Thursday, 30 November 2017

Santorini’s churches point to the
difference between Aldi and Lidl

The image of Santorini that Aldi uses on their supermarket shelves … a stark contrast with their rivals Lidl (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

It is said that wherever Aldi goes, Lidl follows, and that wherever Lidl goes, Aldi is sure to follow.

So often I find it difficult to figure out which is which that I cannot figure out whether I am Aldied or Lidled.

But I have watched them follow each other as they open one supermarket after the other in similar venues, in Ireland, in England, and in Greece. Now I see that they are taking their shared competitive streak to the US.

The difference between the two, and the experience many of us have shared when we go shopping in these two German-based supermarkets is told by my former Irish Times colleague Mickey McConnell in The Ballad of Lidl & Aldi, recorded recently in John B Keane’s Bar in Listowel, Co Kerry:



But there is one place Aldi is not following Lidl – in their depictions of Santorini, which is unrivalled as the most photographed island in Greece and is the face of Greece to the rest of the world.

The island’s cubist white buildings, its pastel coloured doors and windows and the blue domes of its churches are the basic ingredients of picture-postcard Greece. Those blue domes complement the blue skies and blue seas that decorate so many postcards, calendars, coasters, fridge magnets and CDs that tourists bring home with them.

They are sometimes the first images that captivate potential visitors when they are dreaming about and planning a package holiday in Greece. And when those tourists return home, these calendars and posters decorate their homes as a reminder to return again.

In the rectory in Askeaton, I have a number of prints of photographs by Georges Meis, whose work in Santorini is celebrated in so many of those calendars, posters and coffee table books.

In Dublin, I have prints of two paintings by the artist Manolis Sivridakis that continue to remind me of all the sounds, sights, tastes, smells and thoughts of a sunny Sunday afternoon in Santorini almost 30 years ago.

The other ways lingering memories of a summer holiday on a Greek island holiday are brought back to life for wistful tourists include listening to those CDs – and finding Greek food on the supermarket shelves.

I have a small block of Feta cheese from Greece in the fridge in the Rectory at the moment. I say at the moment, because now that I have found it it’s not going to stay there for very long.

This is not Greek-style Feta, as you get in many supermarkets, but real Greek Feta, produced in Greece, using sheep and goat’s milk, under the Emporium brand name.

The label shows a blue domed church in Santorini, with the crater of the volcano and the blue Greek sea and sky in the background.

But there is something that makes this label very different from the labels in the Lidl Eridanous range.

Churches and domes without crosses ... airbrushed images of Santorini seen recently on my kitchen shelves and in my fridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Eridanous range in Lidl is also packaged and marketed with those white cubist buildings and blue domes that instantly transport you back from the grey days of winter in Ireland to the blue-and-white days of summer in Greece.

Prominent in all of those packaging images – on tins, bags and cardboard packages – is the dome of the Anastasis Church, the most photographed church and the most photographed building on the island of Santorini.

The problem, though, is that Lidl airbrushed the cross from the dome of the church. I wrote a few weeks ago about how Lidl had eliminated all crosses and transformed the landscape of Santorini on its packaging, claiming it wants to remain ‘religiously neutral.’ Greek history, culture and landscape had been airbrushed away by the very people who claim they are marketing a taste of authentic Greek living.

Unlike Lidl, however, Aldi has kept the cross on the dome of the church in Santorini in its packaging and labelling of Greek food in the Emporium range.

The image of Santorini that Lidl does not want you to see on their supermarket shelves

Despite an outcry a few months ago, the Eridanous range, including Greek olive oil, honey, moussaka, honey, yogurt, gyros, butter beans and pastry swirls, remains on shelves in Lidl outlets in Ireland in their photo-shopped packaging.

And so, I now know the difference between Aldi and Lidl and the differences between their branding of Greek foods.



Does the Church clock stand for
those who die on our city streets?

The Church clock stands at ten to three … the Church of Saint Andrew and Saint Mary in Grantchester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In his poem ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester,’ the Cambridge war poet asked:

Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? … oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?


In these lines, Rupert Brooke celebrates a place that first became popular in 1897, when a group of Cambridge students persuaded the owner of Orchard House to serve them tea in its apple orchard.

The poet later moved next door to the Old Vicarage in Grantchester, and while he was in Berlin in 1912, he wrote of his homesickness in this poem. The church close to the Orchard is the Church of Saint Andrew and Saint Mary.

Today [30 November] is the Feast of Saint Andrew’s Day, and Saint Andrew is linked with both Advent, the beginning of the Church Year, and with the Mission of the Church, because Saint Andrew is the first-called of the Apostles and the patron saint of mission work.

Without mission there is no church, and without discipleship how can people live in the Advent hope, be prepared for the coming of Christ?

Last week, at my meetings in London and Birmingham with trustees, staff and volunteers from the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and throughout my work with over the decades with mission agencies, I have constantly asked about the link between mission and the Church. Which came first, the chicken or the egg, church or mission?

Saint Andrew may not have realised that he was preparing for the coming of Christ. He was a fisherman, working the Lake of Galilee with his brother Simon Peter. But he was a disciple of Saint John the Baptist, and as we are reminded in the Advent readings, Saint John the Baptist was the forerunner, the one who prepared the way for the coming of Christ.

In hearing the call of Christ to follow him in the Fourth Gospel, Saint Andrew hesitated for a moment, not because he had any doubts about his call, but because he wanted to bring his brother with him. Recognising his duty to bring others to Christ, he went to Peter and told him: ‘We have found the Messiah … [and] he brought Simon to Jesus’ (John 1: 41, 42).

Saint Andrew left behind the nets of yesterday. Getting caught up in the minutiae of commercial life and shopping the other day, I see they are selling cinnamon-flavoured hot cross buns – not just before Lent, but even before Advent.

Hot cross buns! At this time of the year? Hot cross buns with a sell-by and best-before date of yesterday, 29 November.

And yet there is a direct connection. In the end, this first Apostle’s life reached its climax when he met his death through crucifixion. He may have left behind no Gospel or Epistles, but Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, literally took up his cross and followed Christ. And he called others to do the same.

Christmas is meaningless without looking forward to the Cross and the Resurrection. Mission and Church must always go together. And this morning Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, reminds us of this.

Twice during my strolls through London this year, in May [11 May 2017] and again last week [23 November 2017], between Liverpool Street Station and the USPG offices in Southwark, I have visited the Church of Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe on Queen Victoria Street, one of the Wren churches in London and just two blocks south of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

Watching the news reports last night of people who have died in the winter cold on the streets of Dublin this week, I was reminded of how the Church of Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe offers this prayer for people who have no shelter on the streets of London:

God of compassion,
your love for humanity was revealed in Jesus,
whose earthly life began in the poverty of a stable
and ended in the pain and isolation of the cross:
we hold before you those who are homeless and cold
especially in this bitter weather.
Draw near and comfort them in spirit
and bless those who work to provide them with shelter, food and friendship.
We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 19: 1-6; Romans 10: 12-18; Matthew 4: 18-22.

The cloister-like colonnade on the north side of the former Saint Andrew’s Church in Suffolk Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Two reminders of past
agricultural practices on
the edges of Askeaton

The gates into Inchirourke House have stood at the top of Barracks Lane in Askeaton for over 200 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

On my way back from photographing the former Barracks and Dispensary in Askeaton yesterday afternoon, I noticed two other items of architectural interest that illustrate the way in which many architectural treasures that illustrate Askeaton’s past are often hidden from public view.

