Not the usual ending to an Irish President’s state visit abroad – and certainly not one you’d expect Michael D Higgins who dodged questions about his religious beliefs.
On the last public occasion of his two-day visit to Vienna, President Higgins, his wife Sabina and the entire group of visitors suddenly found themselves in a basement church that dates back to the founding of Irish monks in the 12th century.
Her kind host, Father Johannes Jung, had spoiled her with the history of the Irish monks in this landmark monastery and church in the heart of Vienna.
Then suddenly the former abbot said it was “time to pray” and he led the slightly startled group to recite the Hail Mary in English.
Just as quickly, Father Jung said that everyone must sing, and he and his fellow monks led the party in a Latin version of Salve Regina.
With everyone wearing the surgical-grade Covid-19 masks that are still mandatory in Vienna, it was difficult to be definitive.
But all indications were that the president – who described himself as “spiritual, not religious” – knew the words many of his generation would have prayed even as the Hail Holy Queen.
The President, who identifies with many secular causes, has twice taken the oath of office before the Chief Justice “in the presence of Almighty God” and has rejected the description of himself as an “atheist”.
But in May 2021 he told BBC Radio Ulster he believed this religious oath by the President should be replaced with a secular endorsement.
Five hours earlier, Federal President Higgins had started his second day of office in Vienna with a lecture on “Europe and culture” at the University of Vienna.
After speaking and answering questions for more than an hour, one man wanted to know how the president – who is approaching his 81st birthday later this month – has kept his energy and optimism so high.
“I’m glad I’m fooling someone anyway,” came the instant reply. But President Higgins said his formula for positive aging is a mixture of “curiosity and anger”.
“I am totally anti-aging. I was very disappointed that I avoided Covid and then got it. It’s still a bit exhausting,” he said.
Then the advice came: “The only thing I would say to people is: stay curious and you will succeed. I’ve also always had a fair amount of anger that has carried me through my life — and that doesn’t hurt either,” he said.
President Higgins listened to the story of the Irish monks who founded this pioneering religious institution in Vienna in 1155, still known today as the Schottenstift.
The Irish monks, commonly known by the Latin term ‘Scotti’, had been brought in by Duke Henry, and with abbots named Dermot and Finian, they worked as scribes, administrators and tutors, helping to found the University of Vienna but drawing its recruits from Rosscarbery and Kassel.
The foundation’s archivist, Dr. Maximilian Trofaier explained that religious and political changes in 1418 caused the Irish contingent to withdraw in favor of Germanic monks.
But the Irish name lives on to this day and the 12th-century basement chapel contains a statue from that period known as Our Lady of the Scots.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/michael-d-higgins-ends-trip-to-vienna-with-visit-to-church-founded-by-irish-monks-in-12th-century-41532140.html Michael D. Higgins ends the trip to Vienna with a visit to the church, which was founded by Irish monks in the 12th century