Tours of Mount Argus and the Shrine of Saint Charles
Saturday 13th May at 3pm & Sunday 14th May at 2.30pm
A Walk in the Footsteps of Saint Charles of Mount Argus
A guided tour of the Shrine of Saint Charles, Harold’s Cross’s own saint. As well as visiting his tomb and the exhibition about his life and ministry, you will also see the old monastery chapel where Saint Charles prayed day and night for thirty years, the bell tower where he would retire to meditate and the site of the original church where he blessed the sick each day.
History of the Passionist Congregation
The Passionists became part of the community of Harold’s Cross after they bought Mount Argus in 1856. They are a group of Christian men, both ordained and non-ordained, who live in community having made a special promise to promote the memory of the Passion of Jesus by word and deed. They do this especially in preaching and in various ministries among the poor and the marginalised of every kind. There are more than two thousand Passionists in 52 nations in the five continents.
The Passionists had been established as a congregation by an Italian, Paolo Francesco Danei, who was born on 3 January 1694, in the town of Ovada, between Turin and Genoa in northern Italy. In 1715, Paul left his work helping his father to join a crusade against the Turks who were threatening the Venetian Republic, but soon realized that the life of a soldier was not his calling. Paul experienced a conversion to a life of prayer and had visions that God was inviting him to form a community who would live an evangelical life and promote the love of God revealed in the Passion of Jesus. In one of these visions, he saw himself clothed in the habit he and his companions would wear: a long, black tunic on the front of which was a heart surmounted by a white cross, and in the heart was written “Passion of Jesus Christ“. This is the sign still used by the Passionists today. On seeing it, he heard these words spoken to him: “This is to show how pure the heart must be that bears the holy name of Jesus graven upon it“. Paul travelled throughout Italy, preaching missions with a particular emphasis on the passion of Jesus. He always carried a large wooden crucifix in honour of the Lord’s Passion with him, and thus he became known by the name “Paul of the Cross“.
Along with his preaching vocation Paul was also inspired by God to found an order of priests and nuns devoted specifically to the Passion of Jesus. He became the founder and was elected the first Superior General of the “Congregation of Discalced Clerks of the Holy Cross and Passion of Our Lord”, later “The Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ,” and more commonly known as the Passionists. St. Paul of the Cross wrote the rules of the Congregation in December 1720 when he was 26, and in 1725, Pope Benedict XIII granted Paul the permission to form his congregation. In 1769, Pope Clement XIV granted full rights to the Passionists as enjoyed by the other religious institutes, making them not an order but a congregation.
Paul died on 18 October 1775, at the Retreat of Saints John and Paul (SS. Giovanni e Paolo) in Rome. That is where his shrine is today in what is now the Passionist headquarters worldwide. Paul was beatified on 1 October 1852, and canonized on 29 June 1867 by Blessed Pius IX. His feast day is on 19 October.
Passionists entrusted with care of the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) in Rome
In recognition of the congregation’s special devotion to the passion of Christ, in 1853 Pope Pius IX entrusted the Passionist Fathers with the care of the sanctuary housing the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) in Rome. These are a set of 28 white marble steps located within a building in Rome near the Basilica of St John of Laterano. Both the Basilica and the sanctuary are extraterritorial properties of the Vatican. The steps, encased in a protective framework of wooden steps, are located in a building that incorporates part of the old Lateran Palace. The stairs lead to the Sancta Sanctorum (Holy of Holies), named for the many precious relics preserved there, and the personal chapel of the early Popes known as the chapel of St. Lawrence. According to Catholic tradition, these are the steps leading up to the praetorium (general’s tent) of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem on which Jesus Christ stepped on his way to trial during the events known as the Passion. The stairs were, reputedly, brought to Rome by St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, in about 326. In the Middle Ages, they were known as Scala Pilati or the “Stairs of Pilate“.
Founding of the monastery and church of Mount Argus, Harold’s Cross
123 years after the congregation was founded, the Passionist fathers arrived in Ireland. Father (now Blessed) Dominic Barberi brought the ministry of the Passionists to Ireland in 1848. He preached the first Passionist Mission in Dublin at Saint Audeon’s, High Street near Christchurch Cathedral. The first Passionist monastery (or ‘Retreats’ as St Paul called them) was opened in Ireland at Mount Argus, Harold’s Cross in 1856.
When the Passionists bought Mount Argus in 1856, it was a three-storey red brick farmhouse. On 15th August 1856, the very first Mass was celebrated in Mount Argus by Fr. Paul Mary Packenham CP in the front parlour of the farm house. (Fr Packenham was a member of the Longford family, the subject of Hugh McFadden’s lecture during the 2015 Festival). A small chapel was constructed to the right of the farmhouse, and the original monastery was built in 1863. Between 1873 and 1878, the present church was built. It was opened and dedicated as the Church of St. Paul of the Cross in 1878.