The gates that mark the entrance into Inchirourke House, for generations the home of the O’Grady family, have stood at the top of Barracks Lane for over 200 years.

This pair of square-profile limestone gates was erected about 1800. The piers have carved plinths, recessed panels and carved caps, with double-leaf spear-headed cast-iron gates.

These ornate piers and gates are built solidly, and the finely carved piers are typical of 19th-century craftsmanship.

The piers are especially worth noting because they retain their original cast-iron gates.

The ruins of a rubble limestone limekiln near the gates into Inchirourke House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

To the west of these gates, above the banks of the River Deel, the ruins of a rubble limestone limekiln date from about the same time as the gates.

The kiln was built about 1800 and was set into a natural slope in the field. It is now in disuse, but it is still possible in the fading light of the evening to pick out the coursed rubble walls and the elliptical-arched opening on the front or north side, with its brick voussoirs.

Kilns of this sort were once a common part of small-scale farming in Ireland. They were used to burn limestone to create quicklime for the surrounding fields to increase the alkalinity of the soil.

Limekilns represent agricultural traditions that are now lost, but this kiln is also an example of the quality of engineering and craftsmanship in the early 19th century.

Looking north onto Barracks Lane from the Barracks and the gates into Inchirourke House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The former Barracks in
Askeaton is in a secluded
but strategic location

The former Barracks played an interesting role in the history and social development of Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

After two busy weeks that included four or five days visiting Bologna, Ravenna, Rimini and San Marino, and some working days in London, Lichfield and Birmingham, I have been back in Askeaton, Co Limerick, since the weekend.

These are busy days, preparing for Advent and Christmas. But there are also beautiful, crisp winter days, with clear blue skies and low setting suns that create days that are as bright as summer.

They are good days for walking, and yesterday afternoon I strolled up Barrack Lane, behind East Square in Askeaton, to see the former barracks and dispensary, a building that is over 200 years old and an interesting example of Askeaton’s pre-Victorian architecture.

The Barracks is within walking distance of the shops, schools, and pubs in Askeaton, standing on an elevated site above the east bank of the River Deel. Yet it is in a part-hidden and almost secluded rural environment off Barrack Lane. This house has played a role in the history and social development of this part of Co Limerick as a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks.

The Barracks stands on a secluded but elevated site above the castle and the town (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Barracks stands on an elevated but discreetly secluded site that once provided the police with a tactical location, giving them clear views across to the castle and above the town.

This detached, five-bay, two-storey former dispensary, was built around 1810. It has a two-bay two-storey extension with a two-bay two-storey lean-to and separate entrance at the west side and a porch at the front or north elevation.

The ornate porch has rubble limestone castellations (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The simple façade, which is typical of functional buildings like this, is enhanced by the ornate porch, and the rubble limestone castellations on the porch that add to the curiosity value of the house. The house still retains many of its original features, including the timber sash windows, the slate roof and the boundary walls.

The house has a pitched slate roof with rendered chimneystacks, and the lean-to has a flat roof. There are rendered walls and the square-headed openings have bipartite one-over-one pane timber sliding sash windows and painted stone sills.

The rubble limestone boundary walls have rubble cappings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The rubble limestone boundary walls have rubble cappings, and there is a single-leaf cast-iron gate on the west side at the front of the house.

Today, this house is regarded as having regional architectural, historic and social importance. In recent decades, it has been converted into four separate apartments and there are two on the market available to rent at the moment.

The Barracks and its cast-iron gate seen from the west side (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

An old curiosity shop in
a curious Victorian school
building in Lichfield

The Lichfield Antiques Centre is based in a Grade II Victorian former schoolhouse designed by Thomas Johnson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Lichfield Antiques Centre is based in a charming and picturesque Grade II Victorian building by Minster Pool, under the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral. The former Saint Mary’s Infant School on Minster Pool Walk was first built as the Lichfield Diocesan Training School and Commercial School in 1840, and is an important work by the Lichfield architect Thomas Johnson.

The school was used by Saint Mary’s Schools from 1863-1981 and by Lichfield Cathedral School until 1989.

This was first built as the Diocesan Training School for Masters and Commercial School.

The diocesan board of education established the training and commercial schools for boys in 1839 in a rented house on the corner of Bird Street and Pool Walk. In 1840 it bought the adjoining house in Bird Street and built a single-storeyed schoolhouse in an Elizabethan style behind the second house to the design of the Lichfield architect Thomas Johnson.

The new institution was intended for the sons of farmers and tradesmen. The curriculum of the commercial school, mainly for day boys, included book keeping and technical drawing. The staff also trained teachers for national and commercial schools. They were boarders who received teaching practice at local schools.

The commercial school had over 60 pupils in 1840. In 1842 there were 42, of whom six were boarders. However, it seems that school was wound up in the late 1840s, possibly to provide more room for the teacher training school.

At first, the training school found it difficult to attract pupils, and only 14 enrolled in the first three years. Throughout the 1840s and the 1850s there were 20 or more trainees, and at first the students were trained for national schools.

In 1858, the Bishop of Lichfield, John Lonsdale (1788-1867), decided the training school’s main function was to produce village schoolmasters. But new regulations and financial problems eventually led to the closure of the school in 1863.

When the school closed, Johnson’s schoolhouse of 1840 was handed over to Saint Mary’s girls’ and infants’ school.

The story of Saint Mary’s School dates back to 1825, when subscriptions were raised to open an infants’ school in a new schoolroom in Sandford Street, west of Trunkfield Brook. The school was still there in 1834, but probably closed when the former parish workhouse, further east along Sandford Street, was converted into a parochial school for Saint Mary’s around 1841.

At the time, the Vicar of Saint Mary’s was the Revd Henry Gylby Lonsdale (1791-1851) who was living at Lyncroft House, now the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on Stafford Road. His brother, Bishop John Lonsdale (1788-1867), was also the founder of Lichfield Theological College, a supporter of the abolitionist Wilberforce and a friend of the radical theologian FD Maurice.

At first, the new school admitted girls and infants, but boys were attending by 1844. In 1851, there were schools for boys, girls and infants, with one male and two femal teachers and over 200 children.

By 1860, the schools were for girls and infants only once again. Three years later, the teachers and children moved in 1863 to the schoolroom of the former diocesan training school at Minster Pool Walk.

By the end of the 1860s, more than 200 children were at the school, and a new classroom was added in 1869. As numbers continued to rise, the infants were moved to a new school in Wade Street in 1876. Saint Mary’s infants’ school in Wade Street closed in 1913, and the children were moved to the new Central School on Frog Lane.

Meanwhile, by the mid-1900s, school attendance in Pool Walk was over 170 and the building was overcrowded once more. In 1913, Pool Walk became a higher standard girls’ school. In 1921, the girls were moved to the Central School on Frog Lane, which became a mixed school and later became Lichfield Church of England Secondary School. In 1964, the 350 pupils were transferred to the new Nether Stowe school and the school on Frog Lane was closed.

When the girls moved out in 1921, the school at Pool Walk became an infants’ school. This infants’ school took controlled status in 1951 and was closed in 1981. The building was then used by Lichfield Cathedral School from 1981 to 1989.

The Lichfield Antiques Centre opened in the former school in 2010 and was featured on a recent programme in the BBC series, the Antiques Road Trip.

The former school on Pool Walk is built of brick with buff brick diapering and ashlar dressings. There is a slate roof with a brick end-stack.

