Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Two windows by Catherine O’Brien
in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick

The Lancet Windows by Catherine O’Brien in the Jebb Chapel, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, commemorating the Revd John Dowd (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing yesterday [27 February 2017] about the two stained glass windows by Catherine O’Brien of Túr Gloine Studio in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Shortly after posting my photographs and blog essay, two Facebook comments drew my attention to the windows by Catherine O’Brien (1881-1963) in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s Church, Dublin, and Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

Of course, I had photographed Catherine O’Brien’s two pairs of windows in Limerick Cathedral earlier this month, when I visited the cathedral in the week prior to my installation as the Canon-Precentor.

These two pairs of windows are side-by-side on the north side of the north-east or Jebb Chapel in the cathedral.

The first pair of windows are two lancets, measuring 1340 mm x 350 mm. They are dated 1912, and although they were once ascribed to Michael Healy of An Túr Gloine Studio, art historians have long agreed that these windows are the work of the artist Catherine O'Brien (1881-1963).

The window on the left shows the Revd John Dowd as a younger priest, and holding a large volume that represents his interest in history; the right-hand window shows the Revd John Dowd as an older priest and holding a scaled model of the cathedral, illustrating his interest in antiquarian studies such as archaeology and architecture.

The inscription above reads below the windows reads: ‘To the Glory of God,’ and below it reads: ‘In memory of the Revd J Dowd, historian and antiquarian.’

The Revd James Dowd (1848-1909) was born in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo, in 1848. A younger brother, John O’Dowd (1856-1937), became the Home Rule and Nationalist MP for North Sligo (1900) and South Sligo (1900-1918), and chair of Sligo County Council. He had the distinction of being the only MP who could boast of being elected in two different constituencies in the same year without opposition. He too had a background in journalism, writing for the Weekly News, the Shamrock, the Nation and the Sligo Champion.

James Dowd was educated at Trinity College Dublin, graduating BA in 1874, and completing his Divinity Testimonium. He was ordained deacon that year by Maurice FitzGerald Day (1816-1914), Bishop of Cashel and Waterford and former Dean of Limerick. Dowd became curate of Tipperary. He was ordained priest in 1876, and moved to the Diocese of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe in 1877.

He spent his clerical life in Limerick as the diocesan curate, and also served the diocese as Diocesan Secretary, Diocesan Registrar and Diocesan Inspector of Schools. Although a mathematician by training, he became a well-known author and antiquarian, and for many years was the editor of the Limerick Chronicle.

Dowd was an eminent and published local historian, and secretary for Co Limerick for the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (RSAI). He was the author of Limerick and its Sieges and of histories of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, of Limerick City and of Co Limerick.

On 17 May 1881, he married Harriet Louisa Hosford, daughter of William Hosford of 22 Mallow Street, Limerick. They lived at Swanson Terrace, Military Road (now O’Connell Avenue), Limerick, and were the parents of three children: 1, Isabel (born 1882); 2, James Reginald, born 1883; and 3, Kathleen, born 1886.

He died at home in Limerick after a long illness on 8 March 1909, and was buried in Kilkeedy Churchyard, Clarina, where his friend the Revd TWF Abbott, was the Rector of Kilkeedy. His daughter Kathleen later married the Revd RJ Colthurst, Rector of Kilkeedy (1914-1927).

His friend Abbott wrote of him: ‘He was the soul of good nature and always ready with a wise and witty remark.’

Harriet Dowd, who was 10 years younger than her husband, died at Midleton Rectory, Co Cork, on 24 March 1946. Their son, James Reginald Dowd, had a distinguished career in the British Foreign Service.

Catherine O’Brien’s lancet windows in the Jebb Chapel depict Dowd dressed as both a young priest and in older age. They are rich in colour and are enhanced by Celtic-themed decorations. The cathedral also has a brass lectern to his memory.

The Lancet Windows by Catherine O’Brien in the Jebb Chapel commemorating the the Very Revd Lucius Henry O’Brien, a former Dean of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Close-by in the Jebb Chapel, the second pair of lancet windows by Catherine O’Brien commemorate the Very Revd Lucius Henry O’Brien (1842-1913), a former Dean of Limerick (1905-1913).

Lucius Henry O’Brien was born at Cahirmoyle, Co Limerick, on 13 August 1842. His father, the Young Ireland patriot, William Smith O’Brien (1803-1864), was MP for Limerick and inherited Cahirmoyle, Ardagh, Co Limerick, from his mother. Cahrimoyle is now within the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes, 9 km west of Rathkeale and 14 km south-west of Askeaton. His grandfather was Sir Edward O’Brien of Dromoland Castle, Co Clare.

Dean O’Brien’s aunt, Harriet Monsell (1811-1883), married Canon Charles Henry Monsell (1815-1851), who was Curate of Aghadoe, near Killarney, Co Kerry and Prebendary of Donaghamore in the Chapter of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (1843-1851). When she was widowed, she founded the Community of Saint John Baptist, an Anglican order of Augustinian nuns dedicated to social service. She is remembered in the Calendar of Saints in some parts of the Anglican Communion on 26 March, and commemorated in the name of Harriet Monsell House in Ripon College Cuddesdon, near Oxford, where her community helped build the prize-winning college chapel.

Her nephew, Lucius Henry O’Brien was educated at Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, and Trinity College Dublin (BA 1865, MA 1874), and was ordained in 1867. He was a curate in Mere, Wiltshire, and then a curate in Ramelton, Co Donegal, where his brother-in-law, the Very Revd John Gwynn, was the Rector.

He returned to his native Co Limerick in 1878 as Rector of Adare, and was appointed Dean of Limerick in 1905. At the time it was seen as an appropriate appointment, as the O’Briens were credited with founding Saint Mary’s Cathedral in the 12th century.

Dean O’Brien died on 25 September 1913. His obituary in the Limerick Chronicle said: ‘He was most sympathetic to the poor, and a generous friend to all local charities.’ The charities he was involved with directly included the Limerick Protestant Orphan Society and Barrington’s Hospital.

In the year he died, his brother-in-law, the Revd Robert Malcolm Gwynn (1877-1962), was one of the founding figures in the Irish Citizens’ Army. He helped to conduct the funeral in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, which included the hymn ‘Now the Labourer’s Task is O’er.’

The memorial windows by Catherine O’Brien in the Jebb Chapel are two lancets measuring 1360 mm x 330 mm, depicting Saint Luke (left) and the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child (right), and one tracery-light above depicting a winged ox, the traditional symbol for Saint Luke the Evangelist.

The lettering reads: ‘To the Glory of God’ (above), and (below): ‘In loving memory of Lucius Henry O’Brien, Dean of this Cathedral from 1905 to 1913. Erected by the family.’

The Revd Robert Malcolm Gwynn died in 1962; Catherine O’Brien died in 1963; they are both buried in Whitechurch Churchyard in south Co Dublin.

Praying in Lent 2017 with USPG,
(3) Tuesday 28 February 2017

The migrants in northern Greece are fleeing war and persecution in their home countries (Photograph: USPG/Max McClellan)

Patrick Comerford

The Lent 2017 edition of the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) follows the theme of the USPG Lent study course, ‘Living an Authentic Life.’

This morning (28 February 2017), we are just a day away from the beginning of Lent. I am using this Prayer Diary for my prayers and reflections each morning this week and throughout Lent. Why not join me in these prayers and reflections, for just a few moments each morning?

In the articles and prayers in the prayer diary, USPG invites us to investigate what it means to be a disciple of Christ. The Lent study course ‘Living an Authentic Life’ (available online or to order at www.uspg.org.uk/lent), explores the idea that discipleship and authenticity are connected.

This week, from Sunday (26 February) to Saturday (4 March), the USPG Lent Prayer Diary follows the topic ‘We are called to be Disciples.’

Tuesday 28 February 2017:

Give thanks that all people are created in God’s image: women and men, boys and girls, people of all genders. May we recognise God’s image in everyone.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection and prayer

Monday, 27 February 2017

Two windows by Catherine O’Brien
in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale

The three lancet windows by Catherine O’Brien in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, depicting the Parable of the Sower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, yesterday [26 February 2017], presiding at the Eucharist and preaching on the Sunday before Lent. I am in Rathkeale again today, visiting the school this morning and meeting people from other churches in the area at lunch time to discuss plans for events during Lent and Holy Week this year.

In this Church of Ireland parish church in the middle of West Co Limerick, I have been surprised to find two sets of stained-glass windows from An Túr Gloine studios that are magnificent examples of the work of the artist Catherine O’Brien (1881-1963).

In the sanctuary at the east end of Holy Trinity Church there are three lancet windows, measuring 2900 mm x 510 mm and with ten tracery lights. They date from 1925, and were erected under the patronage of the Fitzgerald Massy family of Stoneville, Rathkeale.

