Digging Our Faith - Looking at our religious heritage

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Our Faith Looking at our reLigious Heritage
This project has been funded by the European Union’s PEACE III Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body and delivered by the North Down, Ards and Down Councils Cluster.

Published 2013 by Down County Museum

First Edition

First Impression

Text by Moira O’Rourke and members of Downpatrick YAC

Copyright © Down County Museum

ISBN 978-0-9927300-0-0

Copyright has been acknowledged to the best of our ability. If there are any inadvertent errors or omissions, we shall be happy to correct them in any future editions.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, scanning, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owners and publisher of this book.

The authors have asserted their right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as authors of this work. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Designed by April Sky Design, Newtownards

Tel: 028 9182 7195 Web: www.aprilsky.co.uk

Printed by GPS Colour Graphics Limited, Belfast

This project has been funded by the European Union’s PEACE III Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body and delivered by North Down, Ards and Down Councils’ Cluster.

Digging Our Faith


This booklet has been produced during the course of the museum’s PEACE III community history project which has been funded by the European Union’s PEACE III Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body and delivered by Down, North Down and Ards Councils’ cluster. The aim of the museum’s community history project is to build positive relations between and within communities in Down, North Down and the Ards, through groups participating in a range of learning programmes. The project seeks to explore issues of cultural and community identity and diversity, examine the beliefs, customs and traditions of different communities and create opportunities to address issues of sectarianism and racism. The museum is working with a number of groups to achieve this by examining five distinct themes. This booklet is part of the religious and cultural identity strand which enables a range of community, church and youth groups to explore issues around religion and cultural identity. Digging Our Faith is a project undertaken by the Downpatrick Branch of the Young Archaeologists’ Club working with Down County Museum and funded by the Peace III Programme. The project helps groups to work in partnership with each other to produce resources which examine issues of cultural identity and diversity and which can be used by other groups now and in the future. The Downpatrick Young Archaeologists’ Group, based at Down County Museum carried out a range of visits to places connected to different faiths, increasing their learning and experience. The exhibition and this booklet were produced as a result of their learning.

Contents Introduction ................................................................................................................... 1 Places Visited ................................................................................................................. 2 Religions’ Tree ................................................................................................................ 3 Faiths of Our World ...................................................................................................... 3 Puzzling Past Beliefs ...................................................................................................... 4 Pagan Beliefs to Christian ............................................................................................ 8 Sacred Spaces ................................................................................................................. 10 Different Pieces but One Big Picture .......................................................................... 14 Piecing It All Together .................................................................................................. 26 YAC Information ........................................................................................................... 29 Acknowledgements ....................................................................................................... 30

Digging Our Faith

We have used the image of a jigsaw piece in our exhibition and this book to show the diversity of belief in the world. Our project has led us to discover how many different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of faith there are.

Doing a large jigsaw can be difficult but part of the enjoyment of a real jigsaw is the process of doing it and we have enjoyed working on this puzzle. We hope you enjoy our book. We hope it helps you in understanding your own faith.

• Faith and spirituality play a vital part in life now and in the past.

• archaeology is essential in discovering the beliefs of the past and how they have shaped the present.

• Meeting people of different faiths is an interesting and challenging part of life today. This booklet brings together the pieces of the puzzle.

Sites that we visited as part of the project

Belfast: Belfast Synagogue, Somerton Road

Belfast Indian Community Centre, Clifton Road

Belfast Islamic Community Centre, Wellington Park

Belfast Young Archaeologists’ Club, School of Geography, Archaeology, and Palaeoecology, Queen’s University Belfast

Co antrim:

Cranfield Church & Holy Well, Cranfield Road Ram’s Island, Lough Neagh

Co armagh: St Patrick’s Cathedral (Church of Ireland), Cathedral Close

Navan Centre, Killylea Road, Co Armagh

Co Down:

Dromore High Cross, Dromore Cathedral, Church Street, Dromore Loughinisland Churches, Loughinisland


Baptist Church, Bridge Street Down Cathedral, The Mall

Methodist Church, Saul Street

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, Stream Street

Presbyterian Church, Fountain Street St Margaret’s Parish Church, Church of Ireland, Church Street

St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Parish Church, Stream Street

Struell Wells, Struell Wells, Road

Co Fermanagh: Drumclay Crannog Excavation, Cherrymount Link Road, Enniskillen Devenish Island, Lough Erne Lower Boa Island, Lough Erne Lower

Dublin: Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle National Museum, Kildare Street

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Faiths OF Our WOrlD

Learning about other faiths

“We never knew of so many faiths in our world.”