On 15th August 1974, 118 years after the first mass had been celebrated at the original farmhouse, Mount Argus became a parish in its own right from being located in the parish of Rathmines and later Harold’s Cross. This meant that baptisms, weddings, funerals and other rituals and celebrations of parish life could take place at Mount Argus without special permission.
The Congregation is currently divided into groups of provinces, and Mount Argus is the headquarters of St. Patrick’s Province which has communities in Ireland, Scotland, England and France. The Sisters of the Cross and Passion established four girls’ schools in Ireland.
For the last 159 years Mount Argus has functioned as a religious order church for which local people developed a great love and affiliation. That love and affiliation with Mount Argus has continued down through the years until the present day, with those who consider Mount Argus as their spiritual home being spread far and wide, and many regularly watching Mass live from Mount Argus via the internet. One of the reasons for the growth of this devotion was perhaps due to the fact that a rather extraordinary priest came to live in the community from 9th July 1857. He was Fr. Charles Houben, now St. Charles of Mount Argus.
Saint Charles of Mount Argus
Saint Charles of Mount Argus was born John Andrew Houben on December 11, 1821 in the village of Munstergeleen, Holland. In 1841, he was enrolled for military service and while in the army, he heard of the Passionists and decided to join them. With the military service completed in 1845, Andrew joined the Passionists at Ere, in Belgium. He was ordained on December 21 1850 in Tournai and in 1852 he was sent to England where he first encountered the Irish who were emigrating in the wake of the Famine. He was transferred to Ireland and on July 9, 1857, he arrived at the newly-founded monastery of Mount Argus in Dublin.
Fr. Charles (the name that he took on his profession) was not a good preacher but excelled in the confessional and in comforting the sick. His gift of healing the sick is most clearly remembered. As many as 300 people a day came to Mount Argus to be blessed by him. Fr. Charles was transferred to England in 1866 and remained there for eight years before returning to Ireland in 1874 where he would stay for the rest of his life. The daily pilgrimage of sick and distressed people resumed almost immediately on his return. Fr. Charles died at Mount Argus age 71 on 5 January 1893.
Fr Ignatius Waters published the following edited version of a letter written by Fr. Wilfred O’Hagan the day after Fr. Charles was buried in 1893 in the Newsletter on the Mount Argus website:
“Dear Ada, I received your letter too late to apply the medal to the remains of Fr. Charles but I am sending you something which hundreds of thousands in Ireland would give the world for: the (heart) sign which the old man had on his breast during the time he was lying in the church. I do not know whether it was the sign he wore while alive but I know it is the one he had while lying dead in the church.
All along I considered Charles a saint but since his death I am sure of it. Such extraordinary crowds were never seen in Mount Argus. The people were from every corner of Ireland. The roads were blocked and it was absolutely impossible to get into the church without long waiting. Sunday evening was the wettest and most disagreeable here that I have seen for a long time. It was quite a Godsend that it was so, or else I am afraid some would have been smothered. Even as it was, the crowds were outside in the rain, still struggling to get in.
The cabmen must have made a fortune. I hardly suppose there is a cab in Dublin that was not at Mount Argus in the last five days. But the cabbies were bent on more than taking fares. Yesterday after he was buried, two cabbies were found at the grave with their horse’s nosebags filled with earth. Of course this cannot be allowed to go on; else we shall have to be making a new grave every day!
The day of the funeral was awful. The Rector wrote to the superintendant of the police for men to keep the crowds back. We had no horse police but rows of helmeted men were overwhelmed by the pressing crowds. Poor old Ireland! There is faith here yet. Even from a point of numbers, the great Parnell’s funeral was inferior to that of the simple holy old Fr. Charles.”
Fr Ignatius allowed that Fr. Wilfrid may have been given to exaggeration with his mention of “hundreds of thousands” ready to give the world for Charles’ heart sign and the 200,000 who attended Parnell’s funeral on 11th October 1891 being inferior to the number who attended the funeral of Fr. Charles but it does express his amazement at how well known and loved St Charles was by the time of his death.
Fr. Charles’ remains were laid to rest in the cemetery adjoining the Monastery and Church at Mount Argus and his grave quickly became a place of pilgrimage. In 1949, his remains were moved to a new tomb inside the church and this shrine became a place of prayer. Fr. Charles was credited with curing hundreds of people in his lifetime, and others after his death, and he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988. On June 3 2007, he was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI. The Feast of Saint Charles of Mount Argus is celebrated on 5 January.
