The Marian shrine at Knock has announced that in addition to postponing the popular Knock Novena and pilgrimage because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shrine and its church will be closed for the feast of the Assumption of Mary to discourage pilgrims from gathering.

“Father Richard Gibbons, rector at Knock, has appealed to people not to travel to Knock on 15th August as the shrine and grounds will be closed in order to prevent large gatherings in the context of COVID-19,” a statement on the shrine’s website said.

The feast of the Assumption is traditionally the centrepiece of the Knock Novena and normally would draw 20,000 pilgrims to the shrine, the statement said. Over the course of the novena, August 14-22, as many as 150,000 people would normally go to the shrine for prayer and lectures.

“In the light of the current escalation of COVID-19 cases around the country together with the sheer impossibility of having the resources necessary to deal with the potential of large numbers of people gathering” at the shrine and, “extremely conscious of our responsibility for the safety of our parishioners, pilgrims, visitors, staff, volunteers and priests,” Fr Gibbons said, the shrine will close at 8pm on August 14 and not reopen until 7am on August 16.

“This decision was taken after detailed discussions with Church and state bodies,” the rector said. “We are appealing to people therefore, not to travel to Knock for the 15th August as the shrine and grounds will be closed off to everyone in order to prevent large gatherings.”

Leaving the shrine open, he added, would be “ambiguous and cause confusion.”

During the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, the shrine’s livestreamed Masses proved very popular. For the feast of the Assumption, the shrine said, “Masses will be celebrated online only and behind closed doors” at noon, 3pm and 7.30pm.

When the strict lockdown in Ireland ended, in late June the Knock shrine began offering Masses with a maximum of 50 people present; the number increased to 100 in July and to 200 on August 4. However, Ireland has been experiencing a growth in COVID-19 infection rates and some counties — but not County Mayo, where Knock is located — have returned to lockdown measures.

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