The three day pilgrimage season has opened on Lough Derg and will run until 15 August. Pilgrims can begin their pilgrimage on any day up to and including 13 August. During the three day pilgrimage, pilgrims make ‘Stations’: they walk barefoot, kneel on the hallowed beds, fast, pray and keep vigil. On the opening evening of this year’s three day pilgrimage season, the Year of Mercy candle, blessed by Pope Francis, was lit for the first time on the island.
14,000 pilgrims visit Lough Derg every season from May – September and since the late 1800’s the number is estimated to be over two million. In addition to the three day pilgrimage there are opportunities to go to Lough Derg for a One Day Retreat, Themed Retreat Days and Quiet Days.
This year’s pilgrims will also have the opportunity to pass through the Door of Mercy on the island which has been opened for the Jubilee Year of Mercy which Pope Francis has invite the universal Church to celebrate this year.
Some 80% of pilgrims return to the island each year and a growing number of new younger people come to experience the sacred island.
Saint Patrick’s Sanctuary – the pilgrimage site – is located on Station Island in Lough Derg which is four miles north of the village of Pettigo, Co Donegal. It is often referred to as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory or simply Lough Derg. The Diocese of Clogher has been the sole custodian of Lough Derg since 1780. Historical records date the practice of pilgrimage on Lough Derg to the 7th century. Legend also presents the cave on the island as the place where Saint Patrick had his vision of Purgatory. Saint Patrick is said to have left a disciple in the area and the foundation of one of the earliest monastic Christian settlements followed. The remnants of the monastic prayer cells remain central to the pilgrimage tradition. Today, the Lough Derg Three Day Pilgrimage follows a pattern prayer from the Celtic monastic time and shows remarkable continuity with the earliest systematic account of the pilgrimage, which dates to the 1600s.
For more information on the pilgrimage season see www.loughderg.org.