Palmarians…. Joan a former member tells her story

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As per my previous post, I was part of this, with my mother from 1975 to about 1981. I was aged 8 when I was first involved so my descriptions will be that of an 8 year old!

Just to say at the start, this is my experience, I don’t want to insult anyone by my interpretation of that experience. But this is how it was for me. It might help someone. And by the way I never lost my sense of humour.

Just to explain also my mother was a lovely person, but was very vulnerable and suffered, in hindsight from anxiety, if not some level of depression. She had lost her mother in 1975 who, she was very close to, and her marriage was not good, although they always remained in the same house. She couldn’t leave because in 1975 women in Ireland had no entitlements to the family home, she had no income and her religion kept her there.
So Palmar became her support network.

I was the youngest of 4. The others were only involved for a very short time – they were a bit older than me. My mother started by going to prayer groups or cenacles in people’s houses – she had been introduced by a friend. I used to go along.

We lived in Dublin.

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My father was away one weekend and my mother decided to have a cenacle in our house. Over 40 people crowded into our sitting room at home. And then a Spanish visionary called Analito arrived. He was a small wirey man with not a word of English. In the middle of it all he started to have a vision of Our Lady. Next thing I knew, I was being ushered over to him by the crowd. He caught me by the ankles and pushed me up over his head. I was being presented to our lady apparently. There was a message for my sister too although she wasn’t in the room. It was all taped and we were given the tape – I had it for a number of years but I’m pretty sure I threw it out about 20 years ago. I wanted all memory of Palmar gone and who was going to translate it without thinking it was very strange.

My father went absolutely nuts when he heard about the prayer group in the house, he came back early and caught the end of it. After everyone had left, he ran around the garden like a crazy man hiding my mother’s statues in the flower beds.

My mother soon after arranged a trip to Palmar – it was part of a pilgrimage – there would have been about 30 Irish. I went with her.
I had never been out of Ireland so for me it was amazing. Palmar for me was one very dusty street, with houses on either side and no pathways. At the very end of the long street there was the village which was not a square but opened out into a square like grid system of streets.

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We never went in there except once as there were bars and the cinema and all these things were considered not good. Also a lot of the locals did not like these pilgrims coming and you could get into trouble in the village.

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The house we stayed in was like a youth hostel – bunk beds everywhere and a communal cooking area. Amen in one house and women in another. In the morning the smell of bread from the bakery ( small house where the lady baked and sold it ) was fantastic and I lived on Miranda orange over there.

At night, the old ladies would sit outside their houses and chat – they would all be dressed in black – they would shout down the street to each other. There might be a cow tied up against one house and a courting couple by the side of another.
On our first visit, I clearly remember doing a night vigil in the dark outside. Maybe about 100 people only. I was very near Clemente Domingues Gomez as he was then. Within feet of him and he fell to his knees in the dark and had a vision. For me he was really frightening looking, as his eyes were stitched down very crudely – you could clearly see there was nothing in the sockets. The skin was pulled taught. No eye patch, false eyes or glass eyes to cover anything up. I can’t remember this early on if he had gloves, but certainly later he wore white gloves and they were blood stained in the centre as he was supposed to have the stigmata.
It may have been at this time, but I remember going into the area that would become the Basilica but it was only an enclosure with a large metal gate. I can’t remember anything indoors on that visit as we were praying outdoors. To enter the enclosure we would first walk up the dust street and then off road through a field track to the metal gate. I remember near the gate there was locals who spat and threw little stones. We would go as a group for safety and then knock and a priest would let us in. At that time, there was certainly one very large hammer and sickle drawn on the wall outside – it would have been 4 foot in diameter. The locals had obviously put it there.

On other visits, the basilica was more complete. Although for me it always looked a bit skeletal, just the shape of it.
There was a large concourse outside – just an empty space surrounded by a very high wall/ barrier. Then the Basilica itself was huge – it would fit maybe 2000 . In my mind it was bigger than anything I had seen before. I’m thinking back nearly 40 years now so I could be wrong. There were side alters with priests practising saying mass. A very large altar at the top.

. We were there one time at Easter celebrations after Clemente became Pope. Every night he was carried high on a very ornate chair on a platform held up by priests. He was always as far as I remember in elaborate white and gold buttoned long coats. He was a small round man, with a round face.

I might have been 10 at this stage. My mother and I would do as many night vigils as we were able. She had made herself a brown hooded cloak. brown was the ‘ in ‘ colour in Palmar.
When I got too tired I would hide under it and go asleep. But I had an unusual way to go asleep a bit like counting sheep. I would sit in the Basilica and all the bishops and cardinals would be sitting on their seats on the alter in lines at the back – I remember about 30/ 40 at this stage. They had large pink hats and as the went asleep themselves the hats would slip and then they might make a start and wake up. So I would count how many sleeping cardinals and bishops were there. Eventually, I would nod off myself. Even at that stage I knew this was some scene for any 10 year old to witness.

On one of the trips to Spain, I would have been 10 or 11 I made my confirmation. My father went absolutely ballistic when my mother told him, as he drove out of the airport on the way home,

Anyway, and I know some will find this maybe offensive, but I made it again when my school class made it a few years later. My theory was that one of them was wrong! My father, my brothers and sisters came. My mother did arrange the clothes to wear .., guess what a brown suit! I was bringing Palmar with me for the day!

It was my survival instinct kicking in that I was confirmed twice – I don’t think it did me any harm – I was terrified lightening would strike me or something when I got the oil the second time round! When you were in Palmar you were trained to have a vivid imagination!

Back in Dublin at this time – we had mass or prayer meetings depending on the availability of a priest. Eventually, we had a priest for Ireland and he travelled around. Mass was either in Santry or over a butchers in Pearse street. I won’t mention any names here but people who were part of it will know.

All this time, I kept my Palmar life separate from my friends and school. I remember my English teacher, a nun, used to say you can never write properly of you don’t write about what you know.
It used to put the fear of God in me – if I wrote about what I know – a family life that a complete disaster and a very unorthodox religion – I wanted to get away from it – not write about it!

Under my school clothes I wore a huge 4by 3 inch cross and a 4 by 3 inch scapular with the Holy Face on it. Changing for gym time was a challenge – I am sure my friends thought I was extremely odd. I was at a reunion a few years ago and I did ask one of them and she just remembered me as painfully shy. But that wasn’t me at all, I just had to make sure no one got too close, visited my home and didn’t see me on a Sunday. I’m sure they wondered why I dressed oddly.

When I was14 my brother was getting married and of course, my mother and I were not going to be allowed go. Well at that stage and at 14, I could see that any religion that puts between families is no religion at all. My mother begged me to go to confession first. I remember it well. Confession was heard at the top of the stairs, door on the right in Pearse street and Fr Escholastico a Scottish priest was waiting to hear what I had to say. He told me the devil was in my head and that I shouldn’t listen to him. Well that really nailed it for me and I was gone. My mother used to some up for a few weeks on Sunday mornings and kiss my eyelids so I might see the light. But I stayed in bed and it passed in a few weeks .
The very first Sunday I went to the local church and I have always gone to mass since, by the way. The first year I hadn’t a clue of the words, when to stand or sit. And to be honest it was probably about 10 years before I took communion in the hand.

I’ll write again some time even though I was left it , it was still a huge part of my life and made life so complicated, as my mother was a complete devotee.

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