Sunday, 31 May 2015

Notes on a visit to Dr Milley’s
Hospital in Lichfield

The ground floor of Dr Milley’s Hospital is now well below the street level on Beacon Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

I visited Dr Milley’s Hospital at No 7 Beacon Street, Lichfield, yesterday [30 May 2015] as part of a small tour organised by Kate Gomez and the local history group, Lichfield Discovered.

We were welcomed at the front door by the chair of the trustees, Mrs Sheelagh James, who is also Deputy Mayor of Lichfield, and were shown around the house in small groups by two other trustees, Mr Peter Parsons and Mr Ronald Monk.

Alongside the Cathedral and Saint John’s Hospital, Dr Milley’s Hospital is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Lichfield. The original almshouse was founded almost 600 years ago by the Bishop of Lichfield, William Heyworth, in 1424, and it was refounded and endowed by Canon Thomas Milley over 500 years ago in 1505.

Remembering the founder of Dr Milley’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The pedimented tablet above the entrance says:

This hospital for fifteen women was founded by by Thomas Milley, DD, Canon Residentiary of the Cathedral Church of Lichfield AD 1504.

A view of the front of the hospital, drawn in 1841, suggests a number of alterations were made in the 18th century. These included the facing of the exterior with plaster, the insertion of wood casement windows, and the addition of gabled dormers to the roof.

Stepping into the hospital was like stepping down in a bygone age, and I mean stepping down, for the ground floor of Dr Milley’s Hospital is now well below the street level on Beacon Street, due both to its original location in the town ditch, and to the raising of the street levels over the years, catering for the heavy traffic along the A51 which was once the main road from Chester to London, running through the heart of Lichfield.

The front range, facing onto Beacon Street, contains a central stone porch giving access to a wide entrance hall flanked by rooms for the matron and almswomen. It is possible the large beam in the entrance hall below the chapel dates back to the building of 1504, and I had to stoop my head several times to avoid a nasty bump.

The hospital building is a two-storey, red-brick building, with a stone plinth and stone dressings. Originally the building was L-shaped in plan: from the southern end of the front range, a long rear wing extended back along the southern boundary of the property.

Dendrochronology or tree-ring dating tests suggest that parts of the hospital were rebuilt around 1652 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

It is generally believed in Lichfield that parts of Dr Milley’s Hospital date back to the 16th century and that the building survived the English Civil War in the mid 17th century.

However, a scientific report by MJ Worthington and DWH Miles of the English Heritage Centre for Archaeology in 2002 used dendrochronology or tree-ring dating techniques and they suggest that much of the hospital did not survive the civil war and that it was rebuilt just after 1652.

An examination of glass-making techniques has shown that some of the glass in windows in the upper storey survive from the late 17th and early 18th century.

The chapel is the oldest part of Dr Milley’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The chapel is in the oldest part of the building, and is in a separate space on the first floor, above the porch and hallway and facing east.

The rear wing has a corridor on each floor, and these corridors originally gave access to residents’ rooms on the south side of he building. On the north side of the corridors is the staircase and also a two-storey addition, probably dating from the late 18th century, containing two rooms. At the bottom of the staircase, we were pointed to the covering over a well that provided fresh, clean water in the hospital until the first half of the 20th century.

The original well besides the stairs is now covered over (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The internal partitions are of heavy close-studded timbering and incorporate many of the original early 16th century doorways.

By the early 20th century, the hospital was in need of modernisation and repair, and a complete rebuilding was proposed, with plans to demolish the old building. However, the Charity Commissioners wanted a careful restoration instead, and their recommendations were carried out in 1906-1907. The alterations allowed for only eight resident women, but their accommodation was now more comfortable. New stone-mullioned windows were inserted at the front, and the external plaster was stripped away to reveal the earlier brickwork.

Each woman had one room for all her needs, but water had to be carried from the well at the end of the passage.

Looking out from Dr Milley’s Hospital onto Beacon Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The building was designated a Grade II* Listed building in 1952, and it was not until 1967 that the hospital was provided with one bathroom and a communal laundry room.

Dr Milley’s Hospital was extensively refurbished in 1985-1987, with a major extension and the provision of a communal lounge. New kitchens were provided in 2013, the communal lounge and heating were renovated in 2014, and this year sees the updating of bathrooms in in the apartments.

Dr Milley’s Hospital now has 10 residents. Six of the women live in self-contained flats and the other four live in studio apartments. Each resident has her own kitchen and bathroom, and some women live in studio apartments.

After our tour of the hospital and gardens we were entertained to morning tea and coffee in the Dennis Birch Room, which serves as a community or common room, and in the gardens.

Sunshine in the gardens at the rear of Dr Milley’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Updated 2 June 2015 (Correcting names of trustees

Friends host reception for former
Canon who becomes new Bishop

Outside Christ Church Cathedral after the afternoon’s ordination and consecration of the new Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe

Today is Trinity Sunday [31 May 2015], the patronal festival of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. The preacher at the Festal Eucharist this morning is the former Archbishop of Dublin, the Right Revd John Neill.

Later, the Friends of Christ Church Cathedral are hosting their annual lunch in the cathedral crypt and holding their annual general meeting in the chapter room.

The current issue of the
Friends’ News (Vol 33 No 1) carries the following two-page report and these photographs on pp 12-13:

Friends host reception for former
Canon who becomes new Bishop

Rev Canon Patrick Comerford


Christ Church Cathedral was a joyous setting for the consecration of the Revd Canon Kenneth Arthur Kearon as the new Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe earlier this year. [24 January 2015]

The new bishop had been a canon of Christ Church Cathedral for 20 years since 1995 and he remained a chapter member throughout his ten years as Secretary General of the Anglican Communion since 2005.

Bishop Kearon, who studied at Mountjoy School, Trinity College Dublin and Jesus College Cambridge, was ordained deacon in 1981 and priest in 1982. He was curate of Raheny and Coolock, Dean of Residence and chaplain in TCD and Rector of Tullow before becoming the Director of the Irish School of Ecumenics in 1999.

He has lectured at the Church of Ireland Theological College, TCD, and the schools at the Adelaide and Rotunda hospitals, and written extensively in the area of medical ethics. He is married to Jennifer, a physiotherapist and daughter of Bishop Samuel Poyntz, former Bishop of Connor and of Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

The new bishop’s consecrating bishops were Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin, Bishop Pat Storey of Meath and Kildare and Bishop Patrick Rooke of Tuam. The other bishops of the Church of Ireland present who took part in the consecration were Archbishop Richard Clarke (Armagh), Bishop John McDowell (Clogher), Bishop Paul Colton (Cork) and Bishop Michael Burrows (Cashel and Ossory).

The retired bishops who took part included the new bishop’s father-in-law, Bishop Samuel Poyntz, his three immediate predecessors in Limerick, Bishop Trevor Williams, Bishop Michael Mayes and Bishop Edward Darling, as well as Archbishop Alan Harper (Armagh), Archbishop John Neill (Dublin), Archbishop Walton Empey (Dublin) and Bishop Kenneth Clarke (Kilmore).

Archbishop Barry Morgan of the Church in Wales was the preacher, and Bishop James Tengatenga, the new chair of the Anglican Consultative Council, read the Gospel. The other visiting bishops who took part in the consecration included: the Scottish Primus, Bishop David Chillingworth, Bishop Gregory Cameron (St Asaph, Wales), Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya (Swaziland), and Bishop Edward J. Konieczny (Oklahoma).

The new Bishop with Kenneth Milne at the dinner in the Chapter House

Celia Dunne, the Revd Dr Alan McCormack and Barbara Comerford at the dinner in Christ Church Cathedral

Three serving or past presidents of the Methodist Church in Ireland, also took part in the episcopal ordination: the present President, the Revd Peter Murray, and two former presidents, the Revd Donald Ker and the Revd Winston Graham.

This was the first time for Methodist presidents to take part in an episcopal ordination in the Church of Ireland since the decision of both the General Synod in Christ Church Cathedral last year and the Methodist Conference allowing for the inter-changeability of ministry. The Church of Ireland now recognises Methodist Presidents as Episcopal Ministers, and the consecration marks the start of full inter-changeably of ministry between the two Churches.