The windows on the left and right are ornamental, while the window in the centre depicts the Parable of the Sower in the centre.

Above the Sower, the words in a scroll proclaim: ‘The Seed is the Word of God.’

The inscription at the bottom of the window reads: ‘To the glory of God, in memory of Elizabeth, wife of James FitzGerald Massy Esq, of Stoneville, Daughter of Arthur John Preston, Dean of Limerick. Died April 5 1895.’

James FitzGerald Massy (1811-1861) and Elizabeth Preston were married in 1844. In the 1870s, the widowed Elizabeth Massy owned 1,138 acres in Co Limerick.

The two lancet windows by Catherine O’Brien in the south nave in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, depicting Saint Paul and Saint Luke (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In the south nave, there are two lancet windows, measuring 2900 mm x 560 mm, and with five tracery-lights. This pair of windows was erected by the Norman family of Rathkeale and are the work of Catherine O’Brien and An Túr Gloine.

The window on the left depicts Saint Paul, and the window on the right depicts Saint Luke. The inscription below reads: ‘To the glory of God and in memory of Henry Norman, his wife Hannah Norman, and in memory Alfred, James and Edward Norman, sons of Henry and Hannah Norman of Rathkeale.’

Hannah Norman was the eldest daughter of John Smith of Adare and they were married in 1863. Henry died on 24 February 1884, and Hannah died on 25 December 1933.

An Túr Gloine (‘The Glass Tower’) was a co-operative studio for stained glass and opus sectileartists from 1903 until 1944.

An Túr Gloine was first proposed in late 1901 and was established January 1903 at 24 Pembroke Street, Dublin, on the site of two former tennis courts. It was active throughout the first half of the 20th century, and artists associated with the studio include Michael Healy, Evie Hone, Beatrice Elvery, Wilhelmina Geddes and Harry Clarke, as well as Catherine O’Brien and the founder Sarah Purser.

The original impetus for the project, spurred by the Irish cultural activist Edward Martyn, was the building of Saint Brendan’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Loughrea, Co Galway. Purser and Martyn hoped to provide an alternative to the commercial stained glass imported from England and Germany for Irish churches and other architectural projects.

Purser’s knowledge of French and English mediaeval glass, and her social connections and organisational skills, were crucial to the success of the co-operative.

A writer for The Studio, a magazine of fine and applied art, said An Túr Gloine was ‘perhaps the most noteworthy example of the newly awakened desire to foster Irish genius,’ and described it as ‘at once a craft school, where instruction in every detail connected with the designing and production of stained glass is given to the workers, and a factory from which some beautiful work has already appeared.’

The studio was part of the Arts and Crafts Movement, but was infused too with the contemporary spirit of Irish revivalism, drawing on the artistic tradition of Celtic manuscript illumination. An Túr Gloine contributed to Ireland becoming an internationally renowned centre of stained-glass art at the time.

The studio was run by Sarah Purser until 1940. She was succeeded by Catherine O’Brien, who ran it until 1944. O’Brien then bought the studio and leased a large section of it to Patrick Pollen.

Catherine Amelia O’Brien or Kitty O’Brien (1881-1963) was born in Durra House, Spancill Hill, Co Clare, on 19 June 1881, the daughter of Pierce O’Brien and Sophia Angel St John O’Brien. She went to school at the Mercy Convent in Ennis, and won a scholarship to the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. There she studied under William Orpen and Alfred E Child, who taught her the art of stained glass.

Her early commissions included the Saint Ita window for Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea, in 1904, which was designed by Sarah Purser. Catherine O’Brien joined An Túr Gloine in 1906, beginning her career there by designing the ‘Angel of the Annunciation’ window for a convent chapel in Enniskillen.

In 1914, she toured the cathedrals of Paris, Rouen and Chartres in France with Sarah Purser and Wilhelmina Geddes.

In 1916, O’Brien designed three windows depicting Saint John, Saint Flannan of Killaloe, and Saint Munchin of Limerick, for the Honan Chapel in University College Cork in 1916. Her 1923 design of the centenary memorial window in Saint Andrew’s Church, Lucan, was of the parable of the Good Shepherd.

In 1925, An Túr Gloine became a co-operative society, and O’Brien became a shareholder alongside Ethel Rhind, Evie Hone, and Michael Healy.

From 1937 until 1947, O’Brien worked on 22 opus sectile panels for the Church of Ireland parish church in Ennis, Co Clare. Her work also includes the Saint Patrick window (1931) in Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns, Co Wexford (1931), the Transfiguration window in Saint Naithi’s Church, Dundrum, Co Dublin, the East Window in Straffan Church, Co Kildare, dedicated to Canon Lionel Fletcher, who was the Rector of Straffan for 50 years, and the window in Saint Bartholomew’s church, Ballsbridge, Dublin (1942), in memory of a former vicar, Harry Vere White (1853-1941), who became Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe (1921-1933). Other work is in Singapore, Massachusetts and Arizona.

When Sarah Purser retired from An Túr Gloine in 1940, Catherine O’Brien succeeded her as director, and bought the studio and its contents in 1944. When the studios were damaged in a fire in 1958, she rebuilt then and they reopened by 1959.

Her last work was a three-light window for Saint Multose’s Church in Kinsale, Co Cork (1962). A commission for two windows for the private chapel of Áras an Uachtaráin for President Éamon de Valera was left unfinished at her death.

She died in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital, Dublin, on 18 July 1963, and was buried in Whitechurch Churchyard, Co Dublin.

She is commemorated in a window designed by Pollen in the Saint Laurence O’Toole Chapel in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, where for 40 years she made floral arrangements.

Praying in Lent 2017 with USPG,
(2) Monday 27 February 2017

Thousands of migrants are stranded in the northern Greek town of Idomeni (Photograph: USPG/Max McClellan)

Patrick Comerford

The Lent 2017 edition of the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) follows the theme of the USPG Lent study course, ‘Living an Authentic Life.’

This morning (27 February 2017) we are two days away from the beginning of Lent. I am using this Prayer Diary for my prayers and reflections each morning this week and throughout Lent. Why not join me in these prayers and reflections, for just a few moments each morning?

In the articles and prayers in the prayer diary, USPG invites us to investigate what it means to be a disciple of Christ. The Lent study course, ‘Living an Authentic Life’ (available online or to order at www.uspg.org.uk/lent), explores the idea that discipleship and authenticity are connected.

This week, from Sunday (26 February) to Saturday (4 March), the USPG Lent Prayer Diary follows the topic ‘We are called to be Disciples.’

Monday 27 February 2017:

As we begin our journey through Lent this week, pray that we might support and learn from each other in new ways – valuing each person’s unique experience of God.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection and prayer

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Going to the top of the mountain
and coming back down to earth

The Transfiguration, by Theophanes the Greek, late 14th century, in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 26 February 2017,

The Sunday before Lent,


11.15 a.m., Holy Communion, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Readings: Exodus 24: 12-18; Psalm 99; II Peter 1: 16-21; Matthew 17: 1-9.

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

For the past few weeks, our Gospel readings have taken us through Saint Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, which is akin to Christ setting out a new covenant between God and us. The Gospel reading this morning takes us to the top of a mountain again for a new understanding of the covenant between God and us.

There is already an allusion to the Transfiguration in our Epistle reading, where Saint Peter tells us he has been an eyewitness ‘of his sovereign majesty’ (see II Peter 1: 1-18).

None of the accounts identifies this ‘high mountain’ by name. But does it matter where the location is? Mountains play an interesting role in the Bible and in the story of salvation:

● Moses meets God in the cloud and the burning bush on Mount Sinai, and there receives the tablets of the Covenant (Exodus 25 to 31);
● Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18);
● Elijah climbs Mount Sinai and finds God not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the still small voice in the cleft of the Mountain (I Kings 19: 12);
● There is the Sermon on the Mount, which we have been reading for the past few weeks;
● The Mount of Olives is a key location in the Passion narrative;
● Christ is crucified on Mount Calvary;
● Saint John receives his Revelation in the cave at the top of the mountain on Patmos.

As for the cloud, the cloud’s descent in terms of overshadowing (episkiazein), is a pun on the Greek the word tent (skenas), but is also the same word used to describe the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1: 35).

In the Old Testament, the pillar of cloud leads the people through the wilderness by day, just as the pillar of fire leads them by night.

The cloud takes Christ up into heaven at the Ascension (Acts 1: 9-10).

Saint Paul talks about the living and the dead being caught up in the cloud to meet the Lord (I Thessalonians 4: 17).

Christ is the focus of the Transfiguration, but who are the other principle characters in this story?

They come in three sets of three.

1, The Trinity – all three Persons of the Trinity are present at this moment:

● God the Father speaks from heaven: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him’ (Matthew 17: 5).
● God the Son is transfigured.
● God the Holy Spirit is present in the form of a cloud.

