Monday, 26 June 2017

A missing plaque linked
Newcastle West with
leading Irish Philhellene

The estate cottages on Bishop Street, Newcastle West, were built by Charles Edward Napier Curling in 1872 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Some weeks ago, I wrote about an interesting connection between Newcastle West and the Irish Philhellenes – those Irish men and women who were involved in the Greek War of Independence in the 19th century and who engaged in the political aftermath in Greece.

Now I am wondering what has happened to a missing plaque on a row of estate cottages in Newcastle West that link this part of West Limerick with one of the most prominent Irish Philhellenes.

Sir Charles James Napier (1782-1853), an Irish general who was Governor of Kephalonia. He was a first cousin of the 1798 leader Lord Edward FitzGerald, and his childhood home was in Celbridge House, now known as Oakley Park, in Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Napier was the British Resident or colonial governor of the Ionian island of Kephallonia, and there he lived with a young, beautiful, patriotic Greek woman, Anastasia. Although they never married, they had two daughters, Susan Sarah, born in 1824, and Emily Cephalonia, named after Lord Edward FitzGerald’s mother and Napier’s beloved Greek island.

In a sad twist to this love story, Anastasia obstinately refused to marry Charles, and refused to accompany him to England in 1824. Two years later, as he was leaving for London for his mother’s funeral, he tried to leave their two small daughters with Anastasia, but she put the girls in a small boat, pushing them out to sea after him.

The two girls were rescued by a local fisherman, and eventually, after being reunited with their father, were entrusted once again to the care of an Irish-born member of Napier’s staff, John Pitt Kennedy (1796–1879), from Co Donegal.

Anastasia’s identity has never been established with certainty, and she died at a young age. To the surprise of his family and friends, Charles Napier subsequently married the poor and invalided Elizabeth Kelly in April 1827. She was a widow of over 60 with grown-up children and grandchildren.

Napier left Kephallonia with his gravely ill wife Elizabeth in 1830, and while he was on leave in London his appointment to Kephallonia was annulled, his papers were seized and he was forbidden to return to Kephallonia.

Some time later, Edward Curling left Kephallonia, taking Napier’s two daughters with him and bringing them to their father in England. Until Napier’s elderly wife Elizabeth died on 31 July 1833, she treated the girls as her own children. When she knew she was dying, wrote a book, the Nursery Governess, to help Napier find someone to care for them after her death. Napier took an active interest in their education, teaching them geography and maths as well as languages.

Edward Curling (1807-1874), who was born in St Nicholas-at-Wade, Ken, was a great nephew of Elizabeth Napier. He had worked for Napier on Kephallonia from 1828 to 1831. In recent weeks, a member of his family contacted me with further family details that link this episode in the story of the Irish Philhellenes with Newcastle West.

When Edward Curling left Kephallonia, he brought his Maltese-born wife Rosalina (Rosa) Vittoria Curling (nee Mallia), to England with him and was appointed the Land Agent for Sir Henry Bunbury’s estate near Bury in Suffolk. Sir Henry Bunbury had married Charles Napier’s sister, Emily Louisa Napier, and Lady Sarah Lennox, mother of Emily and Charles, had been first married to Sir Henry’s uncle.

Edward worked on the Bunbury estate for 16 years before moving to Newcastle West, Co Limerick, in 1848 as the land agent for the Devon estate, centred on the castle in Newcastle West.

Edward Curling, who died on 28 October 1874, named his son after Sir Charles Napier. Charles Edward Napier Curling (1835-1895) lived at the Castle in Newcastle West, and married Alice Raymond from Monkstown, Co Dublin.

Charles Edward Napier Curling seems to have succeeded his father sometime before 1874 as agent for the Devon Estate in Newcastle West, for two years earlier a pretty row of estate workers’ cottages was built in Bishop Street, Newcastle West in 1872.

An inscription that once decorated these cottages, but that has long disappeared, read: ‘Erected by public subscription as a token for his service to Charles Edward Napier Curling Esq JP.’

These pretty cottages, with their steep overhanging roofs, flamboyant bargeboards, their decorative use of brick for the window surrounds, and their pitched-roof porches, make them look more like cottages in a rural setting in England than in provincial west Limerick.

Charles Edward Napier Curling was succeeded by his son Richbell Curling as the land agent for the Devon estate. The Curling family eventually bought the castle and the Devon estate in 1920, and remained in Newcastle until the 1940s.

But it would still be interesting to discover what happened to the plaque on these cottages that link Newcastle West, the Curling family and the Irish Philhellene Sir Charles Napier.

The cottages built by Charles Edward Napier Curling in Newcastle West (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Two Victorian villas at the heart
of the campus at Villiers School

Tivoli, built by William Henshaw Owen in 1838 for Sir Croker Barrington (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I spent most of Saturday at the Diocesan Synod for Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert in Villiers School on the North Circular Road, Limerick. I was writing on Saturday morning about the original Villiers School buildings in Henry Street, and later on Saturday about the Villiers Almshouses, which were endowed too by Hannah Villiers.

The school moved in 1952 from Henry Street to the North Circular Road, and today Villiers School stands on a campus with two large, former Victorian villas that are part of the social and architectural history of Limerick, Tivoli House, which was originally built as Woodville House, and Derravoher, previously known as Riverview and Lansdowne Cottage, and originally built as Glendower.

The origins of this Limerick suburb can be traced back to the early 19th century, when building Wellesley Bridge (1824-1835), later renamed Sarsfield Bridge, opened up tracts of land that had previously undeveloped on the northern banks of the River Shannon, and the new bridge enhanced the value of the Barrington families property along what became the North Circular Road.

The key figures in the development of suburban housing along what opened up as the North Circular Road were Sir Matthew Barrington (1788-1861) of Glenstal Castle, his son, Sir Croker Barrington (1817-1890), and Lord Lansdowne.

Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice (1780-1863), 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne, was the son of a former Prime Minister, and had inherited the family titles along with extensive estates in Wiltshire and in Ireland, including over 1,500 acres in Co Limerick. His father, William Petty-FitzMaurice (1737-1805), 2nd Earl of Shelbourne and Marquis of Lansdowne, built Shelbourne House on the North Circular Road around 1790. The Greek Revival house is now part of Ardscoil Rís on Lower Shelbourne Road. The Lansdowne names and titles are remembered in a number of street-names in this part of Limerick, including Lansdowne Park, Lansdowne Gardens, Shelbourne Road, Shelbourne Park and Shelbourne Avenue. The 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne was a Liberal politician who had a successful political career over half a century, and was Chancellor of the Exchequer (1806-1807), Home Secretary (1827-1828), and on three occasions between 1830 and 1852 was Lord President of the Council.

Alongside Lansdowne and Barrington, a key figure in the early development of this Limerick suburb was William Henshaw Owen (1813-1853). He was one of the 17 children of the architect and engineer Jacob Owen (1778-1870). The younger Owen joined his father at the Board of Public Works and was sent to work in Limerick in 1836. He oversaw the building of Thomond Bridge (1836-1840) to designs by James Pain and his brother George Richard Pain, and designed Mathew Bridge (1844-1846). His other architectural works in Limerick include the Savings Bank (1839), to designs by Thomas Deane, on the corner of Glentworth Street and Catherine Street.

The site of Villiers School is one of the first plots of land recorded on the new North Circular Road. In 1838, Sir Croker Barrington commissioned Owen to design a house to be named Woodville House.

Two years later, in 1840, Croker Barrington married Margaret Lewen of Fort Fergus, Co Clare. The house was known as Tivoli by the time it appeared on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey, which was surveyed in 1840 and published in 1844.