Alfred Chester Beatty (1875–1968) was a rich American who settled in Ireland. He spent many years travelling to Asia, China and Japan, collecting religious objects wherever he went. He arranged for his collection to be placed on public display after his death, hoping people would be as inspired and enlightened by other religions as he was.

Before we visited the Chester Beatty Library we really only knew of two faiths; Christianity and Judaism. These are part of our own religious background and part of our religious education at school and church. We discovered there are many different faiths in the world. We were amazed to see these wonderful items on display in the Chester Beatty Library, during our visit.

We found out lots of new things:

• The first Christian gospels were written in Greek on leather-covered papyrus.

• Jewish scriptures were written on scrolls in Hebrew.

• Arabic is the language of the Qur’an. Many followers of Islam learn to recite the Qur’an in Arabic.

• Muslims use a qibla to find both the direction of Mecca and to calculate the time for prayers.

there are three main religions in india - hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

• Krishna is a blue god that Hindus pray to.

• Jainism believes there to be 24 enlightened beings, or Jinas.

• Sikhism was founded by Guru Nanak (1469 – 1539). Sikhs believe that there is one god, before whom all people are equal. This faith began in the Punjab area of Pakistan.

• In Sumatra, holy scriptures were written on books made from bark.

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project in Downpatrick Young Archaeologists’ Club has led us to discover how many different beliefs there are in our world. This religions’ tree has been created to illustrate this.

Siddharta under the Bodhi Tree, late 19th century, Thailand

The Book of Akbar, early 17th Century, India – the ruler is shown discussing religion with Jesuits.

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Greek Text - The Letters of Saint Paul, c 180-200 AD Saint Mark the Evangelist, Byzantine Gospel Book, c 1100 AD The Great Mosque of Mecca, late 16th Century YAC members outside the Chester Beatty Library Mahavira, founder of Jainism, 1522 Gujarat, Western India Images of objects reproduced with the kind permission of the Chester Beatty Library

Puzzling Past BelieFs

Burying the Dead

“the care shown to the dead made us realise that belief in an afterlife was as common in the past as it is now.”

On our visit to the National Museum in Dublin we learnt that bodies buried in bogs were preserved so you could still see hair, skin and even fingernails. Archaeologists think these people were killed and buried as part of rituals to please their gods. Watery places seem to have been special as lots of objects such as weapons and jewellery have been found in lakes and bogs and we saw some of these amazing things too.

The mummy we saw was of Queen Tentdinebu, who lived in the 22nd Dynasty, nearly 3,000 years ago. Her body was prepared for an afterlife by first having her heart, liver and lungs removed, which were put in canopic jars. Then, her body was treated with salt to preserve it and filled with sand or linen to give it shape. Tentdinebu was wrapped in linen bandages and placed in a gilded coffin ready for burial in her tomb. Her tomb included many objects for her to use in her afterlife. The Egyptians believed that their queens and kings were living gods and treated them with great reverence both in life and death.

At the same time as the Egyptians were mummifying bodies, people in Ireland were cremating their dead. They placed the cremated bone in special pots called cinerary urns. Sometimes the urns were placed in stoned lined pits called cists; but urns have also been found in simple pits in the ground. Cremation burial only ceased with the coming of Christianity when the dead were placed in graves.

Cremation cemeteries have been found at Loughbrickland and Dromore during recent upgrades to the A1 road. We made our own cist burials with the Belfast YAC. This was very messy but great fun.

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YAC in Dublin Egyptian mummy

Excavation of cist grave, Closkelt, Co Down. Photography Ulster Museum, courtesy the Trustees of National Museums Northern Ireland

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At Belfast YAC Making cist burials with Belfast YAC Downpatrick & Belfast YAC at Queen’s University, Belfast

Puzzling Past BelieFs Way of Life and Beliefs

“It surprised us that people in the past were just like us.”