2, The second set of three is provided by Christ in conversation with Moses and Elijah.

● These two principal figures in the Old Testament represent the Law and the Prophets.
● They both experienced visions of God – Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Carmel.
● They represent the living and the dead – Moses and Elijah also stand for the living and dead: Moses died after a long life and his burial place was known; Elijah was taken alive into heaven in a chariot of fire and was to appear again before the coming of the Messiah (see Malachi 4).

Of course, the expectations and mission of Elijah are fulfilled in the mission of John the Baptist. Moses and Elijah show that the Law and the Prophets point to the coming of Christ, and their dialogue with Christ symbolise how he fulfils ‘the law and the prophets’ (Matthew 5: 17-19).

3, The third set of three is the three Disciples, Peter, James and John, who are with Christ on the mountain top.

Why these three disciples?

In the Exodus story, Moses goes up the mountain with three trusted companions to confirm the covenant (Exodus 24: 1).

In some ways, Peter, James and John serve as an inner circle or a ‘kitchen cabinet’ in the Gospels.

They are at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17: 1, Mark 9: 2; Luke 9: 28), but also at the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 9: 2; Luke 6: 51), at the top of the Mount of Olives when Christ is about to enter Jerusalem (Mark 13: 3); they help to prepare for the Passover (Luke 22: 8); and they are with Christ in Gethsemane (Matthew 26: 37).

They are the only disciples to have been given nicknames by Christ: Simon becomes the Rock, while James and John are the sons of thunder (Luke 5: 10). Peter is the rock on which the Church is built, James is the first of the apostles to die a martyr’s death, and John is the beloved disciple.

They are a trusted group who also represent us at each moment in the story of salvation.

We mark the Transfiguration just before Lent because, in early Church tradition, the Transfiguration is connected with the approaching death and resurrection of Christ, and so was said to have taken place 40 days before the Crucifixion.

This event comes at a critical point in Christ’s ministry, just as he is setting out on his journey to Jerusalem. He is soon to experience the humiliation, suffering, and death of the Cross. However, the glorious light of his Resurrection is revealed at this moment to strengthen his disciples for the trials that they soon experience.

The Transfiguration by Theophanes of Crete in Stavronikitas Monastery, Mount Athos

In Orthodox icons, these three, Peter, James and John, are terror-struck by what is going on, displaying their amazement and reactions to the mightiness of Christ’s glory.

Some icon writers show Christ leading the three disciples up the mountain and down again.

The Gospel narratives tell us that the disciples, startled by the brightness, turned their heads away, although Peter – as the icons show – saw Christ. He is traditionally coloured with green and locates on the bottom left. The position of his hands is a reminder of prayer.

The garments of the three Disciples are often shown in a state of disarray, indicating the dramatic impact the vision has on them. They throw themselves to the ground in fear, dazzled by the supernatural light. Their postures show their response to the Transfiguration.

In those icons John in the centre has fallen prostrate. Often, he has fallen head over heels, supporting himself with his right hand and covering his face with the other. Peter is rising up from a kneeling position and raises his right hand towards Christ as he speaks, expressing his desire to build the three booths, tabernacles or tents. James falls to the ground or falls over backwards, attempting to cover his eyes with his hands to prevent himself from seeing more.

If the apostles’ eyes are closed or shielded, Saint Luke in his account says they were weighed down with sleep (Luke 9: 30-32), and these three later could not stay awake in Gethsemane.

Theophanes the Greek in his icon shows that the Transfiguration is about both ascent and descent. To see the transfigured Christ, we have to leave behind the familiar, but we also have to come back down to earth again. There can be no staying permanently in an unnaturally extended religious comfort zone.

Indeed, in the two smaller scenes in his icon, Christ is paying more attention to the disciples on the way down than he is on the way up.

A modern icon of the Transfiguration by Alexander Ainetdinov ... in Orthodox icons of the Transfiguration, we have drama and a moment full of movement

The Transfiguration is not a static moment, but a drama and a moment full of movement. The Transfiguration is a narrative to open our eyes and hearts to a different, more allusive way of looking at the Gospel: here are live, happening events, real human beings, and challenges to the past, the present and the future.

In climbing the mountain, the three disciples find there is a considerable distance between them and Christ. It is the story of a world that has still to be reconciled; it is the story that lives with the tensions of an unreconciled world, it beckons and it challenges.

At the Transfiguration, both the humanity and divinity of Christ are manifested to the disciples – and to us.

The Transfiguration also points to Christ’s great and glorious Second Coming and the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God, when all of creation will be transfigured and filled with light.

This is not only a prefiguration of the eternal blessedness to which we look forward, but also of the Kingdom of God already revealed, realised and come on earth.

The Transfiguration is both an event and a process

The Transfiguration is both an event and a process. The original Greek word for Transfiguration, metamorphosis (μεταμόρφωσις), means more than changing from one form into another. The word means ‘to progress from one state of being to another.’ Consider the metamorphosis of the chrysalis into the butterfly. The process of metamorphosis invites us into the event of becoming what we have been created to be.

Saint Paul also uses the word metamorphosis when he describes how the Christian is to be transfigured, transformed, into the image of Christ (II Corinthians 3: 18). Transfiguration is a profound change, by God, in Christ, through the Spirit. And so, the Transfiguration reveals to us our ultimate destiny as Christians, the ultimate destiny of all people and all creation to be transformed and glorified by the majestic splendour of God himself.

In the closing stages of this story, Christ tells the three disciples, ‘Get up and do not be afraid’ (verse 7). They get back up on their feet and they come down the mountain (verse 9), where there are living people, with living problems, in need of healing and wholeness (see verses 14-21).

Following Christ is not always about having our heads in the clouds. We also have to have our feet planted on the ground, firmly and fearlessly.

Why are they told not to talk about this again until after the Resurrection?

They are going to be reminded of these experiences again after the Resurrection, when the Risen Christ tells them again and again not to be afraid, to fear not (see Matthew 28: 10; Luke 34: 28; .

And they are going to be reminded of these experiences again at the Ascension, when a cloud takes Christ out of sight and they stand there gazing up toward heaven. But when an angel asks them why they still have their heads in the clouds, they realise they should have their feet on the ground and make their way back to Jerusalem (see Acts 1: 9-12).

The late Revd Dr Kenneth Leech (1939-2015) once said: ‘Transfiguration can and does occur ‘just around the corner,’ occurs in the midst of perplexity, imperfection, and disastrous misunderstanding.’

As we begin our journey through Lent to the joys of Easter, I hope we can explore the ways Christ invites us to have our heads in the clouds, our feet firmly on the ground, and to follow him fearlessly. Amen.

The Transfiguration, an early-15th century icon, now in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, attributed to Theophanes the Greek

Matthew 17: 1-9:

1 Καὶ μεθ' ἡμέρας ἓξ παραλαμβάνει ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν κατ' ἰδίαν. 2 καὶ μετεμορφώθη ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν, καὶ ἔλαμψεν τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ὡς ὁ ἥλιος, τὰ δὲ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο λευκὰ ὡς τὸ φῶς. 3 καὶ ἰδοὺ ὤφθη αὐτοῖς Μωϋσῆς καὶ Ἠλίας συλλαλοῦντες μετ' αὐτοῦ. 4 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν τῷ Ἰησοῦ, Κύριε, καλόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς ὧδε εἶναι: εἰ θέλεις, ποιήσω ὧδε τρεῖς σκηνάς, σοὶ μίαν καὶ Μωϋσεῖ μίαν καὶ Ἠλίᾳ μίαν. 5 ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος ἰδοὺ νεφέλη φωτεινὴ ἐπεσκίασεν αὐτούς, καὶ ἰδοὺ φωνὴ ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης λέγουσα, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα: ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ. 6 καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ μαθηταὶ ἔπεσαν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον αὐτῶν καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν σφόδρα. 7 καὶ προσῆλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἁψάμενος αὐτῶν εἶπεν, Ἐγέρθητε καὶ μὴ φοβεῖσθε. 8 ἐπάραντες δὲ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτῶν οὐδένα εἶδον εἰ μὴ αὐτὸν Ἰησοῦν μόνον.

9 Καὶ καταβαινόντων αὐτῶν ἐκ τοῦ ὄρους ἐνετείλατο αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων, Μηδενὶ εἴπητε τὸ ὅραμα ἕως οὗ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγερθῇ.

Translation (NRSV):

1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

Collect:

Almighty Father,
whose Son was revealed in majesty
before he suffered death upon the cross:
Give us grace to perceive his glory,
that we may be strengthened to suffer with him
and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Holy God
we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
May we who are partakers at his table
reflect his life in word and deed,
that all the world may know
his power to change and save.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This sermon was shared at the Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, on 26 February 2017.