Later, Tivoli Cottage was the home of Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Hugh Massey Wheeler (1791-1871), a retired officer of the Indian army, who was leasing it from Sir Matthew Barrington at the time of Griffith's Valuation. Wheeler was a retired colonel in the Indian Army. His first wife, Maryann, died in 1860, and in 1861, he married his second wife, Emily Delmerge (1837-1909), from Gort, Co Galway in Saint Munchin’s Church, Limerick. Colonel Wheeler died at Tivoli House on 15 March 1871. His two daughters, Constance (1865-1947) and Eveline Wybrants (1866-1953), later lived at 72 Grosvenor Road, Rathmines, Dublin, where they died.

From the 1930s, Tivoli was the home of the Daly family, prominent Republican family in Limerick associated with the events during the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. Since 1952, the house has been the centre of Villiers School.

This is a detached, three-bay two-storey over basement house, with a five-bay side elevation and a four-bay, two-storey wing built on to the south east around 1955, and a further three-bay two-storey annexe to the west built in 1985.

Derreavoher was built in 1839 by WH Owen, who wanted to name it Glendower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The neighbouring house on the school campus, Derravoher, dates from 1839, when a 999-year lease was signed on 17 February 1839 by Croker Barrington’s father, Sir Matthew Barrington, and WH Owen. In a romantic assertion of his Welsh ancestry, Owen wanted to name his new home ‘Glendower,’ recalling Owain Glyndwr, the 14th-15th century Welsh prince who became a hero figure in 19th century Welsh nationalism. However, his chosen name did not survive, and the house has since been known by many other names.

Barrington’s terms in the 1839 lease were strict. He insisted that only one house could be built on the site, and he allowed no ‘noisome noisy or offensive trade or business whatsoever.’

Owen’s design for his own house is picturesque and has been described as showing ‘a flair for Welsh Gothic detail.’ This is a detached, three-bay, two-storey house, designed on an L-shaped plan with single-bay two-storey gabled projecting breakfront abutting a single-bay two-storey gabled projecting end bay.

The principal front boasts has as its centrepiece a projecting breakfront with a Tudor-headed arcaded open porch.

A drawing room in the south-west corner opens out onto a Tudor-headed arcaded loggia allowing sheltered views overlooking the terraced lawns. The dining room on the south-east corner includes an unusual triangular-plan bay window. The rooms on the first floor are partly accommodated within the roof space with a small number lit by jettied oriel dormer windows. The roof itself is an interesting ornamental feature in the house, with scalloped and sinuous open work bargeboards decorating each and every gable and gablet.

Owen later emigrated to the US and died suddenly in San Francisco on 1 June 1853. Meanwhile, the picturesque suburban villa he built for himself on the North Circular Road, went through many names over the course of its history, from Glendower to Lansdowne Cottage, Riverview and, finally Derravoher.

The house is named as Lansdowne Cottage on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey. In 1843, a marriage report in The Gentleman’s Magazine notes that Hugh Fennessy had been living at Lansdowne Cottage. In 1846, it was the home of William Smyth, described as a Constitutional Court Proctor.

Griffith’s Valuation names the house as Lansdowne Cottage in 1853, when it was the home of Richard Goff, Manager of the National Bank, who leased the house from William Charles Burgess.

The house was leased in 1863 to Francis Cherry Sikes, a Quaker who had a grocery shop at 112 George’s Street, Limerick. Sikes renamed the house ‘Riverview’ because of its commanding vistas overlooking the River Shannon. He died in 1865, and his widow Eliza continued to live in the house until she died in 1892.

By 1911, Sir Alexander William Shaw (1847-1923), the owner of Shaw and Sons of Mulgrave Street, was living at Riverview. Shaw was a bacon manufacturer, one of the founding members of Limerick Boat Club and the founder of Limerick and Lahinch golf clubs. He turned the family firm, WJ Shaw and Sons, into one of the largest bacon curing businesses in Europe. He became one of the most prominent business figures in Limerick, was High Sheriff of Co Limerick in 1898-1899, and was knighted for his services to Irish industry.

Shaw was a keen sportsman and took part in rowing, rugby, athletics and hurling, but golf became his main interest as a result of his many business trips to Scotland. He seems to have been responsible for changing the name of the house to Derravoher: an obituary of his son, Captain Gordon Thompson Shaw, in 1918, refers to him the ‘youngest son of Sir Alex. and Lady Shaw, Derravoher, Limerick.’

The Ray family, who had returned from Santa Barbara in California, leased the house in 1928, and lived there until 1943. James Ray (1885-1950) was the director of O’Mara’s Bacon Company. In 1943, when George Edward ‘Ted’ Russell (1912-2004) moved into the house. He was elected to the Senate in 1969 and bought the house outright in 1979. His widow continued to live at Derravoher until 2011.

Derravoher, set in mature landscaped grounds, was bought by Villiers School in 2012. The house was restored in 2014-2016 for Villiers School under the supervision of Gráinne McMahon, who was project architect and project planner. This restoration work included reinstating the natural slate roof and repairing its decorative timber work.

A limestone flagged path now links Derravoher to the classrooms in Villiers School and Tivoli, the neighbouring Victorian villa. Many modern additions mean Tivoli has lost its original appearance as a detached country house, but this house too has retained many of its important, original features.

A mug of coffee in the sunshine at Villiers School at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Taking the ‘scenic route’ to
ordination after visiting
Saint John the Baptist

An icon of Saint John the Baptist by Adrienne Lord in the current icon exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 25 June 2017,

The Second Sunday after Trinity,

The Festival of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist (24 June, transferred)


11.30 a.m.: Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, the Parish Eucharist.

Readings: Isaiah 40: 1-11, Psalm 85: 7-13, Galatians 3: 23-29, Luke 1: 57-66, 80.

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

It is good for a priest to be present at the Eucharist and to preach on the anniversary of ordination. I was ordained priest 16 years ago yesterday (24 June 2001), and ordained deacon 17 years ago today (25 June 2000). These anniversaries coincide with the Festival of the Birth of Saint John Baptist (24 June), one of the few birthdays of a saint commemorated in the Book of Common Prayer (see pp 20-21), which suggests that festivals like this ‘may be observed on the Sunday.’

I have just completed 15 years teaching and preparing students at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute for ordination. But my own path to ordination began when I was a 19-year-old, 46 years ago, back in the summer of 1971, in a chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.

I was a young, budding freelance journalist at the time, contributing features to the Lichfield Mercury. Late one sunny Thursday afternoon that summer, after a few days traipsing along Wenlock Edge and through Shropshire, I had returned to Lichfield. I was walking from Birmingham Road into the centre of Lichfield.

Frankly, I was more interested in an evening’s entertainment when I stumbled in that chapel out of curiosity. Not because I wanted to see the inside of an old church building chapel, but because I was attracted by the architectural curiosity of the outside of the building facing onto the street.

I still remember lifting the latch, and stepping down into the chapel. It was late afternoon, so there was no light streaming through the East Window. But as I turned towards the lectern, I was filled in one rush with the sensation of the light and the love of God.

This is not a normal experience for a young 19-year-old … certainly not for one who is focussing on an active social night later on, or on rugby and cricket in the weekend ahead.

But it was – still is – a real and gripping moment. I have talked about this as my ‘self-defining moment in life.’ It still remains as a lived, living moment.

How was I to respond?

I could go for psychiatric assessment.

I could walk away dismissively, asking: ‘So what? God loves me, but so what?’

But my first reaction was to make my way on down John Street, up Bird Street and Beacon Street and Lichfield the Cathedral. There I slipped into the choir stalls, just in time for Choral Evensong.

It was a tranquil and an exhilarating experience, all at once. But as I was leaving, a residentiary canon shook my hand. I think it was Canon John Yates (1925-1980), then Principal of Lichfield Theological College (1966-1972). He amusingly asked me whether a young man like me had decided to start going back to church because I was thinking of ordination.

All that in one day, in one summer afternoon.

Saint John’s Hospital, Saint John Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

However, I took the scenic route to ordination. I was inspired by the story of Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (1912-1991), which was beginning to unfold at the time. He was then then Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg, and facing trial when he opened his doors to black protesters who were being rhino-whipped by South African apartheid police on the steps of his cathedral.

My new-found faith led me to a path of social activism, campaigning on human rights, apartheid, the arms race, and issues of war and peace. Meanwhile, I moved on in journalism, first to the Wexford People and eventually becoming Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times.

While I was working as a journalist, I also completed my degrees in theology. In the back of my mind, that startling choice I was confronted with after evensong in that cathedral was gnawing away in the back of my mind.

Of course, I was on the scenic route to ordination. A long and scenic route, from the age of 19 to the age of 48 … almost 30 years: I was ordained deacon on 25 June 2000 and priest on 24 June 2001, the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist.

I return regularly, two, three or more times a year, and slip into that chapel quietly when I get off the train. That chapel has remained my spiritual home. I had started coming to Lichfield as a teenager because of family connections with the area. But the traditions of that chapel subtly grew on me and became my own personal form of Anglicanism; and the liturgical traditions of the cathedral nurtured my own liturgical spirituality.

I now know that the evening sun does not fill that chapel with light. That Thursday evening was many years before a famous window by John Piper was installed. But there is no West Window, and that chapel is never filled with evening light, even on summer evenings.

Yet that moment is a lived and living moment … not only in my memory but in my every day, all through my life.

Was this a moment I was looking for? Not really.

Was this a moment I was being prepared for? Perhaps.

Sometimes we find ourselves called out into the wilderness, like those called to hear the voice in the wilderness in our reading from Isaiah this morning (see Isaiah 40: 3), or like the crowd who come to see Saint John the Baptist in the river, and find instead we are called to repentance and the new life poured out on us in the light and the love of God that Christ offers us.

In our New Testament reading this morning (Galatians 3: 23-29), the Apostle Paul reminds us what we were like ‘before faith came … imprisoned and guarded.’

That bright summer evening certainly freed me and left me open to the world, with all its beauty and all its problems.

So, you might say, that is all well and good for you. But has this anything to do with this parish, our lives here in this place?

I appreciate that in Anglicanism at the moment – not only in the Church of England and the Church of Ireland, but throughout the world – we are exploring what mission theologians call a ‘mixed economy.’

But Alison Milbank and Andrew Davison, in their study For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions (London: SCM, 2010), point out that a major flaw in this ‘mixed-economy ecclesiology’ is the danger of separating form and content, practices and belief.

There is a danger of giving priority to fashion and to individualism, and of losing sight of communion and community. There is a danger that what is fashionable today will be forgotten tomorrow. ‘The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of God will stand for ever’ (Isaiah 40: 9).

But the traditional witness, faithful life and quiet, stable and steady presence of parishes and churches like this must never be under-estimated or under-valued.

Our churches in this group of parishes stand as a constant witness, across the centuries and down the generations. Like Elizabeth and Zechariah, into their old age, these places have been faithful, steady, constant witnesses … in maintaining liturgical worship, in steady attention to the word of God, in working at loving care and hospitality.

Elizabeth and Zechariah could never see what their steady, faithful witness would lead to, and their neighbours’ response is marked by doubts and scepticism. They would never live to see the consequences of their faithfulness. Saint John the Baptist goes off into the wilderness, and is lost sight of for a while. And even when he begins his ministry, that is not what is important.

We may never fully realise what you are achieving today. But we are inviting countless, unseen generations into the light and love of God – and to see the connection between the love of God and the love of our neighbour.

As Alison Milbank and Andrew Davison point out, ‘to become a Christian is to cease to be an atomized individual but to enter the life of communion. To know God … is to love one another’ (p 133).

Like Saint John the Baptist, the presence of our four churches in this group of parishes is not to be dismissed as a presence in some sort of wilderness, is not to be dismissed because of the numbers who come or do not come here, but is a presence that constantly points to the light and love of God, and is a challenge to all around us to realise that to know God means that we must love one another.

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

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Sunday 25 June 2017.

Inside the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

Almighty God,
by whose providence your servant John the Baptist
was wonderfully born,
and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour
by the preaching of repentance:
lead us to repent according to his preaching
and, after his example,
constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice,
and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

We are fellow-citizens with the saints
and the household of God,
through Christ our Lord,
who came and preached peace to those who were far off
and those who are near: (Ephesians 2: 19, 17).

Preface:

In the saints
you have given us an example of godly living,
that, rejoicing in their fellowship,
we may run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
and with them receive the unfading crown of glory.

Post Communion Prayer:

Merciful Lord,
whose prophet John the Baptist
proclaimed your Son as the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world:
grant that we who in this sacrament have known
your forgiveness and your life-giving love,
may ever tell of your mercy and your peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

God give you the grace
to share the inheritance of Saint John the Baptist and of his saints in glory:

The Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Saint John Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Celebrating Saint John the Baptist
and two important anniversaries

Saint John’s Hospital, Saint John Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

Sunday 25 June 2017,

The Second Sunday after Trinity,

The Festival of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist (24 June, transferred)


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

Readings: Isaiah 40: 1-11, Psalm 85: 7-13, Galatians 3: 23-29, Luke 1: 57-66, 80.

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

It is good for a priest to celebrate the anniversary of ordination. I was ordained priest 16 years ago yesterday (24 June 2001), and ordained deacon 17 years ago today (25 June 2000). These anniversaries coincide with the Festival of the Birth of Saint John Baptist (24 June), one of the few birthdays of a saint commemorated in the Book of Common Prayer (see pp 20-21), which suggests that festivals like this ‘may be observed on the Sunday.’

I have just completed 15 years teaching and preparing students at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute for ordination. But my own path to ordination began when I was a 19-year-old, 46 years ago, back in the summer of 1971, in a chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.

I was a young, budding freelance journalist at the time, contributing features to the Lichfield Mercury. Late one sunny Thursday afternoon that summer, after a few days traipsing along Wenlock Edge and through Shropshire, I had returned to Lichfield. I was walking from Birmingham Road into the centre of Lichfield.

Frankly, I was more interested in an evening’s entertainment when I stumbled in that chapel out of curiosity. Not because I wanted to see the inside of an old church building chapel, but because I was attracted by the architectural curiosity of the outside of the building facing onto the street.

I still remember lifting the latch, and stepping down into the chapel. It was late afternoon, so there was no light streaming through the East Window. But as I turned towards the lectern, I was filled in one rush with the sensation of the light and the love of God.

This is not a normal experience for a young 19-year-old … certainly not for one who is focussing on an active social night later on, or on rugby and cricket in the weekend ahead.

But it was – still is – a real and gripping moment. I have talked about this as my ‘self-defining moment in life.’ It still remains as a lived, living moment.

How was I to respond?

I could go for psychiatric assessment.

I could walk away dismissively, asking: ‘So what? God loves me, but so what?’

But my first reaction was to make my way on down John Street, up Bird Street and Beacon Street and Lichfield the Cathedral. There I slipped into the choir stalls, just in time for Choral Evensong.

It was a tranquil and an exhilarating experience, all at once. But as I was leaving, a residentiary canon shook my hand. I think it was Canon John Yates (1925-1980), then Principal of Lichfield Theological College (1966-1972). He amusingly asked me whether a young man like me had decided to start going back to church because I was thinking of ordination.

All that in one day, in one summer afternoon.

Inside the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

However, I took the scenic route to ordination. I was inspired by the story of Gonville ffrench-Beytagh (1912-1991), which was beginning to unfold at the time. He was then then Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg, and facing trial when he opened his doors to black protesters who were being rhino-whipped by South African apartheid police on the steps of his cathedral.