We visited the Navan Centre, Co Armagh to find out how people lived in Ireland before the coming of Christianity. We learnt that a temple built of wood once stood at nearby Navan Fort and was burned down in 94BC. Archaeologists believe the temple was an important religious site during the Iron Age (500BC – 400AD), and that people gathered here to worship the goddess Macha. Navan in Irish is Emain Macha, the height of Macha At this time, Navan was an important royal site, where the King of Ulster lived.

We met an Iron Age warrior and his family who invited us to visit their house. The house was round so that the wind could not blow it down. The roof was pointed and thatched with straw, and straw was also stuffed in between the wattle walls to keep draughts out and heat in. The family slept close to the fire, and lay on a bedding of straw and animal skins to keep warm.

The family told us that they grew crops and kept animals. They made their own clothes, dishes and spoons, and their own weapons. The warrior had a long wooden spear and a wooden shield to protect himself from his enemies.

They prayed to their gods and celebrated events such as mid-summer, bringing in the harvest, and the winter equinox. The people believed that lakes, bogs and rivers were sacred gateways to the next world.

Iron Age people didn’t have money but exchanged goods instead. Salt was needed to preserve food to make it last the winter. A farmer was considered rich by the amount of cattle he had. Sometimes farmers kept slaves, as slavery was the common punishment for criminals. People captured during warfare were also kept as slaves.

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Iron Age house at the Navan Centre Iron Age family
Digging Our Faith
Fighting with an Iron Age spear Learning to fight Making swords at the Navan Centre

As the Christian church became established in Ireland it kept many of the old pagan customs but gave them a Christian slant. This made it easier for people to convert to the new religion.

Imbolc, in the spring, became St Brigid’s Day Beltaine became May Day Samhain, in the autumn, became All Saint’s Eve or Hallowe’en

One of the most important pagan traditions kept by the new church was the sacredness of water. Rivers, lakes and bogs were sacred, while bathing cleansed the soul and healed sickness. Water is necessary for baptism, and is used to bless people and banish evil.

We visited the excavation at Struell Wells and helped in digging out one of the wells. We collected many pennies, some old, some new. The archaeologists thought that the pennies had been thrown in the well by people making a wish. We learnt that this site has a long history, continuing into the 19th century, of people visiting the wells to bathe in as a cure for sickness. There is even a legend of St Patrick’s bathing at the well and singing psalms from the Bible all night long. On Midsummer’s Eve and the Friday before Lammas (1st August) people from all over County Down gathered here.

We also visited Cranfield Church, on the shores of Lough Neagh. The nearby well is surrounded by thorn trees. Sick people who visited have attached rags to these in hope of a cure. They dip the rag in the water, wash the afflicted part, and tie the rag on the nearby tree. They think that the sickness will transfer to the rag and they will become well again.

We also noticed that memory, or remembrance, cards had been left in wall nooks at both Struell Wells and Cranfield Church. These little cards are made to remember someone who has died and contain a poem or prayer and a photograph of the person. We also saw rosary beads left hanging on tree branches. It would appear that the old traditions are still important to the people who live near these sites.

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FrOm Pagan tO Christian the importance of water
“We were amazed that some of the old traditions are still practised!”
Struell Wells, Downpatrick Bathing house at Struell Wells
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Baptismal font in St Patrick’s Church, Downpatrick Cranfield Church, Co Antrim Rags at the Holy Well, Cranfield, Co Antrim Memory cards at Struell Wells

saCreD sPaCes Monuments to god

Early churches were built of wood. Their rectangular shape was borrowed from the temples of ancient Rome. Inside, the central aisle and altar were also copied from Roman temples. The first stone churches in Ireland were built in the 10th century.

We visited high crosses at Kells, Co Meath, Dromore and Downpatrick, Co Down, and Devenish, Co Fermanagh. Many high crosses are over 1,000 years old. At this time only monks and the sons of the rich were taught to read. In order to teach ordinary people about the word of God, the crosses were decorated with accounts from the Bible. Although worn by weather and time, it is still possible to see some of the carvings shown on them, such as such as Adam and Eve, the Wedding at Cana, and Christ’s baptism.

Round towers are usually found beside these early churches. These were the first “skyscrapers” and would have been visible from many miles away. Bells rung from the top of the towers would have reminded people to come and worship God.

