Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Hanging an old portrait over my desk

Bishop William Pakenham Walsh ... all dressed up and ready for action in mission (Photograsph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

For four years, while I was working for the Church Mission Society Ireland (CMS Ireland), a large, three-quarter length life-size portrait of Bishop William Pakenham Walsh hung in my office in Overseas House, Rathmines. Now the portrait is hanging once again, but this time in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

In the last few months, CMS Ireland has sold Overseas House and is renting an office around the corner in Church of Ireland House, Rathmines. In the process of moving out, CMS has kindly agreed to this portrait being moved to my present office. A similar portrait hangs in the dining room in the Bishop’s House in Kilkenny.

After its foundation in 1814, CMS Ireland had its Dublin offices first on the corner of Earl Street and O’Connell Street (then Sackville Street), from 1816 at 16 Upper O’Connell Street, and from 1877 in No 17 Upper O’Connell Street. CMS moved to 8 Dawson Street in 1884, and in 1895 to 21 Molesworth Street. Both a centenary thanksgiving fund set up in 1914 and a bequest from the Potterton family helped CMS buy new premises at 35 Molesworth Street, dedicated in 1929 by Archbishop John Gregg of Dublin.

In 1975, CMS moved to Overseas House. Overseas House was opened on 22 February 1975 by Archbishop George Otto Simms of Armagh as Patron of what was then called the Hibernian Church Missionary Society.

The portrait of Bishop Pakenham Walsh by Harry B. Douglas was one of the mementoes brought from Molesworth Street to Overseas House in the 1970s.

Bishop William Pakenham Walsh (1820-1902) was Deputy Secretary of CMS Ireland from 1851 to 1873. During that time he was curate (1853-1858) and then Rector of Sandford Parish (1858-1873), which is close to Overseas House. William Pakenham Walsh later became Dean of Cashel (1873-1878) and Bishop of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin (1878-1897). He died in Crinken House, Bray, in 1902.

When I first moved into my office in Overseas House in 2002, my two sons were overwhelmed and overawed by the formal portrait of the bishop in his convocation robes, including a white rochet, scarlet chimere, black scarf and academic hood. They wanted to know who the bishop was. When I explained that he had been one of my predecessors at CMS Ireland, they joked about me having to turn up at work dressed like this each day.

Archbishop Cosmo Lang in rochet and chimere ... he feared the portrait made him “look proud, pompous and prelatical”

Their witty comments reminded me of the story of Archbishop Cosmo Lang who, on seeing his portrait, remarked: “It makes me look proud, pompous and prelatical.” To this, a wit responded: “To which of those epithets does your Grace take exception?”

The rochet that is still worn by many bishops on formal occasions is sometimes referred to as “Lawn Sleeves”. With the topcoat of a chimere, that is how many Anglican bishops still dress for their Episcopal consecration, at formal services, and as they pose for formal photographs at General Synods or at the Lambeth Conference.

Not a black chimere in sight ... the bishops of the Church of Ireland in rochets and scarlet chimeres at the General Synod in Galway two years ago

But the chimere, like so much of clerical dress, is an academic robe. It ought to be black. The scarlet version comes from the robes of a Doctor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. At one time, almost all Anglican archbishops were graduates of Oxford and often they were in the habit of awarding degrees to newly-consecrated bishops and dressing them as though they too were holders of an Oxford DD. Similarly, bishops of the Church of Ireland often received DD from Dublin University soon after their consecration.

The custom of giving degrees out with the office has ceased, and so most Anglican bishops ought, by rights, to dress in black and white, unless they want to dress in the customary and appropriate sacramental robes.

Bishop Pakenham Walsh received the degrees BD and DD from Trinity College Dublin in 1873 when he was made Dean of Cashel.

But those who think a cope, chasuble or mitre is outdated or no longer appropriate should remember it is a long time since an Irish bishop ever sat in convocation or was ever conferred with an honorary DD from Oxford, Cambridge or Dublin.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Thomas More: a man for all seasons?

Thomas More ... the subject of last night’s panel discussion on Talking History on Newstalk 106

Patrick Comerford

Last night, I was on a panel on Talking History on Newstalk 106, discussing Sir Thomas More (1478-1535). The other panel members on Patrick Geoghegan’s show were Professor Ciaran Brady, who is about to retire from Trinity College Dublin, Professor Raymond Gillespie of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, and Brian Moynahan, author of William Tyndale. If God Spare my Life (London: Abacus, 2003).

We were discussing Thomas More, the great English lawyer, social philosopher, author and statesman at the time of the Tudor Reformation. He is recognised as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, and is also named in the calendar of a number of Anglican churches, but is seen by others as the persecutor and pursuer of early Protestants and Reformers.

More is often known through his portrayal by Paul Scofield in Fred Zimmermann’s 1966 movie, A Man for All Seasons or more recently for his portrayal in The Tudors, the television series filmed in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Last week in Castlebar, at the launch of Victory or Glorious Defeat, the new book on Mayo in 1798 edited by Dr Sheila Molloy, I was reminded that General John Moore, the first and only President of Connaught, and the Moore family of Moore Hall, claimed direct descent from Thomas More.

There is renewed interest in More just as the plans are being finalised for the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman next September. More was canonised with Bishop John Fisher in 1835, on the 400th anniversary of More’s execution, but his beatification in 1886 was a strong statement that English Catholicism was authentically English and authentically Anglican. By the second half of the 19th century, the old English recusant families – the sort of families portrayed by Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited – had lost their dominant place in English Catholicism, which was fast becoming the faith of the poor Irish immigrants. At the same time, their claims to Catholicism were being challenged by the new wave of Anglo-Catholicism, led by Charles Gore, and working tirelessly in mission through the “slum priests.”

More is held up as the ideal English Catholic of conscience. But I wondered what would have been his fate if he had survived and his conscience later rejected Papal authority in as mild and as mannered a way as he partially rejected royal authority in Tudor England?

Newman, who is now being held up as ideal English Catholic, was, for his part, a dissident when it came to papal authority, infallibility, the down-grading of the laity and the primacy of papal dogma over individual conscience. “I shall drink to the Pope if you please,” Newman once wrote, “… still to conscience first and the Pope afterwards.” He once wrote of the ageing Pope Pius IX: “He becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know fact, and does cruel things without meaning it.”

Raymond Gillespie pointed out that More was a man of his time – he was born at the end of the late mediaeval period, before Columbus had discovered America; by the time he was executed, Christnedom was no longer a coherent entity, nation states were on the rise, and modern Europe was being formed.

More’s contribution

During his life More gained a reputation as a leading renaissance humanist, as an opponent of both Martin Luther’s theology and of William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible into English. But it was difficult to swallow Brian Moynahan’s preposterous argument that More opposed Luther and pursued Tyndale because he saw the Reformation would do away with the Trinity, the Church and the Sacraments. The Trinity, the Church and the Sacraments remain at the heart of both Lutheranism and Anglicanism.

More gave the English language the word “utopia,” the name he gave to the ideal, imaginary island nation whose political system he described in Utopia (1516). Utopia is a Greek pun on ou-topos, meaning no place, and eu-topos, meaning good place. Utopia contrasts the contentious social life of European states with the perfectly orderly, reasonable social arrangements of Utopia and its environs. In Utopia, with communal ownership of land, private property does not exist, men and women are educated alike, and there is almost complete religious toleration. Some see the principal message as the social need for order and discipline rather than liberty. Utopia tolerates different religious practices, but does not tolerate atheists, for if a man did not believe in a god or in an afterlife he could never be trusted because he would not acknowledge any authority or principle outside himself.

More received a classical education in Greek and Latin at Oxford, before studying law at the New Inn and Lincoln’s Inn, and he was called to the bar in 1502. Erasmus says More once seriously contemplated leaving the law to become a Carthusian monk. But in 1504 he was elected an MP and he married his first wife, Jane Colt, in 1505. When she died in 1511, he married a rich widow, Alice Middleton.

More took a serious interest in the education of women, believing women to be as capable as men of academic accomplishment. His children all received a classical education, and his eldest daughter Margaret was admired for her fluency both Greek and Latin.