There is an exhibition space dedicated to the history of the Congregation and featuring exhibits on the life of St Charles at Mount Argus. Visitors can also complete the Pilgrim Path around Mount Argus by following the route around Mount Argus (follow link above or see the booklet available at the Church).
Mount Argus features in the historical records relating to the Easter Rising 1916. The 4th Battalion of the Irish Volunteers had its base at Count Plunkett’s home nearby, Larkfield, now the site of the Supervalu (previously Superquinn) Shopping Centre. Fr Eugene Nevin of Mount Argus was unofficially regarded as chaplain to the 4th Battalion under the command of Eamonn Ceannt whom he had known for years. In his extensive statement to the Bureau of Military History, Fr Nevin described Larkfield as “in reality a hidden magazine, and arms factory combined where a fair amount of the material used in Easter week was turned out under the direction of engineer Rory O’ Connor”.
Fr Nevin was away from Mount Argus preaching at a city centre church on Good Friday 1916 when “Pat and Willie Pearse called to see me. I was and am sorry that they couldn’t await my return as I never saw them after”.
In the Irishwoman’s Diary in the Irish Times of 19 October 2015, Finola Kennedy recounts that Pearse, Ceannt and Plunkett went to Confession in Mount Argus on Good Friday. Walking along a passage on their way to confession they met Fr Kieran Farrelly, also an ardent nationalist, who reputedly asked them when they intended to replace their wooden guns with real guns. To which question, Pearse is said to have replied, “it may be sooner than you think”.
Pearse’s connection with Mount Argus went back to his father, James Pearse, who carved the pulpit with St Paul of the Cross in white marble relief which you can see on the tour. It is thought that the large Celtic Cross in the Mount Argus graveyard is also by James Pearse. Outside the Upper Room in Mount Argus is a large white marble statue of Our Lady by Willie Pearse.
During the Rising, Fr Nevin was requested to call in to the city centre and administer spiritual aid to the volunteers when the insurrection was underway. Many of them had thought they were engaging in a military parade or exercise when asked to march in to the city centre, and they only realised they were in the rebellion after it started. This he did under cover of darkness.
People came to Mount Argus trying to find news about what was happening in the city centre. As Fr Nevin recounted:
“People were constantly calling here [Mount Argus] seeking news about their boys, sons or husbands and we were as much in the dark as they were………………..Poor Mrs Pearse called here every day since the start of the Insurrection: a pathetic figure, mother of two devoted sons (and such sons!) whose fate hung on the tricky balance of British Justice as always known and executed in this country. Sometimes she would be accompanied, but she was generally alone, a picture of calm sorrow, resignation and hope. After the surrender, when it became known that both sons had survived the ordeal, our eager speculation as to what next occupied our thoughts, and our interchange of dreaded possibilities as to Pat’s fate. He being a principal would suffer the heavier penalty – life sentence perhaps – but Willie, a participant only, should get off lightly. So we thought.
But our wishful thinking got a rude shock when on the 3rd May the first batch of prisoners were executed, Pat taking precedence of honour. If it were a hard or unpleasant duty to meet her that afternoon trying to speak adequate words of comfort to soothe the anguish that was rending her mother’s heart, it was immeasurably more embarrassing on the day that Willie was executed. During the interval between the two tragedies we had been hoping and of course fervently praying that he would be spared to her; conjuring up to ourselves reasons and precedents to confirm our hopes though, in view of past dealings, we could not altogether banish fears of the worst from our minds.
It was late in the day when I was told of her arrival. Several times did I hesitate in my passage to the reception room thinking out what to say or how to meet and comport myself in the presence of such sorrow as this latest cruel blow would inflict on a heart already overladen with grief. But she was calm, queenly so….”
Kennedy in the Irish Times also records that when the leaders of the Rising were executed, members of the community at Mount Argus climbed high into the belfry to see the black flag being raised over Kilmainham Gaol. Mount Argus was one of three churches in Dublin that held requiem masses for the dead in 1916 (Merchant’s Quay & Church Street were the other two). During your tour, you can see a section of the exhibition dedicated to 1916.
Due to fewer priests, the increased age and frailty of its community members, and the difficulty of maintaining and running a building so old, the original monastery was sold in the late 2000s and is currently vacant. The Passionists built a new monastery at Mount Argus opposite the original monastery and took up residence there in 2009.
During the Harold’s Cross Community Festival, take the opportunity to participate in guided tours of Mount Argus where you can learn more about its history and of the life of St Charles.
For further information link on to www.mountargusparish.ie