The school building is a single storey, four-window range with a cross wing. There is an ashlar sill course and a coped gable with kneelers. The double-chamfered cross-mullioned windows have small-paned glazing, mostly of elongated octagons and squares, and plate glass opening light.

The wing has a similar four-light transomed window, and the roundel above has an enriched iron grille above. The left return has a coped gable with a finial over two windows. Rear has simpler details. There is a lateral stack and a small gabled wing to the rear, and the archway to area has a plank door.

The architect Thomas Johnson (1794-1853) lived at Davidson House at 67 Upper Saint John Street, from 1834 until his death in 1853.

Johnson trained as a pupil of the Lichfield architect Joseph Potter (1756–1842) and was influenced by his method. Potter, who had a large practice in Staffordshire and the neighbouring counties in the late 18th and early 19th century, lived in Pipehill, south-west of Lichfield, but had his office in Saint John Street. Apart from restorations to Lichfield Cathedral, his work included Newton’s College (1800-1802), the Causeway Bridge, Bird Street (1816), Freeford Hall, which he enlarged for William Dyott (1826-1827), and Holy Cross Church, Upper John Street (1835), and his son designed the Guildhall (1846-1848).

By 1814, the Potter practice was run from a house on the north side of Saint John’s Hospital. Later it was continued by his son, Joseph Potter, who died in 1875.

Meanwhile, Thomas Johnson went on to work as a junior partner with the prolific Staffordshire architect James Trubshaw (1777-1853) of Little Haywood, near Colwich. Soon, Johnson married Trubshaw’s eldest daughter Mary.

In 1828, Johnson and Potter worked on the nave of Saint Mary’s Church in Uttoxeter. But a year later, in 1829, Johnson set up his own practice as an architect in Tamworth Street, Lichfield, and he continued to design churches, including the very large Saint James’s in Longton (1832-1834). By 1834, he was living in the house that later became Davidson House in Upper Saint John Street.

In 1840, Johnson designed the Lichfield Diocesan Training School and Commercial School at Pool Walk.

Around this time, he came under the influence of the Cambridge Camden Society, which was strongly influenced by AWN Pugin. The early members included Canon James Law, a prebendary and chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral and a former Master of Saint John’s Hospital (1821-1826).

Both Law and Johnson were founding members of the Lichfield Society for the Encouragement of Ecclesiastical Architecture in 1841, and both were active committee members. Canon William Gresley (1801-1876) of Saint Mary’s, a leading Tractarian, was the first chairman, and the committee met in Canon Law’s house in Market Street.

In 1841, Johnson also began working on the restoration of Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield, and he did further work there in 1848-1849.

In 1842-1843, he worked with the London-born architect Sydney Smirke, who also designed the Hinkley family home at Beacon Place, in the controversial restoration of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield. During that work, the original memorial stone commissioned by Samuel Johnson for his family was removed as Saint Michael’s was repaved, and much of the mediaeval fabric of the church was lost. But Johnson’s restoration work is a remarkable example of the strong influence of Pugin’s ideas on his work, and the historian of Staffordshire Gothic architecture, the Revd Michael J Fisher, says it is a surprisingly god example of Gothic for its time.

In 1844-1845, Johnson designed Saint Mary’s Church, Great Wyrley, two miles south of Cannock, in the Gothic style. In 1846, Johnson completed his rebuilding of All Saints’ Church, Leigh, two miles off the A522 between Cheadle and Uttoxeter.

Johnson was also the architect of Christ Church, Lichfield, which was built in 1846-1847 on Christchurch Lane, just off Walsall Road. The church was designed in the Victorian Gothic Revival style and was consecrated on 26 October 1847 by Bishop John Lonsdale.

Johnson’s other works in Lichfield include a wing, school room and front wall built ca 1849 at the former Lichfield Grammar School on Saint John Street. At the same time, he also designed the railway bridge crossing Upper Saint John Street, which I described in the Lichfield Gazette in 2013, and the Corn Exchange in Conduit Street, which opened in 1850.

When Thomas Johnson died in 1853, he was succeeded by his son, also Thomas Johnson, who died in 1865, and the work of the two sons is sometimes confused.

Today, the Lichfield Antiques Centre holds a wide range of vintage, antique, retro, collectable and period items from over 60 specialist dealers.

The Lichfield Antiques Centre is at Saint Mary's Old School, Minster Pool Walk, Lichfield WS13 6QT. It is open 7 days a week, Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 6pm, and Sunday and Bank Holidays 11am to 5pm.

Additional sources:

‘Lichfield: Education’, in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed. MW Greenslade (London, 1990), pp 170-184. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/staffs/vol14/pp170-184 [accessed 28 November 2017].

Maria Farantouri, the voice of
Greek conscience, reaches 70

Maria Farantouri, the voice of Greek conscience, was born 70 years ago on 28 November 2017

Patrick Comerford

The Greek singer and political and cultural activist Maria Farantouri (Μαρία Φαραντούρη) turns 70 today (28 November 2017). I have built up a modest collection of her work over many years, buying her CDs in Crete and Athens, and her influence on Greek political and social activism is immeasurable, perhaps comparable only with the composer Mikis Theodorakis, and the two have collaborated closely throughout her career.

Her voice is a deep contralto with about an octave and a half range, and is immediately recognisable to every Greek, stirring deep emotional reactions. The international press has called her a people’s Callas (The Daily Telegraph), and the Joan Baez of the Mediterranean (Le Monde). The Guardian said her voice was a gift from the gods of Olympus.

She has worked with prominent Greek composers such as Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hatzidakis with the Australian guitarist John Williams, she has recorded in Greek, English, Italian and Spanish, and she has recorded poems and works by international writers from Brendan Behan to Federico García Lorca.

In their collaboration, Maria Farantouri and Mikis Theodorakis have radically transformed modern Greek music and have made Greek people familiar with the poetry of the Nobel Prize-winning poets George Seferis and Odysseas Elytis and many other Greek poets.

The Irish journalist Damian Mac Con Uladh, who lives in Greece, and the Irish diplomat Patrick Sammon have painstakingly researched the story of her recording of Το Γελαστό παιδί, Mikis Theodorakis’s interpretation of Brendan Behan’s poem, with Greek lyrics translated by Vasilis Rotas for a Greek setting of the play The Hostage.

The song featured in Costas Garvas’s movie Z (1969) and became one of the emotional anthems in the resistance to the colonels’ junta in 1967-1974.

Maria Farantouri was born in Athens on 28 November 1947, when Greece was recovering in the aftermath of of World War II, and her childhood was full of hardship. Her father was from Kefalonia, and her mother from Kythira, living in the working-class suburb of Nea Ionia, which had been settled in the 1920s by refugees from Asia Minor.

At the age of two, Maria was struck by the polio epidemic sweeping across Europe, and was she was separated from her parents while she was quarantined in a children’s hospital. Her creative career began in her teens when she took part in the choir of the Society of Friends of Greek Music. She was soon recognised for her rich contralto voice, and became a soloist.

She was 15 and singing with the choir in 1963 when Mikis Theodorakis heard her singing his song Grief. He was deeply impressed, met her backstage, and asked: ‘Do you know that you were born to sing my songs?’

‘I know,’ was her immediate response.

During her school summer holiday, Maria became a member of Theodorakis’s ensemble, which included Grigoris Bithikotsis, Dora Yiannakopoulou and Soula Birbili.

Soon, she was singing at important political and social events. Theodorakis’s new work The Hostage was performed at every peace demonstration, and with her militant young voice, Maria made his Greek version of Brendan Behan’s song The Laughing Boy known throughout Greece.



Around this time, Theodorakis composed the first work he had written for her voice, The Ballad of Mauthausen (Η Μπαλάντα του Μαουτχάουζεν), a cantata based on the writings of the Greek playwright Iakovos Kambanellis (1922-2011).

This cantata would become identified with her voice throughout the world. The best-known song of all, Άσμα Ασμάτων (Asma Asmaton, ‘Song of Songs’), which opens hauntingly with the words:

Τι ωραία που είν’ η αγάπη μου
με το καθημερνό της φόρεμα
κι ένα χτενάκι στα μαλλιά.
Κανείς δεν ήξερε πως είναι τόσο ωραία.


‘My love, how beautiful she is in her everyday dress.’

That year, Maria also recorded a song by Spyros Papas and Yiannis Argyris, Someone is Celebrating, accompanied by Lakis Papas. In 1966, the soundtrack of Harilaos Papadopoulos’s movie Island of Aphrodite was released with music by Theodorakis. This included Maria’s first recording of Theodorakis, Blood-stained Moon, a setting of a poem by Nikos Gatsos.

Theodorakis wrote six more songs for her voice, naming them Farandouri’s Cycle in a tribute to the young artist who would become his major interpreter. Although he has written many other songs for male and female voices, she remains the only artist to whom he has dedicated a song cycle.

She toured Greece and abroad as a member of Theodorakis’s ensemble, and visited the Soviet Union in 1966.

In the military coup in 1967, the colonels’ junta to power in Greece, and the new regime banned Theodorakis’s music. He went underground, and during his four months on the run sent a short message to Maria on chewing-gum wrapping paper advising her to flee Greece.

She was just 20 when she went into exile in Paris. There she started singing in concerts, with the takings going to movements working to overthrow the colonels. She became a symbol of resistance and hope, and also took an active part in the women’s movement, in ecological activism and the struggle against drugs.



While the colonels remained in power (1967-1974), Maria worked throughout Europe, recording protest songs with Mikis Theodorakis, who wrote the score for Pablo Neruda’s Canto General.

In 1971, she recorded Songs and Guitar Pieces by Theodorakis with the Australian guitarist John Williams, which included seven poems by Federico García Lorca. Since then, she has recorded songs in Spanish (Hasta Siempre Comandante Che Guevara), Italian and English (Joe Hill and Elisabeth Hauptmann’s Alabama Song, from Bertolt Brecht’s political-satirical opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, as well as works by Greek composers.

Her recording and concerts in Europe and America, broadcast by the BBC and Deutsche Welle, kept alive the music of Theodorakis. The composer was in internal exile in the remote mountain village of Zatouna, and he secretly supplied her with tapes of his new songs which he recorded crudely on a small tape-recorder. They were then smuggled to her, and she organised musical arrangements for his songs, playing them on the piano and singing them himself.

These included State of Siege, his setting of a poem by a woman prisoner, broadcast from London’s Roundhouse. In this concert, Maria was supported by Greek artists such as Minos Volanakis, and actors from the musical Hair, who rushed from their show during an interval to support her. Sir John Gielgud, Alan Bates and Peggy Ashcroft also supported a later concert by Maria at the Albert Hall.

She met Tilemachos Chytiris, a poet from Corfu and a student of philosophy at Florence, while she was giving a concert at the invitation of Greek students.

In 1970, international artists and writers intervened on behalf of Theodorakis, whose health had deteriorated. With the support of the French politician Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber he too went into exile in Paris. When his health began to recover, Theodorakis began his tours of Europe, North and South America, and the Middle East, with Maria playing a leading part in his concerts.

Meanwhile, Maria also began collaborating with the composer Manos Hadzidakis, who was then working on The Age of Melissanthi, and subtitled his new composition A Musical Story with Maria Farantouri, although this work was not finished for some years. His intervention allowed Maria to return to Greece in 1972 to say farewell to her father who died that year. The military junta gave her a 48-hour visa, and during these two days she visited the ancient theatre of Epidaurus.

Her packed concerts encouraged and emboldened Greeks in exile, and recordings were smuggled back into Greece, giving courage to those who were struggling against the junta.

By the early 1970s, she was living in exile in London. There in 1971 she and the Australian guitar virtuoso John Williams recorded Theodorakis’s Romancero Gitano, a setting of poems by Federico Garcia Lorca translated by the Greek poet Odysseus Elytis. Lorca was a victim of Spanish fascism and Theodorakis had set his poetry to music just before the colonels’ coup.

In Paris, Maria made such an impression on François Mitterrand that in his book The Bee and the Architect he compared her to Greece itself: ‘For me, Greece is Maria Farantouri. This is how I imagined the goddess Hera to be, strong, pure, and vigilant. I have never encountered any other artist able to give such a strong sense of the divine.’

Maria Farantouri in a memorable performance of the song at the first concert given by Mikis Theodorakis in Greece after the fall of the dictatorship in 1974

When the Greek junta sent in tanks against protesting students in Athens on 17 November 1973, causing the deaths of at least 24 people over a number of days, Maria Farandouri added a couple of stanzas to the song Το Γελαστό παιδί, deliberately linking it to that event.

After the dictatorship fell in 1974, Mikis Theodorakis and Maria Farandouri returned to Greece. There they gave moving concerts to audiences who had experienced seven years of fear and repression, and at a concert by Theodorakis in Athens in October to mark the fall of the junta and the restoration of democracy she sang that new version of that song.

As Damian Mac Con Uladh points out, While Brendan Behan's original ‘laughing boy,’ Michael Collins, was killed ‘on an August morning,’ Maria’s extra lines referred to ‘November 17,’ and instead of saying the laughing boy was killed by ‘our own,’ the Polytechnic version refers to the killers as ‘fascists.’

About 125,000 people attended her performance with the baritone Petros Pandis of Theodorakis’s Canto General in the Karaiskakis Stadium. Her Songs of Protest from all over the World in Greek became a gold record.

She was the first foreign artist to be accepted by German audiences as an interpreter of Berthold Brecht in a language other than German, and she inspired many foreign artists who sang her songs, giving them their own interpretation.

Maria also renewed her collaboration with the Greek song-writer Manos Loizos, recording an album that characterised that era, The Negro Songs, based on poems by Yiannis Negrepontis. She worked too with Mihalis Grigoriou, who set the poetry of Manolis Anagnostakis to music.

Her collaboration with Hadzidakis was revived when he completed Mellissanthi and wrote new songs for her. Their concerts in the Roman Agora in Athens with younger singers became the musical event of the season.

With her longing for peace and friendship between Greece and Turkey, Maria took the daring step of collaborating with the Turkish composer Zülfü Livaneli. They staged concerts in Athens and for Turkish audiences.

In 1981, she travelled again with Theodorakis to Cuba, and Fidel Castro was so impressed that he invited to the Greeks back for a new series of concerts the following year.

Maria and Tilemachos Chytiris began a new chapter in life when their son Stefanos was born on 28 October 1985, Oxi Day or Greek National Independence Day. For a time, she withdrew from all artistic engagements and only worked rarely and selectively.

Her most important collaboration was The Ballad of Mauthausen in the Herod Atticus Theatre in Athens with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta. Later, she would work with him again in Paris to mark the Millennium under the auspices of UNESCO

In 1987, she performed Romancero Gitano in Fuente Vaqueros in the house where Lorca was born, with the poet’s sister and his friend Jose Caballero present.

The political situation in Greece became unstable in Greece in 1989. The Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou, leader of Pasok, the Socialist Party, was under attack, election after election failed to produce a stable government, and in response to Papandreou’s invitation, Maria stood as a Pasok candidate. From the opposition benches, she worked on cultural issues with Melina Mercouri and Stavros Benos.

She remained an elected member of the Greek parliament until 1993, and her husband Tilemachos Chytiris is a Pasok politician too. He had worked as press adviser in the Greek Embassy in Bucharest (1982-1984) and in London (1984-1987). From 1987 to 1989 he was special Secretary at the Ministry for the Presidency of the Government. In 1989, Papandreou appointed him as his media spokesman.

Tilemachos Chytiris was elected in an Athens constituency in 1993 and was re-elected in every election until 2009. He was a deputy minister in 1993-1994 and deputy minister for the Press and the Media (1994-1995). I met him when he was Press Minister (1995-1996). Chytiris was Deputy Press Minister (2000-2009) in the third cabinet of Costas Simitis, and also served in of George Papandreou’s cabinet until 2011.

Meanwhile, Maria returned to singing and recording in 1990, when she worked with the Cuban composer Leo Brouwer on a double album that included songs written for her by the Greek composer Vangelis (Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou).

She has continued to work with Theodorakis to this day, and also works with a new generation of young Greek composers. In 2000, after years of absence, the avant-garde composer Lena Platonos returned to the recording studio, and recorded exclusively with Maria.



In August 2001, Maria filled the Theatre of Herod Atticus in Athens with a concert of ‘A Century of Greek Song.’ In June,2003, nine years after the death of Hadzidakis, once again in the Roman Odeon, she sang the completed version of his Amorgos, a setting of poems by Nikos Gatsos.

In recent years, Maria has given a new dimension to the traditional Greek rembetiko and to Byzantine music. She has reached out to international musical trends, such as ethnic music, in her recent CD Το Μυστικό (The Secret or Mosaic), when she has worked with Ross Daly, the Irish composer who lives in Archanes in Crete. She has collaborated too with classical musicians like Yannis Vakarelis.



Το γελαστό παιδί (η ελληνική απόδοση του Βασίλη Ρώτα)

Ήταν πρωί τ” Αυγούστου
κοντά στη ροδαυγή
βγήκα να πάρω αγέρα
στην ανθισμένη γή

Βλέπω μια κόρη κλαίει
σπαραχτικά θρηνεί
σπάσε καρδιά μου εχάθει
το γελαστό παιδί

Είχεν αντρειά και θάρρος
κι αιώνια θα θρηνώ
το πηδηχτό του βήμα
το γέλιο το γλυκό

Ανάθεμα στη ώρα
κατάρα στη στιγμή
σκοτώσαν οι δικοί
μας το γελαστό παιδί

Ω, να “ταν σκοτωμένο
στου αρχηγού το πλάϊ
και μόνο από βόλι
Εγγλέζου να “χε πάει

Κι απ” απεργία πείνας
μεσα στη φυλακή

θα “ταν τιμή μου που “χασα
το γελαστό παιδί

Βασιλικιά μου αγάπη
μ” αγάπη θα σε κλαίω
για το ότι έκανες
αιώνια θα το λέω

Γιατί όλους τους εχθρούς μας
θα ξέκανες εσύ
δόξα τιμή στ” αξέχαστο
το γελαστό παιδί

The laughing boy, by Brendan Behan

It was on an August morning, all in the morning hours,
I went to take the warming air all in the month of flowers,
And there I saw a maiden and heard her mournful cry,
Oh, what will mend my broken heart, I’ve lost my Laughing Boy.

So strong, so wide, so brave he was, I’ll mourn his loss too sore
When thinking that we’ll hear the laugh or springing step no more.
Ah, curse the time, and sad the loss my heart to crucify,
Than an Irish son, with a rebel gun, shot down my Laughing Boy.

Oh, had he died by Pearse’s side, or in the GPO,
Killed by an English bullet from the rifle of the foe,
Or forcibly fed while Ashe lay dead in the dungeons of Mountjoy,
I’d have cried with pride at the way he died, my own dear Laughing Boy.



Monday, 27 November 2017

The Seven Churches that make up
Bologna’s own Little Jerusalem

The ‘Sette Chiese’ or Seven Churches is an ecclesiastical complex that is known as Bologna’s Holy Jerusalem (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

There is a little Zion in a quiet piazza in the heart of Bologna. For more than 1,000 years, the Basilica of San Stefano (Basilica di Santo Stefano) has been known as the Sancta Jerusalem Boloniensis, or Bologna’s Holy Jerusalem.

San Stefano is not just one church or basilica, but a complex of church buildings known locally as Sette Chiese (‘Seven Churches’) and also as Santa Gerusalemme (‘Holy Jerusalem’).

Santo Stefano faces onto Piazza Santo Stefano, a long isosceles triangle rather than a square, and one of the most beautiful of Bologna’s many piazze. San Stefano and its precincts stand at the far end of this piazza, at the shortest edge of the triangle.

The architectural ensemble of San Stefano is sometimes called le Sette Chiese or the Seven Churches. The number seven has a mystical significance, but in fact there are now four churches, fused together in this complex maze or ecclesiastical labyrinth.

The Church of the Crucifix with its elevated altar, crucifixes and crypt (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The entrance to Santo Stefano is through the largest and most prominent building, the Church of the Crucifix, an austere space dedicated to the Passion of Christ.

This is the Church of Saint Stephen or of the Holy Crucifix, built in the eighth century and reshaped in the 17th century, with a crypt.

The altar stands on a mezzanine at the top of a double flight of stairs. Suspended above is a Byzantine-style crucifix, with a grey and skeletal Christ close to death. He is watched by his mother, the Virgin Mary, and Saint John the Evangelist. This is the work of the artist who became known as Simone de’ Crocifissi, or Simon of the Crucifixions.

A similar crucifix, but Baroque in style, hangs at a distance behind the first crucifix, in the apse of the church. These two works are separated by about 10 metres and 200 years. The Abbot Martino was buried in the crypt below in 1019.

The Holy Sepulchre is a tall, cylindrical building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A low door on the left leads into the second church in the complex, the Holy Sepulchre. This tall, cylindrical building stands on the site of a Roman temple of Isis, the first sacred building on the site. According to tradition, Saint Petronio built the basilica over the temple of the goddess Isis, replacing it with a building that recalled the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, although the building seen today is more likely to have been modelled on the later Crusader Church than the earlier Constantinian church.

One of the Roman columns still stands, a slim marble rod jammed up against a stouter brick-built neighbour.

In the middle stands a 1,000-year-old mausoleum – a building within a building. It was planned as a replica of the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, but has been altered and amended down the centuries. This was the burial-place of Saint Petronio, the fifth century Bishop of Bologna and patron of the city. At the bottom of the structure, like a grate in a fireplace, is a barred window, through which the grave of Saint Petronio could be seen. His body was moved in 2000 to the Basilica of Saint Petronio in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, where his head was already enshrined.

The decorative work includes winged griffins, stylised lions, and three dozing soldiers who slept through the Resurrection.

The Basilica of Saint Vitale and Saint Agricola was built in the fourth century and rebuilt in the 12th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Sepulchre leads to the next building, the Basilica of Saint Vitale and Saint Agricola, built in the fourth century, and rebuilt in the 12th century.

These two Romans, master and servant, were the first citizens of Bologna to become Christian martyrs when they were killed in the year 305 during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian. Their bodies were unearthed in 392 and reburied by Saint Ambrose of Milan. The church is bare but has some warm decorative touches, such as the low-relief peacocks and deer on the stone sarcophagus the saints.

The Courtyard of Pilate and the ‘Catino di Pilato’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Outside the Holy Sepulchre, the Courtyard of Pilate (Santo Giardino, the Holy Garden), dates from the 13th century and recalls the Roman paving in Jerusalem where Christ was condemned at his Passion.

In the centre, a marble basin known as the Catino di Pilato is a Lombard work from 737-744, recalling how Pilate washed his hands of any responsibility of what happened to Christ. The marble basin was the gift of the Lombard kings, Liutprando and Ilprando, who regarded Saint Stefano as their main religious centre.

Under the portico at the centre of a window on a column, a 14th-century sculpted rooster, known as the Rooster of Saint Peter, recalls the biblical story of Saint Peter’s denial.

The Benedictine cloisters date from 10th-13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Benedictine cloisters, dating from 10th-13th century, are particularly appealing for the double open gallery, one of the most splendid works of architecture in the Romanesque style in this region of Italy.

The capitals of some of the columns take the form of unhappy, naked little men, hunched or crouching or, in one case, clinging to the top of the column like a monkey on a palm trunk. These naked homunculi are the work of the Lombards, who are also responsible for the magnificent brickwork patterns, like a patchwork quilt in shades of terracotta, that make up the walls of Pilate’s Courtyard.

The Visit of the Magi in the Church of the Holy Cross or ‘Martyrium’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The fourth church, the Church of the Holy Cross or the Martyrium, is also known as the Church of the Trinity and dates from the 13th century. Its width is greater than its length, and it features a series of niches along the back wall. One niche contains a colourful and joyful group of wooden figures representing the three kings presenting their gifts to the Christ Child. These too are the work of Simone de’ Crocifissi.

A horizontal wooden statue depicts the dead Christ, his feet foremost, his pierced hands crossed over his abdomen, his head lost in shadow.

In addition, this complex includes the Chapel of the Bandage (Cappella della Benda), dedicated to the strip of cloth worn around the head by the Virgin Mary as a sign of mourning, and a museum.

This Jerusalem of Bologna has evolved over the centuries to present a symbolic pilgrimage.

The Piazza Santo Stefano in front of the ‘Sette Chiese’ or Seven Churches in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Finding a place to pray on
a winter morning in Lichfield

Welcome to Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, on a bright November morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

On each visit to Lichfield, I return to the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, to take some quiet time to pray, to think, and to say thank you for the unconditional, over-flowing love of God that I have known ever since I first visited this chapel almost half a century ago in 1971.

Friday morning was a clean, crisp winter’s day, with clear blue skies and – despite the cold temperatures – strong, bright sunshine.

Between breakfast in St Johns House and catching a mid-morning train to Birmingham, I stopped into the chapel in Saint John’s. The place was busy, with two people checking the fire extinguishers, and two others busy cleaning the chapel with dusters and a vacuum cleaner.

But f we cannot find our own quiet moments with God in the middle of an ordinary busy working with God, we are not going to find those times anywhere else.

Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, facing onto Saint John Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

I sat and prayed, finding my own place of prayer and peace as others worked around me. It was proving to be a very demanding working week, and there was still more ahead, including a lengthy journey back to Askeaton later that evening.

I needed this time in this sacred place, even for a few, short minutes. The next few weeks promise to be even busier as we move into Advent and preparations for Christmas. We all need to know where we can find these spiritual oases as we journey through life.

From Saint John’s, I walked back along Saint John Street and Bird Street to Minster Pool and Lichfield Cathedral – the same route I had walked many decades ago on that memorable Thursday afternoon, and found myself thinking again about where, as a teenager, I had listened to the first promptings of ordained ministry had been heard.

Two 18th century shops with interesting street-facing gables on Saint John Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

On my back to St Johns House and Lichfield City Station, I stopped to photograph some shops with curious gables on the corner of Wade Street and Saint John Street.

These two shops were probably in the early 18th century. They are built of brick, partly roughcast, and with tile roofs. They are single-storey buildings with attics and two gables to the front facing onto Saint John Street.

This was one of my shortest return journeys to Lichfield in recent years, with no time for rummaging in the bookshops or relaxing in the coffee shops. But even a short walk like that on Friday morning was a reminder that there is more of architectural interest that I need to photograph in Lichfield.

I caught the weekend edition of the Lichfield Mercury before catching the train at Lichfield City Station, and once again took a deep breath as a I passed the memorial plaque at the end of the steps remembering Private WR Jones who 19 when he was murdered by the IRA on the platform in 1990.

I am due back in April at the invitation of the Lichfield Civic Society to give a lecture in Wade Street Church Community Hall, Frog Lane, on 24 April on ‘The Wyatt family of Weeford: a unique architectural dynasty.’

But, who knows, I may be back sooner.

A quiet, sun-filled corner at Saint John’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Waiting for Christ the King in
the weeks before Christmas

Waiting for Christmas … the Christmas lights on O’Connell Street, Limerick, early one morning last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 26 November 2017

The Kingship of Christ, the Sunday before Advent


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

Readings: Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1: 15-23; Matthew 25: 31-46.

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

I must be getting older, because every year I seem to moan earlier and earlier that Christmas is coming earlier and earlier.

The Christmas lights were switched on in Limerick early last week – with more than a full calendar month to go to Christmas Day – and were still on in O’Connell Street and Denmark Street as I was making my way through the city centre early on two mornings last week. Christmas decorations have been up in shops and shopping centres for two weeks or more now.

The shops want us to believe that Christmas has already arrived as they try to ooze a festive air. It seems once again this year that Irish shoppers are planning to spend more in these weeks before Christmas than our counterparts across Europe.

People love the carols, the traditions, the goodwill and the good feelings we get from even just thinking about Santa Claus and the elves, the tree and the lights, the crib and the Baby Jesus. I have already seen crib scenes in decorative lights in churches in south Dublin, London and Lichfield in the past week, and in Italy the week before … although Advent has not yet begun.

If Christ must be at the heart of Christmas, then waiting for Christ, anticipating Christ, must be at the heart of the Advent season, which begins next Sunday.

We have made Christmas an oh so comfortable story, with images of a sweet baby Jesus, surrounded by adoring, cute little animals and being visited by benign kings. In reality, though, Christmas is never a comfortable story in the Gospels.

Christmas is a story about poverty and about people who are homeless and rejected and who find no place to stay.

It is a messy story about a new-born child surrounded by the filth of animals and the dirt of squalor.

It is a story of shepherds involved in dangerous work, staying out all night in the winter cold, watching for wolves and sheep stealers.

It is a story of political deceit and corruption that lead to a cruel dictator stooping to murder, the murder of innocent children, to secure his grip on power.

Those images do not sell Christmas cards or help to get the boss drunk under the mistletoe at the office party.

That is why in the weeks before Advent the Gospel readings remind us of what the coming of Christ into the world means, what the Kingdom of God is like, how we should prepare for the coming of Christ and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Traditionally, this Sunday was known among Anglicans as ‘stir-up Sunday.’ The Feast of Christ the King is a recent innovation, dating only from 1925, when the concept of kingship was losing credibility in western societies, not so much to democracy but to the wave of fascism sweeping across Europe.

