Katie O’Sullivan – ‘A Place I Love to Visit’
‘A Place I Love to Visit’
By Katie O’Sullivan
In my lifetime, I have been to Paris, London, Dublin, Munich, parts of Austria and Wales. But putting everything into perspective, I’ve realised that the place I love visiting the most is only a stone’s throw away. It’s known to Galwegians but doesn’t stand out on a national scale. It’s a colossal building with beautiful architecture but I’ve never heard it being noted by any artist. It’s a centre of culture and a tourist haven, but few of us bother to visit. It’s the pivot of Renaissance choral music though many of us don’t hear it. Beside the street market, in the shadow of the walls of Galway city, sits St. Nicholas’s Collegiate Church; the place I genuinely love visiting.
As I walk through the bustling of the market, I am over powered by the fragrant smell of curry, spices and freshly made bread mingled with the sharp aroma of wood varnish. When I come to the door, I twist the cold loose door knob and push hard on the 14th century oak door. The black metal hinges squeal sharply as the old door softly moans. I move my feet around on the brown mat at the foot of the door, letting the rough bristles wipe the rain off my grubby shoes. I cringe when the heavy door slams behind me making a deafening thud, but no one is glaring at me so I begin making my way down the worn stone steps. The only sound is the pitter patter of my footsteps on the solid stone ground along with the muffled hum of the city outside. The silence is deafening. The whistling of the wind, the yelling of the buskers feel a million miles away even though it’s only on the other side of the door. I stare up at the ceiling examining the towering columns of stone, holding up the mighty building.
I am mesmerised by the beauty of the stain glass window and all its splendour. The morning light is shining through the glass illuminating the church in every colour. The bright shades of reds, yellows, purples and blues glowing in the window light up, contrasting against the bleak grey stone walls. I notice plaques and statues erected on behalf of church goers and martyrs who contributed to the development of St. Nicholas’s. Tourists from every culture and every corner of the earth are entranced by the elaborate decorations. There is the faint sound of murmuring coming from the north-east side of the church. Curiosity grips me as I drift down the centre of the aisle. I feel the wrought iron grate covers tremble beneath my feet as I walk through the church. There is a man dressed in vestments and a headdress leading a group of foreigners in prayer. Decorative icons surround the small congregation of fifteen people as they practise their religion. The Orthodox service is ending as they begin chanting in another language. The people, with their sallow skin and jet black hair, are speaking quickly in a quiet tone.
As the Orthodox locals leave, I can hear more voices emanating from the other side of the historic church. As I get closer, I can distinguish the voice of a man and the melodic notes of a piano being played skilfully. I strain to hear him give directions to the choir who stand in a semi-circle, wearing vibrant red cassocks, reminding me of the red hue shining through the stain glass window. The choir master is seated behind the piano with his hands propped up on the keys. He slowly plays, gently pressing on the black and ivory keys signalling the choir to join in. Suddenly the silence bursts into oblivion as the harmonious voices sing out in the dead tongue of Latin, bringing to life the history and the heart of the church. From the sweet ringing of the sopranos to the steady tone of the bass’s, the tuneful melody creates a heavenly atmosphere. I am transported by the music. The history and melody blend together so that I almost imagine the major events this church has witnessed, events that played a considerable role in the shaping of modern day Galway. In my mind’s eye I can see Cromwell’s men defacing the marble statues. I can hear the clapping of hooves as the horses are sheltered inside.
Slowly I am pulled out of my enchantment and drawn by the promising smell of sweet tea and freshly baked scones. I imagine I can taste the butter spread over the soft fluffy buns and feel it melting in my mouth. I glance behind me and see a woman setting a table at the back of the church laying out jugs of milk and bowls of sugar for the after morning service. People of all races, colours and creeds (believe it or not) flood through the doors and are seated alongside myself in the congregation.
The choir is gathered behind the altar as the creed is recited. The sincerity of the people gathered together is admirable. Though it’s not my religion or my community, I still feel like a most welcome visitor.
Junior Cert English student,
Holy Rosary College