Armagh became an important religious centre, and took over from nearby Navan Fort. Excavations have taken place at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland cathedral, where archaeologists have discovered that the site has been occupied by people for the last 1500 years. Pieces of stone sculptures have been found within the cathedral grounds and are stored in the crypt of the church. Archaeologists believe that these stone heads and animals may have decorated the original cathedral building.

Inside Armagh Cathedral we discovered a secret. If you look carefully, you will notice that the nave and the choir are not straight in a line but crooked. We were told that the purpose of the nave leaning slightly to one side was to portray how Jesus died on the cross and shows how his head hung to one side. This is not a building mistake but was put there on purpose by Bishop Patrick O’Scanlan when the cathedral was restored in 1268. The building therefore has a spiritual message.

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“We discovered monuments are expressions of faith which can reveal a spiritual message.”
Downpatrick High Cross Detail of High Cross, Kells, Co Meath 1 2
Digging Our Faith
Kells, Co Meath Round Tower, Devenish Island, Co Fermanagh Stone sculptures, Armagh Cathedral Inside Armagh Cathedral Armagh Cathedral
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6 & 7
reproduced by kind permission of Dr Miruna Popescu

saCreD sPaCes Life on the island

“We realised the importance of islands as sacred spaces.” Monastic settlements on islands were common in early Christian Ireland.

We visited Ram’s Island near the eastern shore of Lough Neagh. Archaeologists told us there was once a monastic settlement on the island but all that remains are the ruins of a round tower. The Annals of Ulster record the island as a peaceful place, where people confessed their sins and pray to God.

Devenish Island is located in Lower Lough Erne, near the town of Enniskillen. A monastic settlement was founded here by St Molaise in the 6th century. Devenish became important not only as a religious centre but also as trading centre for the people living near Lough Erne. It was attacked by the Vikings in 837AD. The remains of a 12th century church, a graveyard, and two round towers were some of the ruins that we explored during our visit.

At Loughinisland, we saw three churches on an island in a small lake. Tradition says that the larger church was shared by both Catholics and Protestants until 1721 when a new Anglican church was built in nearby Seaforde. The surrounding graveyard is still in use by both denominations.

Also in the lake at Loughinisland are the remains of a crannog, a man-made island built of wooden piles. On it would have been a house surrounded by a fenced yard. Crannogs were not religious sites but were the homes of local lords or kings, and were in use from the early Christian times until the 16th century.

We especially enjoyed a visit to the excavation of a crannog at Drumclay near Enniskillen. This excavation, due to a road building project, was only visible for a short time and we were fortunate to get to see it. Archaeologists showed us many interesting everyday items found during the excavation, including leather and wooden objects. Of special interest was a wooden bowl with holes and a cross inscribed on the base. The archaeologists think it was used for making cheese. The cross would have left a mark on the cheese, in effect “blessing” the cheese. We learnt that in Early Christian times it was quite common to put crosses on food to keep away bad spirits and evil.



Reconstruction of Devenish Island during the medieval period

Round tower on Ram’s Island

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Cross inscribed bowl recovered from Drumclay crannog

Excavation of Drumclay crannog

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Devenish Island seen from the air. Loughinisland Loughinisland
2, 3, 6
3 4 6 5 7
@ Crown
copyright. Reproduced with the permission of the Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office

DiFFerent PieCes But One Big PiCture Worship

in Downpatrick

Down Cathedral, the Mall

“Entering the cathedral filled me with awe – I felt that I should be on my best behaviour.”

We were given a tour of the Cathedral by Mrs Joy Wilkinson, the church warden. We were amazed to learn that during the medieval period everyone in the town of Downpatrick would have worshipped in the Cathedral - Irish, English, and Scottish alike. The reason for this was that there was only one kind of Christianity at this time.

The cathedral building was originally built by the Anglo-Norman lord, John de Courcy in the 1180s. He evicted the local Irish monks from the site and invited Benedictine brothers from Chester, England to establish a priory there. The cathedral fell into ruin after the dissolution of the monasteries act in 1536 but was rebuilt between 1797 and 1818.