Diplomat and politician

After a diplomatic mission to the Emperor Charles V, with the Lord Chancellor, Archbishop Thomas Wolsey of York, More was knighted, and went on to become secretary and personal adviser to Henry VIII, Speaker of the House of Commons, High Steward of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

When Henry VIII replied to Luther in 1521 with his Assertio, written with the editorial assistance of More, Pope Leo X honoured the king with the title Fidei Defensor (“Defender of the Faith”).

In 1531, William Tyndale wrote An Answer unto Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue as a response to More’s earlier Dialogue Concerning Heresies. After reading Tyndale’s work, More spent several months writing his 500,000-word Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer, written as a dialogue between More and Tyndale in which More responds to each of Tyndale’s criticisms of Catholic rites and doctrines.

These literary battles convinced More, who valued structure, tradition, and order in society, that Lutheranism and the Reformation were dangerous not only to the Christian faith, but to the stability of society as a whole.

After Wolsey fell, More became Lord Chancellor in 1529. He initially co-operated with the king’s new policy, denouncing Wolsey in Parliament and proclaiming the opinion of the theologians at Oxford and Cambridge that the marriage of Henry to Catherine had been unlawful. But as Henry began to deny the authority of the Pope, More’s qualms grew. He saw heresy as a threat to the unity of both church and society, believing heresy must be eradicated for the sake of peace and stability in society, and seeing heresy as dangerous to the existing order.

In 1531, Richard Bayfield, a Cambridge graduate and former Benedictine monk, was burned to death in Smithfield for distributing copies of Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament. But during the panel discussion I had to refute the accusation that More as Lord Chancellor tortured those he regarded as heretics while they were being interrogated. These claims are based on the writings of John Foxe and his Book of Martyrs but More forcefully denied those charges as false, “so helpe me God.”

Yet, in total, six heretics were burned at the stake during More’s time as Lord Chancellor: Thomas Hitton, Thomas Bilney, Richard Bayfield, John Tewkesbery, Thomas Dusgate, and James Bainham. Were such deaths a betrayal of More’s humanist convictions? Burning at the stake was the acceptable punishment for unrepentant heretics at the time, even in the thinking of more moderate people like Erasmus and many Protestants.

More’s tiral

In 1531, More attempted to resign after being forced to take an oath declaring the king the Supreme Head of the English Church “as far as the law of Christ allows.” When he asked the king again in 1532 to relieve him of his office, claiming that he was ill, Henry acceded to his request.

In 1533, More refused to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn, although he wrote to Henry acknowledging Anne as queen and expressing wishes for the king’s happiness and the new queen’s health.

Soon after, More was charged with accepting bribes, but the charges were dismissed for lack of evidence. In early 1534, he was accused of conspiring with the “holy maid of Kent,” Elizabeth Barton, a nun who had spoke out against the king’s annulment. More quickly produced a letter he had written to her instructing her not to interfere with state matters.

More accepted Parliament’s right to declare Anne Boleyn the legitimate Queen of England, but he steadfastly refused to take the oath of supremacy because of an anti-papal preface to the Act asserting Parliament’s authority to legislate in matters of religion. Nor would he swear to uphold Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Bishop John Fisher of Rochester also refused to take the oath.

More was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was visited by Thomas Cromwell, who failed to persuade him to take the oath. He went on trial in July 1535 before a panel of judges that included the new Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas Audley, as well as Anne Boleyn’s father, brother and uncle. He was charged with high treason for denying the validity of the Act of Succession. The Solicitor General, Richard Rich, testified that More had, in his presence, denied that the king was the legitimate head of the church. Although two other witnesses denied hearing the details of the reported conversation, More was found guilty under the terms of the 1534 Treason Act.

Before sentencing, More spoke freely of his belief that “no temporal man may be the head of the spirituality.” He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered – then the usual punishment for traitors who were not members of the nobility – but the king commuted this to execution by decapitation. He was executed on 6 July 1535. On the scaffold, he declared that he died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

More was buried at the Tower of London, in the chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula in an unmarked grave. His head was fixed on a pike over London Bridge for a month until his daughter, Margaret (Meg) Roper, rescued it. His skull is said to rest in Saint Dunstan’s Church, which I once visited in Canterbury. There Meg Roper and her husband’s family are buried in the Roper family vault, and legend has it that Meg wished to be buried with her father’s head in her arms.

Thomas More and his family ... his head is said to be buried in the Rper vault in Saint Dunstan’s Church, Canterbury

‘Defender of all that was finest’

More’s conviction for treason was widely seen as unfair, even among many Protestants. Ersasmus declared after his execution that More had been “more pure than any snow” and that his genius was “such as England never had and never again will have.” When he heard of his execution, the Emperor Charles V said : “Had we been master of such a servant, we would rather have lost the best city of our dominions then such a worthy councillor.”

More was greatly admired by Anglican writers such as Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson. Dr Johnson said: “He was the person of the greatest virtue these islands ever produced.”

Winston Churchill once wrote: “The resistance of More and Fisher to the royal supremacy in Church government was a noble and heroic stand. They realised the defects of the existing Catholic system, but they hated and feared the aggressive nationalism which was destroying the unity of Christendom … More stood as the defender of all that was finest in the mediaeval outlook. He represents to history its universality, its belief in spiritual values and its instinctive sense of other-worldliness. Henry VIII with cruel axe decapitated not only a wise and gifted counsellor, but a system, which, though it had failed to live up to its ideals in practice, had for long furnished mankind with its brightest dreams.”

The steadfastness and courage with which More held on to his religious convictions in the face of ruin and death and the dignity with which he conducted himself in prison and during his trial and execution, enhanced his later reputation, particularly among Catholics. He was beatified by in 1886 and canonised in 1935. In 1980, he was added to the Church of England’s calendar of saints, and in 2000 Pope John Paul II declared him the patron of statesmen and politicians.

Was More guilty of religious fanaticism and intolerance? Did he persecute those he regarded as heretics? In her 2009 novel Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel characterises More as a religious and masochistic fanatic from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, but Cromwell is portrayed favourably.

Jeremy Northam plays More in The Tudors, where he is shown as a peaceful man, a devout Catholic and the devoted head of a family, but who unabashedly expresses his loathing for Lutheranism. The Tudors also shows him engaging in the conversation that Richard Rich claimed took place about the king’s status as Supreme Head of the Church in England.

The debate continues.

You can listen back to the show and access the podcast by going to this link:

http://media.newstalk.ie/podcasts/popup and selecting Talking History > Highlights from Talking History.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Conditional discipleship or committed discipleship?

The call to discipleship is costly and demands commitment without conditions

Patrick Comerford

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Sunday 27 June 2010 (The Fourth Sunday after Trinity)

11 a.m. Sung Eucharist: I Kings 19: 15-16, 19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5: 1, 13-25; Luke 9: 51-62.


May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Over the past few weeks, the Gospel readings in the Lectionary have been looking at some of the well-loved and well-known stories in Saint Luke’s Gospel: the healing of the Centurion’s servant in Capernaum (Luke 7: 1b-10); the raising of the widow’s son in Nain (Luke 7: 11-17); the anointing of Jesus by the woman with the alabaster jar (Luke 7: 36 – 8: 3); and the healing of the Gerasene man possessed by a legion of demons.

Luke is a great story-teller; we have all been captivated by his stories of healing and his parables: the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the unjust steward, and so on.

And so this morning’s Gospel reading comes as a little surprise. The first impression is that there’s no story here, no drama, no healing, no showing how society’s perceived underdog is really a model for our own behaviour, for my behaviour – indeed a model of how God behaves, and behaves towards us.

Instead, what we have in this morning’s Gospel reading sounds like a series of pithy statements from Jesus: like a collection of sayings from the Desert Fathers or even a collection of popular sayings from Zen masters.

You see, good stories about wayward sons and muggings on the roadside make for good drama, and healing stories are great soap opera. But they only remain stories and they only remain mini-stage-plays if all we want is good entertainment and forget all about what the main storyline is, what the underlying plot in Saint Luke’s Gospel is.