My new-found faith led me to a path of social activism, campaigning on human rights, apartheid, the arms race, and issues of war and peace. Meanwhile, I moved on in journalism, first to the Wexford People and eventually becoming Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times.

While I was working as a journalist, I also completed my degrees in theology. In the back of my mind, that startling choice I was confronted with after evensong in that cathedral was gnawing away in the back of my mind.

Of course, I was on the scenic route to ordination. A long and scenic route, from the age of 19 to the age of 48 … almost 30 years: I was ordained deacon on 25 June 2000 and priest on 24 June 2001, the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist.

I return regularly, two, three or more times a year, and slip into that chapel quietly when I get off the train. That chapel has remained my spiritual home. I had started coming to Lichfield as a teenager because of family connections with the area. But the traditions of that chapel subtly grew on me and became my own personal form of Anglicanism; and the liturgical traditions of the cathedral nurtured my own liturgical spirituality.

I now know that the evening sun does not fill that chapel with light. That Thursday evening was many years before a famous window by John Piper was installed. But there is no West Window, and that chapel is never filled with evening light, even on summer evenings.

Yet that moment is a lived and living moment … not only in my memory but in my every day, all through my life.

Was this a moment I was looking for? Not really.

Was this a moment I was being prepared for? Perhaps.

Sometimes we find ourselves called out into the wilderness, like those called to hear the voice in the wilderness in our reading from Isaiah this morning (see Isaiah 40: 3), or like the crowd who come to see Saint John the Baptist in the river, and find instead we are called to repentance and the new life poured out on us in the light and the love of God that Christ offers us.

In our New Testament reading this morning (Galatians 3: 23-29), the Apostle Paul reminds us what we were like ‘before faith came … imprisoned and guarded.’

That bright summer evening certainly freed me and left me open to the world, with all its beauty and all its problems.

So, you might say, that is all well and good for you. But has this anything to do with this parish, our lives here in this place?

I appreciate that in Anglicanism at the moment – not only in the Church of England and the Church of Ireland, but throughout the world – we are exploring what mission theologians call a ‘mixed economy.’

But Alison Milbank and Andrew Davison, in their study For the Parish: A Critique of Fresh Expressions (London: SCM, 2010), point out that a major flaw in this ‘mixed-economy ecclesiology’ is the danger of separating form and content, practices and belief.

There is a danger of giving priority to fashion and to individualism, and of losing sight of communion and community. There is a danger that what is fashionable today will be forgotten tomorrow. ‘The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of God will stand for ever’ (Isaiah 40: 9).

But the traditional witness, faithful life and quiet, stable and steady presence of parishes and churches like this must never be under-estimated or under-valued.

Our churches in this group of parishes stand as a constant witness, across the centuries and down the generations. Like Elizabeth and Zechariah, into their old age, these places have been faithful, steady, constant witnesses … in maintaining liturgical worship, in steady attention to the word of God, in working at loving care and hospitality.

Elizabeth and Zechariah could never see what their steady, faithful witness would lead to, and their neighbours’ response is marked by doubts and scepticism. They would never live to see the consequences of their faithfulness. Saint John the Baptist goes off into the wilderness, and is lost sight of for a while. And even when he begins his ministry, that is not what is important.

We may never fully realise what you are achieving today. But we are inviting countless, unseen generations into the light and love of God – and to see the connection between the love of God and the love of our neighbour.

As Alison Milbank and Andrew Davison point out, ‘to become a Christian is to cease to be an atomized individual but to enter the life of communion. To know God … is to love one another’ (p 133).

Like Saint John the Baptist, the presence of our four churches in this group of parishes is not to be dismissed as a presence in some sort of wilderness, is not to be dismissed because of the numbers who come or do not come here, but is a presence that constantly points to the light and love of God, and is a challenge to all around us to realise that to know God means that we must love one another.

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

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for Sunday 25 June 2017.

An icon of Saint John the Baptist by Adrienne Lord in the current icon exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Collect:

Almighty God,
by whose providence your servant John the Baptist
was wonderfully born,
and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour
by the preaching of repentance:
lead us to repent according to his preaching
and, after his example,
constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice,
and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Blessing:

God give you the grace
to share the inheritance of Saint John the Baptist and of his saints in glory:

The Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Saint John Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Villiers Almshouses: a reminder
of 19th century Limerick charities

Villiers Almshouses … endowed by Hannah Villiers and designed by the Pain brothers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

My first diocesan synod in the Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert took place today [24 June 2017] in Villiers School on the North Circular Road in Limerick.

Earlier this morning, I was discussing the original Villiers School building on Henry Street, which was designed by the Limerick-based architect James Pain. Pain and his brother George Richard Pain also designed the Villiers Almshouses, close to Thomond Bridge and overlooking the banks of the River Shannon.

Like Villiers School, the Villiers Almshouses were endowed by Hannah Villiers in her will. The Elizabethan-style building, designed by the Pain brothers, was built in 1826 in the garden of the former bishop’s palace by her trustees for the benefit of 12 ‘poor Protestant and Presbyterian widows,’ and opened in 1827.

Historically, there was a number of almshouses in the Nicholas Street and Church Street area of Limerick. They included the Corporation Almshouse, built soon after the siege of Limerick, on the site of the mediaeval Saint Nicholas’s Church.

The Villiers Almshouses stand beside Saint Munchin’s Church and churchyard and close to the former Bishop's Palace, located further north along Church Street.

This block of almshouses is made up of detached multiple-bay dormer two-storey almshouses. They form three interconnecting wings, arranged on a U-plan, with nine residences that open onto a courtyard. The end bays once housed a male and a female national school. The raised gabled centrepiece has a crenellated parapet surmounted by a limestone Tudor-style finial, and also has a clock face.

A plaque on the gable of centrepiece reads: ‘These alms houses and schools endowed by Mrs Hannah Villiers were erected by her trustees the Revd John Duddell and the Revd John Pinkerton AD 1826.’

The almshouses stand in their own secluded grounds with a garden and modern boundary railing to the west. In addition, there is a single-storey gate lodge and gateway with stout limestone piers to the south.

There are substantial remains of the city walls to the north, including the remains of two towers, that form part of the garden wall, and there is a high stone wall to the east.

Samuel Lewis described it in 1837 as ‘an asylum for 12 Protestant or Presbyterian widows, each of whom receives £24 Irish per annum; a preference is to be given to any descendant of the testatrix who may apply for admission.’

Some of the other church-related endowments that survived until at least the 19th century included an almshouse founded by the widow of Alderman Craven for poor Protestant widows. When the building was demolished, 50 widows of the parishes of Saint Mary, Saint John, and Saint Munchin were to receive £4 a year each and the remainder was to be divided at Christmas among the poor. Mrs Craven also left £60, the interest of which was distributed among ‘confined debtors and the poor of the city parishes.’

The widow of George Rose left £800 to the Dean and Chapter of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, who were to distribute the interest every Christmas equally among 16 poor widows.

Members of the Pery family left bequests for distributed funds among the poor of Saint John’s parish. Saint John’s parochial almshouse housed seven poor Protestant widows, and was supported by subscriptions and bequests from Mrs Craven, Mrs Crone and the Earl of Ranfurly.

Oher similar establishments and charities in 19th century Limerick included the Female Orphan Asylum, the Limerick Protestant Orphan Society Hallgarden of the former , the Harvergal Hall, a charitable pawn office associated with Barrington’s Hospital, an Asylum for the Blind, linked with Trinity Episcopal Church, a Magdalene Asylum, a Mendicity Association, an Institution for the Relief of Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers, a Savings Bank and the Mechanics’ Institute.

Villiers Almshouses now house old and retired people. Each resident gets his or her own flat with a kitchen, a living room and an en-suite bathroom with shower. The gardens are in pristine condition and the residents meet up most days for card games, day trips and excursions.