The mere mention of kings and monarchy today evokes images of extravagance or anachronism. But Christ comes not as a cute cuddly babe wrapped away in the manger in the window of a large department store. Nor does he come as a remote European monarch, whether barmy or benign.

Instead, our Gospel reading tells of Christ coming in glory as the Son of Man (verse 31), as the king (verses 34 and 40), and as Lord (verses 37 and 44).

It is so stark and challenging it forces us to ask what the coming of Christ, the second coming, will be like, and what Christ has to say to us about the way we live and the world we live in today.

The division of people into sheep and goats is a good image. We all love to divide people into the insiders and the outsiders, us and them, friends and foes, Manchester United supporters and ABU fans. We do it all the time, and sheep and goats are a good short-hand term for what we do.

Sheep and goats behave differently, but in the Palestine of Christ’s time they were fed together. Even to this day, in Greece and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean, sheep and goats are often difficult to tell apart until they are separated. And when it came to insiders and outsiders, goats were insiders and sheep were outsiders.

Goats are lively animals and very curious. They are happy living either in herds with other goats or on their own. Sheep are more docile, easily led, and always stay in groups.

Goats are gentle browsers, sheep are destructive grazers.

Goats nibble here and there, sampling and chewing on a lot of things without actually eating them. Sheep eat grass and plants all the way down to the ground. They are greedier than goats, and are more likely to overeat if they find more food than they need.

Goats are climbers: they almost never slip or fall; sheep, on the other hand, are much less sure-footed and easily fall and get stuck upside down.

The parable of the lost sheep just would not have had the same resonance if it were told as the parable of the lost goat.

Sheep can and will stay out all night, and are more resilient in bad weather. That is why the shepherds on the first Christmas night were out on the hills tending their sheep. But goats need warmth at night, so might even have been in the stable alongside the ox and the ass.

So: sheep are outsiders, goats are insiders. And what happens to the insiders and the outsiders in this parable would be a shocking end to the story for those who heard it for the first time in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The sheep and the goats being separated ... this morning’s parable depicted in a mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

This story has inspired great works of art, from doom walls in English mediaeval churches, to popular images in Greek and Romanian churches to this day; from the sixth century mosaics that I was looking at in Ravenna ten days ago to Fra Angelico in Florence and Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.

Perhaps because of the Ravenna mosaics, Fra Angelico, Michelangelo, and other artists, we often see this story as one about individual judgment and individual condemnation, rather than the judgment of the nations spoken of in this reading.

The story opens with Christ coming again in glory, sitting on his throne of glory (verse 31), and the nations gathered before him (verse 32). We see not isolated individuals are gathered before the throne of Christ, but the nations – all the nations – assembled and being asked these searching questions.

These are questions directly related to that first Christmas story. They challenge us to ask whether we have taken on board the values of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 3-11; Luke 6: 20-31), and whether we truly accept the values Christ proclaimed at the start of his ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4: 16-19).

The questions he asks are put not just to us as individuals and as Christians. They are put to the nations, to all of the nations (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, pánta to ethne), each and every one of them.

And that is where Christ comes into the world, both at Christmas and at the second coming, with the Kingdom of God. At his birth, the old man in the Temple, Simeon, welcomes him as ‘a light for revelation to the nations’ (φῶς εἰς ἀποκάλυψιν ἐθνῶν, phos eis apokálypsin ethnon) (Luke 2: 32).

This is Mission Sunday, when we are asked to consider how we might bring the values of the Gospel to the nations of the world.

On Thursday and Friday, I was taking part in meetings in London and Birmingham for trustees and regional volunteers with the Anglican mission agency, United Society Partners in the Gospel.

In this diocese, on Mission Sunday, we are trying to support work in schools in Swaziland through USPG, and in this parish our harvest collection went to support the work of USPG with refugees.

On those two days in London and Birmingham, I found myself asking questions that were related to both Mission Sunday and the image of Christ the King.

Which nations on earth, at this very moment, would like to be judged by how enlightened they are; to be compared with the Kingdom of God when it comes to how they treat and look after those the enthroned Christ identifies with: those who are hungry; those who are thirsty; those who are strangers and find no welcome; those who are naked, bare of anything to call their own, or whose naked bodies are exploited for profit and pleasure; those who are sick and left waiting on hospital trolleys or on endless lists for health care they cannot afford; those imprisoned because they speak out, or because they are from the wrong political or ethnic group, or because they do not have the right papers when they arrive as refugees or asylum seekers?

When did we ever see Christ in pain on a hospital trolley, being mistreated at passport control kiosks in the airport arrivals area, trying to cross the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh, or trying to cross the Mediterranean on a makeshift raft or an overcrowded rowing boat?

But – as long it was done in the name of our nation – we did it to Christ himself.

In his second coming, Christ tells us the kind of conduct, of morality, towards others that is expected of us as Christians. But he also tells us of the consequences of not caring for others.

Our Gospel reading makes a direct connection with the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. This Gospel reading challenges us in a way that is uncomfortable, but with things that must stay on our agenda as Christians and on the agenda of the Church and the agendas of the nations.

At the same time, our epistle reading challenges us to ask: what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints (Ephesians 1: 18)? What is the immeasurable greatness of his great power (verse 19)?

The genius of great power is revealed in those who have it and can use it but only do so sparingly. Christ’s choice is not to gratify those who want a worldly king, whether he is benign or barmy. Instead, he displays supreme majesty in his priorities for those who are counted out when it comes to other kingdoms.

Christ is not coming again as a king who is haughty and aloof, daft and barmy, or despotic and tyrannical. Instead he shows a model of kingship that emphasises what true majesty and graciousness should be – giving priority in the kingdom to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner (verses 35-36).

As we prepare for Christmas, we can look forward to seeing the Christ child in the crib and to singing about him in the carols. But we can also look forward to seeing him in glory. Let us be prepared to see him and welcome in the hungry, the thirsty, the unwelcome stranger, those who are naked and vulnerable, those with no private health care, those who are prisoners, those who have no visitors and those who are lonely and marginalised.

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

Christ in Majesty ... John Piper’s window in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Collect:

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
Keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

Post-Communion Prayer:

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that plenteously bearing the fruit of good works
they may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A scene of Christ in Majesty at the Last Judgment in a fresco in the Orthodox Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for the Sunday before Advent (the Kingship of Christ), 26 November 2017.

Trying to separate the sheep and
the goats on Mission Sunday

The sheep and the goats being separated ... this morning’s parable depicted in a mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 26 November 2017

The Kingship of Christ, the Sunday before Advent


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

Readings: Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1: 15-23; Matthew 25: 31-46.

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

I must be getting older, because every year I seem to moan earlier and earlier that Christmas is coming earlier and earlier.

The Christmas lights were switched on in Limerick early last week – with more than a full calendar month to go to Christmas Day – and were still on in O’Connell Street and Denmark Street as I was making my way through the city centre early on two mornings last week. Christmas decorations have been up in shops and shopping centres for two weeks or more now.

The shops want us to believe that Christmas has already arrived as they try to ooze a festive air. It seems once again this year that Irish shoppers are planning to spend more in these weeks before Christmas than our counterparts across Europe.

People love the carols, the traditions, the goodwill and the good feelings we get from even just thinking about Santa Claus and the elves, the tree and the lights, the crib and the Baby Jesus. I have already seen crib scenes in decorative lights in churches in south Dublin, London and Lichfield in the past week, and in Italy the week before … although Advent has not yet begun.

If Christ must be at the heart of Christmas, then waiting for Christ, anticipating Christ, must be at the heart of the Advent season, which begins next Sunday.

