ireland on July 14th 1663 Walter Lynch died and was buried in the crypt of Gyer Cathedral. During his dying hours he gave the Bishop of Gyer his only material treasure – the picture of the Madonna of Ireland. The image of the Virgin and Child, one of his few belongings, was then hung on the wall of the northern aisle of Gyer cathedral. This picture had hung in the Cathedral of Clonfert in Ireland. Hungarians have for more than three centuries, flock to see it especially on St. Patrick’s Day March 17th. The picture is known as ‘The Madonna of Ireland’, but is also known as ‘The Consoler of the Afflicted’.
St. Patrick’s Day Miracle 1697
Years passed, and on the feast of Saint Patrick 1697, while large numbers of the faithful were present in Gyer Cathedral, an awe-inspiring event took place. A bloody sweat was observed to come over the figure of the Blessed Lady in the picture. From the eyes of the Blessed Virgin in the picture, bloody tears rolled for 3 hours from 6 am to 9 am.
Drops of blood fell onto the pictures of the Infant Jesus. As the bleeding continued for three hours, linen towels, which are still retained at her shrine under glass, were used by several priests to wipe the perspiring face as blood and tears continued to flow. Later they took the picture off the wall and removed it from its frame to examine it but could find no natural explanation.
A witness wrote: “Then did an extraordinary and naturally inexplicable phenomenon happen, that right on March 17, the holiday of Bishop St Patrick, Apostle of Ireland, around six o’clock in the morning, while numerous people were hearing Holy Mass, all of a sudden it was noticed that this Blessed Lady’s image wept; immediately the multitude swarmed about the place, seeing the thing in astonishment; some began to cry and repent their sins, others to doubt… from the whole town gathered inhabitants of all ranks and all religions, those from the chapter, took the image from the wall; the wall was dry, and the image not only continued to weep, but was wet with sweat of blood, the drops were wiped with pure white cambric, but the image painted on the canvass wept again, so that a few drops fell on the cheek of the baby Jesus even, whose marks are still to be seen in the picture now.
Moreover the cambric has been preserved to the present day in a silver frame in the treasury of the capital church. Full three hours did the vision last, during which the church rang with the devoted prayer of the Christian multitude that gathered there together. Among them was Count Heister Siegebert, the Imperial Military Governor of Gyor.”
The Count a member of the nobility and a military General was so moved by the event that he erected a new altar in the Cathedral to honour the Blessed Virgin.
News of the event immediately spread throughout the city and not only Catholics, but Protestants and Jews flocked to see the miracle. It was witnessed by thousands, and many of them gave testimony of what they saw. A document signed by more than a hundred witnesses bears the signatures of the imperial governor of the city, the mayor, all the councilmen, the Bishop, some priests, Calvinist and Lutheran ministers and a Jewish rabbi all of whom, volunteered to give their testimony to an undeniable event.
A scantily bloody spot is still visible on the preserved linen cloth. In 1767, the miraculous picture was set in a magnificent baroque altarpiece in Gyer Cathedral.
A professor of chemistry was given permission in the mid-1900’s to chemically examine and analyse a particle removed from the darkest vein. What the chemical test found was a mixture of human blood and tears.
Persecution in Ireland
In 1697 the Hungarians enjoyed a time of greater peace than they had known for many years. But during that year in Ireland, a greater blow than ever was to fall upon Bishop Lynch’s coreligionists. No wonder the Madonna was weeping as she was banished from Ireland.
In that year the English Parliament passed an edict that all priests were to be expelled from Ireland and from all the British Isles. Churches were confiscated and all traces of the Catholic religion were wiped out. In its place a protestant church called the Church of Ireland was established as the national Irish church and only its religious practices were allowed. Even the dead could only be buried by ministers of that religion.
Banishment from Ireland
The Banishment Act of 1697 was an Act of the English, Parliament of Ireland which banished all ordinaries and regular clergy of the Roman Catholic Church from Ireland. By 1 May 1698 all “popish archbishops, bishops, vicars general, deans, jesuits, monks, friars, and other regular popish clergy” had to be in one of several named ports awaiting a ship out of the country. Remaining or entering the country after this date would be punished as a first offence with 12 months’ imprisonment followed by deportation. A second offence constituted high treason with the death penalty. Dr Walter Lynch’s successor as Bishop of Clonfert, Murtagh Donnellan was arrested in 1703 but was rescued by an armed crowd.
In the archives of the Cathedral of Gyer, there is a document written in 1697 on parchment, relating this event. It is signed not only by the clergy and the laity who were present at the Mass, but by the mayor and the councilmen, by the governor, Lutheran and Calvinist preachers, a Rabbi – over one hundred signatures represent eye-witnesses to the miracle.
In 1874, Pope Pius IX granted a plenary indulgence on the feasts of Saint Patrick and the Assumption, before which public novenas are held.
Our Lady of Ireland
In 1913 Archbishop Schrembs of Toledo, visited Gyer in Hungary. He saw the beautiful painting and was deeply moved when told of the wonderful event. He requested a copy for the many Irish Catholics in his diocese who would be happy to learn the history and to possess the picture of Our Lady of Ireland. The copy was placed face to face with the original and then given to Bishop Schrembs. On August 23, 1914, Archbishop Schrembs dedicated the new St Stephen’s Church in Toledo, Ohio. The Hungarian people had paid about 2/3 of the cost of the building. The Bishop presented the Madonna to this church, saying: “I am convinced that the picture will be treasured in a Hungarian Church just as much as it would be in an Irish one.” Both Hungarians and Irish were thrilled.
The image depicts Mary crowned as queen, Our Lady of Ireland, and before her, lying on several circular pillows, is the Infant, also crowned as the Little King, and covered with royal robes.
Sources: http://www.ourladysrosarymakers.com/Marysfeastsmarch.html#anchor_83 http://gyor.egyhazmegye.hu/egyhazmegyenk/tortenet/konnyezo-szuzanya-bucsuja (Information from the Diocese of Gyor) http://www.wherewewalked.info/feasts/03-March/03-17.htm