Archaeologists found remains of an early Christian settlement and burials, and also earlier activity dating to the Bronze Age. On display in the porch are decorated stone fragments discovered in the graveyard.

The interior of the cathedral is very impressive with high ceilings, stained glass windows and a musical organ so large that it forms an archway to walk under. The congregation sit in individual wooden boxed pews. Although the boxes are free for anyone to use, families who worship there have their own favourite box in which they sit each Sunday.

The Cathedral’s baptismal font was recovered from a garden in nearby English Street. It is thought to be the base of 10th or 11th century high cross. We found out that one of the members of the Young Archaeologists Club, Max Crichton, was the 500th baby to be baptised in the cathedral.

Tradition says that St Patrick is buried in the graveyard, along with St Brigid and St Colmcille. A large slab of Mourne granite marks the spot. We discovered that many people visit the grave each year, some leaving tokens behind.

Today, worshippers in the Cathedral follow the Anglican liturgy. Music plays a vital role with a robed choir and sung services. The building is a place of worship but also an important part of our heritage.

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Inside the Cathedral Up in the choir
Stained glass window – Postcard in DCM Collection The organ – Postcard in DCM Collection Max Crichton with the baptismal font in the Cathedral St Patrick’s Grave – Postcard in DCM Collection Tokens left by visitors

DiFFerent PieCes But One Big PiCture

Worship in Downpatrick

“We enjoyed seeing the variety of places to worship.”

St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, Stream Street

The first church to stand here was built in 1787. Before this, Catholics worshipped at a church in nearby Ballykilbeg, which was built in 1704. Tradition has it that mass was also celebrated at a barn in Saul Street and at a Mass house in Ballyvange townland. The present church was built in 1868, but was extended in 1990 to accommodate a growing congregation. Canon Rogan showed us lovely mosaics telling the story of St Patrick. Within the new extension is an ornate shrine dedicated to Mary, the Blessed Virgin.

Unlike other churches in the town, a service, or mass, is said daily. People visit the church during the day to pray and light candles as an offering to God.

St Margaret’s Parish Church, Church Street

St Margaret’s Parish Church was built around 1580, after the cathedral was ransacked and left in ruins. The church is dedicated to Margaret, wife of King Malcolm III of Scotland, who was later made a saint.

The church was later rebuilt in 1735 but the bell tower may be much older. Rev Burns allowed us to climb to the top of the tower. It was a tight squeeze for us climbing into the bell tower. At the top is a very large bell and we learnt that the tower’s roof had to be removed when it was installed! Compared to the cathedral, St Margaret’s Church is smaller and more inviting.

The service follows a traditional format from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer each week, with recited prayers, bible readings, and preaching.

Baptist Church, Bridge Street

We were surprised that the church, built in 1861, was just a small house-like building. Inside we sat on ordinary seats in a large room with a fireplace. Pastor White explained to us that the Baptist church was evangelical and that this meant that their followers spread the “good news” of Jesus, as written in the gospels. In the Baptist Church, you can only be baptised when you are old enough to decide for yourself. This is called “believer’s baptism” and so no babies are baptised. The church building was originally built as a meeting prayer house and has no graveyard but makes use of the one in St Margaret’s Parish Church.

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St Patrick’s Church at turn of 19th century – DCM Collection Mosaic of St Patrick as a boy being captured


Inside the Baptist church

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Shrine dedicated to Mary, the Blessed Virgin, in St Patrick’s church St Margaret’s graveyard YAC members inside the bell tower of St Margaret’s Parish church members outside the Baptist church

DiFFerent PieCes But One Big PiCture Worship in


“We discovered that these places of worship share many things.”

Methodist Church, Saul Street

John Wesley founded Methodism and preached in Downpatrick six times.

The first Methodist church in Downpatrick was built by Edward Smyth in 1777. He was the curate of Ballyculter but became Methodist after he met John Wesley and began talking about God in fields and barns as well as in church. The church was rebuilt in 1955 and unusually is faced in brick and has no bell in the bell tower.

During the 19th century the Methodist congregation grew so much that another smaller church was founded in Church Street, and an Ebenezer Chapel of Ease was located off Irish Street. Nothing now remains of either of these churches.

The service at the Methodist church is simple consisting of prayers, preaching, Bible reading, and, especially important to Methodists, the singing of hymns. There is a special area set aside for the children during service.

Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, Stream Street

The congregation, founded in the 1640s, is the original Downpatrick Presbyterian congregation. The first meeting house was in the Flying Horse area. The church at Stream Street opened in 1711 and was remodelled in the early 1800s. We learned that it is nonsubscribing because they refused to sign the Westminster Confession of Faith, believing that everything that was needed for faith could be found in the Bible. The building is T-shaped with a high central pulpit. This allows the minister to be heard clearly in each of the four galleries, without the aid of a microphone!

A typical service has hymns, prayers, children’s address, readings, and a sermon. Twice a year they celebrate Communion in the traditional way when everyone sits together around long tables in the aisles.

Presbyterian Church, Fountain Lane

This Presbyterian Church is different from most others, as it has a central aisle and stained glass windows showing Jesus. Though the building is over 150 years old, inside they make good use of modern technology. A large screen displays the words of hymns for everybody to see.

Worshippers celebrate Communion four times a year. Communion wine is offered to the congregation in small glasses that are carried in a special non-spill tray. We thought the Presbyterian Church was a lovely place to sit and contemplate.

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Celebrating the Harvest at the Methodist Church Methodist Church 1 2

Kingdom Hall, Downpatrick

Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians from all different backgrounds, across Northern Ireland and Worldwide.

They try their best to imitate Jesus Christ and live by Bible teachings. They take their name from the fact that each of them volunteers their free time ‘witnessing’ or talking to others about Jehovah, the God of the Bible, helping anyone who wants to learn more. The Kingdom Hall is a simple building for worship and study, built in June 1985 by volunteers from across Britain and Ireland, in a single weekend!

More info: visit www.jw.org or come along Thursdays at 7.15pm or Sundays at 10am.



An original collection dish dated 1734 in the Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church.

YAC member with the communion glasses and non-spill tray in the Presbyterian Church

Digging Our Faith Non-subscribing Presbyterian Church The Kingdom Hall YAC members outside the Presbyterian Church Photo & 2 reproduced with kind permission of Dr Brian Turner 3 reproduced with kind permission of Rev David Steers
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DiFFerent PieCes But One Big PiCture Belfast Synagogue

“We found out that the Jewish holy day, the Shabbath, begins on Friday and continues all day Saturday.”

We learnt that synagogues are usually rectangular in plan but the Belfast synagogue is unusual. It is circular and the ceiling is shaped as the Star of David. The points of the star represent the tribes of Israel. The synagogue, built in 1964, replaced the previous synagogue, built 1904, in Anthony Street near Carlisle Circus. Before this, prayers were held in the congregation’s houses.

Those attending the Synagogue on the Shabbath, a day of prayer and rest from work, are expected to walk. It begins with the lighting of a candle, and then coins are dropped in a tzedakah box and given to charity. We were surprised to learn that during prayers, the women sit separately at the side. Women also cover their head. We did this too when we visited to show our respect for the beliefs of others The rabbi leads the congregation in prayer and the service can last up to three hours. During prayers men wear a skull cap, kippa, and a white prayer shawl, tallit.

We noticed that the altar faces east, towards the Temple in Jerusalem. Behind the altar is the Ark, in which the Torah is placed. This is a holy book, which contains the five books of Moses, written on scrolls. These are wrapped in material which is tied to a piece of ornate bright metal, much like a breastplate. This is to represent the breastplate worn by the rabbi in the Temple at Jerusalem.

Above the doors of the ark are written the Ten Commandments. On the wall is the Menorah; this holds nine candles which are lit throughout the ceremony.

On our visit in April 2013, we noticed a calendar on display in the synagogue. We discovered the Jewish calendar began the day the Jewish slaves left Egypt, 5,773 year ago. So for Jews the year is 5,773 and not 2013, which is 2,013 years since the birth of Christ. New Year in the Jewish calendar begins in September.

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Women are required to cover their head Prayer book
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The Torah scrolls The Ten Commandments YAC members in Belfast synagogue with Neville Finch The Menorah

DiFFerent PieCes But One Big PiCture Belfast indian Community Centre

The Indian community bought this former church in 1981. Before this the community met in each other’s houses and hired halls for festivals. In 1981 there were about 200 Indian families in Northern Ireland; now there are 5,000.