The Transfiguration ... a fresco in an Orthodox church in the US

Following Christ fearlessly with
our feet firmly on the ground

The Transfiguration by Theophanes of Crete in Stavronikitas Monastery, Mount Athos

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 26 February 2017,

The Sunday before Lent,

9.45 a.m.
, Morning Prayer, Kilcornan Church, Castletown, Pallaskenry, Co Limerick.

Readings: Exodus 24: 12-18; Psalm 99; II Peter 1: 16-21; Matthew 17: 1-9.

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

For the past few weeks, our Gospel readings have taken us through Saint Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, which is akin to Christ setting out a new covenant between God and us. The Gospel reading this morning takes us to the top of a mountain again for a new understanding of the covenant between God and us.

There is already an allusion to the Transfiguration in our Epistle reading, where Saint Peter tells us he has been an eyewitness ‘of his sovereign majesty’ (see II Peter 1: 1-18).

None of the accounts identifies this ‘high mountain’ by name. But does it matter where the location is? Mountains play an interesting role in the Bible and in the story of salvation:

● Moses meets God in the cloud and the burning bush on Mount Sinai, and there receives the tablets of the Covenant (Exodus 25 to 31);
● Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18);
● Elijah climbs Mount Sinai and finds God not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the still small voice in the cleft of the Mountain (I Kings 19: 12);
● There is the Sermon on the Mount, which we have been reading for the past few weeks;
● The Mount of Olives is a key location in the Passion narrative;
● Christ is crucified on Mount Calvary;
● Saint John receives his Revelation in the cave at the top of the mountain on Patmos.

As for the cloud, the cloud’s descent in terms of overshadowing (episkiazein), is a pun on the Greek the word tent (skenas), but is also the same word used to describe the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1: 35).

In the Old Testament, the pillar of cloud leads the people through the wilderness by day, just as the pillar of fire leads them by night.

The cloud takes Christ up into heaven at the Ascension (Acts 1: 9-10).

Saint Paul talks about the living and the dead being caught up in the cloud to meet the Lord (I Thessalonians 4: 17).

Christ is the focus of the Transfiguration, but who are the other principle characters in this story?

They come in three sets of three.

1, The Trinity – all three Persons of the Trinity are present at this moment:

● God the Father speaks from heaven: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him’ (Matthew 17: 5).
● God the Son is transfigured.
● God the Holy Spirit is present in the form of a cloud.

2, The second set of three is provided by Christ in conversation with Moses and Elijah.

● These two principal figures in the Old Testament represent the Law and the Prophets.
● They both experienced visions of God – Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Carmel.
● They represent the living and the dead – Moses and Elijah also stand for the living and dead: Moses died after a long life and his burial place was known; Elijah was taken alive into heaven in a chariot of fire and was to appear again before the coming of the Messiah (see Malachi 4).

Of course, the expectations and mission of Elijah are fulfilled in the mission of John the Baptist. Moses and Elijah show that the Law and the Prophets point to the coming of Christ, and their dialogue with Christ symbolise how he fulfils ‘the law and the prophets’ (Matthew 5: 17-19).

3, The third set of three is the three Disciples, Peter, James and John, who are with Christ on the mountain top.

Why these three disciples?

In the Exodus story, Moses goes up the mountain with three trusted companions to confirm the covenant (Exodus 24: 1).

In some ways, Peter, James and John serve as an inner circle or a ‘kitchen cabinet’ in the Gospels.

They are at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17: 1, Mark 9: 2; Luke 9: 28), but also at the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Mark 9: 2; Luke 6: 51), at the top of the Mount of Olives when Christ is about to enter Jerusalem (Mark 13: 3); they help to prepare for the Passover (Luke 22: 8); and they are with Christ in Gethsemane (Matthew 26: 37).

They are the only disciples to have been given nicknames by Christ: Simon becomes the Rock, while James and John are the sons of thunder (Luke 5: 10). Peter is the rock on which the Church is built, James is the first of the apostles to die a martyr’s death, and John is the beloved disciple.

They are a trusted group who also represent us at each moment in the story of salvation.

We mark the Transfiguration just before Lent because, in early Church tradition, the Transfiguration is connected with the approaching death and resurrection of Christ, and so was said to have taken place 40 days before the Crucifixion.

This event comes at a critical point in Christ’s ministry, just as he is setting out on his journey to Jerusalem. He is soon to experience the humiliation, suffering, and death of the Cross. However, the glorious light of his Resurrection is revealed at this moment to strengthen his disciples for the trials that they soon experience.

The Transfiguration, by Theophanes the Greek, late 14th century, in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

In Orthodox icons, these three, Peter, James and John, are terror-struck by what is going on, displaying their amazement and reactions to the mightiness of Christ’s glory.

Some icon writers show Christ leading the three disciples up the mountain and down again.

The Gospel narratives tell us that the disciples, startled by the brightness, turned their heads away, although Peter – as the icons show – saw Christ. He is traditionally coloured with green and locates on the bottom left. The position of his hands is a reminder of prayer.

The garments of the three Disciples are often shown in a state of disarray, indicating the dramatic impact the vision has on them. They throw themselves to the ground in fear, dazzled by the supernatural light. Their postures show their response to the Transfiguration.

In those icons John in the centre has fallen prostrate. Often, he has fallen head over heels, supporting himself with his right hand and covering his face with the other. Peter is rising up from a kneeling position and raises his right hand towards Christ as he speaks, expressing his desire to build the three booths, tabernacles or tents. James falls to the ground or falls over backwards, attempting to cover his eyes with his hands to prevent himself from seeing more.

If the apostles’ eyes are closed or shielded, Saint Luke in his account says they were weighed down with sleep (Luke 9: 30-32), and these three later could not stay awake in Gethsemane.

Theophanes the Greek in his icon shows that the Transfiguration is about both ascent and descent. To see the transfigured Christ, we have to leave behind the familiar, but we also have to come back down to earth again. There can be no staying permanently in an unnaturally extended religious comfort zone.

Indeed, in the two smaller scenes in his icon, Christ is paying more attention to the disciples on the way down than he is on the way up.

A modern icon of the Transfiguration by Alexander Ainetdinov ... in Orthodox icons of the Transfiguration, we have drama and a moment full of movement

The Transfiguration is not a static moment, but a drama and a moment full of movement. The Transfiguration is a narrative to open our eyes and hearts to a different, more allusive way of looking at the Gospel: here are live, happening events, real human beings, and challenges to the past, the present and the future.

In climbing the mountain, the three disciples find there is a considerable distance between them and Christ. It is the story of a world that has still to be reconciled; it is the story that lives with the tensions of an unreconciled world, it beckons and it challenges.

At the Transfiguration, both the humanity and divinity of Christ are manifested to the disciples – and to us.

The Transfiguration also points to Christ’s great and glorious Second Coming and the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God, when all of creation will be transfigured and filled with light.

This is not only a prefiguration of the eternal blessedness to which we look forward, but also of the Kingdom of God already revealed, realised and come on earth.

The Transfiguration is both an event and a process

The Transfiguration is both an event and a process. The original Greek word for Transfiguration, metamorphosis (μεταμόρφωσις), means more than changing from one form into another. The word means ‘to progress from one state of being to another.’ Consider the metamorphosis of the chrysalis into the butterfly. The process of metamorphosis invites us into the event of becoming what we have been created to be.

Saint Paul also uses the word metamorphosis when he describes how the Christian is to be transfigured, transformed, into the image of Christ (II Corinthians 3: 18). Transfiguration is a profound change, by God, in Christ, through the Spirit. And so, the Transfiguration reveals to us our ultimate destiny as Christians, the ultimate destiny of all people and all creation to be transformed and glorified by the majestic splendour of God himself.

In the closing stages of this story, Christ tells the three disciples, ‘Get up and do not be afraid’ (verse 7). They get back up on their feet and they come down the mountain (verse 9), where there are living people, with living problems, in need of healing and wholeness (see verses 14-21).

Following Christ is not always about having our heads in the clouds. We also have to have our feet planted on the ground, firmly and fearlessly.

Why are they told not to talk about this again until after the Resurrection?

They are going to be reminded of these experiences again after the Resurrection, when the Risen Christ tells them again and again not to be afraid, to fear not (see Matthew 28: 10; Luke 34: 28; .

And they are going to be reminded of these experiences again at the Ascension, when a cloud takes Christ out of sight and they stand there gazing up toward heaven. But when an angel asks them why they still have their heads in the clouds, they realise they should have their feet on the ground and make their way back to Jerusalem (see Acts 1: 9-12).

The late Revd Dr Kenneth Leech (1939-2015) once said: ‘Transfiguration can and does occur ‘just around the corner,’ occurs in the midst of perplexity, imperfection, and disastrous misunderstanding.’