And, just in case we forget the plot, in case we might be in danger of forgetting what it is all about, Luke gives us a little reminder in the opening verse of this morning’s Gospel reading: the days are drawing near and Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9: 51) – the days are drawing near and Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem.

It is a challenge to us all. We are called to live not for the pleasure of a dramatic moment, but to live in the one great drama that is taking place: to set our faces on the heavenly Jerusalem; to live as if we really believe in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

We are called not to be conditional disciples – I’ll be a Christian when I look after everything else, sometime in the future. We are called to be committed disciples – to live as Christians in the here-and-now.

And so, to illustrate the difference in, the tensions between, being a conditional disciple and being a committed disciple, Luke plays the playwright once again and introduces us to one little drama and then three characters who are just like you and me, three “wannabe” disciples, three figures who illustrate the conflict of loyalties that inevitably comes with trying to answer the call to discipleship.

The first drama is a ready-made piece of self-criticism for each and every one of us. Jesus and his followers have arrived in a Samaritan village.

At a mundane level, at the level of visible difference, the Samaritans would not have been particularly warm and welcoming to provincial, rustic Galilean Jewish pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem through their villages, looking down their noses at Samaritan religious beliefs and customs, and seeing the Samaritan worship of God at Mount Gerizim, at best, as second best.

And look at what the disciples want to do when they get a whiff of difference, an inkling of rejection. A whiff of difference creates a whiff of sulphur. They want to burn the Samaritan village to the ground.

What have they been learning from Jesus so far about basic, fundamental Christian beliefs and values being expressed in how we love God and love one another?

Yet, so often in Christianity, we have behaved like James and John in this story, rather than adhering to the values of Jesus. So often we have burned down and gobbled up those we see as different: in the past, this is how Christians behaved in the Crusades, at the Inquisition, during the wars sparked by the Reformation, acting on prejudice against people of different faiths and different ethnic backgrounds – often without apology and without realising, like James and John, that this was totally contrary to the basic teaching of Jesus: that we must love God and love each other.

The Crusades and the Inquisition are long gone, but we continue to behave in the same way today: Islamophobia is a creation, not of the Muslim world, but of European and American societies; the guilt for the Holocaust is the legacy not just of Germans, but of all Europeans; Bishop Christopher Senyonjo reminded us here last Sunday how many Christians continue to demand burning and slashing when it comes to human sexuality and difference.

What had the disciples learned from Jesus about compassion, tolerance and forbearance in the immediate weeks and months before they arrived in this Samaritan village?

How embarrassed they must have been if this was the same Samaritan village that Jesus visits in Saint John’s Gospel (see John 3: 4-42), where it is a Samaritan woman, and not the disciples, who realise who Jesus really is. She is a Samaritan woman of questionable sexual moral values. But it is she, and not the disciples, who bring a whole village to faith in Christ; it is she who asks for the water of life; it is she who first suggests that indeed he may be, that he is, the Messiah.

How embarrassed they must be a little while later when Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10: 29-37). The one person I want to meet on the road, on the pilgrimage in life, is not a priest or a Temple official, but the sort of man who lives in the very sort of village I have suggested, because of my religious bigotry and narrow-mindedness, should be consumed with fire, burned to the ground, all its people gobbled up.

The woman at the well and the Good Samaritan are examples of ideal disciples, committed disciples. On the other hand, this morning, we are presented with three wannabe disciples, three examples of conditional disciples, people who are happy to be called, but who only want to follow on their own terms.

There is the man who wants to follow Jesus, but only if he can hold on to his wealth and property (Luke 9: 57-58). There is the man who wants to follow Jesus, but not until he has looked after burying his father (Luke 9: 59-60). There is the man who wants to follow Jesus, but who thinks first he must consider what his friends and those at home would think before he leaves them (Luke 10: 61-62).

Of course, it’s good to have a home of my own and not to live in a foxhole. Of course, it’s good that each of us should take responsibility for ageing parents and to bury them when they die. Of course, it’s good that we should not walk out on our families, our friends and our responsibilities.

Of course, domestic security, filial duty and loyal affection are high ideals, as Elijah accepted in our Old Testament reading, when Elisha went back home to say farewell. But they are conditional, while the call of the kingdom is urgent and imperative. And it demands commitment in such a way that it puts all other loyalties in second place.

Jesus is not saying that these men had the wrong values. But he sees how we can use values so that we can end up with the wrong priorities.

In recent years in Irish society, we have failed to put Christian values first. We should have said that property does not have the highest value. We should have realised that property is there first of all to provide people with decent places to live and work, it is there to provide places for their education and recreation, it is there to serve our lives and our commerce.

But instead, our lives and our economy were relegated to second place while people speculated on the property market, borrowed from our future, and the future of our children and grandchildren, to satisfy their own greed. Generations to come will be paying for this and getting no return. Already, people are being evicted from their homes.

How often do people use the values of ageing parents and past generations to justify present behaviour? “What would the men of 1916 say if we dare to play rugby at Croke Park or welcome the head of state from our nearest neighbours and friends to Arus an Uachtarain?” Our so-called Gaelic patriots continue to try to dig a deep and deadly pit between themselves and the Samaritans of their own creation, and those of us who try to cross that pit have too often had fire and consummation called down on us.

How often have we used those around us as an excuse to justify our own intransigence? It happened in the past in Anglicanism when some said we should not ordain woman because “oh, but what would the neighbours say? It’s not the right time yet.” Bishop Christopher Senyonjo challenged us last Sunday to ask whether we are saying the same today in the Anglican Communion about others.

As G.B. Caird pointed out in his commentary of Saint Luke’s Gospel, sometimes the most difficult choices in life for most of us are not between good and evil, but between the good and the best. I’m sure these three wannabe disciples presented good excuses. But discipleship on my own terms is not what Jesus asks of me. It can only be on his terms. There is no conditional discipleship, there is only committed discipleship.

As advertisers remind us constantly, there are terms and conditions attached to most things in life. But there can be no terms and conditions attached when it comes to being a disciple, to being a follower of Jesus.



And, as Saint Paul reminds us this morning in our epistle reading, committed discipleship is costly and demanding, but rewarding. It finds its true expression in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentlness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”

And so, may all we think, say and do, be the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached at the Cathedral Eucharist on Sunday 27 June 2010
.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Anniversaries of ordination as deacon and priest

Paul and Jane Bogle outside Saint Mary’s Church, Maynooth, after his ordination as deacon last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the tenth anniversary of my ordination as deacon and yesterday was the ninth anniversary of my ordination as priest – on both occasions by Archbishop Walton Empey in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Yesterday was also the Festival of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, and I was reminded of the significance of my own ordination, as a deacon and priest, ten and nine years ago, when I attended the ordination of the Revd Paul Bogle as deacon by Bishop Richard Clarke of Meath and Kildare in Saint Mary’s Church, Maynooth, Co Kildare.

We were reminded in his sermon that the servant role of a deacon is the foundation for all ordained ministry, and that we remain deacons when we are later ordained priests or bishops, charged with brining the “sympathy of God” into the world.

There was a good turnout from this year’s Third Year students being ordained being ordained deacons, many from last year, and clergy from the Dioceses of Meath and Kildare and from Dublin and Glendalough.

Maynooth was once part of the Diocese of Glendalough, but in 1940 it was transferred to the Diocese of Meath and united to the Dunboyne group of parishes.

Saint Mary’s Church, Maynooth, glimpsed through an arch in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Stoyte House, Maynooth, last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Saint Mary’s is a beautiful 13th century parish church, standing on the perimeter of the campus of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Saint Mary’s Church and Maynooth Castle frame the college gates. The back of the church and churchyard contains fragments of the mediaeval curtain wall of the castle.

The church was originally built as a private chapel for the neighbouring castle, and in 1248 the church was made a Prebend of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Like a lot of old Maynooth, the early history of Saint Mary’s is closely tied to the history of the FitzGerald family. In 1518 Garret Óg FitzGerald, son of the Great Earl of Kildare, Garret Mór FitzGerald, established a college at Maynooth Castle and rebuilt Saint Mary’s Church, annexing it to the college. The tower at the west end of the church was probably the former residence of the clergy and is all that remains of the 16th century collegiate church.

