St. Patrick’s Purgatory | Donegal

On a small island in the middle of Lough Derg (Lake of the Cave), there’s said to be a portal to the gates of Hell. St. Patrick’s involvement with this grisly gateway, and the monastery built above it, dates from the fifth century, when Christ showed St. Patrick a cave, sometimes referred to as a pit or a well, on Station Island that was an entrance to Hell. Legend maintains that St. Patrick had grown discouraged by the doubts of his potential converts, who told him they would not believe his teachings until they had substantial proof. Medieval Pilgrims began visiting the site of the cave for physical and spiritual healing, but in 1632 the cave was closed for good and all records destroyed. 

A monastery was constructed on the island, and while there’s no historical evidence that the Saint was ever here himself, it bears his name. Some of the foundation still remains, and the bare stone style of the existing priory buildings recalls the site’s ascetic Christian roots. Yearly pilgrimage to the site continues to this day where devout worshippers come in droves to take a 3-day sojourn of contemplation through the holy site, all while barefoot. The pilgrimage is touted as ‘the toughest in all of Europe, perhaps even in the whole Christian world,’ thus keeping the ‘purgatory’ in St. Patrick’s Purgatory. 

Featured Image | Gareth Wray Photography

Image | St. Patrick’s Purgatory, Lough Derg by Kenneth Allen

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