We have made Christmas an oh so comfortable story, with images of a sweet baby Jesus, surrounded by adoring, cute little animals and being visited by benign kings. In reality, though, Christmas is never a comfortable story in the Gospels.

Christmas is a story about poverty and about people who are homeless and rejected and who find no place to stay.

It is a messy story about a new-born child surrounded by the filth of animals and the dirt of squalor.

It is a story of shepherds involved in dangerous work, staying out all night in the winter cold, watching for wolves and sheep stealers.

It is a story of political deceit and corruption that lead to a cruel dictator stooping to murder, the murder of innocent children, to secure his grip on power.

Those images do not sell Christmas cards or help to get the boss drunk under the mistletoe at the office party.

That is why in the weeks before Advent the Gospel readings remind us of what the coming of Christ into the world means, what the Kingdom of God is like, how we should prepare for the coming of Christ and the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Traditionally, this Sunday was known among Anglicans as ‘stir-up Sunday.’ The Feast of Christ the King is a recent innovation, dating only from 1925, when the concept of kingship was losing credibility in western societies, not so much to democracy but to the wave of fascism sweeping across Europe.

The mere mention of kings and monarchy today evokes images of extravagance or anachronism. But Christ comes not as a cute cuddly babe wrapped away in the manger in the window of a large department store. Nor does he come as a remote European monarch, whether barmy or benign.

Instead, our Gospel reading tells of Christ coming in glory as the Son of Man (verse 31), as the king (verses 34 and 40), and as Lord (verses 37 and 44).

It is so stark and challenging it forces us to ask what the coming of Christ, the second coming, will be like, and what Christ has to say to us about the way we live and the world we live in today.

The division of people into sheep and goats is a good image. We all love to divide people into the insiders and the outsiders, us and them, friends and foes, Manchester United supporters and ABU fans. We do it all the time, and sheep and goats are a good short-hand term for what we do.

Sheep and goats behave differently, but in the Palestine of Christ’s time they were fed together. Even to this day, in Greece and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean, sheep and goats are often difficult to tell apart until they are separated. And when it came to insiders and outsiders, goats were insiders and sheep were outsiders.

Goats are lively animals and very curious. They are happy living either in herds with other goats or on their own. Sheep are more docile, easily led, and always stay in groups.

Goats are gentle browsers, sheep are destructive grazers.

Goats nibble here and there, sampling and chewing on a lot of things without actually eating them. Sheep eat grass and plants all the way down to the ground. They are greedier than goats, and are more likely to overeat if they find more food than they need.

Goats are climbers: they almost never slip or fall; sheep, on the other hand, are much less sure-footed and easily fall and get stuck upside down.

The parable of the lost sheep just would not have had the same resonance if it were told as the parable of the lost goat.

Sheep can and will stay out all night, and are more resilient in bad weather. That is why the shepherds on the first Christmas night were out on the hills tending their sheep. But goats need warmth at night, so might even have been in the stable alongside the ox and the ass.

So: sheep are outsiders, goats are insiders. And what happens to the insiders and the outsiders in this parable would be a shocking end to the story for those who heard it for the first time in the Eastern Mediterranean.

A scene of Christ in Majesty at the Last Judgment in a fresco in the Orthodox Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This story has inspired great works of art, from doom walls in English mediaeval churches, to popular images in Greek and Romanian churches to this day; from the sixth century mosaics that I was looking at in Ravenna ten days ago to Fra Angelico in Florence and Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.

Perhaps because of the Ravenna mosaics, Fra Angelico, Michelangelo, and other artists, we often see this story as one about individual judgment and individual condemnation, rather than the judgment of the nations spoken of in this reading.

The story opens with Christ coming again in glory, sitting on his throne of glory (verse 31), and the nations gathered before him (verse 32). We see not isolated individuals are gathered before the throne of Christ, but the nations – all the nations – assembled and being asked these searching questions.

These are questions directly related to that first Christmas story. They challenge us to ask whether we have taken on board the values of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 3-11; Luke 6: 20-31), and whether we truly accept the values Christ proclaimed at the start of his ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4: 16-19).

The questions he asks are put not just to us as individuals and as Christians. They are put to the nations, to all of the nations (πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, pánta to ethne), each and every one of them.

And that is where Christ comes into the world, both at Christmas and at the second coming, with the Kingdom of God. At his birth, the old man in the Temple, Simeon, welcomes him as ‘a light for revelation to the nations’ (φῶς εἰς ἀποκάλυψιν ἐθνῶν, phos eis apokálypsin ethnon) (Luke 2: 32).

This is Mission Sunday, when we are asked to consider how we might bring the values of the Gospel to the nations of the world.

On Thursday and Friday, I was taking part in meetings in London and Birmingham for trustees and regional volunteers with the Anglican mission agency, United Society Partners in the Gospel.

In this diocese, on Mission Sunday, we are trying to support work in schools in Swaziland through USPG, and in this parish our harvest collection went to support the work of USPG with refugees.

On those two days in London and Birmingham, I found myself asking questions that were related to both Mission Sunday and the image of Christ the King.

Which nations on earth, at this very moment, would like to be judged by how enlightened they are; to be compared with the Kingdom of God when it comes to how they treat and look after those the enthroned Christ identifies with: those who are hungry; those who are thirsty; those who are strangers and find no welcome; those who are naked, bare of anything to call their own, or whose naked bodies are exploited for profit and pleasure; those who are sick and left waiting on hospital trolleys or on endless lists for health care they cannot afford; those imprisoned because they speak out, or because they are from the wrong political or ethnic group, or because they do not have the right papers when they arrive as refugees or asylum seekers?

When did we ever see Christ in pain on a hospital trolley, being mistreated at passport control kiosks in the airport arrivals area, trying to cross the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh, or trying to cross the Mediterranean on a makeshift raft or an overcrowded rowing boat?

But – as long it was done in the name of our nation – we did it to Christ himself.

In his second coming, Christ tells us the kind of conduct, of morality, towards others that is expected of us as Christians. But he also tells us of the consequences of not caring for others.

Our Gospel reading makes a direct connection with the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. This Gospel reading challenges us in a way that is uncomfortable, but with things that must stay on our agenda as Christians and on the agenda of the Church and the agendas of the nations.

At the same time, our epistle reading challenges us to ask: what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints (Ephesians 1: 18)? What is the immeasurable greatness of his great power (verse 19)?

The genius of great power is revealed in those who have it and can use it but only do so sparingly. Christ’s choice is not to gratify those who want a worldly king, whether he is benign or barmy. Instead, he displays supreme majesty in his priorities for those who are counted out when it comes to other kingdoms.

Christ is not coming again as a king who is haughty and aloof, daft and barmy, or despotic and tyrannical. Instead he shows a model of kingship that emphasises what true majesty and graciousness should be – giving priority in the kingdom to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner (verses 35-36).

As we prepare for Christmas, we can look forward to seeing the Christ child in the crib and to singing about him in the carols. But we can also look forward to seeing him in glory. Let us be prepared to see him and welcome in the hungry, the thirsty, the unwelcome stranger, those who are naked and vulnerable, those with no private health care, those who are prisoners, those who have no visitors and those who are lonely and marginalised.

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

Christ in Majesty ... John Piper’s window in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Collect:

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
Keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

The Christmas lights on O’Connell Street, Limerick, early one morning last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for the Sunday before Advent (the Kingship of Christ), 26 November 2017.