The buildings have been modernised but are substantially unchanged. Despite the detraction of uPVC windows, this very fine and intact block of almshouses retains much of its original architectural character.

Villiers Almshouses … built in the garden of the former bishop’s palace (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Visiting the old
and the new
at Villiers School

The former Villiers School on Henry Street, Limerick … designed by James Pain like a Palladian country villa (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Villiers School on the North Circular Road, Limerick, for most of today [24 June 2017], for the Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert diocesan synod. This is my first time to take part in a synod for this diocese, and it is also my first time to visit Villers School too.

The school was founded from the estate of Mrs Hannah Villiers in 1821, and in 1953 it moved to its present location on the Tivoli campus on the North Circular Road, less than a mile from the city centre.

But, a few weeks ago, I visited the original school buildings on Henry Street in the city centre. The school was founded for Protestant girls and endowed by Mrs Hannah Villiers in her will of 1815. In her will, she also endowed the Villiers Almshouses on Nicholas Street.

Samuel Lewis observed in 1830 that the large schools were being built, and it seems to have been completed around 1837-1839. It is said James Pain, the Limerick-based architect, designed the school building, which was built around 1830 at a cost of £3,089.18s.10d. A generation later, in the 1860s, 94 children were being educated in the school.

The school building compares favourably with the archetypal Palladian country villa, with a central corp de logi flanked by wings linked to terminating pavilions. The quality of the ashlar limestone work gives further distinction to this fine classical building on Henry Street.

The former school building consists of a five-bay, two-storey over-basement central block with a centrally-placed pedimented entrance breakfront. This is flanked by straight single-storey over basement three-bay wings that have blank recessed horizontal panels above apertures. The building comes to an end at two single-bay, single-storey pedimented pavilions with concealed basements.

When the school moved, the old building was bought by Steve Foley in July 1954 for £5,000 and became the Shannon Arms Hotel. The hotel had beautiful gardens that were described at the time as a ‘must’ for the bride and groom at weddings there. In 1974 the hotel was sold to the Kelly family and subsequently to the Ryan family.

The old school buildings on Henry Street now house offices and an apartment building. Meanwhile, the school campus on the North Circular Road has expanded in recent years as the school acquired an adjoining two acre site and two period houses, which I hope to see during a break at today’s diocesan synod.

The portico of the former Villiers School on Henry Street, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Friday, 23 June 2017

Christ Church Cathedral launches
summer icon exhibition

Dean Dermot Dunne, iconographer Adrienne Long and Canon Patrick Comerford at the launch of Christ Church Cathedral’s Icon Exhibition.

Christ Church Cathedral is offering visitors the opportunity to engage with their spirituality on a different level through its Summer Exhibition of Icons. The exhibition, which features the work of iconographer Adrienne Lord, officially opened yesterday evening, June 22, and continues until the end of September. The icons are for sale and the proceeds will be donated to charity.

The exhibition was launched by Canon Patrick Comerford, Precentor of St Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick and Priest in Charge of Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes in Limerick. Canon Comerford has a keen interest in icons.

He said that the word ‘icon’ had been demeaned in recent years – we have icons on our computers and we talk about people, such as film stars, in terms of being icons. However, he said Christ is the icon of God and the first icon is Christ. He pointed out that we do not worship icons but can be drawn into a spiritual experience by an icon.

He said there was a temptation to look at icons as idolatry but this was not the case and neither is sufficient to look at an icon as a work of art without regard for its spiritual dimension.

Canon Comerford paid tribute to Adrienne’s interpretation of the icons, which have mainly been inspired by Greek as well as some Russian icon writers. ‘These icons all give you the idea that we do not have a static relationship with God but rather a dynamic relationship with God … What you are looking at is an interpretation of art, beauty, dynamism and spirituality,’ he said adding that icon writers are among the first and last theologians because they allow us to speak about God but also to enter into a relationship with God.

The cathedral’s Dean, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne, described Adrienne Lord as a prolific icon writer and said that her work had emanated from a spiritual heart of prayer. He commended her for her generosity in donating the proceeds of the sale of her icons, over and above the cost of writing them, to charity.

A Triptych Deesis altarpiece, worth €1,000, will be raffled with the proceeds from the sale of raffle tickets going to SSPD, in Tamil Nadu, India, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation that works to improve the conditions of communities living in poverty in Tamil Nadu. The Dean encouraged everyone to buy tickets which are available at the welcome desk.

‘We are very grateful that you have chosen the cathedral as a space for this exhibition,’ he told Adrienne. ‘One of the cathedral’s biggest tasks is to transform the visitor into a pilgrim, to enable them to experience the transcendent and the divine God. It is noticeable that when visitors to the cathedral saw the exhibition last year, automatically a silence fell and a prayerful mood was created.’

The proceeds of sales made during the exhibition will go to a registered charity nominated by the purchaser. Sales of the icons on the opening night will be donated to one of four charities nominated by the artist.

Throughout the exhibition’s run there will be demonstrations by the iconographer on the last Friday of each month between 11.00 am and 1.00 pm and 2.00 pm and 4.00 pm.

This report was published this evening [23 June 2017] on the website of the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough. To read this report and to view a full photo gallery follow this link.

Unlocking the mysteries of
an old bookcase and
a forgotten hall in Limerick

The Havergal Bookcase in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … what mysteries are locked inside? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

There is a bookcase on the south side of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, close to the reception desk, that looks more like a wardrobe straight out of Narnia movie. I have no idea whether this bookcase contains any books, or what it is used for. But it contains a reminder of a well-known hymn-writer and memories of a long-lost but curious building in the heart of Limerick.

A typed and well-thumbed notice beside the bookcase says it was presented by Maria VG Havergall (sic) in 1894 in memory of her sister, Francis Ridley Havergall (sic).

Maria Vernon Graham Havergal (1821-1887) and her sister Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) were the daughters of Canon William Henry Havergal (1793-1870). Both William and Frances were well-known Victorian hymn-writers and composers, and several of their hymns are included in the Irish Church Hymnal.

Francis Havergal’s best-known hymn is ‘Take my life and let it be,’ which is No 597 in the Irish Church Hymnal.

An inscription on the right door of the bookcase refers to the Havergal Memorial Hall, a building that once stood on the corner of Glentworth Street and Baker Place in Limerick, between the former Limerick Protestant Orphan Society Hall and the former Trustee Savings Bank, close to the Tait Memorial Clock.

The Havergal Hall was later torn down and the Lyric Cinema was built on the site. The cinema in turn was razed and the site became a car park. Although there are still fading memories of the Havergal Hall, this once a prominent landmark building in Limerick.

Its story goes back to 1840, when a public meeting resolved to form the Limerick Philosophical and Literary Society, which would organise lectures and discussions and begin a public library and museum.

However, the society had problems finding suitable premises, and a meeting in May 1842 decided to raise funds for a new building.

The former Havergal Hall in the centre of Limerick

Frances Ridley Havergal, who gives her name to the bookcase in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, was born on 14 December 1836, at Astley, near Bewdley, where her father, Canon William Henry Havergal (1793-1870), had been the rector. In 1842, he became Rector of Saint Nicholas’s Parish in Worcester, and a canon of Worcester Cathedral. In August 1850, she entered Mrs Teed’s school, where her teacher’s influence was life-lasting. In the following year, at the age of 14, she says, ‘I committed my soul to the Saviour, and earth and heaven seemed brighter from that moment.’

A short stay in Germany followed, and on her return to England she was confirmed in Worcester Cathedral on 17 July 1853. In 1860, she left Worcester when her father resigned as Rector of Saint Nicholas, and became Perpetual Curate (Vicar) of Saint Mary and Saint Luke, Shareshill, a small south Staffordshire village in the Diocese of Lichfield, five or six miles south-west of Cannock, seven or eight miles south of Penkridge and six miles north of Wolverhampton. Shareshill’s Church of England primary school is called Havergal. Her hymn ‘Take my life and let it be’ has been adopted as the village school’s special hymn.

Later, she lived in Leamington, where her father died in 1870, and at Caswall Bay, Swansea, with visits to Switzerland, Scotland, and North Wales. She died at Caswall Bay, Swansea, on 3 June 1879.

Frances Havergal was a scholarly writer, with a knowledge of French, German, Italian, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. She devoted her life to hymn-writing, and while her poetry has limited qualities, much it survives because she speaks so simply and so directly of the love of God and the promise of salvation.

But she is direct too in expressing her narrow Calvinistic theological views. She had an intense dislike of Hymns Ancient and Modern, which she regarded as ‘the thin edge of Popery,’ she was strongly opposed to Roman Catholicism and she supported strident evangelical missions, including the Irish Church Missions.

Despite Havergal’s views of Hymns Ancient and Modern, her hymn ‘From glory unto glory!’ was included by William Henry Monk (1823-1899) and Charles Steggall (1826-1905) in the 1889 edition (No 485).

Her sister, Maria Vernon Graham Havergal, was 15 when Frances was born. Maria was devoted to Frances, served and encouraged her while she lived, and after she died, Maria was the diligent editor and publisher of her completed works and part of her uncompleted works, gathering, codifying, preserving Frances’s written treasure for future generations.

Writing in her autobiography about a time when she visited Ireland and walked long distances in rural areas, Maria said: ‘It became an increasing delight to me to visit the cottages, my swift walking taking me to many a lonely corner. I marvel now at my activities, and believe they sprang from love to God, and much delightful communing did I hold with the Lord Jesus on the wayside. He was more and more to me, and when my early retirement at night was smiled at, they little knew the delight of being alone with Jesus my Lord.’

As a family, the Havergals regularly visited Limerick, which William described as ‘really a handsome and spirited place. Was pleased with the cathedral. As good shops in some streets as are to be seen in England.’ He left interesting descriptions in his diary of travelling by steamer from Limerick down the Shannon – ‘a fine river, truly, far beyond the Thames or Severn’ – to Kilrush, ‘which is the Margate of the Limerick people.’

But he found the hotel where he stayed in Kilrush was ‘miserable.’ I wonder whether the hotel room had a wardrobe as splendid as the Havergal bookcase in Saint Mary’s Cathedral?

Strolling through the churchyard
beside the old church in Nantenan

Saint James’s Church, Nantenan … closed in 1972 but still standing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

On my journeys around these parishes, I sometimes stop to visit churches that were once open in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of parishes.

Last Sunday afternoon, on my way from Tarbert to Rathkeale, I stopped to visit the ruined church in Shangolden and the surrounding churchyard. Half-way between Askeaton and Rathkeale, Saint James’s Church in Nantenan still stands out in the landscape as an elegant building, although it has been closed since 1972.

Like the church in Shanagolden, Saint James’s Church in Nantenan was also linked with the Precentors of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, so it seems appropriate that this church is within my parochial boundaries.

Nantenan is about 5 km south of Askeaton on the road to Rathkeale, on the east bank of the River Deel. There was an old mediaeval church on this site, and its dedication to Saint James probably indicates that this church may have been a late Anglo-Norman church associated with an old pilgrim route.

At one time, there was a spacious green near the church, and fairs were held on the green on 10 July, 5 August and 12 November. Near the Green a well dedicated to Saint James was enclosed by ancient massive stone walls.

According to the historian of this area, Westropp, there was a church here in 1500. According to another local historian Harry Gillard, there were three different church buildings on the present site.

Very little is known of the first church. The church that was standing in 1500 is said to have been small with a thatched roof. Local people used to say that it was destroyed by fire and that part of its foundation wall can still be seen.

Saint James’s Church, Nantenan was rebuilt in 1817-1821 and in 1852 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

It was another two centuries before the next church was built at Nantenan. The present church was built early in 1817-1821, and a tablet on the wall in the porch reads ‘Enter into the courts of the Lord, Anno Domine 1821.’

The Board of First Fruits granted a loan of £800 towards building a new parish church, which was built or rebuilt the Early English style on the site of an earlier church. The architect’s name is unknown. In 1852, the interior was remodelled, with Joseph Welland, giving it is present appearance, while retaining the west tower.

Peering inside Saint James’s Church, Nantenan … closed in 1972 but still standing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The church is built in the Early English style, and many of the original features and materials survive, including the slate roof and the limestone copings. The church includes a four-bay nave, a chancel at the east end, a vestry to the north and a three-stage, square, embattled tower to the west, surmounted by an octagonal spire, and there is a lean-to at the north side. The tower is enhanced by the finely carved, decorative pinnacles and crenellations.

There are pointed arch openings throughout the building, tripartite Y-tracery quarry glazed windows and lancet openings to the nave, west elevation and tower.

The detailed features of the church illustrate high quality craftsmanship. This can be seen particularly in the ornate timber windows, the stone dressings and the carved entrance piers.

Heraldic details on a gravestone in the churchyard at Nantenan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

There was once a parochial school with about 30 children, and it supported mainly by Lord Southwell and the rector.

The sexton’s house to the south, the carved headstones in the surrounding churchyard, many with heraldic details, and the barrel-vaulted tombs contribute to making this an interesting site.

The graves include those of Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic families in the parish, as well as some of the original Palatine families. Headstones of note include one in memory of the Revd Thomas Royce of Nantenan House, who died in 1747, aged 43, and a headstone dating from 10 July 1777, in memory of John Welesh, aged 22 years.

Nantenan was a rectory and perpetual curacy in the Diocese of Limerick. The rectory was united from an early date with the rectories and vicarages of Kilfenny and Loughill, the rectories of Shanagolden, Knocknegaul, and Dromdeely, and the vicarage of Morgans. They formed the corps of the Precentorship of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

Because the Precentors of Limerick were the Rectors of Nantenan until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, the church in Nantenan was served by curates and perpetual curates or vicars until 1873, when the Revd John Armour Haydn was appointed Rector of Nantenan.

In 1918, Nantenan was united with Rathkeale parish, and they were both united with Ballingarry and Rathronan in 1958. The church was in use until it closed in 1972.

Until disestablishment, the Precentors of Limerick were also the Rectors of Nantenan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Thursday, 22 June 2017

A summer exhibition of icons
in Christ Church Cathedral

‘The Transfiguration’ by Adrienne Lord, inspired by Theophanes of Crete, in the exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (© Adrienne Lord, 2015, 2017)

Patrick Comerford,

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin,

23 June 2017,

7 p.m., Opening of Exhibition of Icons by Adrienne Lord.


It is a particular, personal pleasure to be invited back to Christ Church Cathedral this evening, having been a canon of this cathedral for ten years before going to Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, as Precentor earlier this year.

Icons have been at the heart of my own spiritual life and journey for three decades, and I am familiar with many of the icons in Crete and on Mount Athos that we are being invited to see, and to engage with, this evening.

However, the word icon is much misused today. Apart from its use in computers and technology – where an icon can be a pictogram used in a graphical user interface, or a high-level programming language – how often do we hear of someone being described as a ‘style icon,’ a ‘movie icon’ or even a ‘political icon’?

And when they come face-to-face with icons, many people often misunderstood their role and purpose. At one end, there is extreme Protestant position that fails to understand the Biblical rootedness of praying with icons, and on the other hand there are these who see them merely as works of art that are pretty or decorative, without appreciating their spiritual role and value.

The Apostle Paul uses the word icon when he describes Christ as the ‘image of the invisible God’ (Colossians 1: 15). We might translate Saint Paul’s original Greek, ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου, πρωτότοκος πάσης κτίσεως as saying Christ ‘is the image [or the icon] of the invisible God.’ In this sense, Christ himself is an icon, indeed is the first icon.

As people, we are also made in God’s image, and so we too are living icons of God.

Saint John of Damascus dismisses anyone who seeks to destroy icons as ‘the enemy of Christ, the Holy Mother of God and the saints, and is the defender of the Devil and his demons.’ This is because the theology of icons is part and parcel of the incarnational theology of the humanity and divinity of Christ, so that attacks on icons have the effect of undermining or attacking the Incarnation of Christ himself as taught by the Ecumenical Councils.

Among the Cappadocian Fathers, Saint Basil of Caesarea, in his On the Holy Spirit, writes: ‘The honour paid to the image passes to the prototype.’

In Eastern Orthodox practice, to kiss an icon of Christ, for example, is to show love towards Christ himself, not the mere wood and paint that have gone into making or writing the icon. Or, as Sister Wendy Beckett says on some of your invitations, ‘Contemplating the icon, with faith and love, draws us out of our material world and into that divine world to which we will only have access after death.’

Icons are not a fashion in art, to attend to today and to move on to other expressions tomorrow. Thirty years ago, as I attempted to ‘buy’ my first icon in Crete, I felt the iconographer Andreas Theodorakis, who had been trained in Stavronikita, was less than co-operative. If I wanted to buy a souvenir icon, there were plant of cheap reproductions available in the tourist shopping streets of Rethymnon.

His icons were, first and last, works of prayer. And so too, with these icons by Adrienne Lord. Which makes it so appropriate that we are viewing her icons in a church setting, and not, as so often happens, as works of art among others.

During many years now, this cathedral has been to the fore in the Anglican theological and liturgical recovery of the tradition of icons and iconography.

Since 2003, the Lady Chapel has collection of icons written by the Romanian icon-writer, Mihai Cucu, who is well-known in Ireland. These icons were presented to the cathedral by choir member Dan Apalaghie and his family.

In 2009, Christ Church hosted the challenging exhibition of ‘Icons in Transformation’ by Ludmilla Pawlowska. That year too, the Dean commissioned the Romanian icon-writer Georgetta Simion to produce an icon of the Trinity, inspired by Andrei Rublev’s ‘Visitation of Abraham,’ and now an important part of the spiritual life of the cathedral.

‘The Holy Trinity’ by Adrienne Lord, inspired by Andrei Rublev’s ‘Visitation of Abraham’ (© Adrienne Lord, 2015, 2017)

It is inevitable then, I suppose, that Adrienne should include in this present exhibition two works inspired by icons by Andrei Rublev in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow: ‘The Holy Trinity,’ of course, and ‘The Virgin of Vladimir.’

Two years ago [2015], Adrienne organised an exhibition here that also included icons by Philip Brennan, Maureen Quinn and Patrick McMacken. Since then, her icon of Saint George the Dragon-Slayer, inspired by an icon in Moscow, has attracted considerable attention in the south ambulatory. And so, it is wonderful to see her back with her own solo exhibition, which includes this icon of Saint George.

It is worth seeing how she works so devotedly and with such care by looking at her YouTube video on the step-by-step process of writing Saint George the Dragon Slayer:



Adrienne is based in Dublin and practised as an architect before qualifying with a degree in Fine Art Painting from NCAD in 2001. In 2008, she started writing icons with Eva Vlaviano and Dick Sinclair as her tutors, working in the Greek Byzantine tradition of tempera and gold leaf.

Over the last few years, she has travelled to Crete and Russia for her research, so this exhibition also contains Icons from these countries.

The influence of traditional iconography on Western art is reflected in her icon of ‘The Blue Crucifix,’ inspired by a well-known processional cross by the Master of the Blue Crucifixes, who worked in the mid-13th century and who is associated with the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi.

But Adrienne’s work here is primarily continuing in the tradition of the great Greek Byzantine, Greek and especially Cretan icon-writers, that has been strongly influenced by Theophanes the Cretan (Θεοφάνης ο Κρης). He was a leading icon writer of the Cretan School in the first half of the 16th century, and the most important figure in Greek icon-writing at that time.

He was born in Iraklion and worked from about 1527 to 1548, in mainland Greece rather than in Crete, and he trained his sons and several pupils, many from Crete. Theophanes and his sons Symeon and Neophytos become monks on Mount Athos, but Theophanes eventually returned to Crete, where he died in 1559. Many of his works are found in monasteries on the Holy Mountain, and many of these were only seen for the first time by the outside world at the exhibition, ‘Treasures of Mount Athos,’ in Thessaloniki in 1997.

Adrienne’s inspiration by Theophanes and his sons can be seen in her icons of ‘The Annunciation,’ ‘The Archangel Michael,’ ‘The Archangel Gabriel’ and ‘The Transfiguration.’

This icon of the Transfiguration, part of which you can see on many of your invitation cards, is a very good example of how an icon works.

This is an icon of movement, an icon of past present and future. It shows Christ leading the apostles Peter, James and John up the mountain of the Transfiguration before the event; it shows them dazzled, afraid, at the moment of the Transfiguration; and it shows them being led back down the mountainside by Christ afterwards.

In other words, it is an invitation at this very moment in time into the eternal experience of the Transfiguration and of being Transfigured ourselves, to move from the present into eternity.

Two other icon writer from Crete, Andreas Ritzos (1421-1492) and Mikhail Damaskinos, have also been an inspiration for Adrienne, including ‘Saint John leaning on Christ’s Bosom’ and ‘The Archangel Michael.’ Damaskinos was the teacher of El Greco in Iraklion, and so there is a direct connection in these icons these evening between Saint Catherine’s on Mount Sinai, with icon writers in Crete, and through El Greco and his work in Spain with western art that connects right through to Picasso.

As well as the Mountain of the Transfiguration, two other mountains figure in Adrienne’s work – Mount Athos and Mount Sinai – and there are works inspired by icons in Jordan, Russia.

‘Christ Pantocrator’ by Adrienne Lord, inspired by an icon in Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai (© Adrienne Lord, 2015, 2017)

The icon of Christ Pantocrator in the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai is one of the earliest icons we have, and perhaps our earliest image of Christ. Adrienne’s striking interpretation of this icon shows how this sixth century icon in Egypt speaks to us directly and comfortingly today.

Saturday [24 June 2017] is the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist. So, I would like to draw your attention this evening to her icon of Saint John the Baptist (24x18, not for sale). This is inspired by a detail on an early 13th century Deesis in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, showing Christ with the Virgin Mary on one side and Saint John the Baptist on the other.

This icon is not for sale, but if you would like to see how an icon writer works then look at the five photographs detailing the process of writing this icon in 2015 that Adrienne has posted on Facebook.

But look too at the whole collection of icons this evening. There are images of modern-day, 19th and 20th century Russian saints, including Saint Sergius of Radonezh and Saint Tikhon.

Her ‘Triptych,’ inspired by the 15th century Deesis, by Angelos in the Holy Monastery of Viannos in Petra, Jordan, could attract a price tag of €1,000, but is being raffled. Tickets are on sale and the funds raised at this the raffle will help the work of SPPD, an NGO in India working with communities living in poverty in Tamil Nadu.

The proceeds of sales made during the exhibition are going to a registered charity nominated by the purchaser. Sales of the icons on the opening night will be donated to one of four charities nominated by the artist.

‘Saint John the Baptist’ by Adrienne Lord (© Adrienne Lord, 2015, 2017)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick was speaking Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, at the launch of the summer exhibition of icons following a service of choral evensong on 22 June 2017. The exhibition continues until the end of September and there are demonstrations by the artist on the last Friday of each month from 11 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 4 pm.

Copyright notice: the icons in this posting are from the exhibition in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. All images are copyrighted by the artist, Adrienne Lord), and cannot be reproduced for commercial use without the artist’s permission.


