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Ghent

Episcopal Ordination in 1669 - Ghent, Belgium


It was decided that Oliver Plunkett should be ordained Archbishop of Armagh in a quiet ceremony in Flanders, Belgium, on his way home to Ireland, lest a more public ceremony in Rome might antagonise the government back home. Arriving in Brussels on 3rd November 1669 after a two-month journey from Rome, he found that the Internuncio was away, so he went to visit Louvain and met the large Franciscan community at St. Anthony's College, including fifteen friars who had recently arrived from Ireland. Oliver would no doubt have enquired about the remnants of the Armagh altar-plate, which was deposited with the friars over sixty years earlier. The altar-plate, along with some church items and possibly some vestments, were brought out of Ireland for safe keeping by Hugh O'Neill, the Earl of Tyrone in the Flight of the Earls, who had stayed with his party in Louvain over the winter of 1607/8.

Oliver was ordained Archbishop of Armagh at St. Bavo's Cathedral, Ghent, by Bishop Eugene D'Allamont of Ghent, on the first Sunday of Advent, 1st December 1669. The ceremony was assisted by the Provost of the Cathedral, Rt. Rev. James Roose and the Dean of the Chapter of Ghent, Rt. Rev. John le Monier. In attendance was an exiled bishop from the diocese of Ferns in Ireland, Bishop Nicholas French whom Archbishop Oliver knew well and who had accompanied Sir Nicholas Plunkett on a visit to Rome as emissaries of the Confederation of Kilkenny. Archbishop Oliver would have been delighted to again meet Bishop French and they must have had a lot of reminiscing of past times. Bishop French had an interesting life, having escaped from the terrible onslaught of Cromwell's forces in his native County Wexford. At his house in Wexford, a sacristan, a gardener and a sixteen-year old boy were killed. Bishop French then hid in the Irish countryside despite a determined search for him by those same forces, until his escape into exile some five months later. While hiding in the woods, his hideout was discovered and surrounded at one stage, but he broke through the ranks of the soldiers at speed, later thanking God and the swiftness of his steed. Indeed the Cromwellians hanged three of Bishop French's fellow Irish bishops at this time and a fourth bishop died from ill treatment after capture.

During the penal times in Ireland, the bishops of Flanders maintained a fine tradition of giving sanctuary, education and help to many of the exiled Irish churchmen, and it was common practice to present the newly ordained Irish bishops with episcopal rings. This was the third time since May of that year that Bishop d'Allamont of Ghent was involved in the consecration of an Irish Archbishop, namely, James Lynch of Tuam in Ghent and Peter Talbot of Dublin, in Antwerp. Bishop French assisted at both of those ceremonies, when three bishops were available in each case, according to protocol.

In the middle ages, the city of Ghent had become the second largest city in northern Europe and was a prosperous centre of commerce. However by the time of Oliver's visit, its importance had diminished somewhat as a result of the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. Once Catholic, then a Calvinist republic and then with the help of the Spanish army it had became a Catholic region once again.

A week after his episcopal ordination in Ghent, Archbishop Oliver set off again on the next part of his journey home to Ireland, via Ostend, London and Holyhead. Before leaving he wrote: "I am thinking of passing myself off as an Italian tourist who is going out of curiosity to see the sights of London" and he added that he had given his papers and letters to an English gentleman to be brought to London.

On the first Sunday of Advent 2008, Bishop Gerard Clifford, Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh led a memorable pilgrimage from Ireland to St. Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent, to commemorate St. Oliver's episcopal ordination at St. Bavo's on the first Sunday of Advent 1669. After Mass, concelebrated by Bishop Lucas Van Looy of Ghent, a plaque was unveiled by Bishop Clifford in the crypt of the cathedral. The plaque is inscribed in three languages: Flemish, Irish and English.