In the 1530s, the FitzGerald property was forfeited to the crown and Saint Mary became crown property. The church was extensively renovated by Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, father-in-law of George FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare, in the 1630s at the same time as the castle was being rebuilt.

FitzGerald heraldic emblems decorate the mediaeval windows in Saint Mary’s Church, Maynooth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

During the wars of the 1640s both the castle and the church were severely damaged. But in 1770, James FitzGerald, 20th Earl of Kildare and 1st Duke of Leinster – who also built Leinster House as his town house in Dublin – repaired Saint Mary’s Church as the parish church of Maynooth. The 15th century tower later became a mausoleum for the third Duke and Duchess of Leinster.

The small organ, which we heard last night, dates from around 1820 and is one of very few untouched Telford organs remaining in Ireland. The east window, which is made of wood, comes from an old church at Laraghbryan.

Afterwards, the Revd Janice Aiton, the select vestry and the parishioners of Dunboyne and Rathmoylon Union invited us back to the Glenroyal Hotel for a reception.

It was after 11 when I left Maynooth last night. The sky was getting cloudy, but there was a still a dusky evening light and the full moon was clearly visible. And I gave thanks for ten years in ministry as a deacon and nine as a priest.

The Collect:

God our Father, Lord of all the world,
we thank you that through your Son
you have called us into the fellowship of your universal Church.
Hear our prayer for your faithful people
that in their vocation and ministry
they may be instruments of your love,
and give to these your servants now to be ordained
the needful gifts of grace;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Remembering 1798 in Castlebar

John Cooney toasting Dr Sheila Mulloy after the book launch in Castlebar last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

We toasted the Westport historian Dr Sheila Mulloy at dinner in An Carraig restaurant in Chapel Street, Castlebar, last night after the launch of the launch of a new book that looks at the key personalities involved in the 1798 Rising in Co Mayo.

The book, Victory or Glorious Defeat: Biographies of Participants in the Mayo Rebellion of 1798, is edited by Sheila and is the culmination of many years of work on her part.

It was a beautiful summer evening, and I had travelled from Dublin to Castlebar with another contributor to this collection, John Cooney, who has contributed a study of General Humbert.

The book was being launched by Dr Harman Murtagh, President of the Military History Society of Ireland, in Mayo County Library, which overlooks the Mall, which is at the heart of Castlebar.

Castlebar is the birthplace of Charlie Haughey, and the home of politicians such as Enda Kenny, Padraig Flynn and Beverly Flynn. But the history of the town dates back to a settlement that grew up around the de Barry castle, built in 1235 on the site of the present army barracks at the end of Castle Street. The town received a royal charter from King James I in 1613.

The Bingham family, who became landlords of Castlebar in the 17th century, later became Earls of Lucan, and the Mall was originally Lord Lucan’s cricket green.

The Mall was Lord Lucan’s cricket grounds and linked the Bingham townhouse with the Church of Ireland parish church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The present 7th Earl of Lucan is missing since 1974, but the Bingham family still owns large tracts of the town and of Co Mayo, and in the 18th and 19th centuries the Mall provided a link between the town house of the Earls of Lucan, formerly Lawn House and now Saint Joseph’s Secondary School, and the Church of Ireland parish church, Christ Church, diagonally across the Mall.

Church Church is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Castlebar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Christ Church is one of the most important historical buildings in Castlebar, and at present there is an active fundraising programme for the restoration of the church roof. The churchyard has an elaborate but decaying memorial to Major-General George O Malley, a general in the British Army who fought in North America, Egypt, and the Mediterranean, and who was wounded twice at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He died in 1847 but is buried not in Castlebar but in his family burial plot in Murrisk Abbey.

General O’Malley’s monument ... a crumbling memory of the Napoleonic wars (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The first recorded Rector of Castlebar was the Revd David de Burgo in 1430, and the church’s interior is an excellent record of Castlebar from 1590. The present building was completed in 1739, and nearby Ellison Street is named after the Revd Thomas Ellison, Rector of Castlebar from 1790-1805. The Ellisons were land agents on behalf of the Earls of Lucan in Castlebar and had the Bingham and Ellison families were intermarried.

The gravestone of Frazier’s Fencibles is the only surviving contemporary record in Castlebar of the events in 1798(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Ellison was also rector of Castlebar during the dramatic events of 1798. Ellison and Bishop Joseph Stock were held captive in Killala Castle by General Humbert and his French forced. The church was badly damaged that year, and was renovated between 1800 and 1828. Inside the main gate of Christ Church is the only surviving contemporary record in Castlebar of the events in 1798: the gravestone of Frazier’s Fencibles, a Scottish Regiment killed in action in 1798.

The French forces under the command of General Humbert took part in a rout of the English garrison in the town – a rout that was so thorough it has passed into local folklore under the name of “The Races of Castlebar.”

The site of Geevy’s Hotel, where General Humbert stayed in Castlebar … it was here too that John Moore was declared first President of Connaught (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

A short-lived republic of Connaught was proclaimed, and General John Moore from Moore Hall, leader of the Mayo United Irishmen and the brother of a local landowner, was named president. He was reburied at a corner of the Mall in 1961, at the end the slope beneath Christ Church.

The 1798 memorial at the bottom of the slope beneath Christ Church ... the wording in Irish makes an unfortunate set of claims for Irish identity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

His grave is beside the 1798 Monument, erected in 1948 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Races of Castlebar. It is such a pity that the inscription in Irish implies that the only true Irish identity is to be found in a particular expression of Catholicism.

On the opposite side of the Mall once stood the hanging tree where the rebel priest, Father Conroy was hanged in 1798. The tree stood beside the Methodist Church – John Wesley laid the foundation for the church just over a decade earlier in 1785.

Opposite the former Methodist Church and the site of the hanging tree, the former Imperial Hotel is falling into a serious state of disrepair. It has been closed for some years, and the asking price is said to be €1 million. It is hard to imagine that such neglect should be the fate of the famous hotel where the Irish National Land League was founded by Michael Davitt on 21 October 1879.

The Imperial Hotel ... memories for sale (PhotographL Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Victory or Glorious Defeat: a book launch in Castlebar

Patrick Comerford

I am in Castlebar, Co Mayo, this evening, for the launch of a new book that looks at the 1798 Rising in Co Mayo. The book, Victory or Glorious Defeat: Biographies of Participants in the Mayo Rebellion of 1798, is edited by the Westport historian, Dr Sheila Mulloy, and is the culmination of many years of work on her part.

The book is being launched in Mayo County Library by Dr Harman Murtagh, President of the Military History Society of Ireland.

At 2 p.m. on Wednesday, 22 August 1798, just over 1,000 French troops landed at Kilcummin Strand in Co Mayo to launch a rebellion in the name of liberty in the west of Ireland. Reinforced by several thousand raw recruits, this small army made sensational progress initially, capturing Killala and Ballina and defeating a government force nearly twice its strength in a spectacular victory at Castlebar.

However, it all ended in tragedy, at Ballinamuck, Co Longford, on 8 September, where, after a token fight, the French were made prisoners of war. The Irish who had accompanied them were slaughtered mercilessly, and a wave of ruthless repression in Mayo ensued.

This long-awaited book is a collection of 11 essays by leading scholars and is edited by the Westport historian, Dr Sheila Mulloy, who also edited the three-volume Franco-Irish Correspondence, December 1688 - February 1692 (1984). For over 20 years. Sheila was the editor of Cathair na Mart, the journal of the Westport Historical Society, to which I contributed papers in 1998 and 1999. She is a recipient of the Humbert School’s ‘Champion of the West’ award.

This book is concerned with the personalities who became involved in these events, ranging from General Humbert himself to more colourful figures such as ‘Citizen’ John Moore and Baron Vippler O’Dowda on the rebel side, and General Lake, and Denis ‘The Rope’ Browne on the government side. The eleven essays, written by leading scholars, include accounts of significant figures such as Bartholomew Teeling, James Joseph MacDonnell and Father Manus Sweeney, as well as examining the folk memory of the events and the experiences of the United Irishmen transported to Australia.

