Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1962 and the mentoring influence of a former Representative Church Body librarian
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Through the centuries, the Holy Land has drawn millions of pilgrims of the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They visit the holy places central to their beliefs – connecting them to their respective faiths in a physical and personal way, and we previously demonstrated one such visit during the late 19th century, with the digitization of a collection of lantern slides that commenced at sea off the coast of the town of Jaffa, available at this permanent link: June 2012. Each visit is distinctive and for every person fortunate enough to go on such a journey, it can be a life–changing experience.
May’s Archive of the Month at the Representative Church Body Library documents one such experience by presenting a digitized copy of a journal that was written by a young student, Patricia Ledbetter (now Smyth), as she travelled to Jerusalem and environs, via Holyhead, London, Frankfurt and Beirut, in September 1962.
(Top) with opening page of the Pilgrimage text, RCB Library Ms 605
(Left) Geraldine Fitzgerald (1891–1967) Librarian, Representative Church Body Library, Dublin, 1932–66, from RCB Library Ms 1008
(Right) Patricia H. Ledbetter on her graduation day, October 1967, image supplied by Patricia H. Smyth
Patricia accompanied a former librarian of the RCB, Geraldine Fitzgerald. Initially they travelled by boat from Dun Laoghaire on 10 September 1962, and then onward by train to London. At the Victoria Station Air Terminal, they joined 30 other ‘British and Irish pilgrims’ including the group leader, the Rt Revd Roderic Coote (1915–2000) the suffragan bishop of Fulham 1956–65 (and formerly curate of St Bartholomew’s, Dublin 1938–41). From London the group flew to Frankfurt, and then Beirut where they stayed one night, before an onward flight to ‘Jerusalem Airport’, arriving on Wednesday 12 September 1962, where the young traveller ‘was nearly blinded by the white light of the sun’.
Patricia had first become acquainted with Miss Fitzgerald when her older sister Susan, a History and Political Science student at Trinity College Dublin, went to her for ‘grinding’. Born in Dublin on 9 May 1891, Geraldine Fitzgerald had received a distinguished education in Trinity herself, obtaining the Gold Medal and first class honours for the same degree back in 1915. She went on to serve as Assistant Librarian at the Royal Irish Academy for 15 years, before her appointment as Librarian of the newly–established library of the Representative Church Body, at its headquarters at 52 St Stephen’s Green.
Throughout her career as a librarian, she also became legendry amongst students at Trinity for her role as a ‘grinder’. In the era when lecturers and professors merely lectured, and before there were any seminars or tutorials, people like Geraldine Fitzgerald played a vital role in actually teaching and encouraging students, and saved many – including the Ledbetter sisters – from ‘academic shipwreck’.
Whilst still a student in her Leaving Certificate year at Alexandra College, Patricia was having difficulties with a course on French Revolution history and attended Miss Fitzgerald for help with that. Finding her a ‘superb teacher’ she and her family became good friends with Miss Fitzgerald, their friendship continuing throughout Patricia’s time at Trinity from October 1962 and the latter’s death in October 1967. The month before her college career commenced, having seen Miss Fitzgerald’s itinerary for a Holy Land pilgrimage, Geraldine asked her father if she could go too – hence her opportunity to participate on this exciting expedition.
Patricia wrote up events on the journey and later gave the journal to Miss Fitzgerald, who kept it safe in the library where it is now accessioned as RCBL MS 605. In a letter sent afterwards, Fitzgerald complimented her young student on the quality of the work: ‘you can write and write well, so it is well worth your while to take pains with your English’. Further mentoring and encouraging her, she added: ‘you will always have it to remind you of the very wonderful experience which you were very lucky to be able to have on the threshold of your entry into the new world that waits us all when we leave the rather sheltered haven of home … for the world outside’.
The journey was certainly one of discovery and excitement for the young Patricia, with boat, rail, and flight travel, to say nothing of her first encounter with the geo–political realities underpinning everyday life in this region, when by mistake she handed in her Israeli pass, rather than a Jordanian one on arrival at the customs desk in Jerusalem (then under Jordanian control) and met with a frosty response.
The impact of visiting holy places such as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem would never be forgotten: ‘I shall always remember that day whenever I hear that passage about Christ’s birth’. The strength of ecumenical encounters also comes across, especially during the walk on the Via Dolorosa when many different nationalities and Christian faiths came together to follow the stations of the cross using ‘the same service despite difference in race and creed. For once all these branches of the Christian church were united’.
On a recent visit to the Library, Patricia was enchanted to discover that the journal had been kept safe since 1963, paid for the cost of having it digitized so she could share it digitally with her grandchildren. She has also presented the library with an additional personal collection of correspondence, papers, photographs, press–cuttings and printed material she had carefully assembled for a biographical study of Miss Fitzgerald. These have now been accessioned as RCB Library Ms 1008, and document the latter’s role as a mentor and ‘grinder of students’ at Trinity College Dublin, as well as providing a detailed account of her life and in particular her dedicated role as Librarian of the RCB Library, 1932–1966, for which she was awarded an honorary MA degree by Trinity College Dublin in 1962 – the same year as she accompanied Patricia to the Holy Land.
Graduation image of Miss Fitzgerald, awarded an honorary MA degree by Trinity College Dublin in 1962 for her role as RCB Librarian, together with appreciation of her life by Professor A.J. Otway–Ruthven, published after her death in the Church of Ireland Gazette, RCB Library Ms 1008/3
The materials include photographs, original correspondence, the recollections of some of her students about Miss Fitzgerald’s life and a personal run of letters from Miss Fitzgerald to Patricia Ledbetter, as she tutored her through Trinity. A detailed list of the content, arranged in three files is available here.
We have illustrated this online exhibition with some of the items from this latter collection, as a tribute to Miss Fitzgerald’s influence and contribution, along with select items from the pilgrimage journal. The full digitized copy of Patricia’s Holy Land pilgrimage journal is available at this link.
For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood