Monday, 4 January 2016

Friends of Christ Church Cathedral
to visit Athens at a crucial time

St Paul’s in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing last Friday about Canon Malcolm Bradshaw of Saint Paul’s Anglican Church, Athens, and how his work with distressed immigrants on the streets of the Greek capital has been honoured in the New Year’s Honours list in which he has been made an MBE.

The Friends of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, are organising an eight-day visit to Greece later this year [3-10 May 2016], which begins on 3 May with worship in Saint Paul’s Church, on the corner of Philellenon Street and Queen Amalia Avenue, opposite the National Gardens.

The tour organised by the Friends of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, includes a visit to the Parthenon and the Acropolis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The following day, they visit the Acropolis Museum in Athens and the next day their visit the Acropolis itself, including the Parthenon, as well as the Areopagos, where Saint Paul preached a famous sermon recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.

The Temple of Apollo in Delphi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Other places included in the tour include Delphi and the Temple of Apollo, Mycenae, Epidavros with its theatre, and Corinth.

On Sunday 8 May, the group attends the Sung Eucharist in Saint Paul’s Church, with an opportunity to meet members of the congregation and to hear about the work of this interesting Anglican church.

The steps of the Agora, where Saint Paul preached his sermon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Following the footsteps of Saint Paul, who preached at the Agora on the slopes of the Acropolis, it seems only natural to find an English-speaking church in the Greek capital that should be called Saint Paul’s.

The Irish visitors may be surprised though to realise that the early story of Saint Paul’s is intimately associated with the life of a Cork-born hero of the Greek War of independence, Sir Richard Church. Saint Paul’s, an early Victorian Gothic church, stands on the corner of Philellenon Street and Queen Amalia Avenue, opposite the National Gardens

But this is not some English outpost in the Greek capital. For decades, the congregation has included a considerable number of Irish, Americans, Canadians, Australians and South Africans, and in recent years they have been enriched by new arrivals. Today, Saint Paul’s provides 800 meals a day for homeless people on the streets of Athens, and has raised €258,000 to help victims of the Greek crisis and refugees.

The church was built on land bought from the Turks before the Greek War of independence, and the foundation stone was laid on Easter Monday, 1838, by the British Minister in Athens, Sir Edmund Lyons, later Lord Lyons (1790-1838), whose family had emigrated from Ireland to Antigua in the previous century. Saint Paul’s stands within sight of Hadrian’s Gate, which marked the end of the old Hellenistic and classical city of Athens and the new city built by the Emperor Hadrian.

Saint Paul’s once had an unimpeded view of the Acropolis rising over the old city (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Philellenon Street was only laid out in 1855, so the church once had an unimpeded view of the Acropolis rising over the old city. Today, Saint Paul’s is within easy walking of many of the main tourist attractions in Athens, including the Plaka and the Acropolis, and is only a block away from the Greek Parliament and Syndagma Square.

Philelleon Street is an appropriate location for an English-speaking church – the street was named after those English-speaking lovers of Hellenic civilisation and culture, including Palmerston, Codrington and the poet Byron, who actively supported the Greek struggle for independence.

Sir Richard Church’s image on his grave in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Two windows in Saint Paul’s commemorate one of those Philhellenes, the Irish adventurer, Richard Church (1784-1875). Sir Richard Church was born in Cork, the second son of Massey Church, a prosperous Quaker butter merchant and exporter. Church ran away from his Quaker school to join the army, and served under Abercrombie in Egypt in 1801. Later that year, he accompanied the expedition to the Ionian Islands, where he raised a Greek regiment that included Theodoros Kolokotronis and other future Greek leaders.

In vain, Church pleaded the Greek cause in London and at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815. He lived in Naples and Sicily until his expulsion in 1820, and in 1822 he was knighted by King George IV. But he soon returned to Greece, to join the War of Independence, and in April 1827 he was appointed commander in chief of the Greek forces.

The historian CM Woodhouse suggests that Church, as an Irishman, and the commander of the Greek navy, Lord Cochrane, who was born in Scotland, may have fought for Greek independence as “a sublimation for their own suppressed nationalism”.

Church and Cochrane insisted on Greek unity before accepting their commands, and their pressures resulted in the election of Kapodistrias as president in 1827 and the adoption of a new, liberal constitution. Church resigned his command because of his opposition to the government of Kapodistrias.

Later he was confidential adviser to Sir Edward Lyons (later Lord Lyons), the first British Minister to Greece, who was descended from a distinguished Dublin family.

Church played a conspicuous part in the revolt of 1843 and lived on in Greece becoming a Greek citizen, a senator and member of the council of state, inspector general of the Greek Army, and a pillar of the Anglican church in Athens. When he died in Athens on 20 March 1873, he was buried in the First Cemetery, alongside great Greek heroes and leaders.

Two windows in Saint Paul’s Church, the north window and the south window, are dedicated to his memory.

The two-light north window, presented by the British Government in 1875, depicts the figures of Caleb and Joshua. It is said that the inscription on the brass tablet beneath was written in honour of Church by the British Prime Minister, Gladstone, a personal friend of his nephew, the Very Rev Richard William Church, Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, from 1871 to 1890.

Dean Church (1815-1890) and other members of Sir Richard’s family presented the south window in 1875. The window depicts Gideon and David, the story of the dew and the fleece, and David slaying Goliath.

Dean Church, who became the leader of the High Church party in the Church of England after Pusey’s death, was a reforming force in Saint Paul’s Cathedral along with Liddon and Lightfoot, who were two of his canons.

Dean Church, who was the historian of the Oxford Movement, was a personal friend of both Newman and Gladstone. True to his Irish origins, Church had identified himself with Newman from his days at Oxford when he protested against the government decision to reduce the number of bishops in the Church of Ireland.

The Theatre of Dionysus in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Distinguished visitors to Saint Paul’s in the past have included Archbishop George Carey, Archbishop Robert Runcie, and Archbishop William Temple, who preached at the centenary celebrations in 1938.

More recently, a previous treasurer of Saint Paul’s was Dr David Green, was an Irishman working in Athens for the University of Glamorgan and married to a Greek woman. Recent Irish members of the congregation have included John O’Carroll, general manager of the Inter-Continental Hotel, and his Esther, and Geoffrey Mayes, who was a lay assistant in Saint Paul’s. When I first visited the church, the organist, Dr Richard Witt, a classicist working with the Open University, greeted me with the news that he was a great fan of Myles na Gopaleen and The Irish Times.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Friends of Saint Paul’s can be contacted through Jane Mandalios at janemandalios_at_gmail.com .

The tour of Athens includes opportunities for coffee and meals in the Plaka in the centre of Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Christmas with Vaughan Williams (12):
‘The First Nowell’

A popular cartoon on social media this Christmas

Patrick Comerford

I am continuing my Christmas reflections, listening to the works of the great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). This morning [4 January 2016], I am listening to ‘The First Nowell’ recorded in Saint Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead, London in December 2005.

The YouTube clip here of “The First Nowell” is the concluding portion from The First Nowell (1958), a Nativity play for soloists, chorus, and small orchestra by Vaughan Williams. This is probably the last piece ever written by the composer before his death. It was left unfinished and was completed by Roy Douglas after Vaughan Williams’s death, based on fragments left by the composer.

About a third of it needed to be orchestrated and fleshed out from sketches. After World War II, there were many ugly rumours that Douglas had done all the orchestrations of the composer’s more recent works. Vaughan Williams responded, in his self-deprecating humorous way, that it was not fair to attribute the scoring to Douglas, since Douglas was a professional musician who made his living by, among other things, orchestration.

After Vaughan Williams died, Douglas insisted that the composer’s publisher, the Oxford University Press, indicate with the initials ‘RD’ those sections that Douglas had worked on, because he did not want Vaughan Williams “to be blamed for my shortcomings.”

The First Nowell was first performed on 19 December 1958, four months after the death of Vaughan Williams.

Roy Douglas died earlier this year, on 23 March 2015, at the age of 107.



In this YouTube clip, the soprano is Sarah Fox, the baritone is Roderick Williams, and they are heard here with the Joyful Company of Singers, and the City of London Sinfonia, directed by the late Richard Hickox.

The First Nowell includes a number of other well-known Vaughan Williams works, including ‘The Salutation Carol,’ ‘The Cherry Tree Carol,’ and ‘The Sussex Carol’ (‘On Christmas Night’). ‘The First Nowell’ is the final, closing movement.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Tomorrow:The Sussex Carol