Catching the conman who
claims the non-existent thrones
of Montenegro and Macedonia

Pamela Anderson kneels before the self-styled Prince of Montenegro and Macedonia

Patrick Comerford

Two week ago, I wrote about walking around the churchyard at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and how I came stumbled across the simple and humble grave of Prince Milo of Montenegro, facing the great west door of the cathedral and looking out onto the banks of the River Shannon.

Prince Milo Petrović-Njegoš (1889-1978) was a prince of Montenegro and was a direct descendant of Radul Petrović, brother of Danilo I (1670-1735), the first Vladika or Prince-Bishop of Montenegro from 1696. After a life of exile in Italy, Shanghai and California, he eventually settled in Ireland, and died in Barrington’s Hospital in Limerick in 1978.

Prince Milo never realised his dream of restoring the Monenegrin throne, which was abolished in 1918. But now, almost a century after the fall of the royal house of Montenegro, newspapers around the world have been reporting in recent days on the arrest of a 57-year-old Italian conman who has been charged with fraud and forgery after posing for years as a member of the Royal Family of Montenegro.

The man, whose real identity has not yet been revealed, calls himself ‘His Imperial and Royal Highness Stefan Cernetic, Hereditary Prince of Montenegro, Serbia and Albania,’ and claims to be a descendant of the Emperor Constantine, and the head of the royal family of Montenegro.

He is such a convincing conman that he has hoodwinked and fooled many royals and celebrities. He travelled across Europe in a luxury black Mercedes flying Montenegrin flags and fake royal insignia, and stayed in luxury hotels, free of charge.

To make his claims even more credible, Cernetic set up a website and several social media accounts, where he regularly posts photographs of himself alongside known royals, like Prince Albert of Monaco, and members of famous aristocratic families, like Savoy, Hapsburg and Hohenzollern.

The website that fronts an elaborate hoax

On his website, Cernetic describes himself as ‘the head of the family that ruled Montenegro, Albania and Serbia from the XIV century to the second half of the XVIII century,’ and has published family trees, photographs and illustrations of medals, seals, coats of arms and ‘legal rulings.’

It all looks impressive until you start reading some of the meaningless babble, such as this paragraph:

His Royal and Imperial Highness, as descendant of S. Constantine the Great and of the Emperor of Constantinople Angelo, Comneno, Ducas, Paleologo, Lascaris, Vatatze is holder and guardian of the heraldic knightly heritage of his House and as such fons honorum, precious evidence of a glorious past, that is alive and propelled to the future, carrying on values without wich (sic) the present has not roots.

If that reads like nonsense, then it is not surprising that Italian police who have been investigating him for more than a year, say his claims are all just ‘nonsense.’

Yet this man’s elaborate charade has been effective for many years. He attends receptions organised by real royal families and pretenders. Earlier this month, he shared a table with Princess Irena of Greece and Denmark, in Athens. He has met bishops in the Vatican, patriarchs in their palaces, and attended lavish parties on yachts.

The mayor of Monopoli in Italy, Emilio Morani, has hosted a reception in his honour, and he managed to get Baywatch star Pamela Anderson to kneel before him two years ago as he bestowed on her the title of ‘countess’ in a solemn ceremony. The Hollywood actress was also named ‘Great Lady of Montenegro’ and her children received the title of knights.

He bestows ‘the nobility titles of Noble, Hereditary Knight, Baron, Viscount, Count, Marquis, Duke, Prince’ to anyone who is silly enough to pay for them. He also doles out five different Chivalric Orders to anyone who is naive enough to pay for them: the Imperial Equestrian Order of Saint Hubert; the Imperial Orthodox Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem; the Dynastic Equestrian Order of Merit ‘Goldener Doppeladler’ (Golden Double Eagle), the Imperial House Cernetic; the Angelico Sacro Imperiale Equestrian Order of Saint George Orthodox Constantinian; and the Cernetic Imperial Order.

It is curious that orders that claim to be Orthodox use Latin lettering on their insignia. But this is probably a minor title for those eager to buy baubles to wear to the ball.

He claims his ‘official residence’ is in Belgrade, some of his Facebook accounts indicate he lives in Monte Carlo, but he seems to spend most of his time in Italy.

His self-styled Highness appointed an honorary consul who travelled around Europe as his royal ambassador. But Maurice Andreoli is a total fake too.

After his arrest Italian police revealed the ‘prince’ is not from the Balkans, but from Trieste and his parents are Italian. He was being paid to attend public events and even had his own brand of wine in Tuscany.

But the royal house of cards began to tumble down last year. While he was staying in the luxurious Italian resort of Fasano, he instructed the hotel to forward his bill to the Macedonian embassy. It was reported that a terse reply came back: ‘Do not send us the bills, we don’t have a prince, and we certainly don’t share one with Montenegro.’

Confusing Macedonia and Montenegro is a laughing matter even in table quizzes in pubs. Confusing them when you are trying to avoid paying your hotel bill and claiming royal status is beyond belief.

Italian police raided the homes of the fake prince and his ambassador, and found several fake titles and awards, diplomatic permits and a royal seal.

His arrest was widely reported last weekend. But by Monday, he was on his way from Milan to Rome by fast train, boasting he was travelling with ‘diplomatic discount’ and ‘Club Class’ Italo. He was in Monte Carlo by Tuesday, it would appear from his Facebook page.

Has he managed to get away with it?

Stefan Cernetic, if that is his name, is not a member of any royal or imperial house, and certainly not the head of one. He has no connections to the royal houses of Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania or anywhere else. The titles and orders he bestows are as bogus as his claims.

A set of claims phrased in true Ruritanian style

On some of the parchments handed out with his gongs he describes himself in true Ruritanian style as ‘His Imperial and Royal Highness Prince Stephan Tcherneitch, By the Grace of God, Head of the Imperial and Royal House and Rightful Dynastic Heir to the Historical Crowns of Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia, Dalmatia, Illyria, Romania, Greece, &c.

That must come as news to the people of Greece, who decided democratically to reject all royalty in 1974, and are still disturbed by another would-be-king who is waiting in the wings.

The ‘&c’ is a little worrying, that I would worry too much about this claimant. If the Macedonian and Montegrin embassies are sending back his hotel bills, is he going to start forwarding them to the Irish embassy in Rome? Perhaps the ‘&c’ may even refer to Royal Meath and the Kingdom of Kerry. Who knows?

Everyone knows Macedonia has no royal family waiting in the wings to accede a throne if the electorate is ever barmy enough to want a king. Count Gyula Cseszneky, a Hungarian-Croatian aristocrat who collaborated with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, was proclaimed Grand Voivode or Grand Duke of Macedonia but reigned for less than two months in August and September 1943. In fact, the former Yugoslav republic only started calling itself Macedonia in recent years, much to the chagrin of the majority of people in Greece. It has only existed as a state since 1991, and when it was part of Yugoslavia, it was also known as Vardar Banovina.

The last king of Croatia, Tomislav II, was an Italian prince who collaborated with Nazi Germany. He became king at the request of Ante Pavelić, the leader of the fascist Ustaše movement in Croatia.

Montenegro, Serbia and Albania have living pretenders who continue to claim they are the rightful royals in those Balkan nations. But Montenegro has not had a royal family since 1918. Nikola II Petrović-Njegoš is the current head of the House of Petrović-Njegoš, making him, in royalist eyes, the true pretender to the throne of Montenegro. He is a second cousin once removed of Alexander II Karađorđević, the current head of the House of Karađorđević and the man who wants to recognised as King of Serbia. Leka II of Albania is the current head of the House of Zogu, the royal house of Albania. He is the grandson of King Zog I and currently works for the Albanian Foreign Ministry.

Someone, someone must be wondering whether Prince Milo is turning in his grave in Limerick.

Prince Milo’s humble gravestone in the churchyard at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)