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Underground Cathedrals

ISBN13: 9781856076951

ISBN10: 1856076954

Publisher: CMD BOOK SOURCE

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  • My proposal is that, at this time, the Holy Spirit is unearthing an underground cathedral in Ireland which could help to replace the pretentious, over-elaborate Irish Catholic architecture of the twentieth century. An underground cathedral is a metaphor which describes an alternative place and time of worship.

    At this time, the secret work of the Holy Spirit is not being done, in most countries of Western Europe, by politicians nor by church institutions. The people who are carrying the torch are mostly artists because, as Rainer Maria Rilke foretold, in destitute times we have to rely on art to show us the way forward. Now, it does not matter very much that such work goes unrecognised, that people fail to acknowledge their sources, that the Holy Spirit remains incognito. That has been the profile of the Holy Spirit since the beginning of time.

    Coupled with very incisive and honest comments on the current state of the church in Ireland, and with a reflective meditation on the Murphy Report on the Dublin Archdiocese, Abbot Hederman offers a visionary and very stimulating image of how things might be if only we all listen to the voices of artists in our midst.

  • Mark Patrick Hederman


    Mark Patrick Hederman has been a monk of Glenstal Abbey in Limerick for over thirty years. Formerly headmaster of the school, and currently academic dean, he did his doctorate in the philosophy of education. He studied in Paris under Emmanual Levinas. He has lectured in philosophy and literature in America and Nigeria as well as Ireland, and was a founding editor of the cultural journal The Crane Bag. His first book, Kissing the Dark (Veritas, 1999) was a bestseller.


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    Mark Patrick Hederman OSB is Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, Co. Limerick. I have always regarded him as a somewhat unconventional, highly original and erudite thinker. In this thought provoking book, he asks us to pay greater attention to the voices of artists in our midst.

    He writes: My proposal is that, at this time, the Holy Spirit is unearthing an underground cathedral in Ireland which could help to replace the pretentious, over elaborate Irish Catholic architecture of the twentieth century. An underground cathedral is a metaphor which describes an alternative place and time of worship. It provides a setting and a framework for space and time as these can be articulated more accurately and comprehensively than heretofore. This is what he calls the secret work of the Holy Spirit.

    The author covers a lot of ground in this truly riveting book. In a chapter entitled Three Twentieth Century Popes he discusses the importance that Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI attached to art and artists.

    He quotes from John Paul IIs Letter to Artists in 1990 and Pope Benedict XVIs address to 500 artists from around the world in November, 2009, in the Sistine Chapel.

    Quoting from John Paul II, in his Letter to Artists, Benedict XVI acknowledges that Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, the artist gives voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption. Beauty is the key to the mystery and call to transcendence.

    Mark Patrick Hederman adds: But probably the most unusual and significant quotation in this letter is from Simone Weil: In all that awakens within us the pure and authentic sentiment of beauty, there, truly, is the presence of God. This is a kind of incarnation of God in the world, of which beauty is the sign. Beauty is the experimental proof that incarnation is possible. For this reason all art of the first order is, by its nature, religious.

    Abbot Hederman devotes some thought to sexual repression and negative views on sexuality. He considers the influence of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas on the Churchs thinking on these matters.

    He writes: Intercourse had to be for the purpose of procreation if it were to be free from sin. Catholic views on sexuality have been influenced by Augustines negative approach and his glorification of the celibate state.

    Augustine believed that there was nothing rational, spiritual or sacramental in the act of intercourse. He saw it as intimately linked to original sin, a distortion that has blighted Catholic theology until the present day. Sexuality, in such a framework, became identified with evil. To say that there can be no expression of sexual energy outside the married state is to condemn all other sexual energy to paralysis or lawlessness.

    He addresses the truly terrible issue of child abuse and the Murphy Report. He feels that in many cases those in charge, who should have known better, were, in fact, unaware of the seriousness and horror of the situation.

    He writes: Such uninhibited scope was afforded to abusers in the Catholic Church because the people who were in charge were incapable of understanding the horrific realities which were being presented to them. It is as if they were tone deaf or colour blind precisely because of the total absence of any sexual education or experience in their own lives.

    Yes, I have often felt very sorry for all those decent, honourable priests, nuns and brothers, the majority, who have lived exemplary lives, devoted to God and to others.

    He quotes Terry Prone, who pointed out that history is now repeating itself in the last few years, except that instead of innocent children damaged by religious in whom their care has been vested, the victims, this time around, were innocent elderly nuns and priests and brothers and the attackers were the state, the media, the general public - and their own.

    She holds that their lack of media savvy left them defenceless against expertly broadcast expose packages on TV, radio and the newspapers, so they were lumped together as, if not collectively committed to perversion, brutality and money-making, at least culpable by association and shared culture. In the midst of so much cruelty and suffering inflicted on innocent children it is as if Mark Patrick Hederman feels it necessary to point out that God is not to blame.

    He says: I believe that I have a very big responsibility to defend God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in all of this. What has happened was in no way their doing, all these institutions, all these aberrations were the work of human hands. There is God, and there always has been God, and there is always the possibility of being in touch with God, wherever we are and whatever our circumstances.

    He concludes: I have no brief whatever for the Catholic Church in Ireland in the Twentieth Century. I abhor and detest the inhuman institutions which were created to deal with the unwanted children of our so-called pure and unadulterated vision of ourselves as a society. My heart goes out to each and every one of the unfortunate children who were condemned to such inhuman institutions.

    This book will hold your interest from start to finish!

    - Anthony Redmond, 20th May 2010, The Irish Catholic,

€14.99

Underground Cathedrals