Nestled in a secluded and quiet area on the Cultural Centre's grounds is our Mass Rock. Specially quarried from Kinston, NY, this beautiful rock sits as a reminder of the Penal Times in Ireland, when practicing Roman Catholics had to secretly hold Mass in isolated places away from the danger of Cromwell's army and the Penal Law of 1695. Bishops were banished and priests had to register to preach under the 1704 Registration Act. Priest hunters were employed to arrest unregistered priests and Presbyterian preachers under an Act of 1709.
Similar stones, known as Mass stones, are found in Scotland. Presbyterians held similar Conventicles and these were also outlawed, even though they were not religious ceremonies. In many instances in Ireland, a stone would be taken from a church ruin, and relocated to a rural area, with a simple cross carved on its top. Because the activity was illegal, the services were not scheduled and parishioners would be obliged to spread the word of them informally. By the late 17th century worship generally moved to thatched Mass houses. Some of the Mass rock places may have been used for patterns. Partial data on Mass rocks is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of Ireland and to a lesser extent, the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
In later years, the practice of open-air Masses was limited to rural areas and special occasions. However, in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions placed on indoor gatherings to address the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Ireland launched an initiative to celebrate Mass at some Mass Rocks.
The Mass Rock here in East Durham has become the emblem of the local Division of The Ancient order of Hibernians and they hold a celebration of Mass at our Mass Rock each year.