On our visit we learned that Hindus believe in one divinity, a supreme being who takes the form of many gods and goddesses. In India, people worship in a temple called a mandir. Before entering, a bell is rung. The sound makes the temple pure and focuses the mind on prayer. It is rung three times, as Hindus believe that the universe has three levels.

Although the community centre is not a temple, it does have a room set aside for worship. You are not allowed to wear shoes here. At one end of the room are statues of different gods and goddesses. They are brightly coloured and richly decorated in fine material, beads, and sequins. In the past, statues were made mostly of stone but marble, copper and silver are also used. In this room people pray to the gods and goddesses. During prayer, pooja, a small lamp, diva, is lit and a bell is rung. Most Hindus have a shrine in their own house, at which to pray. Hinduism uses colour, food, and smells to encourage people to give more attention to the gods.

A bindi, or tilak, is the red spot worn by women. It is a mark of God’s blessing and marks the energy centre of the body. In past times, wives wore it to send their good will to husbands who had gone to war.

On the wall in the prayer room was a swaztika, an important and very ancient symbol in Indian culture. It is designed to depict harmony in all directions, as it forms a spiral drawn together. The four dots within in it represent all within the world.

We enjoyed trying on a sari, a traditional form of Indian dress. It is amazing that it is just one long piece of cloth, folded in a special way.

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“We thought the Indian centre was so beautiful and colourful.”
Indian Community Centre, Belfast Statues of the gods 2

Trying on the Sari

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Getting dressed up
Photos 1 & 2 reproduced by kind permission of the Belfast Indian Community Centre
Wearing the Sari 3 4 Hindu god 6 5

DiFFerent PieCes But One Big PiCture Belfast islamic Community Centre

“We learned that Islam is all about being a good person.”

The Islamic Community Centre is not what we expected. From the outside it is an ordinary house on a quiet street. Inside it is a school, a community centre and a place of worship. The centre hosts marriages, funerals, and festival celebrations such as Eid and Ramadan.

We had to remove our shoes upon entering the building as this is a tradition in Muslim countries. We could see the children in the school room. Here they are taught Arabic and Islamic studies. We were brought upstairs to a large open room and were given a talk on Islam and the Muslim way of life.

We were told that Islam is a way of life and not just about attending festivals. There are five pillars, or laws, which Muslims are expected to live by. These include giving money to the poor and attending the five daily prayers at dawn, mid-day, late-afternoon, sunset and nightfall. Each person has his/her own prayer mat which is placed facing Mecca. This is a city in Saudi Arabia where the holy mosque is located. We learnt that each prayer mat contains a flaw in the design. This is put there to remind us that only God is perfect.

The Islamic holy book is called the Qur’an. It is written in Arabic, the common language of all Islamic countries, and contains no pictures. The Qur’an must never be placed on the floor as this is considered disrespectful.

We learnt that there were only six Muslims living in Northern Ireland in 1970. It is estimated that today there are over 7,000 Muslims. Most of these people come from war-torn countries and seek a peaceful existence here in Northern Ireland.

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At prayer during a festival

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The Belfast Islamic Community Centre

PieCing it tOgether

What we share

“We realised how much the different religions share.”

“We enjoyed piecing together the information about all these different faiths, but there is a lot more we didn’t have time to find out about.”

Water is an important part of religion. Washing, bathing, and being anointed with water are all ways that people express their faith. In Ireland, rivers, lakes, and bogs were sacred in prehistoric times. Today, people still visit holy wells to find cures and water is used in many religious ceremonies including baptism.

Lighting of candles is common in many religions from prehistoric times to the present day. Candles are symbols of purification and are lit as offerings. They are often seen as the eternal flame of life and provide hope in dark times.

Nearly all religions have a special place where people can gather to worship; such as churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, outside altars, and sacred places.

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Baptism Greek Temple

Holy books and scrolls are an important shared part of religion too. We saw many different types of these in the Chester Beatty Library and in other places we visited. They were written on whatever type of material was available; vellum, papyrus, paper, leather and bark from trees.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe in one God.

Bells are used by many faiths in ceremonies to purify and concentrate the mind. They also call people to prayer.