As we begin our journey through Lent to the joys of Easter, I hope we can explore the ways Christ invites us to have our heads in the clouds, our feet firmly on the ground, and to follow him fearlessly. Amen.

The Transfiguration, an early-15th century icon, now in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, attributed to Theophanes the Greek

Matthew 17: 1-9:

1 Καὶ μεθ' ἡμέρας ἓξ παραλαμβάνει ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸν Πέτρον καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀναφέρει αὐτοὺς εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν κατ' ἰδίαν. 2 καὶ μετεμορφώθη ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν, καὶ ἔλαμψεν τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ὡς ὁ ἥλιος, τὰ δὲ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο λευκὰ ὡς τὸ φῶς. 3 καὶ ἰδοὺ ὤφθη αὐτοῖς Μωϋσῆς καὶ Ἠλίας συλλαλοῦντες μετ' αὐτοῦ. 4 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Πέτρος εἶπεν τῷ Ἰησοῦ, Κύριε, καλόν ἐστιν ἡμᾶς ὧδε εἶναι: εἰ θέλεις, ποιήσω ὧδε τρεῖς σκηνάς, σοὶ μίαν καὶ Μωϋσεῖ μίαν καὶ Ἠλίᾳ μίαν. 5 ἔτι αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος ἰδοὺ νεφέλη φωτεινὴ ἐπεσκίασεν αὐτούς, καὶ ἰδοὺ φωνὴ ἐκ τῆς νεφέλης λέγουσα, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα: ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ. 6 καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ μαθηταὶ ἔπεσαν ἐπὶ πρόσωπον αὐτῶν καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν σφόδρα. 7 καὶ προσῆλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἁψάμενος αὐτῶν εἶπεν, Ἐγέρθητε καὶ μὴ φοβεῖσθε. 8 ἐπάραντες δὲ τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτῶν οὐδένα εἶδον εἰ μὴ αὐτὸν Ἰησοῦν μόνον.

9 Καὶ καταβαινόντων αὐτῶν ἐκ τοῦ ὄρους ἐνετείλατο αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων, Μηδενὶ εἴπητε τὸ ὅραμα ἕως οὗ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγερθῇ.

Translation (NRSV):

1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

Collect:

Almighty Father,
whose Son was revealed in majesty
before he suffered death upon the cross:
Give us grace to perceive his glory,
that we may be strengthened to suffer with him
and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

This sermon was shared at Morning Prayer in Kilcornan Church, Castletown, Pallaskenry, Co Limerick, on 26 February 2017.

The Transfiguration ... a fresco in an Orthodox church in the US

Praying in Lent 2017 with USPG,
(1) Sunday 26 February 2017

‘Living an Authentic Life’ is a five-session study course produced by USPG and exploring discipleship with the world church

Patrick Comerford

This morning (26 February 2017) is the Sunday before Lent. I am leading Morning Prayer in Kilcornan Church, Castletown, Co Limerick (9.45 a.m.), presiding at the Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale (11.15 a.m.), and preaching in both churches. The Readings are: Exodus 24: 12-18; Psalm 99; II Peter 1: 16-21; Matthew 17: 1-9. The theme, is the Transfiguration, and as we prepare for Lent, it offers interesting challenges to our ideas of discipleship.

Discipleship is the key theme in the Lent 2017 edition of the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), which follows the theme of the USPG Lent study course, ‘Living an Authentic Life.’

From today, I am using this Prayer Diary for my prayers and reflections each morning this week and throughout Lent. Why not join me in these prayers and reflections, for just a few moments each morning?

In the articles and prayers in the prayer diary, USPG invites us to investigate what it means to be a disciple of Christ. The Lent study course, ‘Living an Authentic Life’ (available online or to order at www.uspg.org.uk/lent), explores the idea that discipleship and authenticity are connected.

To be authentic is to be truly who we are, uniquely, as God created us in our humanity. So how can we become more authentic in our lives? Primarily, by daring not to pretend. Discipleship is not about being ‘good’ but about being ‘real’.

God does not love me because I try to be good – God loves me simply because I am me! God loves each of us in our woundedness, in our strengths and in our weaknesses.

God is always with us. We cannot be separated from God, who knows us better than we know ourselves – so we can dare to be honest before God. God will never be shocked or surprised or reject us no matter what we do or think – we can dare to be authentic.

By pretending to be ‘good’ – rather than real, human and authentic – the only person we are kidding is ourselves. Indeed, we often reject ourselves because we are afraid to believe (or experience) that God can love us for who we truly are.

This week, from Sunday (26 February) to Saturday (4 March), the USPG Lent Prayer Diary follows the topic ‘We are called to be Disciples.’ This theme is introduced in an article by Pat Donald Phillips of the Diocese of Jamaica and Cayman Islands:

The upholders of patriarchy in the twenty-first century say women cannot (should not?) be involved in many areas of life. Happily, Jesus does not think this way. Everyone – whatever their gender – can be a disciple!

Jesus’ life demonstrated his liberating attitude to women: he wanted to support women and be supported by women. Sadly, the church has largely failed to adopt the same attitude – and one of our tasks as disciples is to change minds and work for a more inclusive church and society.

We need to change how we think and ensure that our ‘history’ is also our ‘her-story’. I recently read a book about the birth of Jamaica’s labour movement and the battle for the nation’s independence. A key player was Gladys Longbridge, a young Christian trade unionist who benefited the lives of thousands of Jamaica’s hard-pressed workers. However, she is rarely remembered in this way. Instead, since her death in 2009, Gladys is mostly remembered as the devoted secretary and later wife to Jamaica’s first prime minister and national hero Sir Alexander Bustamante.

This Lent, may we acknowledge that Jesus gives permission for all people – including women – to fully participate in life as disciples.


Sunday 26 February:

Sunday next before Lent


Holy God, thank you for making us all in your image,
each of us a precious child in your sight.
Help us to recognise your dignity in all people,
and work for the inclusion and empowerment of all.


Collect:

Almighty Father,
whose Son was revealed in majesty
before he suffered death upon the cross:
Give us grace to perceive his glory,
that we may be strengthened to suffer with him
and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Holy God
we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
May we who are partakers at his table
reflect his life in word and deed,
that all the world may know
his power to change and save.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continued tomorrow

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Waiting at the great West Door of
Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick

The great West Door of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, is only used on ceremonial occasions (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I am told that the ancient West Door of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, is now only used on ceremonial occasions.

It was not opened last Sunday evening as I was being installed as Precentor in the joint chapter of the cathedrals of Limerick, Killaloe and Clonfert. Perhaps this great West Door is only opened on occasions such as the enthronement of a new bishop.

According to tradition, the last King of Munster, Domnall Mór Ua Briain, founded Saint Mary’s Cathedral on the site of his palace almost 850 years ago on King’s Island in 1168. His palace had been built on the site of the Viking meeting place, or Thingmote – the Vikings’ most westerly European stronghold – and this had been the centre of government in the early mediaeval Viking city.

Parts of the palace may have been incorporated into the present cathedral building, including the great west door. Indeed, local tradition claims this door was once the original main entrance to the royal palace.

The west door is made of sandstone with foliate capitals, and was possibly taken from the earlier church. Until the 17th century, this was door was the main entrance to the cathedral. It was heavily restored in the 19th century.

Today, the Romanesque West Door faces the Courthouse and parts of the transepts were the oldest parts of the building. Brian Hodkinson, who carried out excavations in the Cathedral, surmised that the Romanesque West Door came from the earlier building on the site and was incorporated later into the new structure.

For centuries, the Bishops of Limerick have knocked on this door before entering the cathedral for their enthronement ceremony.

The Romanesque doorway has an impressive collection of carvings of chevrons and patterns. These may have inspired the traditions say that during the many sieges of Limerick the defenders of the city used the stones around the west door to sharpen their swords and arrows, and that the marks they made in the stonework can be seen there today.

Although the West Door was closed throughout my installation last weekend, I managed earlier to climb the cobbled walkway and steps leading up to the West Door. Looking back, I could see how if this was once the Royal Palace of Munster, it commanded a strategic position above the banks of the River Shannon.

Above me was the cathedral tower standing at 120 ft high and dating from the 15th century. The belfry also dates from the 15th century and contains eight bells, six of which were presented to the cathedral in 1673 by William Yorke, three times Mayor of Limerick.

Before the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, the Precentors of Limerick were also Rectors and Vicars of Kilfenny and Loughill, Rectors of Nantinan, Shanagolden, Knocknagaul and Dromdeely, and Vicars of Morgans, and also presented the Vicars of Dromdeely.

Many of these, including Loughill, Nantinan and Shanagolden are now in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes, where I am the priest-in-charge. I imagine there are more chances of doors being opened to me there than the west door of Limerick Cathedral being opened for me.

The West Door of Saint Mary’s Cathedral was once the main entrance to the royal palace in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Ecce Signum: reading the signs of
the times on the walls of Askeaton

‘Ecce Signum’ … Sean Lynch’s work on a gable end in East Square, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

On the gable end of premises facing onto East Square in Askeaton, a puzzling and perplexing sign proclaims in Latin: Ecce Signum, ‘Behold the Sign.’

The Latin phrase Ecce Signum means ‘Behold the Sign,’ or ‘Here is the Proof.’

What does it mean? Is it a question or a declaration? What is the sign, what does it signify, or what is it pointing to?

Ecce Signum is the members’ handbook for Alpha Phi Delta (ΑΦΔ), a male student fraternity in the US that evolved from an exclusive Italian society (Il Circolo Italiano) at Syracuse University in 1914 and that is still seen as a traditionally Italian-American fraternity.

But other occurrence of the phrase Ecce Signum I am familiar with is in Henry IV Part 1, one of the Shakespeare plays that was on my English curriculum in school in my teens.

In Act 2, Scene 4, Falstaff says to Hal:

‘I am a rogue if I were not at half-sword with a dozen of them two hours together. I have ’scaped by miracle. I am eight times thrust through the doublet, four through the hose, my buckler cut through and through, my sword hacked like a handsaw. Ecce signum! I never dealt better since I was a man. All would not do. A plague of all cowards! (points to Gadshill, Peto and Bardolph) Let them speak. If they speak more or less than truth, they are villains, and the sons of darkness.’

I wondered whether someone in Askeaton had once been a member of an American student fraternity. If so, did he have an Italian cultural heritage.

Or did someone in Askeaton have an interest in Falstaff?

Perhaps he was at school at the same time as I was.

But why did he place a sign about a sign in Latin slogan as a relief sculpture on a gable end in Askeaton, facing the ruins of the Hellfire Club?

What appears to an eloquent use of Latin is, in reality, a clever piece of art entitled ‘A Glossolalia,’ by Sean Lynch.

Sean Lynch is a visual artist living in Askeaton, and he works with Michele Horrigan at Askeaton Contemporary Arts. He studied fine art at the Stadelschule, Frankfurt am Main, and in 2015 he represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale. He has also held solo exhibitions at The Rose Art Museum, Boston, Modern Art Oxford and Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane.

Daniel P Mannix, in his 1978 study of the 18th century Hellfire Clubs, discusses the use of obscure classical phrases and language by their members. Mannix writes in The Hellfire Club (London, 1978) of a ‘Macaroni Latin,’ macaroni being the slang name used for elegant young gentlemen of the day.

In ‘Macaroni Latin,’ Latin words were twisted to make puns in English or combined to create a ridiculous effect.’ Perhaps Sean Lynch’s work lacks any comprehension or meaning.

Sean Lynch’s intriguing words are embossed on a white mounted scroll on a gable end in East Square.

But perhaps they are not meant to be intriguing or perplexing at all. Perhaps they say nothing more than ‘this is a sign’ and the sign has no importance beyond its presence and appearance.

Perhaps, like Falstaff, he is telling us all ‘I am a rogue’ while at the same time pointing across at those who can no longer speak from the ruins of the Hellfire Club about their past behaviour: ‘If they speak more or less than truth, they are villains, and the sons of darkness.’

East Square, Askeaton, Co Limerick and ‘Ecce Signum’ … Sean Lynch’s work on a gable end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Friday, 24 February 2017

Saint Vedast, a church with a long history,
an unusual name, and a vibrant life

Saint Vedast Foster Lane or Saint Vedast-alias-Foster in the City of London … the new glass doors by Bernard Merry allow the inside of the church to be seen from Foster Lane, even on a cold and dark evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

A full working day in London earlier this week [22 February 2017], taking part in a day-long meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) left few opportunities to continue my search for churches and interesting works of architecture I have yet to visit.

However, on my walk back from Southwark to Liverpool Street to catch the train to Stansted Airport on Wednesday, as the evening was turning to darkness, I found myself in Cheapside at Saint Vedast Foster Lane or Saint Vedast-alias-Foster in the City of London.

This church, standing close to the north-east corner of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, is noted for its small but lively baroque steeple, its secluded courtyard, its stained glass, and a richly-decorated ceiling. This is one of only a few city churches that are open seven days a week, and has a dynamic congregation. The church describes itself as ‘an Anglican church in the Catholic tradition … with a vibrant schedule of ecclesiastical, musical and social events.’

Famous figures associated with the church include John Browne, sergeant painter to King Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII, who was born in nearby Milk Street, and Robert Herrick the poet. Thomas Rotherham, who was rector of the parishfrom in 1463-1448, later became Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor of King Edward IV.

The church is dedicated to Saint Vedast, and the alternative name Foster is simply an Anglicisation of the name Vaast by which the saint is known in continental Europe. This French saint is little known in Britain. He was Bishop of Arras in northern Gaul around the turn of the sixth century. Saint Vedast is known as Vedastus in Latin, Vaast in Norman, Waast in Walloon, and Gaston in French.

After decades of destruction in the region by invading tribes during the late Roman Empire, Saint Gaston helped to restore the Church and to convert Clovis, the Frankish king, who was baptised on Easter Eve 496. The saint was buried in Arras cathedral, and is remembered to this day for his charity, meekness and patience.

In England, his name was corrupted from Vaast, by way of Vastes, Fastes, Faster, Fauster and Forster to Foster, the name of the lane at the front of the church. This explains why the official name of the church is Saint Vedast-alias-Foster.

In the 12th century, Saint Vedast was venerated in particular by the Augustinians of Aroasia in the Diocese of Arras, who were founded in France in 1097. The Augustinians from Arras were probably responsible for the foundation of the few churches in England dedicated to Saint Vedast. The one and only other surviving church in England that is dedicated to him is Saint Vedast in Tathwell, Lincolnshire. A third parish in Norwich is remembered only in a street name. Later, Rathkeale Abbey in Co Limerick was founded in 1280 by Gilbert Hervey for the Augustinian Canons of the Order of Aroasia.

Saint Vedast Foster Lane or Saint Vedast-alias-Foster in the City of London has ‘a vibrant schedule of ecclesiastical, musical and social events’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Tradition says Saint Vedast Church in London was established by 1170. It has been suggested that a small colony of French merchants from Arras settled here in the late 12th century, bringing with them the name of their local saint. For the rest of the 12th century it was under the jurisdiction of the Prior and Convent of Canterbury. Because of these links with Canterbury, Saint Vedast was exempt from the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, making it one of the 13 ‘Peculiars’ of London.

The first church was probably quite small, but additions were made through the centuries. As it was enlarged, a chapel dedicated to Saint Dunstan was added in the 15th century, and other altars, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and to Saint Nicholas, were added in the 16th century.

Stow in his Survey of London described Saint Vedast as ‘a fair church, lately rebuilt’ in 1603.

Although no complete or accurate account survives for this early church, evidence of its construction can still be seen in the external south wall. Evidence of earlier openings for doors and windows, as well as the mediaeval stonework, has been examined in archaeological surveys and reported in London Archaeologist.

In 1614, Saint Vedast was enlarged by 20 feet, thanks to a gift from the adjacent Saddlers’ Company, and ‘beautified.’ In 1635, the then Rector, the Revd James Batty, petitioned the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, for permission to set up a rail around the communion table as there are many ‘disorders and undecencies’ among the parishioners when they were receiving Holy Communion.

For his loyalty to King Charles I, Batty was ‘sequestered, plundered, forced to flee, and died’ in 1642. How the church may have suffered during the Civil Wars of the mid-17th century is not recorded. But the Cromwellians kept horses stabled in the chancel of Saint Paul’s Cathedral nearby, we can image that it suffered badly. The current Rectors’ Board lists the years between 1643 and 1661 as under Foulke Bellers, a ‘Commonwealth Intruder.’

On an initiative taken in the parish after the Restoration, the church was restored by 1662. Four years later, the Great Fire that swept through the City of London in September 1666 reached Saint Vedast on the third day. Afterwards, it was thought that although the roof, pews, pulpit and other fittings had been destroyed, the church could be repaired satisfactorily, and so it was omitted from the original list of 50 churches to be rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren.

However, the structural flaws had become so significant by the 1690s that rebuilding began. It was altered, enlarged and restored by the office of Sir Christopher Wren between 1695 and 1701. Only small parts of the older building that survived were incorporated in the new church. These included parts of the mediaeval fabric in the south wall that were revealed during cleaning in 1992-1993.

The three-tier spire of Saint Vedast may have been designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Apart from Wren, either Robert Hooke or Nicholas Hawksmoor were involved in this restoration work. The three-tier spire of the church, which is considered one of the most baroque of all the City church spires, was added in 1709-1712 at a cost of £2,958. It may have been designed by Hawksmoor, and correspondence between Hawksmoor and the churchwardens survives.