The book is introduced by Harman Murtagh and the contributors are Guy Beiner, Patrick Comerford, John Cooney, Desmond McCabe, Conor MacHale, Sheila Mulloy, Harman Murthagh, Ruán O’Donnell, James Quinn and Christopher J. Woods.

Bishop Joseph Stock ... a biographical study and an analysis of his role and the role of his diocesan clergy in 1798

My essay is a biographical study of Bishop Joseph Stock, with an analysis of his role and the role of the Church of Ireland clergy in his diocese during those events in August and September 1798. My former colleague in The Irish Times, John Cooney, has written a study of General Humbert.

The contributors are described in the book as follows:

Dr Sheila Mulloy edited the three-volume Franco-Irish Correspondence, December 1688 – February 1692 (1984) and was the editor of Cathair na Mart, the journal of the Westport Historical Society, for over twenty years.

Guy Beiner is a senior lecturer of history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. He was a Government of Ireland scholar at University College Dublin, a Government of Ireland research fellow at Trinity College Dublin and a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow in Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame. His book Remembering the Year of the French: Irish Folk History and Social Memory (University of Wisconsin Press, 2007) won several international awards.

John Cooney, the Founder-Director of the Humbert Summer School in Co Mayo, is a history MA honours graduate of the University of Glasgow and a former Honorary Fellow at the University of Aberdeen. He is preparing a major biography of General Jean Joseph Amable Humbert. A journalist with the Irish Independent, broadcaster and author, he is the biographer of John Charles McQuaid, Ruler of Catholic Ireland (O’Brien Press, Dublin, 1999). He also writes the weekly ‘Beyond the Pale’ column for the Western People.

Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. A former Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times, he studied theology at the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin, the Kimmage Mission Institute, Maynooth, and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. He has published studies of Church of Ireland clergy in 1798 in the dioceses of Ferns and Ossory. He is a contributor to numerous books, journals and other publications.

Conor Mac Hale is a former secondary teacher and part-time university lecturer, specialising in computer-related topics. His interest in the O’Dubhdas and local history was awakened in 1971 by the publication of his mother’s book Stories from O’Dowda’s Country. He has since published several items, as well as lecturing on historical and genealogical research at local, national and international events, and acting as a research assistant at the Irish National Folklore Collection. His published historical works include The O’Dubhda Family History (C. Mac Hale, Inniscrone, 1990), Annals of the Clan Egan (C. Mac Hale, Inniscrone, 1990), The French Invasion of Ireland in 1798 (with Thomas Dowds) (IHR, Dublin, 2000) and Inishcrone & O’Dubhda Country (IHR, Dublin, 2003).

Desmond McCabe is currently working on the official history of the Office of Public Works (Ireland). He has worked on aspects of Irish urban history in the Centre for Urban History, University of Leicester; in the Irish Famine Project (based in Trinity College, Dublin) and on the Dictionary of Irish Biography (RIA). Most of his published work has been on the social history of 19th century Ireland. Born in Dublin, his mother was from Corraun, in the parish of Achill, Co Mayo.

Harman Murtagh was senior lecturer in law and Irish studies at the Athlone Institute of Technology, where he is a visiting fellow. His publications include the ‘Athlone’ fascicle of the Royal Irish Academy’s Irish Historic Towns Atlas, Athlone: history and settlement to 1800, The battle of the Boyne 1690 and contributions to many scholarly books and journals, especially on military history, biography and settlement studies, with a focus on the Jacobite wars. His essay ‘General Humbert’s futile campaign’ was published in 1798: a bicentenary perspective (Four Courts Press 2003). He is President of the Military History Society of Ireland, was editor of The Irish Sword for 25 years, and is Vice-president of the Group for the Study of Irish Historic Settlement.

Ruán O’Donnell is the Head of the History Department at the University of Limerick. He has written extensively on the history of the United Irishmen and Irish republicanism worldwide. O’Donnell is a graduate of University College Dublin and the Australian National University. Originally from Dublin, he lives in Limerick with his wife Maeve and children Ruairi, Fiachra, Cormac and Saoirse.

James Quinn is a graduate of University College Dublin and the Executive Editor of the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography, published in nine volumes by Cambridge University Press in November 2009. His many publications on eighteenth and nineteenth-century Irish history include the biographies Soul on Fire: a Life of Thomas Russell (Irish Academic Press, Dublin, 2002) and John Mitchel (University College Dublin Press, Dublin, 2008).

C.J. Woods retired in 2006 from the staff of the Royal Irish Academy, where from 1969 he was employed at different times as a research assistant on A New History of Ireland and as a contributor to the Dictionary of Irish Biography. He is the editor of Journals and Memoirs of Thomas Russell, 1791-5 (Irish Academic Press, Dublin, 1991) and a co-editor of The Writings of Theobald Wolfe Tone, 1763-98 (3 vols, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998-2007) as well as author of articles on O’Connell and Parnell and Travellers’ accounts as source-material for Irish historians (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2009).

Victory or Glorious Defeat: Biographies of participants in the Mayo Rebellion of 1798, edited by Dr Sheila Mulloy (Dublin: Original Writing, 2010), Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-907179-75-4 (€17).

Monday, 21 June 2010

New deacons and warm sunshine in Dublin

The River Liffey looked blue beneath the summer sky in Dublin yesterday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

These days are like Mediterranean days in Dublin. The sun is shining brightly, the skies are clear blue, and the temperatures are in the mid-to-high 20s, and there’s a relaxed, carefree attitude in the streets and in the city centre.

The warm smiles on faces everywhere just show how much we appreciate the summer when it arrives and lingers for a little while in Ireland.

The Italian Quarter in Dublin had a Mediterranean feeling yesterday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Between cathedral services, I had lunch in the Italian Quarter yesterday and the weather, the atmosphere, and the sea of Italian blue shirts were almost enough to tempt me to stay and watch the match between Italy and New Zealand.

In the morning, I subdeaconed at the Sung Cathedral Eucharist, and the preacher was the Right Revd Christopher Senyonjo, a retired bishop from West Buganda in Uganda, who is visiting Ireland as part of a six-week tour of Europe and the US. This was an opportunity to hear the personal witness of a courageous man of faith who has proclaimed God’s inclusive love and spoken truth to power in Uganda.

he has been inhibited from officiating as a priest and bishop in the Anglican Church of Uganda because of his support of Integrity Uganda and the greater LGBT community. He is one of the few voices in Uganda to speak out against homophobia and the “anti-Homosexuality” bill before the Ugandan parliament

In the afternoon, four new deacons were ordained in the cathedral by Archbishop John Neill – the Revd Paul Arbuthnot, the Revd Terry Lilburn, the Revd Ken Rue and the Revd Martha Waller. Bishop Christopher Senyonjo was present again, as were Bishop Samuel Poyntz, and Bishop Jered Kalimba of Shyogwe. Bishop Jered has been a guest in my house during previous visits to Ireland, and some years ago he made Ken a canon of his cathedral in Rwanda.

The procession in the cathedral garth after the ordination of deacons (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

It was a joy-filled afternoon, and as we processed out of the cathedral into the sunshine in the cloister garth afterwards, tourists and passers-by were caught up in the liturgical drama – it was a powerful illustration of the church’s witness to the city and the mission that underpins the ministry of every deacon.

It was impossible not to want to linger out there in the sunshine, chatting with families and friends as the sun continued to shine down on us all.

Evening sun on the Camac in Kilmainham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Later, after coffee in the crypt, I stopped off first in Kilmainham. There, the Camac River is not one of the most beautiful or clean rivers in Dublin; but it was shining and silvery in the sun. At Kimmage Manor, my old theological college, the old manor house looked majestic against the clear blue sky.

Kimmage Manor and an oriel window against the evening sky (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

By 11 in the evening, I was still sitting out in my back garden, sipping a glass of Pinot Grigio and listening to the water bubbling out of the Lion’s Mouth behind me. It was only dusky, even though midnight was approaching, and the sky was still clear.

