Security guards were on hand to oversee masses who had come from all over while impromptu stalls had been set up around the Church of the Holy Trinity selling bouquets of lilies and an array of religious mementoes.
Even the most wayward of Irish Catholics know St Anthony of Padua, the 13th century friar to whom generations of Irish people turn whenever they lose anything from car keys to wedding rings.
His relics have been travelling around the country all week and, thousands turned up in Cork yesterday to venerate the piece from the saint’s rib and a layer of his cheek skin that lay inside a gold reliquary at the church.
Accompanying the relics was Padua-based Franciscan friar Fr Mario Conte, who said the relics brought a message of hope to all affected by the recession.
Helen Riordan called a taxi from her Glanmire home 10km outside the city to attend Mass alongside the relics yesterday.
“The church is packed, I’m delighted to see it as Ireland has changed so much. I’ve always had a special affection for St Anthony as my brother, who died, is called after him and we always prayed the rosary to him as a child. He was one of our favourites along with St Jude,” she said.
Frances Lenihan from Fermoy was effusive in her praise of St Anthony, describing him as “my friend”: “He’s my special saint, he’s everything to me, he’s my ears, he’s my eyes, he’s my brain. When I forget things, he tells me where they are, I’ve lost the smallest things and people have said ‘aah, you might as well be looking for a needle in a haystack’ and I’d say ‘you don’t know the man that I have looking for me’.”
As rain poured down, Frances scurried over to join those buying St Anthony memorabilia. Rosary beads, medals, pictures of the saint, and an array of prayers to him lay under sodden clear plastic.
The stallholder told me they will do a lot of sales, especially of the St Anthony relic medal. “It’s a piece of third class relic which means it touched his actual burial tomb. You know that this year is the 750th anniversary of the finding of his tomb?”
The relics will continue to Limerick Cathedral today, then on to Galway Cathedral tomorrow, then to Dublin and Belfast before they travel to Britain.