The master mason Edward Strong was responsible for the cherubs that grace the west front and bell tower, and for the dove in glory sculpture now situated at the east end of the south aisle.

The organ was originally intended for Saint Bartholomew-by-the-Exchange. It was built by Renatus Harris in 1731 and was installed in 1773.

Many more minor changes were carried out throughout the 18th century, and heating was first introduced in 1790 with open stoves that were replaced in 1807 by a double-fronted one.

The Revd Thomas Pelham Dale, who was the Rector of Saint Vedast from 1847 to 1882, was a former Fellow of Sidney Sussex College. In 1876, he fell foul of the Public Worship Regulations Act of 1874 when he was prosecuted for ‘ritualistic practices.’ Although he gave up these practices for a time, he was brought before a court in 1880 and was sent to jail in in Holloway.

The greatest change to the church in the 19th century was in the windows. A square headed window was removed in 1848 from the east end, along with the Dove in Glory sculpture by Strong above it. Twelve new stained glass windows were introduced in 1884, making the church much darker. Shortly afterwards, internal changes were made to the pews, screens, pulpit and altar rails.

The interior of Saint Vedast was reordered in collegiate style by the architect Stephen Dykes Bower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In 1919, Saint Vedast was one of 19 City churches selected for demolition by the Diocese of London’s City of London Churches Committee. The plan was to sell off the land and use the money to build churches in the north-west suburbs. The church, measuring only 23 yards by 17 yards, would perhaps not have provided a fortune, especially as it was hoped that the tower would be kept.

The church was destroyed internally a second time on the night of Sunday 29 December 1940 by firebombs during the London Blitz. Saint Vedast was gutted and left a burnt-out shell, when the roof, pews, pulpit and fittings were all ruined.

Sir Hugh Casson proposed leaving the church ruins and several other ruins in London as war memorials, but these ideas were never put in place. After World War II, the city parishes were reorganised and St Vedast-alias-Foster was united with three other former parishes – Saint Alban, Wood Street, Saint Anne and St Agnes, Saint Lawrence Jewry, Saint Mary Aldermanbury, Saint Michael-le-Querne, Saint Matthew, Friday Street, Saint Peter Chepe, Saint Olave, Silver Street, Saint Michael, Wood Street, Saint Mary Staining, Saint Mary Magdalene, Milk Street, Saint John Zachary, and Saint Michael, Bassishaw – of which only the buildings of Saint Lawrence Jewry and Saint Anne and Saint Agnes remain, along with the tower of Saint Alban, Wood Street.

As the structure of the church and its tower were deemed to be safe, plans to restore the church began in 1947, although the restoration work only started in 1953, under the auspices of the new Rector, Canon Charles Bernard Mortlock (1888-1967), Canon Treasurer of Chichester Cathedral.

Mortlock, who had studied at Jesus College, Cambridge, was a former army chaplain, an authority on church architecture and had lectured in Ecclesiastical Art at King’s College in London while he was the curate at Saint Mary le Strand. He was the originator of the ‘Peterborough’ column in the Daily Telegraph, contributed to the Church Times, Punch and the Dictionary of National Biography, and was briefly an assistant editor of Country Life.

In 1947, the Dean and Chapter of Saint Paul’s Cathedral offered Charles Mortlock the living, which included 12 other City parishes whose churches had variously been lost in the Great Fire of 1666, demolished in the 19th century, or had completely perished in the Blitz – although there was only one stipend.

He faced three challenges: to build up a congregation, which he commenced using Saint Sepulchre’s, Holborn, to rebuild Saint Vedast’s and to build a rectory. During this stage, he had to ‘live out,’ in Warwick Square, Kensington.

Evening lights in Saint Vedast, which likes a perfect Cambridge or Oxford college chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The post-war restoration within the old walls of the church was overseen by the Parochial Church Council, whose members included the Poet Laureate and conservation champion Sir John Betjeman and the great organ builder Noel Mander.

The architect was Stephen Dykes Bower (1903-1991), best known for his work at Westminster Abbey, Bury St Edmunds Cathedral and the Chapel at Lancing College. In his 1994 obituary in The Times, Stephen James described Dykes Bower as a devoted and determined champion of the Gothic Revival style through its most unpopular years. He rejected modernism and continued traditions from the late Victorian period, emphasising fine detail, craftsmanship and bright colour.

He re-ordered the interior of Saint Vedast in a collegiate chapel style with seating down each side, so that it looks like a perfect Cambridge or Oxford college chapel. By making an almost imperceptible taper in the pews and floor pattern, he gave a false perspective towards the altar, so that the church looks longer than it is. He squared the old walls that were not rectangular in plan so that the altar now faces the nave squarely. These changes allowed a strong black and white patterned terrazzo floor to be laid.

Dykes Bower screened off the south aisle, where he placed a side chapel, Bernard Merry designed the aumbry by the south chapel altar. Dykes Bower also designed the richly decorated 17th-century-style plaster ceiling was built to a pattern near that of the Wren original and was finished with gold leaf and aluminium, donated by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. In his work, he reused fittings from other churches destroyed in the City, including the richly carved pulpit from All Hallows’ Church, Bread Street, and the font and cover from Saint Anne and Saint Agnes in Gresham Street.

Dykes Bower commissioned the Whitefriars glass windows in the east end of the church, showing scenes from the life of Saint Vedast. These windows are largely opaque to hide tall buildings behind and to disguise the fact that the east wall is a wedge in plan. The work was completed in 1962, and some of the works and legends of Saint Vedast are celebrated in these windows.

The new glass doors by Bernard Merry are inscribed with the words of ‘Saint Patrick’s Breastplate.’ They allow the inside of the church to be seen from Foster Lane, even on a cold and dark evening like last Wednesday.

Dykes Bower also built the small parish room north-east of the church in 17th-century style and the Georgian-style rectory, beside the church, on Foster Lane in 1959. An adjacent plot along Foster Lane to the north, formerly the location of the Fountain pub, was bought as the site for this new rectory, and a small secluded courtyard was built between this Rectory and the former parish school, which is now the parish hall.

The Grinling Gibbons font in Saint Vedast-alias-Foster was recovered by Noel Mander from Saint Anne and Saint Agnes, (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Noel Mander, who soon became a churchwarden, rebuilt the organ having found a fine but derelict a fine 18th century organ that he moved from a church in Fulham and restored. Mander also found the disused Wren pulpit with carvings by Grinling Gibbons, originally in All Hallows’ Church, recovered the Grinling Gibbons font from Saint Anne and Saint Agnes, and sourced the reredos from Saint Christopher-le-Stock Parish Church in Threadneedle Street, which was demolished in 1781. The reredos had been taken by Ernest Geldart to Great Burstead in Essex, but now stands behind the altar in Saint Vedast and is inscribed with the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and The Creed.

The church also has a set of six bells, cast in 1960, that many regard as among the finest sounding six in London.

The church’s Fountain Courtyard features part of a Roman floor found under Saint Matthew, Friday Street, and a Sumerian stone or baked brick which is inscribed with cuneiform writing. This stone , which comes from a Zigurrat built at Kalhu in the 9th century BC. It was presented to Canon Mortlock by the Syrian Government to mark his work with the novelist Agatha Christie and her husband, the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, and was found during his 1950-1965 dig on the site on the borders of modern Syria and Kurish Iraq. The stone bears the name of Shalmaneser who reigned from 858 to 834 BC. Kalhu is named in the Bible as Calah and is now known as Nimrud.

Mortlock was also a friend of the sculptors Henry Moore (1898-1986) and Jacob Epstein (1880-1959), whose statue of the former rector stands in the yard behind Saint Vedast. Epstein’s great sculptures in Anglican churches and cathedrals include his ‘Saint Michael’ (1958) at Coventry Cathedral, and his ‘Christ in Majesty’ (1954–55) above the nave in Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff. On the Sunday after Epstein’s death, Mortlock stepped down into the middle of Saint Vedast’s and asked the congregation to ‘pray for the soul of Jacob Epstein, who died unbaptised.’ Later, he delivered the eulogy at Epstein’s funeral.

Mortlock’s later successors at Saint Vedast included Canon Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (1974-1986), former Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg, and the Revd Dr Alan McCormack (2007-2015), former chaplain of Trinity College Dublin. John Betjeman saw Gonville as something of a saint and referred to him as ‘the martyred Dean of Johannesburg.’ As a parish without resident parishioners, Saint Vedast gave himspace to concentrate on writing and spiritual direction from 1974 until he retired at Christmas 1986.

