In 2006 Pope Benedict scrapped the centuries-old Roman Catholic concept of limbo, a state between Heaven and Hell. Church teachings had dictated limbo to be home to the souls of children, and especially babies, who died without being baptized. Now, the Pope said, those children and babies will go to Heaven. Lovely. But too late for the thousands of women in Ireland who died thinking their babies had been consigned to limbo.
For centuries birth mothers in Ireland were considered unclean, some link to original sin. They and their babies were not allowed back into the church for months. With infant mortality rates high, many babies died before they could be baptized. The could not be buried in the church graveyard and so were un-ceremonially dumped in unmarked graves in fields and, near the sea, sand dunes. The mothers were not allowed to know where they were and the babies were never spoken of again.
It wasn’t for the babies that we gathered, but for the mothers. We made our way to the shores of Galway Bay and walked around the huge fenced off sand dune which held the tiny bones of so many. A massive stone next to the water was the perfect altar and as we stood around it holding hands, praying and singing, we sent the energies of love and compassion to the mothers. When we tapped in, their grief was unimaginable. Breathing in their pain and breathing out peace, we were ourselves stricken with the grief of it.
At the close of our ceremony a gentle peace descended. And those among us who can sense and even see such things reported the rising of many spirits. Spirits of mothers perhaps no longer tied to this place in their grief.
We do this ceremony because we can. We do this ceremony to give back to this precious land of Ireland that gives us so much on our journey. We do this ceremony because it’s what people of compassion do. And we will do this ceremony on each Sacred Ireland journey.
Judith – firstname.lastname@example.org