Bishop Brendan Leahy, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick, and Abbot Mark Patrick Hederman of Glenstal Abbey were there too.

On the evening before the consecration, the Chapter and the Friends of Christ Church Cathedral hosted a reception in the Chapter House dinner in honour of the new bishop in the newly refurbished music school. The attendance included members of the chapter and friends, and guests from throughout the Anglican Communion.

After Bishop Kearon’s consecration, a reception in the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Golden Lane, was attended by the many old friends of the new bishop, including Clare Amos of the World Council of Churches, Janette O’Neill, Chief Executive of Us (formerly USPG), clergy from dioceses throughout the Church of Ireland, visitors from throughout the Anglican Communion, and friends from the Irish School of Ecumenics.

The new bishop with Valerie Houlden and Lesley Rue of the Friends of Christ Church Cathedral

Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2015

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Visiting a hospital in Lichfield with
no doctor and a mediaeval founder

Dr Milley’s Hospital dates back to 1424 and was rebuilt by Canon Thomas Milley in 1504 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Lichfield today for a visit to Dr Milley’s Hospital, organised by the local historian Kate Gomez and the local history group Lichfield Discovered.

Dr Milley’s Hospital stands on the west side of Beacon Street, close to the entrance to the Cathedral Close. It dates back to 1424, but was rebuilt by Canon Thomas Milley in 1504, hence its name. Despite its name, it does not provide medical care but is a traditional “almshouse” that is home to ten women and on 24 June each year the annual “rent” of ten red roses is paid to the Bishop of Lichfield.

Dr Milley’s Hospital was founded on property in the town ditch given in 1424 for the use of the poor by Bishop William Heyworth. The bishop’s gift, made on the feast of Saint Katherine (25 November), was confirmed by the dean and chapter in the following year.

Local lore says the bishop gave the land on condition that one red rose for each resident was given to the Bishop of Lichfield – if demanded – each year on the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, 24 June. The custom was revived in 1987, and the Bishop of Lichfield is invited on that day to receive 10 red roses … the present bishop, Bishop Jonathan Gledhill, is due to retire in September 2015.

The original grant by Bishop Heyworth makes no mention of the foundation of a hospital. However, two circumstances suggest the hospital dates for his benefaction and that it was founded about 1424.

First, Bishop Heyworth gave the property to the sacrist of Lichfield Cathedral and the Master of the Guild of Saint Mary and Saint John the Baptist. Until 1940, the sacrist has always had a role in Dr Milley’s Hospital. The Guild acted as the city government in Lichfield for almost 200 years. Four generations of the Comberford family were members of the guild: in 1476, John Comberford was admitted to membership; in 1495, his son Thomas Comberford was admitted a member; in 1530, Humphrey Comberford was the Master of the Guild; and in that year his sister-in-law, as Dame Isabella Cumberforde, wife of Judge Richard Comberford, was admitted a member in her own right.

Secondly, the site on which the hospital stands – a long narrow piece of land running back from Beacon Street and curving south to the Leamonsley Brook – is almost certainly the land given by Bishop Heyworth in 1424. The ground seems once to have been a ditch that formed the defences of Lichfield between the north-west corner of the fortified Cathedral Close and the bishop’s fishponds.

The hospital’s endowment was increased by many other grants in the 15th century. Some time before 1438, a house in Beacon Street and a croft in Sandford Street were given to Hugh Lache who, as sacrist, was partly responsible for running the hospital. Lache seems to have been given the property while he was still sacrist. But he must have resigned that office by 1438, when he became subchanter. Later he became the Master of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield.

The hospital’s income from rents was boosted when Thomas Heywood, Dean of Lichfield (1457-1492), gave a pasture in King’s Bromley; Canon Thomas Reynold (1471-1497) gave a house in Wade Street; and some time before 1504 the hospital acquired land in Lichfield called Godscroft from Thomas Atwell.

By 1504, the cathedral chantry chaplains were making an annual payment to the hospital from the revenues of bequests in memory of Canon John Meneley, Prebendary of Offley, who died in 1480.

However, the hospital was poorly endowed. In 1504, the annual income from bequests and legacies amounted to only £2.1s.10d. But four of the chantries in Lichfield Cathedral provided money for the poor, and in at least one case the money was specifically assigned to the poor in almshouses. Perhaps the sacrist and the leading members in the Guild provided charitable funds to help finance the hospital.

The hospital was re-endowed and probably rebuilt in 1502-1504 by the Revd Thomas Milley, a residentiary canon of the cathedral. In 1502, he gave to 12 people, including three other canons and the sacrist, houses and land in Lichfield and lands at Borrowcop, Pipehill (both in Saint Michael’s Parish), Elmhurst (in Saint Chad’s Parish), Birchills (in Walsall), and Chorley (in Farewell). The sacrist was to use the rents from these properties to support 15 almswomen, who were to live in the hospital and receive five or six shillings a quarter in money and household necessities.

The sacrist was also to keep the hospital in a good state of repair. He was to receive 13s.4d. a year to carry out these duties and was to answer to the Dean of Lichfield.

The hospital continued to be run this way until modern times, and the sacrist was known as the Master or Steward of the hospital.

The landed endowment remained substantially the same for three centuries after the hospital was refounded by Thomas Milley. The income of the resident women increased in the late 16th and early 17th century, with legacies from John Feckenham, George Saturford and others.

The original hospital is said to have survived in the English Civil War in the mid-17th century, when the Cathedral Close was besieged on three occasions and the cathedral suffered severe damage. But dendrochronology shows that beams in the upstairs corridor in the present building date back to 1652, raising questions about the dating of different parts of the hospital.

In 1809, the trustees found that some of the hospital lands had been lost and that the rents on other properties rents were in considerable arrears. Other property was held by tenants with long leases and nominal rents.

In the early 19th century, the sacrist’s duties as chaplain included reading prayers in the chapel, administering the sacrament, and preaching once a year. In 1845, the sacrist, the Revd HI Cotton, agreed to hold a weekday service and to celebrate Holy Communion on three Sundays in the year. However, these arrangements were not continued by his successor.

In 1893, a new scheme of governance was approved by the Charity Commissioners and provided for 15 resident almswomen. In 1902, their number was reduced to nine, and this was reduced to eight when the building was restored and reduced in size in 1906-1907.

The hospital management and the appointment of the almswomen are now vested in the nine trustees. They normally include the Dean of Lichfield, although this is not the case at present. The only land now owned are the ground behind the hospital and at Chesterfield, near Shenstone. Eight almswomen live in the hospital.

The office of sacrist was held ex officio by the Treasurer’s Vicar. Both offices lapsed after 1940, and the sacrist’s office has never been revived. From 1940 to 1948, Canon HL Muriel, Prebendary of Weeford, acted as chaplain, and since 1948 the chaplain has usually been one of the two priest vicars in the cathedral. Five years ago, the Revd James Potts, formerly Rural Dean of Stafford, was appointed Chaplain of Dr Milley’s Hospital.

Who was Dr Milley?

No 24 The Close ... once assigned to Thomas Milley, who founded Dr Milley’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

But who was Thomas Milley, and was he ever a doctor?

Milley was Archdeacon of Coventry and Prebendary of Handscare and of Dasset Parva in Lichfield Cathedral. But there is no mention of his birthplace in the Lichfield records, and even his family remains obscure.

He was one of the university men promoted by John Hales, Bishop of Lichfield (1459-1490). But it appears Milley was never a Doctor of Divinity (DD), and there is no entry for him in either the Cambridge or Oxford biographical registers.

He is usually called magister in contemporary records, which indicates he was a master or university graduate. A “Master Thomas Mylly” who was ordained in Hereford Cathedral in 1446 could be the same man.

He had held a prebend in the cathedral from 1457 until his death in 1505. He was Archdeacon of Coventry from 1488 to 1505 and around 1461 he built No 24 in the Cathedral Close.

