The celebration of Easter at the 801 year old St. Mary’s Collegiate Church in Youghal began this year at the ‘Easter Sepulchre’: a medieval structure built into the wall of the Church, and one of very few left in Ireland.
Priest in charge Canon Andrew Orr said,
It was only when I attended an online lecture on St. Mary’s by Fr. Colmán O Clabaigh last January that I discovered the true purpose of this beautiful monument.
It is an Easter Sepulchre or tomb. It dates back to the extension of the church in the 14th century and was a central feature of the Easter celebrations in St. Mary’s (and every church) in medieval times. A wooden structure would have been built out about two metres into the sanctuary and covered with cloth hangings to look like a cave. On Good Friday, after the services were finished, a consecrated Communion host, the wooden cross and perhaps other symbols of the passion, would have been brought into the Cave and symbolically buried by placing them either inside the stone tomb or on the shelf in a wooden box.
Parishioners would then have stood guard all through Easter Eve until early Easter morning when the host would have been symbolically raised from the tomb and elevated for all the people to see.
This ceremony was followed by a sung drama in which the women (the three Marys) come to this tomb and find it empty. A script written for this play in Dublin in the 14th century still survives, and reminds us of the drama and spectacle that the ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter would have been in those times.
There are very few of these Easter Sepulchres still left in Ireland and the one in Youghal is by far the best preserved.
Canon Orr continued
So it seems appropriate, and a link to our long history, that, at this spot, we should have lit our Easter Paschal candle this year and welcomed the resurrection.