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Front page from an early version of the Holy Bible DCM Collection Representation of God Bell from Drumgath, Co Down – Ulster Museum, courtesy of the Trustees of National Museums Northern Ireland

Sculptures and paintings were important in many faiths to teach religion to those who could not read. They are still popular in many denominations and places today.

Music and singing are shared in many faiths. In Judaism and some Christian denominations the congregation joins in worshipful singing. Ancient musical items have been found in lakes in Ireland and Europe perhaps given as offerings to gods. In medieval and later times, angels are often shown with trumpets and other muscial instruments.

Prayers are a common way of communicating with God or gods.

Graveslab from Kilcoo, Co Down depicting an angel playing a trumpet

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Women singing in Malaga cathedral, George Campbell DCM Collection A Muslim believer at prayer

DOWnPatriCk YOung arChaeOlOgists’ CluB

Downpatrick Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) is one branch of a UK-wide organisation based in York. The Downpatrick branch was launched in 2002 and caters for young people of all backgrounds and abilities aged from 8 to 17 who are interested in archaeology. The club is based at Down County Museum and is run by staff and volunteers.

We meet once a month, usually on a Saturday, and visit sites of archaeological and historical interest situated locally or within a day’s travel. Where possible we take part in archaeological field-walking and excavations and have dug at National Trust sites of Castle Ward, Downhill and Divis, as well as Soldier’s Hill Bangor, and the Mound of Down.

If you are interested in finding out more about the club, please contact Moira O’Rourke at Down County Museum, The Mall, Downpatrick, County Down, BT30 6AH. Telephone: (+44)028 44 615218. To find out about joining YAC UK visit www.yac-uk.org

We are always keen to welcome new members and look forward to hearing from you.

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Digging at Servant’s Hill, Bangor Digging at Downhill, Co Londonderry Surveying at Grey Abbey, Co Down At Boa Island, Co Fermanagh At Soldier’s Hill, Bangor

This project has been funded by the European Union’s PEACE III Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body and delivered by the North Down, Ards and Down Councils Cluster.


Digging our Faith is a project undertaken by the Downpatrick branch of the Young archaeologists’ Club working with Down County Museum and funded by the Peace iii Programme. This project could not have been undertaken without the assistance of the following: Text and research by YAC members, led by Moira O’Rourke.

Max Critchon, Laura Dagens, Frazer Dickie, Adam Dorrian, Ellis Heaney, George Johnston, Rosie Johnston, Andrew King, Kirsty King, Matthew Leathem, Alice Lennon, Katie McCormick, Grace McGouran, Matthew McGouran, Erin McIllwaine, Luke McIllwaine, Jack Martin, Jacob Morrow, Ruby Mulligan, Callum Nelson, Cathal O’Baoill, Shauna Phillips, Michael O’Neill, James Rice, Sean Steen, Lydia Turemen, Rose Widdis, Orlaith Wynn

elpers and Parents:

Allison Critchon, Jonathan Dodd, Anush Gray, Mark Johnston, Brian Leathem, Carmel Leathem, Donna Mackey, Naomi McCormick, Jennifer Mitchell, John Martin, Sean O’Baoill, Moira O’Rourke, John Steen, Michelle Turemen, Bronagh Tottern

Museum Staff: Fiona Brannigan, Peadar Curran, Mike King, Shirley Lennon, Madeleine McAllister, Linda McKenna, Victoria Newberry, Lesley Simpson, Danielle Smyth

Downpatrick Churches:

Baptist Church, Down Cathedral, Methodist Church, Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church, St Margaret’s Parish Church, St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church

Other organisations and individuals:

Chester Beatty Library, Dublin; Enniskillen Museum; National Museum of Ireland, Dublin; Malachy Conway, National Trust Archaeologist; Navan Centre; Northern Ireland Environment Agency; St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh.

Belfast Young Archaeologists’ Club; Excavation team, Drumclay Crannog; Ram’s Island & River Bann Association; Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork at QUB; Ulster Archaeological Society.

Belfast Islamic Centre; Belfast Synagogue; Indian Community Centre, Belfast; Edwin Graham, Northern Ireland Inter Faith Forum

Natalie Hasson, Platinum Expo

Wesley Johnston, April Sky Design

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