It brought back memories of many warm, balmy summer evenings, sitting out on a terrace in a small mountain village in Crete. Oh well, I’ll back there soon.

The Lion’s Mouth bubbling on a balmy summer's evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Friday, 18 June 2010

A late lunch and a walk on the beach in Bray

A sandcastle waits to be washed away by the waves in Bray (Photograph; Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

It seems like weeks since I had a walk on a beach.

Last weekend, I was staying in Lichfield, my favourite cathedral city in England, and travelling through “Pugin-Land,” visiting Pugin’s churches in Uttoxeter, Cheadle and Solihull and his Saint Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham. The countryside in rural East Staffordshire is captivatingly beautiful. But it is about as far from the coast as you can be in the English Midlands.

And it looked like there might be no beach walk this weekend either: I am working throughout Saturday during a day-long conference for students on the Foundation Course, and on Sunday I am taking part in cathedral services, including the Cathedral Eucharist in the morning, and the ordination of deacons on Sunday afternoon.

So, this afternoon, after buying a new alb in the Liturgical Centre in Stillorgan, run by the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master, who came to Ireland in 1965, I headed on through Blackrock, Dun Laoghaire, Sandycove, Dalkey and Killiney to Bray. Along the way, there were clear views across Dublin Bay, with ships making their way out into the Irish Sea; young people were out learning to sail; and there was a quiet but steady amount of activity in Bulloch Harbour.

Palazzo has been open for five years and is run by Italian owners who originate from the province of Frosinone in the Valle di Comino

The weather was warm, but the sky was slightly overcast. I stopped first for a late lunch in Palazzo on Marlborough Terrace on the Seafront. Palazzo has been open for five years and is run by Italian owners who originate from the province of Frosinone in the Valle di Comino, near the famous Monastery of Monte Cassino. The Divto and Borsa families have been in the restaurant business in Ireland since the 1940s.

After lunch, I strolled along the pebbly beach below the Promenade. A small number of children were playing on the sand and in the water along the shoreline, delighting in waves, and obviously oblivious to the grey skies overhead. A small group of young Chinese women were delighting in having their photographs taken by their male friend, and an abandoned sea castle was about to be washed away in the tide.

My walks on the beach are good for my humour and give me renewed strength in coping with the symptoms of sarcoidosis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010

I have missed these walks on the beach. Last night, I went back to my GP for another B12 injection. For the last few nights, my sarcoidosis symptoms have meant coughing has made it difficult to sleep, and I have felt a little run down.

But those walks on the beach are good for my humour and give me renewed strength in coping with the difficulties of living with sarcoidosis. Once again, as I headed back home this evening to watch the England v Algeria match on television, I felt renewed and reinvigorated, and was confident that while I have sarcoidosis, sarcoidosis will never have me.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Praying the Lord’s Prayer

Patrick Comerford

Matthew 6: 7-15


7 Προσευχόμενοι δὲ μὴ βατταλογήσητε ὥσπερ οἱ ἐθνικοί, δοκοῦσιν γὰρ ὅτι ἐν τῇ πολυλογίᾳ αὐτῶν εἰσακουσθήσονται. 8 μὴ οὖν ὁμοιωθῆτε αὐτοῖς, οἶδεν γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὧν χρείαν ἔχετε πρὸ τοῦ ὑμᾶς αἰτῆσαι αὐτόν.

9 Οὕτως οὖν προσεύχεσθε ὑμεῖς:

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς,
ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομά σου,
10ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου,
γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου,
ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς.
11 Τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον:
12 καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν,
ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν:
13 καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,
ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.

14 Ἐὰν γὰρ ἀφῆτε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τὰ παραπτώματα αὐτῶν, ἀφήσει καὶ ὑμῖν ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος: 15 ἐὰν δὲ μὴ ἀφῆτε τοῖς ἀνθρώποις, οὐδὲ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ἀφήσει τὰ παραπτώματα ὑμῶν.

‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

‘Pray then in this way:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.

‘For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’


The reading I have chosen for our devotional time this morning is the Gospel reading in the lectionary for Holy Communion today.

This time last week, I was facilitating two interest groups at the USPG Conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire, at which I was speaking about “Spirituality and Mission.”

In searching for resources for mission, at one point I pointed to the traditions of prayer within Anglicanism, including the offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer – especially the canticles, the mission-loaded language we find in all the rites of Holy Communion, and in prayer, including public prayer, the intercession, and – of course – the Lord’s Prayer.

Sometimes we miss out on the impact of the Lord’s Prayer because we are so familiar with it.

But in the public worship of the Church we often facilitate people missing out on the impact – particularly the mission impact – of the Lord’s Prayer when we privatise it.

How many of us were taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer as a private personal prayer as children, perhaps even saying it kneeling by our bedside, hands joined together, fingers pointing up?

So often, in the Liturgy, we encourage people to kneel for the Lord’s Prayer, as if this was now both the most sacred and the most personal part of the Liturgy, rather than asking them to remain standing and to continue in collective prayer.

Or, at great public events, including mission conferences I am sorry to say, we invite everyone present to say the Lord’s Prayer in their own first language, so that it becomes a private, personal prayer, detached from and ignoring where everyone else is at age stage in the petitions.

For those of us who have English as our first language, we notice how others finish a lot later than us – the Finns in particular, but even the Germans too. And each language has its own rhythms and cadences, so it sounds as if we are in Babel rather than praying together, collectively and in the plural.

Each of us is aware of the lengthy textual discussions we can have about the differences between the text provided by Matthew, and that provided by Luke, or about the meaning and application of different words and phrases in this prayer: for example what is the meaning of the word ὀφείλημα (opheilima) in the prayer: trespasses, what is owed, debts, sins? Or ἐπιούσιος (epiousias): daily, for tomorrow, beyond mere substance? Is πειρασμός (peirasmos) about temptation, trial, tests like those endure by Job, evil, an eschatological moment of judgment? Is πονηρός a reference to hard times, annoyances, hardships, perils, badness, what is evil or wicked, in terms of values or personified?

And what about the doxology at the end?

But those sorts of discussions and the privatisation of the Lord’s Prayer, even on Sundays, takes away from its mission impact and from the collective thrust of each of the petitions.

The teaching is delivered not to an individual but the same group that is listening to the Sermon on the Mount. God is addressed not as my but our Father, and each petition that follows is in the plural: our daily bread, our forgiveness, our debts or sins or trespasses, as we also forgive, do not “bring us” or “lead us,” deliver and rescue us.

And when we say Amen at the end, are we really saying Amen to the holiness of God’s name, to the coming of Kingdom, to the needs of each being met, on a daily basis, to forgiveness, both given and received, to being put on path of righteousness and justice, to others falling into no evil or into no harm?

As a prayer, it contains each of the five Anglican points of mission. But if we privatise it, we leave little room for its mission impact to grab hold of those who are praying, and leave little room for our own conversion, which is a continuing and daily need.

And so, let the kingdom, the power and the glory be God’s as we pray together:

Our Father ….

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was prepared for the opening of an academic staff meeting on 17 June 2010.




Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Meeting the victims of the Hiroshima bombing

With the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Eimear Costello, and the visiting hibakusha at the official recption in the Mansion House

Patrick Comerford

Nine survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima visited Dublin yesterday [Monday 14June 2010], addressing a roundtable forum on nuclear disarmament, meeting officials of the Department of Foreign House, visiting Leinster House, laying flowers at the Hiroshima Peace Cherry Tree in Merrion Square, and attending a reception by the Lord Mayor in the Mansion House.

The survivors or hibakusha, who arrived from Bergen, Norway, are participants in the Peace Boat’s 69th Global Voyage and are travelling through northern Europe in the immediate aftermath of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, visiting 22 ports in 20 countries on a 101-day voyage.

On board their 38,000 tonne ship, The Oceanic, they have been taking part in a consultation on the nuclear arms race. The participants also include Kawasaki Akira and Meri Joyce of Peace Boat International, the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Miller, Lisa Clarke and Alyn Ware of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, Aaron Tovish of Mayors for Peace, and Dr Randy Rydell, Senior Political Affairs Officer in the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs.