The house was in a ruinous state in 1461 when it was assigned to Canon Thomas Milley, who was Prebendary of Hansacre from 1457 and later Archdeacon of Coventry from 1488 to 1505 and regularly in attendance at Chapter meetings. He built or rebuilt the house in brick over stone vaults incorporating the base of a stone tower that abutted the cathedral ditch. No 24 was remodelled in the late 17th century, in the 18th century and again in 1812.

Meanwhile, the only reference to his doctorate is the inscription on the tablet over the hospital entrance. However, this is not a contemporaneous record, and dates only from the 18th century. It says:

This hospital for fifteen women was founded by Thos. Milley DD Canon Residentiary of the Cath: Church of Lichfield A.D. 1504.

Indeed, it is not clear that Milley ever intended to give his name to the hospital. In 1687, the Archdeacon of Stafford referred to it as Saint Katherine’s Hospital in Lichfield. But until the 19th century, the hospital seems to have been known simply as the Women’s Hospital, and Lomax refers to it only as the Women’s Hospital in his History in 1819.

So, Dr Milley’s Hospital is not a medical hospital, nor was it founded by a doctor, and it was not known as Dr Milley’s Hospital until perhaps the 19th century. But I am still looking forward to my visit this morning.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Praying for a rainbow of hope for
refugees on Greek islands

‘Summer Wine’ … a promise of summer sunshine and a reminder of the Mediterranean in Dún Laoghaire late this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford
Between the showers of hail and rain this afternoon, there were snatches of sunshine, tastes of summer wine and promises of Mediterranean sun and sea.

As afternoon was turning into evening I went for a coffee in Dún Laoghaire and then for a stroll along the sea front behind the Royal Saint George Yacht Club.

The yachts moored safely in the harbour were like a tantalising promise of sunnier days ahead. And that the same time it was difficult not to think of the humanitarian crises on the seas in the Mediterranean, off the coasts of Italy and Greece.

Earlier in the afternoon, I had lunch in Corfu, the Greek restaurant in Parliament Street, Dublin, with a television producer who was interested in discussion his ideas for a new series.

Evzones guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens … an image in Corfu in Parliament Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The walls around us were decorated with images of Greece, including Greek music, Greek movies, Greek poetry and photographs of the the Evzones (Εύζωνες, Εύζωνοι), the elite light infantry units who provide the Presidential Guard and the ceremonial units that guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (Μνημείο του Άγνωστου Στρατιώτη), the Presidential Mansion (Προεδρικό Μέγαρο) and the gate of the Evzones camp in Athens.

These may have a predominantly ceremonial role, and are known for their uniform with the kilt-like fustanella. But they are a reminder too of the valour and bravery of the klephts, Cretans and Pontic fighters who struggled for Greek freedom and democracy in the 19th century.

Greek freedom and democracy are facing their toughest demands at present, and Greek valour is being grossly undervalued by many Europeans today, from German politicians to British tourists.

Greek freedom and democracy have come at a price … an image in Corfu in Parliament Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

In a scaremongering feature earlier this week, the Daily Mail claimed British tourists on the Greek island of Kos are complaining about asylum seekers ruining their holidays and turning the island into a “disgusting hellhole.”

The Mail claimed “penniless refugees have set up camp, sleeping on rubbish-strewn cardboard boxes. Summer break [is] a ‘nightmare’ for British holidaymakers, who won’t be coming back if it's a refugee camp next year.”

This is nothing less than callous display of disdain and a lack of compassion for people fleeing horrific conditions. The Daily Mail, Britain’s second most read paper, is stoking up fear and xenophobia when it should be displaying compassion and empathy.

Eva Cossé, who has just returned Kos, challenged the values of the Daily Mail and those tourists in a report for Human Rights Watch this week. In Kos, she met asylum seekers who had crossed by boat from Turkey to Greece, and she tells the stories of their own “disgusting hellholes.”

She interviewed men, women, and children fleeing war in Syria and pervasive violence and persecution in Afghanistan.

Nour, a young Palestinian from Syria, fled for fear of ISIS. He told her: “They kill people, cut heads, harm us psychologically. Once, I was walking at night and I stepped on something, grabbed it to see what it was, and felt some kind of hair. It was a head. That’s why we left.”

Mubarek left northern Afghanistan with his wife and three young sons because of the threat of the Taliban: “Every day the Taliban take people and children for suicide bombings. I was worried about my sons.”

Eva Crossé also heard about the grim conditions on Kos. There is no reception facility, so police take migrants and asylum seekers to an abandoned hotel with makeshift beds, limited running water, and no electricity. Others sleep in tents provided by Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) , while still others are left on the streets.

“Believe me,” she said, “migrants and asylum seekers want to leave every bit as much as the intolerant British holidaymakers want to see them go.”

Earlier this week, she came across 1,000 migrants and asylum seekers waiting for police processing to get the necessary documents to travel on to Athens.

Nour, the young Palestinian, told her how a restaurant owner sprayed pesticide on him and his brother to force them to move away. As she was interviewing a group of Syrians near the police station, a shop owner came and shouted: “Go away, you are bothering the view of my tourists. Go back to your countries.”

She points out there is a lot Greece needs to do to set up a functioning reception system on the Aegean islands. She suggests the EU should support Greece more to ensure adequate shelter, food, and basic healthcare to those arriving at Europe’s door.

But then, of course, there is so much that the EU needs to do for Greece right now.

Eva Crossé concludes: “Yes, the reality of refugee suffering can dampen holiday fun. But these refugees have fled from one hellhole to another, and tourists should gain some perspective on – and hopefully show compassion for – these people who aren’t on the move seeking rest and relaxation, but rather to find refuge.”

Colourful hand-made kilins from Afghanistan Blue Door in Monkstown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Between Corfu and Dún Laoghaire this afternoon, I was in the Blue Door in Monkstown buying a birthday present. But I was completely distracted by the colourful, distinctive handmade kilins from Afghanistan.

Hand-made kilins from Afghanistan are fashionable in northern Europe, and are beautiful to look at. But when those who make them seek refuge on our shores or in our holiday resorts, they are accused by the gutter press and tourists of turning our places of refuge into “disgusting hellholes.”

These double standards need to be exposed for precisely what they are.

Thinking of the Mediterranean in a quiet moment at the harbour in Dún Laoghaire this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

As I walked back from the harbour at Dún Laighaire, I passed a collection of irises in a green patch beside Saint Michael’s Church. The Iris takes its name from the Greek word for a rainbow (Ἶρις). Perhaps a rainbow of hope will soon shine in dark clouds for the refugees who take great risks in the Mediterranean in their search for safety a future for their children.

A bed of irises in Dun Laoghaire … who can offer a rainbow of hope to refugees in the Mediterranean (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Thursday, 28 May 2015

‘Marriage of heart and longings that aspire,
a bond of roses, and a ring of fire’

Visiting the former Houses of Parliament in College Green this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

This is one of my weeks as canon-in-residence in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. I preached at the Cathedral Eucharist on Sunday morning [24 May 2015], and I was in the Cathedral for Choral Evensong this evening, when I read the second reading (Romans 8: 1-8).

This evening’s canticles, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were from the Collegium Regale setting by Herbert Howells (1892-1983).

A major formative experience for Howells in his youth was the premiere in 1910 at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. Howells liked to relate in after years how Vaughan Williams sat next to him for the remainder of the concert and shared his score of Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius.

Throughout his career, Howells was profoundly influenced by both Vaughan Williams and the Tudor composers, including.

In August 1941, at the height of World War II, Howells was invited to become the acting organist of Saint John’s College, Cambridge. His association with Cambridge, which lasted until the end of the war in 1945, was a productive and happy period for Howells, and led directly to the works for which he is most remembered.

Howells later recalled how he was challenged by the Dean of King’s College, Eric Milner-White, to write a set of canticles for the choir. The result was the Te Deum and Jubilate for the service known as Collegium Regale, performed in 1944. Howells followed this the following year with the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis that were sung exquisitely by the cathedral choir in Christ Church this evening.

This evening’s anthem was a setting by Howells of the poem ‘A Hymn for Saint Cecilia’ by Ursula Vaughan Williams (1911-2007), the second wife and biographer of Vaughan Williams:

Sing for the morning’s joy, Cecilia, sing,
in words of youth and praises of the Spring,
walk the bright colonnades by fountains’ spray,
and sing as sunlight fills the waking day;
till angels, voyaging in upper air,
pause on a wing and gather the clear sound
into celestial joy, wound and unwound,
a silver chain, or golden as your hair.

