The Kilcormac Pieta
The Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Kilcormac is the home of the beautiful Kilcormac Pieta which dates from the 16th century.
The Pieta is a statue of Our Lady holding the body of Jesus after he had been taken from the Cross. The scene was a very popular subject for sculptors in the Middle Ages in Europe and the most famous one that exists to this day is by Michelangelo in St. Peter’s.
But the Kilcormac “Pieta” is different, being carved from a block of solid oak and measuring five feet by three. It is a very beautiful carving and is believed to be the only one of its kind and era in Ireland. It is a subject of great devotion in the area and the wonderful story of its survival, which was passed on by word of mouth for generations, was finally written down by the former parish priest of Kilcormac, the late Father Andrew Shaw.
It is thought that the Pieta is of Spanish origin and according to tradition it was donated to the parish by a rich lady in the 16th century. It was placed in the parish church, which at that time was in Ballyboy, about 1 mile from Kilcormac. There it remained until 1650 when Oliver Cromwell’s army was reported approaching from the direction of Cadamstown.
Everyone gathered up their possessions and prepared to flee to the woods when two women thought of the Pieta. They rushed to the church, took the Pieta outside and buried it in a heap of rubbish. Later, under the cover of darkness, a number of men brought it out and re-buried it in a bog, where it was to lie for over sixty years.
Had the Pieta not remained safely preserved in the bog for those years, it is unlikely that it would have survived to this day. During the years of persecution, the churches in Kilcormac and Ballyboy were reduced to ruins.
To return to the Pieta, it is thought that sometime between 1700 and 1720, only one man remained alive who knew where it was buried, and, according to tradition, he was carried on his deathbed to point it out. The carving was carefully recovered and when it was examined it was found to be in perfect condition. It was then placed in the church that had recently been built in Kilcormac, the whole parish was overjoyed to have their valued Pieta among them again. It almost left the parish some years after that when a priest, who was moving to Borrisokane, took it with him! However the parishioners brought it back and it has remained in the parish church of Kilcormac to this day.
So, if you travel through Kilcormac some day, call into the church and see for yourself this wonderful sculpture. You may think of the words of Keats:
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness;…”