The Saddlers’ Company, whose Hall courtyard garden abuts the church wall to the east, is associated with Saint Vedast’s, and Saint Vedast’s is also linked with Saint Botolph without Bishopsgate.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950. The rectory was listed as a Grade II building on 15 July 1998.

The church is open on weekdays between 8 am and 5.30 pm, on Saturdays between 11 am and 4 pm, and on Sundays.

The reredos in Saint Vedast came from Saint Christopher-le-Stock Parish Church in Threadneedle Street, which was demolished in 1781 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A reminder of mission connections
at a meeting of USPG in London

The classical-style gate lodge at the entrance to Townley Hall, where the Revd Willoughby William Townley Balfour was born (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015) Patrick Comerford

I spent a day earlier this week working in London, at a full-day meeting of the Trustees of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). At every meeting of trustees, we close by remembering in prayer people associated with USPG who have died since the previous meeting. This week, those we remembered at the end of the day included, of course, the Revd Dr Una Kroll, a former SPG missionary in Namibia, who died last month [6 January 2017], and the Revd Herbert Joseph Edwards, who died in Lichfield at the age of 87 at the end of last year [5 December 2016].

I first met Joe when he was a lecturer at Lichfield Theological College (1968-1971). Later, he was a USPG missionary in the Diocese of Mashonaland in Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe (1971-1980), and in the Diocese of Botswana (1974). I got to know him again in recent years in Lichfield where he lived in retirement in Saint John’s Hospital. We met occasionally in both Lichfield Cathedral, and he was always welcoming in Saint John’s Hospital. He died at Beechfields Nursing Home, Lichfield, and his memorial service was held at Christmastime in the Chapel of Saint John’s.

On the wall behind me in he board room throughout Wednesday’s meeting of USPG trustees were three large stained glass windows, moved from previous premises and depicting saintly SPG missionary pioneers of the past.

I am interested to note that one of predecessors in Askeaton had strongly family links with USPG when it was SPG (the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) in the 19th century, and another predecessor in Kilnaughtin had been a missionary in Central America for two years and then spent years in Southern Africa as an SPG missionary for seven years.

The Revd Willoughby William Townley Balfour (1801-1888) was Vicar of Askeaton from 1833 to 1837. He was the second son of Blayney Townley-Balfour or Blayney Townley Balfour (1769–1856), who came from a long line of politicians, and who was MP for Belturbet when the Act of Union was passed in 1800. He owned a large flour mill outside Slane, Co Meath, and it was he who commissioned the architect Francis Johnston to rebuild Townley Hall, the family seat on the banks of the Boyne, between Drogheda and Slane.

Blayney Townley-Balfour married Florence Cole, and they had 10 children. Their eldest son, also Blayney Townley-Balfour (1799-1882), was Governor of the Bahamas from 1833 to 1835, while their second son was the Revd Willoughby William Townley Balfour. Willoughby was born in 1801 at Townley Hall, near Drogheda, Co Louth, and went to school at Harrow before entering Trinity College Dublin in 1819. He graduated BA in 1823 and was ordained deacon in 1829 and priest in 1832.

Willoughby Balfour became Vicar of Askeaton in May 1833, and held this post until 1837, when his successor was the Revd George Naxwell, who worked tirelessly and ceaselessly in the parish during the Great Famine.

Balfour became Vicar of Stone Flanville, Leicestershire, where he remained until 1878. When he retired, he returned to Ireland and died in Rostrevor, Co Down, on 29 June 1888.

His elder brother, Blayney Townley-Balfour (1799-1882), was Lieutenant Governor of the Bahamas (1833-1835). He too was born in Townley Hall, and later inherited the family home close to the banks of the Boyne. Townley Hall, is a magnificent Georgian mansion built in 1799 on a hilltop setting. Townley Hall is a masterpiece in the classical style of Francis Johnston, the foremost Irish architect of his day. Today it is surrounded by 60 acres of rolling parkland overlooking the Boyne Valley, close to the site of the Battle of the Boyne.

Sir John Betjeman, in a survey of the works of Francis Johnston wrote: ‘I have seen many Irish houses, but I know none at once so dignified, so restrained and so original as Francis Johnston’s Townley Hall.’

His first son, Blayney Reynell Townley Balfour, was born in Townley Hall near Drogheda, Co Louth, on 15 April 1845. But the family found the climate in the Bay of Naples was more amenable, and they moved to Sorrento, where their second son, Francis Richard Townley Balfour, was born ion 21 June 1846.

Like their uncle Willoughby, the two Balfour brothers went to school in Harrow, where their younger contemporaries included a future Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Thomas Davidson (1848-1903), a future secretary of the the Anglican mission agency, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, now USPG), Bishop Henry Hutchinson Montgomery (1847-1932) from Co Donegal, the slum priest Father Robert Dolling (1851-1902) from Co Down, and a much younger Bishop Charles Gore (1853-1932), whose parents were from Ireland.

From Harrow, Francis Balfour went on to Trinity College Cambridge, graduating BA in 1869, and trained for ordination at Cuddesdon College, Oxford. In 1872, the year he received his MA from Cambridge, he was ordained deacon, and he was ordained priest in 1874 by the Bishop of Oxford.

He was the curate of Buckingham for three years until 1875, and then moved to Southern Africa as a missionary with SPG. He first worked in the Orange Free State, as a bishop’s chaplain, on the diamond diggings with the miners in Kimberley, lecturing in a theological college in Bloemfontein, and as a parish rector and cathedral canon. He then went to Mashonaland in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he built the first Anglican Church in Fort Salisbury (now Harare).

He later moved to Basutoland (present-day Lesotho), where he was the Director of the Mission of the Epiphany in Sekuba (1894-1898). Throughout all this time he preached in Sesotho and translated Bible and the Book of Common Prayer into Sesotho.

He regularly returned to Ireland when he was on leave, and when ill-health forced him to return home in 1900-1901, he acted as an honorary curate in All Saints’ Parish in Raheny, Dublin, where the rector, the Revd Francis Carlile Harper (1838-1931), was known for his missionary interests and was father-in-law of Herbert Packenham Walsh, the Irish missionary bishop in Assam.

In Raheny, he had a profound influence on the rector’s daughter, Dr Marie Elizabeth Hayes, who went to work with the Dublin University Mission in Chota Nagpur in 1905, and died as a medical missionary in Saint Stephen’s Hospital, Delhi, in 1908.

When Balfour returned to South Africa from Raheny in 1901 he became the Archdeacon of Bloemfontein (1901-1906) and then Archdeacon of Basutoland (1908-1922). When he was consecrated in Cape Town as an Assistant Bishop for the Diocese of Bloemfontein in 1911, he was effectively the first Anglican Bishop of Lesotho.

He was proud of his Irish identity and heritage, and there is a wonderful photograph of him from 1914 in a mitre and cope decorated in shamrocks and ‘Celtic’ designs.

When Balfour retired in 1923, there was no question of going back to Sorrento. He returned to Ireland, but died shortly afterwards in Shankill, Co Dublin, on 3 February 1924. He is buried in the grounds of Mellifont Abbey, Co Louth – the ruins of Mellifont had been owned by his family for generations.

The Revd James Napier Clarke (1870-1934),who was the curate of Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry), in 1905-1908 after serving with SPG in Southern Africa for about seven years. He was born in 1870, the son of the Revd Dr JW Clarke, and His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle and great-uncle were priests in the Church of Ireland. He was educated at Rathmines School in Dublin.

Clarke was a missionary in the Diocese of Honduras (1896-1897) and in Belize (1897-1898), before going to Southern Africa with SPG in 1898. There he was a missionary in Kaffraria (1898-1905), where he worked as a chaplain in Saint John’s College, Kaffraria (1893-1903), Headmaster of Saint Cuthbert’s School, Tsolo (1904), and Rector of Port Saint John’s (1904-1905). When he returned to Ireland, he worked first as Curate of Kilnaughtin (1905-1908), and later worked in parishes in the dioceses of Ardfert, Ferns, Glendalough and Kildare until his death on 13 April 1934.

another SPG missionary in Southern Africa with connections with the Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe was Nurse Rosanna (Rose) Blennerhassett (ca 1840-1907). She was a daughter of Sir Arthur Blennerhassett (1794-1849) of Churchtown, near Killarney, Co Kerry. Her uncle and great-uncle were priests in the Church of Ireland, and her brother, Sir Rowland Blennerhassett (1839-1909), was MP for Galway and Co Kerry. She was a nurse with SPG in the Diocese of Mashonaland (1891-1893), and she was the co-author, with Lucy Sleeman, of Adventures in Mashonaland by two hospital nurses (London, Macmillan, 1893).

Which brings me back to Joe Edwards in Mashonaland and in Lichfield, and how glad I am that we remembered him in our prayers at this week’s meeting of USPG trustees in London.

Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield … the Revd Joe Edwards lived here in his later years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)