Visiting Leinster House with the visiting hibakusha, survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing

Their visit to Dublin was co-ordinated by Dr David Hutchinson Edgar and Mary McCarrick of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND) and Krisztina Dragoman of World without Wars and without Violence Ireland.

After a brief visit to Leinster House, the seat of the Irish Parliament, we moved to Merrion Square, where I invited everyone to take part in a moment of silence and remembrance before two of the survivors laid bunches of chrysanthemums at the Hiroshima Peace Cherry Tree, which was planted 30 years ago on 6 August 1980.

Survivors of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima lay flowers ay the cherry tree in Merrion Square, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Later the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Eimear Costello, hosted a reception in the Mansion House, the Lord Mayor’s official residence. The Lord Mayor is a member of Mayors for Peace and undertook to recruit more Irish mayors to this cause. Also present were representatives of Pax Christi, the Peace and Neutrality Alliance and other NGOs and peace groups.

The Irish Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, had planned to take part in the consultation yesterday until her detention by Israeli forces for being on board the Rachel Corrie during the recent flotilla that was intercepted on its way to Gaza. However, she sent a message of support and thanks for “participating in this global voyage to remind the world of its moral and legal responsibility to demand their governments abolish these suicidal/genocidal weapons of destruction.”

The participants on board the Peace Boat – including the hibakusha – have expressed shock and sadness at the Israeli attack on the flotilla, which was staged immediately after they visited a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan. As an expression of their appeal for a nuclear-free and peaceful Middle East, over 100 people on board the ship have displayed a 15x20 metre banner that declares: “End the Blockade – Free Gaza.”

The banner was displayed on the side of The Oceanic as it sailed out of Dublin last night.

Canon Patrick Comerford is the President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND)

Monday, 14 June 2010

Continuing travels in ‘Pugin-Land’

Saint Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham ... built by Pugin at the same time as he was building his cathedrals in Enniscorthy and Killarney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

After the Sung Eucharist in Lichfield Cathedral and a light lunch on Sunday afternoon I checked out of the George Hotel and headed into Birmingham on Sunday afternoon to continue my travels in “Pugin-Land.”

I planned to visit Oscott College in Sutton Coldfield, but the train from Lichfield was cancelled due to engineering works, and I headed into Birmingham on the bus.

Saint Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham, stands on a sloping site on the edge of a roundabout on a ring road, overlooking the Salvation Army hostel, and the waste ground beside it is used by homeless men in the afternoon to sit drinking the cans of cheap beer they cannot take into the shelter.

Nevertheless, Saint Chad’s has lost none of the majestic impact it must have first had when the slope led down to the canal, and the East End projected above the slope, with the crypt beneath. At the time, this was the gunmakers’ quarter of Birmingham. Pugin then described it as “a foreign style of pointed architecture because it is both cheap and effective.”

It certainly was different from any other Anglican or Protestant building in the Birmingham area at the time. But it looks more German than English, in stark contrast to the many parish churches Pugin was building at the time, built, hoping they would look like mediaeval English parish churches.

When the cathedral was being built, a new Diocese of Birmingham was being formed, and the relics of Saint Chad, which had disappeared from Lichfield Cathedral about 200 years earlier, conveniently reappeared and ever since have been housed here.

When the cathedral was reordered in the late 1960s in line with liturgical reforms of Vatican II, Pugin’s rood screen and some of his furnishings were disposed of, his tiled floors were replaced by marble flooring. Some efforts have been made to reverse these mistaken changes, but many of Pugin’s fittings have been sold and dispersed, and his original rood screen has been reused in an Anglican church – Holy Trinity in Reading.

Saint Augustine’s Church, Solihull ... the first parish church built by Pugin in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

From Snow Hill station nearby, I caught a local train to Solihull to see Saint Augustine’s Church in Solihull. Appropriately, this church stands on Station Road, and when opened on 11 February 1839 it was the first Pugin church to be opened.

Pugin gave his architectural services free for the building of this church, for this was his dream come true ... it was said at the time that “even the very door hinges are] Catholic” – in other words, Gothic.

Some of Pugin’s original interior survives in Saint Augustine’s, Solihull, despite the major changes in 1977 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

However, the north wall of the nave was demolished in 1977, and in a clumsy marriage of the Gothic and the modern Pugin’s first church is now only the western annexe of a larger building, with his chancel forming a Blessed Sacrament chapel. His reredos and many of his stencils survive, however, along with the original West Window.

Saint Augustine’s, Solihull, was built according to plans that Pugin also used for a number of churches in Co Wexford too, perhaps including those in Barntown and Ramsgrane, and Saint Chad’s was built at the same time as he was designing and building Saint Aidan’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, and Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney, Co Kerry.

I missed seeing Saint Philip’s Church of England Cathedral in Birmingham. But the fading light was making photography difficult and the rain was pouring down as I got back into central Birmingham. I headed on the airport and my flight back to Dublin.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

A day in the Heart of England

Uttoxeter in the heart of England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

My search for Pugin churches in mid-Staffordshire yesterday took me through some beautiful countryside. Lichfield is about as far in-land as you can get in England, so my bus journeys through the heart of England made for a day that was very different day from my usual weekend beach walks in Dublin.

It’s only about 30 km from Lichfield to Uttoxeter and another 12 km from there to Cheadle. But the buses passed through the villages and communities of Elmhurst, Armitage, Handsacre, over the Trent and Mersey Canal, through Hill Ridware, Blithbury, and Abbots Bromley, by the shores of Blithfield Reservoir, Bagot’s Bromley, Newton Hurst, Dapple Heath, Upper Booth and Lower Booth, over the River Blithe to the Blythe, and on past beautiful views down onto Kingstone Wood and Bagot Forrest, through Kingstone and Blount’s Green into Uttoxeter. And from there it was on to Cheadle through Beamhurst, Fole, Checkley, Lower Tean, Upper Tean, Teanford and Mobberley.

Many of these villages have thatched cottages, timber-framed houses, village greens, and historic churches. There was little traffic on the narrow, tree-lined side roads, apart from the adults on horses, children on ponies and the occasional pair of cyclists. The rolling countryside has large dairy farms and fields full of grazing cattle, as well as horses and sheep.

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance Day is a colourful event that has been taking place at the end of August or beginning of September each year since 1262. The interesting buildings in the village include the half-timbered Church House, the Goat’s Head Inn, which local people say is the original town hall, and the Butter Cross, in the middle of the triangular village green, which some say dates back to the 13th or 14th centuries, although others say it is a 17th century building. One house in the village is actually called Toad Hall.

Abbots Bromley has a history that dates back to 942, when the manor of “Bromleage” was given to Wulfsige the Black, and Abbas Bromley is recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086-1087 as Brunlege.

For many Irish people, Uttoxeter is merely a name on racing card or in the sports pages of newspapers, or it is a place to pass through on the way to Alton Towers. Most people pronounce the name as “you-tox-eat-er,” but local people call it “ut-cheat-er.”

But then Uttoxeter has had 79 spellings since it was first mentioned in the Domesday Book as “Wotocheshede.”

As I strolled through the town on Saturday afternoon, the High Street was closed because of the market. Two years ago, Uttoxeter celebrated the 700th anniversary of the 1308 Market Charter, which sets out the terms of the markets on Saturdays, Wednesdays and festivals.

The Johnson Memorial in the Market Place in Uttoxeter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The most famous event in the history of Uttoxeter was the penance of Samuel Johnson. The Lichfield writer’s father ran a bookstall in Uttoxeter market, and young Samuel once refused to help out on the stall. When he was older, Dr Johnson repented and stood in the rain without a hat as a penance for failing to help his father. This sad but moving event is commemorated by the Johnson Memorial in the Market Place.

Another writer, Mary Howitt, the Quaker author of the poem The Spider and the Fly, lived in Uttoxeter for much of her life. Howitt Crescent, off Johnson Road, is named after her, and other writers commemorated in street names here include George Eliot.