Sing for your loves of heaven and of earth,
in words of music, and each word a truth;
marriage of heart and longings that aspire,
a bond of roses, and a ring of fire.
Your summertime grows short and fades away,
terror must gather to a martyr’s death;
but never tremble, the last indrawn breath
remembers music as an echo may.

Through the cold aftermath of centuries,
Cecilia’s music dances in the skies;
lend us a fragment of the immortal air,
that with your choiring angels we may share,
a word to light us thro’ time-fettered night,
water of fife, or rose of paradise,
so from the earth another song shall rise
to meet your own in heaven’s long delight.


Those words, “a bond of roses, and a ring of fire,” had a resonance with me as I sat enthralled in my chapter stall this evening, for in my sermon on Sunday marking the Day of Pentecost chapter, I had quoted TS Eliot’s words in his Pentecost poem ‘Little Gidding’:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.


Seven visitors from the Four Nations Forum at the door of the Chapter House in Christ Church Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Earlier in the afternoon, I brought seven visitors to Christ Church Cathedral. They were among the delegates who had been in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute this week for the Four Nations Faith and Order Consultation.

The consultation was hosted by the Church of Ireland, and also included representatives from the Church of England, the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church. They took part in a wide range of discussions, including a shared study based around the question: “What is the Church, what is the gospel, what is mission and how do they relate with practice.”

The visitors to Christ Church Cathedral this afternoon were Bishop Donald Allister of Peterborough; Canon Gwynn ap Gwilym, the Revd Matthew Hill and the Revd Dr Rhiannon Johnson of the Church in Wales; Bishop David Chillingworth, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and Canon John Lindsay and Dr John Davies of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

We also visited Dublin Castle, the Chapel Royal, City Hall, the former House of Lords and House of Commons in the Bank of Ireland, College Green, and the Library in Trinity College Dublin, where we saw the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow.

From TCD, we strolled up Kildare Street to see Leinster House (Parliament), down through Grafton Street and the buskers, by the Molly Malone Statue on the corner of Suffolk Street and Saint Andrew Street, and then through Temple Bar, stopping for coffee before returning to Christ Church Cathedral.

It certainly was a very different but interesting day in the week of a canon-in-residence.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

‘There is nothing that is worth living for
but Christian architecture and a boat’

Three new books for my shelves … including one to read on Saturday’s flights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

I spent an hour queueing in my GP’s practice last night for a much needed B12 injection and a consultation about my sarcoidosis. The wait was worth it, and my GP is beyond praise for his attention and wisdom.

This all came after a busy day, tidying up and completing exam marks for the Mater Dei Institute of Education, where I am a Visiting Lecturer in Anglican Studies.

Mater Dei Institute is a College of Dublin City University (DCU), situated in the heart of Drumcondra in Dublin. But it may soon be moving from its present campus on Clonliffe Road to either a site at Saint Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, or the DCU campus in Glasnevin.

Mater Dei Institute, Saint Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, and the Church of Ireland College of Education (CICE) are being brought together within Dublin City University. An important milestone in this process takes place next September (2015), when all incoming students to Mater Dei will register as DCU students.

The new Institute of Education will be DCU’s fifth faculty and the incorporation will enable a greatly enhanced Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

I am not sure yet whether I am going to be teaching in the Glasnevin or the Drumcondra campus, but it is a pleasure to have been invited back again as a visiting lecturer for the coming academic year.

Mater Dei Institute for Education … on the move in September (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Between visiting Mater Dei and visiting my GP, I spent a little time browsing and rummaging in the bookshops in Dublin city centre, and came away with three books.

The Gothic Revival by Michael J Lewis (London: Thames & Hudson, 2002) was published as part of the World of Art series. The author is a Professor in the Department of Art at Williams College, Massachusetts, where he has taught American art and architecture at Williams College since 1993.

The fashion for Gothic Revival architecture spread throughout continental Europe and the US from the 18th century, and shaped the face of Victorian England and Ireland. It soon outgrew its religious and historical beginnings and was adopted in many countries to serve political or nationalist purposes.

AWN Pugin and Charles Barry were two of the many great architectural talents of the 19th century. They developed the Gothic Revival and are associated with many of England’s best-known buildings, particularly the Houses of Parliament.

But this book pays little or no attention to Pugin’s work in Ireland, which includes Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney, Saint Aidan’s Cathedral, Wexford, Saint Peter’s College, Wexford, much of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, as well as churches dotted throughout the landscape of Co Wexford.

Nor, apart from a rich description of his work at Saint Giles’s, Cheadle, is there much discussion of Pugin’s work throughout England, especially Alton Towers and the patronage of the Talbot family which was the catalyst for changing the ecclesiastical landscape of Staffordshire and Wexford in the 19th century.

Pugin once described Saint Giles’s as “Perfect Cheadle, my consolation in all my afflictions.” However, I was amused to read the quotation from Pugin that introduces the chapter on his work: “There is nothing that is worth living for but Christian architecture and a boat.”

Professor Lewis argues that the Gothic style demonstrates energetically the confrontation of Western architecture with modernity, applying the inspiration of the mediaeval cathedral builders to the new engineering ideas of the industrial age. His rich survey treats individual buildings and broad movements in England, Europe and the US with fresh authority, and he provides an invaluable introduction to a fascinating and colourful period in the history of architecture.

‘There is nothing that is worth living for but Christian architecture and a boat’ (AWN Pugin) … punting on the Backs behind King’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of TS Eliot in 1965, and so far this year I have given a number of lectures, written some papers, and even been inspired in my preaching by Eliot.

The Waste Land and Other Writings (New York: Modern Library Classics, 2002), is a collection of writings by TS Eliot. I have bought this to read the introduction by the American poet and essayist Mary Karr, ‘How to Read “The Waste Land” So It Alters Your Soul Rather Than Just Addling Your Head.’

The works by Eliot selected for this collection are ‘Prufrock and Other Observations’ (1917), ‘Poems’ (1920), ‘The Waste Land’ (1922) and ‘The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism.’

‘The Waste Land’ is Eliot’s masterpiece, and one of the greatest poetic achievements of the 20th century, describing his pilgrimage of spiritual and psychological torment and redemption. In her introduction, Mary Karr sets out to dispel some of the myths about this poem’s inaccessibility and she sheds fresh light on the ways in which ‘The Waste Land’ illuminates contemporary experience.

Eliot’s criticism was almost as influential as his poetry, and this collection includes a valuable selection of some of his most important essays.

My third purchase in Hodges Figgis yesterday afternoon was Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Reformation, Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700) (Penguin 2004).

Diarmaid MacCulloch is Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University, and is regarded as the pre-eminent scholar and historian of our time on the Reformation and Counter-Reformation in European history. His biography of Thomas Cranmer: A Life (1996) won the Whitbread Biography Prize, the James Tait Black Prize and the Duff Cooper Prize. He is also the author of A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years.

This history of the Reformation received the British Academy Book Prize in 2004 and the Wolfson Prize for History. Here Diarmaid MacCulloch sets out to chart a seismic shift in European culture that tore the western world apart and marked the beginning of the modern world.

He re-creates the religious battles of priests, monarchs, scholars and politicians, from the Martin Luther nailing his Theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg to the radical Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, from Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury, martyred for his reforms, to the ambitious Philip II of Spain, unwavering in his campaign against Europe’s “heretics.”

He weaves together the many strands of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, ranging widely across Europe and even to the new world, and reveals how these upheavals affected everyday lives – overturning ideas of love, sex, death and the supernatural, and shaping the modern age.

Blair Worden wrote in the Sunday Telegraph: “From politics to witchcraft, from the liturgy to sex; the sweep of European history covered here is breathtakingly panoramic. This is a model work of history.”

James Boswell, in his biography of Dr Johnson, recalls how the saintly Lichfield writer once advised him “to have as many books about me as I could; that I might read upon any subject upon which I had a desire for instruction at the time.”

Johnson told Boswell "What you have read then you will remember; but if you have not a book immediately ready, and the subject moulds in your mind, it is a chance if you again have a desire to study it.” He added: “If a man never has an eager desire for instruction, he should prescribe a task for himself. But it is better if a man reads from immediate inclination.”

My B12 injection was much needed in advance of my return flight to Birmingham and visit to Lichfield on Saturday [30 May 2015]. Now I am well stocked up with B12 level and with reading material, and I plan to take Mary Karr’s introduction to ‘The Waste Land’ with me to read on the flights at the weekend.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Lichfield is always worth seeing
and ‘always worth going to see’

John Myatt’s mural on a wall in Bird Street, Lichfield, commemorating Samuel Johnson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in Lichfield at the end of the week for a visit to Dr Milley’s Hospital on Beacon Street, close to the entrance to the Cathedral Close. The visit has been organised by Kate Gomez and the local history group, Lichfield Discovered.

Of course, Lichfield always brings to mind the saintly lexicographer, Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), who is Lichfield’s favourite literary son. I was reminded earlier this week that it was 250 years this year that he became Dr Johnson because of the honorary degree conferred on him by Trinity College Dublin in 1765.

Although Johnson left Pembroke College, Oxford, without a degree, he was awarded the degree of Master of Arts by Oxford University in 1755, just before the publication of his Dictionary in 1755.

However, the style of “Doctor” by which he is universally known comes from the honorary doctorate in laws (LL.D.) conferred on him 250 years ago by Trinity College Dublin and dated 8 July 1765 in recognition of his editing William Shakespeare.

Johnson was surprised by this spontaneous compliment. The diploma read:

Omnibus ad quos præsentes literæ pervenerint, salutem. Nos Præpositus et Socii Seniores Collegii sacrosantæ et individuæ Trinitatis Reginæ, Elizabethæ juxta Dublin, testamur, Samueli Johnson, Armigero, ob egregiam scriptorum elegantium et utilitatem, gratiam concessam fuisse pro gradu Doctoratus in utroque Jure, octavo die Julii, Anno Domini millesimo septingentesimo sexagesimo-quinto. In cujus rei testimonium singulorum manus et sigillum quo in hisce utimur apposuimus; vicesimo tertio die Julii, Anno Domini millesimo septingentesimo sexagesimo quinto.

It was signed by William Clement, Francis Andrews, R Murray, Thomas Wilson, Robert Law, Thomas Leland, and Michael Kearney.

The Revd Canon Robert Law (1730-1789) among the signatories had been a fellow of TCD since 1754. He was ordained priest by the Bishop of Ferns, John Garnett, in 1755, was a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and Rector of Saint Mary’s. His son, the Revd Francis Law (1768-1807), married Belinda Isabella Comerford, daughter of Patrick Comerford of Cork, and was the father of the Revd Patrick Comerford Law.

Wise words from Dr Samuel Johnson in the Hedgehog Vintage Inn, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Johnson acknowledged the honour he had received from Trinity College Dublin in a letter to Dr Leland. He had once thought of studying law, and of entering politics, and he wrote his “Prayer before the Study of Law” a few weeks after receiving this doctorate, on 26 September 1765:

Almighty God, the giver of wisdom, without whose help resolutions are vain, without whose blessing study is ineffectual; enable me, if it be thy will, to attain such knowledge as may qualify me to direct the doubtful, and instruct the ignorant; to prevent wrongs and terminate contentions; and grant that I may use that knowledge which I shall attain, to thy glory and my own salvation, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

Johnson was sceptical about travel writers and their motives. Some years earlier, he wrote in the Idler on 23 February 1760:

“The greater part of travellers tell nothing, because their method of travelling supplies them with nothing to be told. He that enters a town at night and surveys it in the morning, and then hastens away to another place, and guesses at the manners of the inhabitants by the entertainment which his inn afforded him, may please himself for a time with a hasty change of scenes, and a confused remembrance of palaces and churches; he may gratify his eye with a variety of landscapes, and regale his palate with a succession of vintages; but let him be contented to please himself without endeavouring to disturb others. Why should he record his excursions by which nothing could be learned, or wish to make a show of knowledge, which, without some power of intuition unknown to other mortals, he never could attain?”

Later, in his Life of Johnson, James Boswell (1740-1795) recalled that Johnson, “I know not why, shewed upon all occasions an aversion to go to Ireland, where I proposed to him that we should make a tour.” Johnson asked: “It is the last place where I should wish to travel.” Boswell replied: “Should you not like to see Dublin, Sir?” Johnson: “No, Sir; Dublin is only a worse capital.” Boswell: “Is not the Giant’s Causeway worth seeing?” Johnson: “Worth seeing, yes; but not worth going to see.”

This weekend, however, I am sure, as always that only is Lichfield worth seeing, as always, but also “worth going to see.”

Samuel Johnson’s statue in the Market Square in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Monday, 25 May 2015

Eyam’s ‘pastor, to this human-flock no more
Shall the long flight of future days restore!’

The Tapestry in Eyam Museum recalling the brave and sacrificial story of the plague in 1665/1666

Patrick Comerford

Last week, as I was preparing my sermon for the Day of Pentecost [24 May 2015] in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, I found my mind wandering between Elam in remote Persia in Apostolic Days to Ilam in the Staffordshire Peaks and my wanderings there in my late teens in the early 1970s.

But in a conversation yesterday, someone confused picturesque Ilam (pronounced Eye-Lamb) in Staffordshire with the “plague village” of Eyam (pronounced Eem, to rhyme with seem), about 40 km further north in the Derbyshire Peaks.

I visited Eyam later in the 1970s while I was attending peace conferences at Swanwick and went on tours that also brought me to neighbouring places like Bakewell, Buxton, Chatsworth, Chesterfield and Matlock.

Years later, Eyam still tells a memorable tale from the 17th century of self-sacrifice and bravery that remains an outstanding and unique story of redemptive self-sacrifice. It is a story that I am often reminded of in Lichfield when I hear the stiry of Anna Seward and her poetry.

Eyam is a village in the Derbyshire Dales and in the Peak District. The village is noted for an outbreak of the plague in 1665, when the villagers chose to isolate themselves rather than let the infection spread.

Eyam was founded and named by Anglo-Saxons, although before that the Romans had mined lead in the area. Today, Eyam depends on the tourism and its reputation as “the plague village.”

Eyam was also badly affected by the Great Plague of 1665, although the plague is usually associated with London. The sacrifices made by the villages of Eyam is said to l have saved many places throughout the Midlands and northern England.

The Plague Cottage in Eyam (Photograph: Mickie Collins/Wikipedia)

At the time of the plague, Eyam had a population of about 350. The most important person in the village was the Rector, the Revd William Mompesson (1639-1709), who moved to Eyam with his wife Catherine and their children in 1664.

In the summer of 1665, the village tailor received a flea-infested bundle of cloth from his supplier in London. This parcel contained the fleas that caused the plague. Within a week, the tailor’s assistant, George Vicars, had died from the plague. More began dying in the household soon after; by the end of September, five more villagers had died; 23 died in October.

As the plague spread, the villagers turned to their rector and his predecessor, the Revd Thomas Stanley. When some villagers wanted to flee to Sheffield, Mompesson feared they would bring the plague with them and persuaded them to cut themselves off from the outside would.

From May 1666, precautious measures were introduced to slow the spread of the plague. Families buried their own dead and church services were moved to the natural amphitheatre at Cucklett Delph, allowing villagers to separate themselves and reduce the risk of infection.

The villagers voluntarily quarantined themselves although this would mean certain death for many of them. The village was supplied with food by people living outside who left supplies at the “plague stones” marking the boundary that separated Eyam from the outside world.

The villages left money in a water trough filled with vinegar to sterilise the coins. In this way, the people of Eyam were not left to starve to death, and the people who supplied the village with food did not come into contact with the plague.

Eyam continued to suffer from the plague throughout 1666. William Mompesson had to bury his own family in the churchyard. When his wife died in August 1666, he decided to hold her services outdoors to reduce the chances of people catching the disease.

By November 1666, the plague had come to an end. In all, 260 out of 350 villagers had died in Eyam. But their selfless sacrifice saved many thousands of lives in the north of England.

Mompesson survived. He wrote at the end of the ordeal: “Now, blessed be God, all our fears are over for none have died of the plague since the eleventh of October and the pest-houses have long been empty.”

The plague ran its course over 14 months but when it came to an end it had killed most of the villagers. The parish records provide the names of 273 people who were victims. Only 83 villages survived out of a population of over 350.

Those who survived did so randomly and there is no explanation for their survival. Many people of the survivors had close contact with those who died yet never caught the disease. Elizabeth Hancock buried six children and her husband within eight days, but was never infected herself. The village gravedigger Marshall Howe survived even though he handled many infected bodies.

Every Plague Sunday a wreath is laid on Catherine Mompesson’s grave in the churchyard. Plague Sunday has been marked in Eyam since the bicentenary of the plague in 1866. It now takes place in Cucklett Delph on the last Sunday in August, at the same time as Wakes Week and the Well Dressing ceremonies.

Eyam Hall, built shortly after the plague (Photograph: Dave Pape/Wikipedia)

The Jacobean-style Eyam Hall was built by the Wright family in 1671, soon after the plague, and local mining helped Eyam to recover in population and to prosper economically. Today, many of the village houses and cottages are marked with plaques listing the names and ages of residents who died as victims of the plague, and the story of the plague village is told in Eyam Museum.

There is a plague window in the parish church. But Eyam and its church and churchyard are much older than the plague. The name of Eyam comes from Old English and first appears in the Domesday Book as Aium. The name probably means a cultivated island in the moors, although it may also refer to Eyam’s location between two brooks.

A Mercian-style Anglo-Saxon cross in the churchyard in Eyam dates back to the eighth century, and is covered in complex carvings. Saint Lawrence’s Church dates from the 14th century, but a Saxon font and Norman window are evidence of an earlier church on the site.

Some of the Rectors of Eyam had colourful stories. The Revd Sherland Adams was an ardent royalist, and was removed from office by the parliamentarians, although he returned again briefly in 1664 after the Caroline Restoration and the resignation of Adams.

The tithe from the lead mines was paid to the rectors, who received one penny for every dish of ore and 2¼d for every load of hillock-stuff. When a new rich vein was discovered in the 18th century, Eyam became a rich living.

Canon Thomas Seward (1708–1790) was Rector of Eyam for half a century from 1740 until his death in 1790, and his daughter, the poet Anna Seward, who was born in Eyam in 1747. While he was still Rector of Eyam, he moved with his family 90 km south to the Bishop’s Palace in Cathedral Close in Lichfield in 1754, and became Prebendary of Pipa Parva in Lichfield Cathedral.

Akthough she was born in Eyam, Anna Seward became known as the “Swan of Lichfield.” She returned from Lichfield to Eyam in 1788 and her poem ‘Eyam’ is filled with nostalgia for her birthplace, tearfully recalling the story of the plague:

For one short week I leave, with anxious heart,
Source of my filial cares, the Full of Days,
Lur’d by the promise of Harmonic Art
To breathe her Handel’s soul-exalting lays.
Pensive I trace the Derwent’s amber wave,
Foaming through umbrag’d banks, or view it lave
The soft, romantic vallies, high o’er-peer’d
By hills and rocks, in savage grandeur rear’d.
Not two short miles from thee, can I refrain
Thy haunts, my native Eyam, long unseen? –
Thou and thy lov’d inhabitants, again
Shall meet my transient gaze. – Thy rocky screen,
Thy airy cliffs I mount; and seek thy shade,
Thy roofs, that brow the steep, romantic glade;
But, while on me the eyes of Friendship glow,
Swell my pain’d sighs, my tears spontaneous flow.

In scenes paternal, not beheld through years,
Nor view’d, till now, but by a Father’s side,
Well might the tender, tributary tears,
From keen regrets of duteous fondness glide!
Its pastor, to this human-flock no more
Shall the long flight of future days restore!
Distant he droops, – and that once gladdening eye
Now languid gleams, ’en when his friends are nigh.

Through this known walk, where weedy gravel lies,
Rough, and unsightly; – by the long, coarse grass
Of the once smooth, and vivid green, with sighs
To the deserted Rectory I pass; –
Stray through the darken’d chambers’ naked bound,
Where childhood’s earliest, liveliest bliss I found;
How chang’d, since erst, the lightsome walls beneath,
The social joys did their warm comforts breathe!

Ere yet I go, who may return no more,
That sacred pile, ’mid yonder shadowy trees,
Let me revisit! – Ancient, massy door,
Thou gratest hoarse! – my vital spirits freeze,
Passing the vacant pulpit, to the space
Where humble rails the decent altar grace,
And where my infant sister’s ashes sleep,
Whose loss I left the childish sport to weep.
The gloves, suspended by the garland’s side,
White as its snowy flowers, with ribbons tied; –
Dear Village, long these wreaths funereal spread,
Simple memorials of thy early dead!

But O! thou bland, and silent pulpit! – thou,
That with a Father’s precepts, just, and bland,
Did’st win my ear, as reason’s strength’ning glow
Show’d their full value, now thou seem’st to stand
Before my sad, suffus’d, and trembling gaze,
The dreariest relic of departed days.
Of eloquence paternal, nervous, clear,
Dim Apparition thou – and bitter is my tear!


Sunday, 24 May 2015

A walk along the coast at Malahide
and finding an unusual tower house

Hicks Tower looking down on the golden sands of Malahide this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Day of Pentecost and I was preaching at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, this morning.

Later, four of us went to lunch in Mexico to Rome, strolling through Temple Bar on our way there and back to the cathedral.

Later in the afternoon, two of us drove north to Portmarnock, intending to go for a walk on the long sandy beach there. But there was little or no space for parking and we were south of Robswall on the edges of Malahide before we found a place to park and to start our walk along the coast.

After a short time, the beautiful golden sand of Malahide was spreading out below us, with Hicks Tower looking down on the scene from its lofty perch on hillock above the road.

Hicks Tower, Malahide … built as a Martello Tower but converted into an Art-and-Crafts house by Frederick Hicks over 100 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Hicks Tower looks like a small French chateau, but in fact is a former Martello tower, first built around 1805 and remodelled ca 1911 as an Arts-and-Crafts style detached house.

It takes its name from the architect Frederick Hicks (1870-1965), who redesigned the tower and made it his home. There are two storeys to the main tower block with two further storeys providing additional attic accommodation. The return and stair block are attached to the rear.

The tower has a conical roof there is and hipped roof to right with red clay tiles and concrete ridge tiles. The tower also has an iron weathervane. There are roughcast panelled chimney stacks, and the walls are roughcast.

This is one of the 74 Martello towers built in Ireland between 1804 and 1815 when the British Government feared a Napoleonic invasion of Ireland. The walls of Hicks Tower are 6 ft thick and the ground floor would have been used to store 30 barrels of gunpowder, cannon balls and water tanks with a capacity of 465 gallons.

The first floor provided the living and sleeping quarters for the soldiers while the top floor, with a parapet, held a 24 pounder cannon. The tower was built to be bomb-proof and the original entrance was 10 feet from the ground. The swivel gun on the parapet had a range of about a mile.

It is said only wooden pegs and no nails were used in its construction, in case a spark from a soldier’s boot would blow the tower asunder. The mortar, holding the granite blocks together, is exceptionally strong, made up of lime, ash, hot wax and ox-blood.

Hicks took over the tower in 1910 and, with colossal labour, he cut windows in the wall and added a roof as he converted it into his home.

I spy with my little eye … a surprising figure in the wall of Hicks Tower, Malahide (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Dublin-based architect Frederick Hicks was born in Banbury, Oxfordshire, on 16 May 1870, the son of Joseph Hicks, a linen draper, and his wife Mary. He was educated at Taunton School and received his architectural training at the London Architectural Association School and Finsbury Technical College.

After completing his articles with John William Stevens of London at the age of 20, he moved to Dunlin in 1890 to take up a trial appointment in the office of James Rawson Carroll. He later worked with William Henry Byrne and with Thomas Drew before setting up his own practice in Dublin in 1895.

He was working from the same premises as Frederick Augustus Butler at 5 Saint Stephen’s Green in 1898 and at 28 South Frederick Street and 35a Kildare Street from 1900 until Butler’s death in 1903.

In 1905, Hicks formed partnership with Frederick Batchelor at 86 Merrion Square. The 17-year partnership of Batchelor and Hicks lasted until 1922, when Batchelor retired.

Hicks continued to work from the same premises until 1945, and he was President of the RIAI 1929-1931. As an accomplished artist, he exhibited frequently at exhibitions of the Water Colour Society of Ireland and the Royal Hibernian Academy from 1926 to 1963. When he retired in 1945, he sold his practice to his assistant Alan Hope.

Hicks died at his home at The Tower, Malahide, on 24 April 1965 shortly before his 95th birthday and was buried beside his wife and a daughter in the churchyard at Saint Andrew’s Church of Ireland parish church, Malahide.
No 86 Merrion Square, with its much-photographed front door is now the offices of GVA Donal O'Buachalla, where my father was once a director until his retirement.

No 86 Merrion Square, Dublin, where Hicks practised as an architect from 1905 to 1945 ((Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hicks worked mainly on designing houses and on hospitals. As well as converting the Martello Tower into a house for himself around 1910, his other works include the Carnegie Free Library in Rathmines (1905-1913), the World War I memorial in All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman, Saint Thomas’s Church (1929-1932) in Cathal Brugha Street, off O’Connell Street, Dublin, now Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s, and repairs to the stonework in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (1946).

Some years ago, Hicks Tower was owned by the lifestyle ‘yoga guru’ and controversial businessman Tony Quinn, but I am not sure whether he still lives there.

We continued our walk along the beach and the coastline and the beach, with views back to Ireland’s Eye and Howth Head, and out to Lambay Island and Portrane Peninsula, watching the yachts and sail boats moving in and out of Malahide Harbour.

We stopped for double espressos at the Food Fayre and Café, where it was a pleasure to sit out in the warm sunshine and the open air, enjoying what appears to be the arrival of early summer, before retracing our steps past Hicks Tower and Robswall Castle.

Walking back along the coastline in Malahide this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

‘And the fire and the rose are one’
… finding hope for all at Pentecost

‘And the fire and the rose are one’ ... a candle and a rose on a dinner table in Minares on Vernardou Street, Rethymnon, in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin,

Sunday 24 May 2015,

The Day of Pentecost

11 a.m., The Cathedral Eucharist


Readings: Acts 2: 1-21 or Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Psalm 104: 26-36, 37b; Romans 8: 22-27 or Acts 2: 1-21; John 15: 26-27, 16:4b-15.

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

Last month, I spent the week after Easter in Cappadocia in south central Turkey.

Although it snowed that week, I did all the normal tourist things, including a hot-air balloon trip and visiting the “fairy chimneys,” the cave dwellings and the troglodyte underground cities.

But my first reason for going there was because of my interests in Patristic studies: this is the region that has given the Church the Cappadocian Fathers – great writers, theologians and thinkers in the fourth century such as Saint Basil the Great (Ἅγιος Βασίλειος ὁ Μέγας), Bishop of Caesarea; his younger brother, Saint Gregory of Nyssa (Ἅγιος Γρηγόριος Νύσσης); and their friend, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (Ἅγιος Γρηγόριος ὁ Ναζιανζηνός), who became Patriarch of Constantinople.

It was thrilling to realise that I was visiting towns and cities linked with the Cappadocian Fathers who advanced the development of theology, especially our Creeds and our doctrine of the Trinity.

With the conflicts in Anatolia, Turkey and the Middle East, Christians in the region are an ever-dwindling minority and their cultural contributions to life in the Eastern Mediterranean and neighbouring regions is not just being forgotten, but in many cases is being deliberately wiped out and obliterated.

Early one morning, we descended into the depths of Derinkuyu (Ανακού), the largest excavated underground city in Turkey. This multi-level city goes down 85 metres underground. It is large enough to have sheltered 20,000 people, along with their livestock and food, with churches, chapels, schools, wine presses, wells, stables, cellars, storage rooms, refectories and even a burial chamber. At the fifth or lowest level, I found myself in a cruciform church.

The forlorn Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Theodoros Trion in Derinkuyu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

When I came up and emerged into the daylight, brushing my eyes, I was facing a stark reminder that until 1923 Derinkuyu was known to its Cappadocian Greek residents as Malakopea (Μαλακοπέα). Across the square from the entrance to the underground city stands the lonely and forlorn Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Theodoros Trion, like a sad scene in an Angelopoulos movie.

This once elegant church stands forlorn and abandoned since 1923. Its walls have started to collapse, the frescoes are crumbling, and the restoration promised by the government has been abandoned.

The Greek-speaking people who lived in Cappadocia for thousands of years were forced in fatal swoop, like all Greek-speakers in Anatolia, to abandon their homes in 1923 and to go into exile. They had been there before the days of Alexander the Great. But they are there no more.

They were there in Biblical times. We read about them this morning (Acts 2: 1-21). On the first day of Pentecost, we are told, the good news is heard by Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and parts of Libya, visitors from Rome, Cretans and Arabs – each in their own languages.

The very people who are counted out in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East then and today, the ethnic and linguistic minorities, the religious curiosities and perceived oddities, those who dress, and appear, and sound and look different, whose foods and perfume and bodily odours are marked by variety, are counted as God’s own people on the Day of Pentecost.

Pentecost is the undoing of Babel (Genesis 11: 1-11). The barriers we built in the past, the walls we use to separate ourselves from each other, are torn apart by the Holy Spirit who rushes in and breaks down all the walls that separate us from those we think are different because of how they sound, look and smell.

Pentecost celebrates the over-abundant generosity of God. This is generosity is beyond measure, to the point that it challenges us, surprises us, startles us.

So often we want to box-in, contain or marginalise the Holy Spirit. For most traditional Anglicans, the Holy Spirit is relegated to, confined to, occasions such as Confirmation, like this afternoon, or to prayers during the ordination of bishops, priests and deacons. After that, the Holy Spirit has little or nothing to do with us.

Yes, the Holy Spirit is for Charismatics, and for people who pray and sing with their hands in the air and bounce on their feet as they sing and dance. But not for staid, traditional, Anglicans like me. So how is the Holy Spirit relevant to me, apart from some prayers at my Confirmation and Ordination?

This morning’s account of the first Day of Pentecost is a sharp reminder that Pentecost is for all. The Holy Spirit is not an exclusive gift for the 12, for the inner circle, for the believers, or even for the Church. See how many times the words all and every are used in this story:

● they are all together (verse 1);
● the tongues of fire rest on each or every one of them (verse 3);
all of them are filled with the Holy Spirit (verse 4);
● the people in Jerusalem are from every nation (verse 5);
● each or everyone hears in his or her own language (verse 6);
● so that all are amazed and perplexed (verse 12);
● Peter addresses all (verse 14);
● he promises that God will pour out his Spirit on all (verse 17);
● this promise is for allwithout regard to gender, age or social background (verses 17-21);
● and the promise of God’s salvation is for everyone (verse 21).

God’s generosity at Pentecost is lavish, risky and abundant, overflowing to the point of over-abundant generosity. The Holy Spirit is not measured out in tiny drops, like some prescribed medicine poured out gently and carefully, drop by drop. It is not even like the gentle measure used for pouring out a glass of wine

The Holy Spirit gushes out and spills out all over the place, in a way that is beyond the control of the 12, like champagne fizzing out after the cork has been popped at a celebration, sparkling all over the room, champagne that can never be put back, unlike wine that can be decanted and poured out once more in polite and controlled measures.

The gift of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning, the birthday, of the Church, so perhaps champagne is the right image as we celebrate the birthday of the Church. But this is a gift that does not cease being given after Pentecost.

The gift of the Holy Spirit remains with the Church – for all times. The gift of the Holy Spirit is for all who are baptised, who are invited to continue daily to hear the word, to join in fellowship, to break the bread, to pray – just as we are doing at this Eucharist this morning (see Acts 2: 42-47).

Because of this gift, the Church is brought together in diversity and sustained in unity. The Orthodox Church speaks of the Church as the realised or lived Pentecost.

I think our thinking about the Holy Spirit is made difficult by traditional images of a dove that looks more like a homing pigeon; or tongues of fire dancing around meekly-bowed heads of people cowering and hiding in the upper room in Jerusalem, rather than a room that is bursting at the seams and ready to overflow.

But the Holy Spirit is not something added on as an extra course, as an after-thought after the Resurrection and the Ascension.

This morning, as we affirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, shaped to a profound degree by those Cappadocian Fathers, as we say “We believe in the Holy Spirit,” do we really believe in the Holy Spirit as “the Lord, the giver of life,” in the Holy Spirit as the way in which God “has spoken through the prophets”?

The gift of the Holy Spirit does not stop being effective the day after confirmation, the day after ordination, the day after hearing someone speaking in tongues, or the day after this Day of Pentecost.

God never leaves us alone. This is what Christ promises the disciples, the whole Church, in our Gospel reading this morning. We need have no fears, for the Resurrection breaks through all the barriers of time and space, of gender and race, of language and colour.

If the Holy Spirit is the Advocate and is living in me and you, then who am I an advocate for? Who do I speak up for when there is no-one else to speak up for them?

Pentecost includes all – even those we do not like. Who do you not want in the Kingdom of God? Who do I find it easy to think of excluding from the demands the Holy Spirit makes on me and on the Church? And we have had a lot of discussion about exclusion in this republic, in this society, and in this Church in recent days.

Pentecost promises hope. But hope is not certainty, manipulating the future for our own ends, it is trusting in God’s purpose.

‘Little Gidding,’ the fourth and final poem in the Four Quartets, is TS Eliot’s own Pentecost poem. ‘Little Gidding’ begins in “the dark time of the year,” when a brief and glowing afternoon sun “flames the ice, on pond and ditches” as it “stirs the dumb spirit” not with wind but with “pentecostal fire.”

At the end of the poem, Eliot describes how the eternal is contained within the present and how history exists in a pattern, and repeating the words of Julian of Norwich, he is assured:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.


I have no doubts that the Holy Spirit works in so many ways that we cannot understand. And no doubts that the Holy Spirit works best and works most often in the quiet small ways that bring hope rather than in the big dramatic ways that seek to control.

Sometimes, even when it seems foolish, sometimes, even when it seems extravagant, it is worth being led by the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit may be leading us to surprising places, and, surprisingly, leading others there too, counting them in when we thought they were counted out.

Whether they are persecuted minorities in the Middle East, or people who are marginalised at home, or those we are uncomfortable with because of how they sound, seem, look or smell, God’s generosity counts them in and offers them hope.

And if God counts them in, so should the Church. And so should I.

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

‘ ... all shall be well and / All manner of thing shall be well’ … sunset seen from the Sunset Taverna in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
By the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Faithful God,
who fulfilled the promises of Easter
by sending us your Holy Spirit
and opening to every race and nation the way of life eternal:
Open our lips by your Spirit,
that every tongue may tell of your glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on the Day of Pentecost, 24 May 2015.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

A reminder of past sufferings
and the price of democracy

On the stairs in Wicklow Gaol this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

I have been careful to keep my views to myself about the main referendum in Ireland this week. Good friends know where I stand, but I felt it was important not to be seen to try to speak for the Church, and I remain open to listening to all points of view, and to hearing the nuances that can be expressed even in one voice.

But the participation in the referendum, the turnout of voters and the graciousness that marked much if not all of the debate show that the Republic of Ireland is a robust and open democracy. And that alone makes this a particularly pleasant society to live in.

Yet if two figures stand out as symbolising Irish values this week they are two people who do not have a vote in this jurisdiction: Prince Charles and Maria Cahill.

I am no fan of royalty, in any guise, and whatever I think about the second referendum this week on the age of presidential candidates, I am convinced that we have an excellent way of choosing the head of state in this society, and have been blessed with the present and two immediate previous Presidents.

I remain amazed that our nearest neighbours and best friends can continue to accept having an unelected head of state who inherits office irrespective of age – a referendum on setting the age of the candidate is impossible there. But I accept that this is their democratic will and choice.

On the other hand, Prince Charles has behaved impeccably during his visit to Ireland this week, and has behaved way beyond my expectations. He has been a force for reconciliation and a dignified aid to healing the bitter hurts and memories of the immediate past. Indeed, he has gone further than I might imagine myself going at this stage.

Maria Cahill once again has bravely stood up to Gerry Adams today, issuing a statement challenging the evasive babbling of a man who continues to deny the hurt he has contributed to since the 1960s.

Neither Prince Charles nor Maria Cahill has a vote in this Republic, but they have helped to free us from the way memories can imprison us in the past, and helped us to appreciate the beauty of a democratic and open society.

At one time, not only women and royalty were without a vote in Irish society, but so too were men of no property, peers, prisoners, lunatics and bankrupts. I was reminded of how backward we once were when two of us decided to visit Wicklow Gaol this afternoon.

Inside Wicklow Gaol this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

There has been a jail on this site in Wicklow since 1702, and the present gaol was first built in the late 18th century. Much of the present structure dates from 1842-1843, with major renovation work in the late 1990s.

The gaol finally closed in 1924, and the museum now tells a story of crime, cruelty, exile and misery, the harshness of prison life in the 18th century, the passion of the 1798 Rising, and the cruelty of the transportation ships that still brought the hope of a new life in Australia.

The smells, vicious beatings and torture practices, shocking food and disease-ridden air have long since gone, but I was vividly reminded how horrific prison conditions were, even after Victorian reforms were introduced. In the early days, all prisoners were held together– the sane with the insane, men with women, the tried with the untried.

The reproduction of the convict ship HMS Hercules is a harsh reminder of the 50,000 Irish people who were transported to Australia. But walking around this reconstruction and hearing about conditions on board, it was impossible not to think of refugees and migrants who are abandoned on floating prisons in the Mediterranean and left without hope or succour.

After our tour, we had coffee in the Jailer’s Rest café, and were joined there by Oliver and Kevin Conroy.

Coastal erosion at The Murrough north of Wicklow town (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Later, we drove down to the harbour which is an interesting mix of a working harbour and a small marina for yachts and sailing boats. Alongside the gaol, the East Breakwater is one the important buildings in Wicklow. It was built in the early 1880s by the Wicklow Harbour Commissioners. William George Strype was the architect and John Jackson of Westminster was the builder. The North Groyne, completed by 1909, was designed by John Pansing and built by Louis Nott of Bristol.

From the harbour, we walked north to The Murrough, a grassy walk along the coast extending north to Kilcoole. But even along the path it was clear how erosion is threatening the coast and our inherited environment.

The seven-arch stone bridge over the River Vartry in Wicklow … known as the River Leitrim at this point (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

After a short walk by the pebbly beach, we returned to the harbour, and I went to look at the seven-arch stone bridge spanning the River Vartry, which is known at this point as the Leitrim River. It was first built ca 1690 and widened in 1862. The bridge was built in two phases, with the first phase funded by subscription. In 1837, Samuel Lewis refers to an eight-arch bridge, so it appears that one arch was blocked at a later stage.

The bridge and quays make an important contribution to Wicklow’s townscape. The quays are also a reminder of the long history of Wicklow town as a port, dating back to the mid 9th century, when the Vikings took advantage of the natural harbour at Wicklow and established the beginnings of the town.

That too is a reminder of the diversity that goes to make up the island people of Ireland. We are a mixture of people, from Celts and Vikings, to Anglo-Norman, English, Scottish arrivals, Huguenots and refugees, to the new arrivals in recent years.

At Wicklow Harbour this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Sadly, opinion polls in the last few weeks show Irish people are not willing to take our share of refugees and migrants who are being trafficked in the Mediterranean. This may be a robust democracy and a tolerant society. But we are not as tolerant as we would like others to think we are.

I am loathe to quote Bertie Aherne. But there was more than a germ of truth in his saying: “A lot done, more to do.”