05 July 2015

A glimpse of Provence in
a summer thunderstorm

The Lavender Field in Kilmacanogue this afternoon … a glimpse of Provence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

The Lavender season has arrived and the Lavender Field is in full bloom at Kilmacanogue, beneath the slopes of the Sugarloaf Mountain in Co Wicklow.

I was presiding and preaching at the Sung Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, this morning. It had been raining for most of the morning, and as we left Ballsbridge at lunchtime a thunderstorm was beginning to rumble in the grey skies above.

A walk on the beach seemed to be out of the question and instead we headed towards the Avoca Farm House Café at Kilmacanogue, between Bray and Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.

Bread and olives in the Avoca shop in Kilmacanogue (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

We stopped on the road to admire the Lavender Field which was in full bloom – a colourful sight under the grey skies of a summer Sunday in provincial Ireland and creating images of lavender under the blue skies of a summer Sunday in Provence.

The thunderstorm meant even the terrace at the Farm House Café was closed to the garden outside. But that did not deter the summer Sunday shoppers arriving in large numbers.

After snatching double espressos in the café, we bought lunch to take home, and then stopped again nearby at the Lavender Shop in Kilmacanogue, across the road from the Lavender Field.

Lavender products on sale in the Lavender shop in Kilmacanogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Each year in early July the shop celebrates the arrival of the lavender flowers with a Lavender Harvest Party, and the shop was busy this afternoon selling lavender plants, bunches, soap, oil and other products – lavender oil has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.

The ancient Greeks called the lavender herb nardus, after the Syrian city of Naarda, which is identified with the modern town of Dohuk in Iraq. The Greeks discovered early on that lavender if crushed and treated correctly would release a relaxing fume when burned.

Lavender may the expensive perfume known as nard in the Gospels. In Bethany, Mary, the sister of Lazarus uses a pint of pure nard to anoint the feet of Christ. Judas Iscariot asks why the ointment was not sold for 300 denarii instead, about a year’s wages, and the money given to the poor (see John 12: 1-10).

In the synoptic Gospels, two days before the Passover, an unnamed woman anoints Christ’s head. The costly perfume she uses comes from an alabaster jar, and contained nard, according to Saint Mark’s account (see Matthew 26: 6-13 and Mark 14: 3-9).

This afternoon, in the Lavender Shop in Kilmacanogue, the managing director, David Cox, and other members of his family were working behind the till, guiding shoppers through the purple and blue displays. With the purple balloons, wrapping paper and bows, it took away from the grey solemnity that has arrived after a week of summer sunshine.

A bunch of lavender in the shop in Kilmacanogue this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

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