Saint Mary’s Church in Balance Street was Pugin’s first church design. A number of windows in Saint Mary’s Church recall the Bamford family. One member of this family, Joseph Cyril Bamford (JCB), gave his name to the JCB Empire, but started out with a small business in a small garage in the town. JCB is still the main employer in the town, alongside Fox’s Biscuits.

Cheadle too is a market, town with Anglo-Saxon roots, and the High Street was closed on Saturday for a market. When I arrived in the afternoon to photograph Saint Giles’s Church, Pugin’s most famous building, it was joyfully full for a First Communion.

Ye Olde Talbot on a sunny day in Uttoxeter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In all these towns and villages, Pugin’s patrons, the Talbot family, the Earls of Shrewsbury, have left their mark, in pub names and signs, street names, and even the Talbot First School in Kingstone.

Unlike poor Dr Johnson, I found it was still a sunny afternoon when I got back to Uttoxeter. Opposite the Johnson Memorial stands Ye Olde Talbot, one of the few timber-framed buildings to survive a 17th century fire in the town. It is a charming old timber-framed building, and I sat in the sunshine, sipping a glass of wine in the warm sunshine before catching the bus back to Lichfield.

After such a beautiful day in the countryside and in the small towns of rural Staffordshire, it was a joy at Choral Evensong in Lichfield Cathedral to find the appointed Psalms of the day were Psalms 65, 66 and 67, including these lines:

Thou visitest the earth and blesses it: then makes it very plenteous
the river of God is full of water: thou preparest their corn, for so thou providest the earth.
(Psalm 65: 9-10)

say unto God, o how wonderful art thou in thy works ...
For all the world shall worship thee.

(Psalm 66: 2-3)

I was back in the cathedral this morning for the Sung Eucharist, when the Dean, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, presided, the Chancellor, Canon Pete Wilcox, preached, and the setting was the Missa Brevis by Kodaly.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Travels in ‘Pugin-Land’

Lichfield Cathedral in the sun before Choral Evensong today ... Pugin declared the fabric had been mutilated by “this monster of architectural depravity, this pest of Cathedral architecture” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford,2010)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying in Lichfield this weekend, and decided today to catch local buses to Uttoxeter and Cheadle and to go in search of some of Pugin’s architectural legacy in this part of England.

My great-grandfather and grandfather both worked as stuccordores on the churches built by the great English Gothic architect, AWN Pugin, and buildings designed by successors. Having lived and worked in both Lichfield and Co Wexford, I am amused that Pugin’s legacy is to be found mainly in Staffordshire and in Co Wexford.

Saint Giles’s Church and its 200 ft spire dominate the Staffordshire market town of Chealde (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Britain’s distinguished architectural historian, the late Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, once described Staffordshire as “Pugin-land” after visiting Cheadle, the market town dominated by Saint Giles’s Church and its 200 ft spire. He wrote: “Nowhere can one study and understand Pugin better than in Staffordshire – not only his forms and features but his mind, and not only his churches but his secular architecture as well.”

Pugin-Land is a description that inspired the title of the Revd Michael Fisher’s book on Pugin, Lord Shrewsbury and the Gothic revival in Staffordshire. But in many ways Co Wexford could be described easily as Ireland’s own “Pugin-Land,” for nowhere else in Ireland can one study and understand Pugin better than in Co Wexford, where the landscape is speckled with some of the finest examples of his imagination and creativity, each an effort to recreate in Ireland the ideal English Gothic parish churches or cathedrals.

It is as though Saint Aidan’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy stands proudly at the centre of this wonderland, and radiating from it are some of Pugin’s most delightful creations – the Chapel of Saint Peter’s College, Wexford and seven or eight other churches, chapels or convents: the Church of the Assumption in Bree; Saint James’s Church, Ramsgrange; the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel in Gorey and the neighbouring Loreto Convent; Saint Mary’s Church, Tagoat; Saint Alphonsus’s Church, Barntown; and the Power chapel in Edermine and the Cliffe chapel at Bellevue, which may have been built after according to plans drawn by the Gothic master himself.

Saint Mary’s , Uttoxeter ... Pugin followed a similar design in his Gothic revival churches in Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford (2010)

These churches were so influential on church building and design that they set a remarkable standard for ecclesiastical architecture, decoration and style. The architectural influence that is shared by Co Wexford and Staffordshire is interesting, so that Saint James’s, Ramsgrange, for example, is like several contemporary but much smaller churches designed by Pugin, such as Saint Mary’s, Uttoxeter, and Saint Augustine’s, Solihull, both of which he also designed in 1838.

Here in Lichfield it is interesting to discover that Pugin’s first visit to Staffordshire was in the autumn of 1834, when he stayed in Lichfield during an extensive architectural tour of the Midlands and the West Country “in search of the picturesque and the beautiful.”

Pugin’s stay in Lichfield was memorable for two reasons. First of all, he arrived late at night, and in the dark he crept unwittingly into the wrong bedroom. Aware of something soft and warm in the bed, he found it to be “the thigh of a female occupant already turned in.”

There were loud screams and shouts. Chambermaids came rushing in with lighted candles. Pugin had some difficulty in convincing everyone that he had made a genuine mistake.

But Pugin was in for another unpleasant shock when he visited Lichfield Cathedral the next day. Taken aback by James Wyatt’s the refurbishment of the cathedral thirty years earlier by James Wyatt (1746-1813), he declared: “Yes – this monster of architectural depravity, this pest of Cathedral architecture, has been here. need I say more.” And then, referring to the Lichfield architect, Joseph Potter (1756-1842), he said: “The man I am sorry to say – who executes the repairs of the building was a pupil of the Wretch himself and has imbibed all the vicious propensities of his accursed tutor without one spark of even practical ability to atone for his misdeeds.”

He found the fabric of the cathedral had been mutilated by “the Wretch” – and he also described Lichfield as “a dull place – without anything remarkable.” Interestingly, Potter preceded Pugin as the architect of Oscott College.

The interior of the Church of the Holy Cross, Upper John Street, Lichfield, today ... the screen and furnishings designed by Pugin in 1841 are no longer here (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Pugin revisited Lichfield in 1837. After staying briefly at Wolseley Park with Sir Charles Wolseley, a recent convert to Roman Catholicism, Pugin returned to Lichfield. There Joseph Potter had built the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Cross, and Pugin would add a screen and other furnishings in 1841 ... although they have long disappeared.

Later, the West Doors of Lichfield Cathedral would inspire Pugin’s design for the doors of Saint Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Birmingham.

The Great West Doors of Lichfield Cathedral ... they inspired Pugin’s design for the doors of Saint Chad’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Birmingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

But it is interesting that it was only after this second visit to Lichfield that Pugin arrived for the first time at Alton Towers, the home of the Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury, on 31 August 1837, staying there for the next four days.

Lord Shrewsbury’s Irish titles included Earl of Wexford; Lady Shrewsbury was Maria Theresa Talbot, was the daughter of William Talbot of Castle Talbot, Co Wexford, and the favourite niece of John Hyacinth Talbot MP, of Ballytrent, Co Wexford.

The visit changed Pugin’s career for ever, and transformed the ecclesiastical landscape of both Staffordshire and Co Wexford. Lord Shrewsbury’s influence led to Pugin rebuilding Alton Towers and designing great works of architecture including Saint Giles’s, Cheadle, and Saint Mary’s, Uttoxeter. The patronage of Lady Shrewsbury’s uncle brought Pugin to Wexford the following year.

Pugin’s interior, including his rood screen, remain largely intact in Saint Giles’s Church, Cheadle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Pugin died when he was only 40 in 1852; Lord Shrewsbury died later that year. But church architecture and church decoration would never be the same again – in England or in Ireland.

As I sat in the choir stalls of Lichfield Cathedral at Choral Evensong this evening, I realised that had Pugin lived long enough to return to Lichfield, he would have appreciated the results of the restoration work carried out from 1857 onwards by George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878). Indeed, he would have been delighted to see the undoing of Wyatt’s misdeeds, the restoration of the Lady Chapel, the High Altar replaced and correctly furnished, the stonework and statuary of the cathedral restored in true Gothic style,” and the Minton tiles in the choir, designed according to the principles he had once laid down.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin