May Altar

May Altar

by Sr. Jo Anne Kelly MMM                                                    Ireland                                                01.05.2024

When I was a child it was traditional for every house to have a May Altar in the month of May. It was the month dedicated to Mary, Mother of God. My mother had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary so it was special for all of us. There was great excitement about preparing the May Altar. In country houses like ours some families had the altar in the kitchen but ours was in a bedroom. A special white starched linen cloth covered the top of a chest of drawers. In the centre was the Statue of our Lady on either side of which was a candlestick with candle and tall glass vases. The flowers for the first days were always what we called May flowers and Gilly flowers. These were found in a marshy field which we called Maggie’s field. Maggie was my grandfather’s old farm horse, now more or less retired who spent a lot of time there.

The May flowers were big bright Golden blooms which I later learned may have been wild marsh marigolds and the Gilly flowers were delicate and slender with small pale lilac flowers. We prepared that altar with such care. Each night before going to bed we said our night prayers there. Since we did not have electricity, the candlelight made it special, a little sacred space. Sometimes we had the whole Rosary but not always. I think my mother decided how long she could keep us awake.

Editor’s Note: Our May Altar was at school. My favourite job was to go into the neighbouring patch of woodland near home and gather wildflowers for the Altar. For me it was primroses, if they were still around, but more usually bluebells. The bluebells became a rather sad offering. By the time they were picked on an afternoon, clutch in small arms to be brought home, stored in a bucket outside and carried into school by bus the next day, they were sadly drooped! But my teacher was great and they were given to Mary as a great honour!