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The Vacuum - Issue 16 - Satan spacer The Vacuum - Issue 16 - Satan
A Corner of St. Jude's
by Pauline Hadaway
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The main gateway to St Jude's Shrine becomes visible a mile or so out of Omeath on the main road to Carlingford in Ireland's County Louth. A few metres on from its gated main entrance, the visitor should turn left at a signpost for the adjoining Tain Holiday village, then sharp left into a gravelled car park. Approaching from this aspect, a red brick hut marked Shrine of St Jude appears to the left at the entrance to a large, formal park. A Corner of St Judes, the recollected landscape and subject of this short essay, lies at the furthest right hand corner of this park, which is a place of pilgrimage, representing a rather pristine Via Dolorosa with trimmed lawns and gravelled paths, where Stations of the Cross mark the way.
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To better appreciate the formal qualities and meaning of A Corner of St Jude's, it is helpful to approach our vantage point via a rather unorthodox course, that of following the Stations of the Cross in reverse order. Though possibly heretical, this tactic allows the critical eye to take on board a range of structural and symbolic meanings within a setting where surface harmony is constantly undercut by ambiguity and contradiction, and where, as we shall see, conventions of time and space are challenged.
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Heading towards the 'final station' and centre piece of the park, a white marbled crucifixion scene, the visitor should glance inside the shrine itself. A diminutive, square construction, built in the inter-war municipal, modernist, style, utilitarian and featureless, the shrine, made from red brick, is reminiscent of a 1930s cemetery out building. Exotically lit by electric candles, the interior of the shrine otherwise resembles a village post office, with pens, paper and a shelf for writing petitions to the saint, whose statue patiently gazes out from behind a glass screen. Walking on, the visitor passes a tree shaded grave yard with neatly ordered stones, at the centre of which stands a granite built, open sarcophagus, last resting place of Father Aloysius (Luigi) Gentile, (1801-1848). According to the citation which stands beside his coffin, Fr Gentile was an Italian priest who joined the Rosminian Fathers in Irelandand whose devotion to St Jude, patron of hopeless causes, eventually led to an arduous vocation of missionary work among the English and inevitably to an early death.
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As the path turns, the visitor begins counting backwards through the Stations of the Cross, from X1V to V, each vivid scene of Christís passion, housed in dull, wooden frames, resembling parish notice boards. On reaching Station V, the visitor should walk 10 or so metres up the path towards Station 1V, then turning back once again to face Station V, the visitor will experience the landscape, A Corner of St Jude's.
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Station V, depicting Christ on the road to Calvary, at the point where Simon the Cyrenean is compelled to carry the Cross, stands at the centre of the scene. A tarmac path, lightly gravelled, carpeted with late and fading blossom frames the foreground. At either side clipped hedgerows, through which are visible the concrete posts of a boundary fence. A small wrought iron gate, painted primary blue, stands ajar. Through the gate, beyond the tended shrubbery of pine, a wheelbarrow lies on its side, half buried under weeds and compost. Through an undergrowth of nettles and wild plants, land merges into lapping water, at which point the eye, having nowhere else to go, is finally lifted across the great expanse of Carlingford Lough, framed at its furthest shore by the grey forms of the Mourne mountains, low cloud dissolving their peaks.
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Ruskin argued that great art represents 'the mental conceptioní of a material object, 'an idea and not a thing'. In this sense the artistry of this scene lies entirely within the consciousness of the viewer. Though human intervention is everywhere evidenced, its form is uncomposed, its meaning unauthored. And yet, the mind seeking meaning in shadows, intrigued by the congruence of such incongruity, constructs and reflects upon its significance, at this place and within this moment.
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A Corner of St Jude's is the quintessential topography of Ireland, where a vivid past lives contemporaneously with the present. Pre-modern and modern, romantic, utilitarian, hard edged, soft edged, majestic and mean, these forms and objects, man-made and natural, assembled here at this corner of a park, at the edge of the sea are the physical manifestation of Irelandís ambiguity, a place at once unbound, boundless and constrained.
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