14 February 2017

‘Bread is still the staff of life’ … but
‘Man does not live by bread alone’

The staff of life … 12 loaves of bread depicted in a fresco in the 17th century Kupa Synagogue in the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 8:14-21

14 Καὶ ἐπελάθοντο λαβεῖν ἄρτους, καὶ εἰ μὴ ἕνα ἄρτον οὐκ εἶχον μεθ' ἑαυτῶνἐν τῷ πλοίῳ. 15 καὶ διεστέλλετο αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ὁρᾶτε, βλέπετε ἀπὸ τῆς ζύμης τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ τῆς ζύμης Ἡρῴδου. 16 καὶ διελογίζοντο πρὸς ἀλλήλους ὅτι Ἄρτους οὐκἔχουσιν. 17 καὶ γνοὺς λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τί διαλογίζεσθε ὅτι ἄρτους οὐκ ἔχετε; οὔπω νοεῖτε οὐδὲ συνίετε; πεπωρωμένην ἔχετε τὴν καρδίαν ὑμῶν; 18 ὀφθαλμοὺς ἔχοντες οὐ βλέπετεκαὶ ὦτα ἔχοντες οὐκ ἀκούετε; καὶ οὐ μνημονεύετε, 19 ὅτε τοὺς πέντε ἄρτους ἔκλασα εἰς τοὺς πεντακισχιλίους, πόσους κοφίνους κλασμάτων πλήρεις ἤρατε; λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Δώδεκα. 20 Οτε τοὺς ἑπτὰ εἰς τοὺς τετρακισχιλίους, πόσων σπυρίδων πληρώματα κλασμάτων ἤρατε; καὶ λέγουσιν [αὐτῷ], Ἑπτά. 21 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Οὔπω συνίετε;

Translation (NRSV):

14 Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out – beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’ 16 They said to one another, ‘It is because we have no bread.’ 17 And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ 20 ‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ And they said to him, ‘Seven.’ 21 Then he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’

‘Bread is still the staff of life’ … the façade of Frank O’Connor’s former bakery on North Main Street, Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I sometimes wonder at the way little changes in life despite supposed progress and innovation.

Boots on North Main Street in Wexford was Frank O’Connor’s bakery in my more youthful days. The bakery dated back to 1860, and closed in 1979. But the initials FOC can still be seen on the facade, and the slogan still remains: ‘Bread is still the staff of life.’

The constant and witty response from one friend as he passed that shop in North Main Street was: ‘Man does not live by bread alone.’

One is a popular proverb that many assume is a Biblical quotation; the other is a Biblical quotation, that appears once in Deuteronomy and twice in the Gospels.

The Gospel reading for the Eucharist today in the Church of Ireland Lectionary reflects the importance of breads in daily life in the time of Jesus and the Disciples – it was truly the staff of life.

The Kupa Synagogue in the Old Jewish Quarter was one of the many synagogues I visited in Kraków a few weeks ago. There, I was surprised to find a wall painting or fresco of 12 loaves of bread and even more so that they were described as ‘sacramental.’

To what degree is this morning’s Gospel reading for the Eucharist a sacramental reading?

When the disciples are rebuked for forgetting to bring any bread with them, it is not just a matter of everyone in the group going hungry for a little while. The Greek verb used here (ἐπιλανθάνομαι) for ‘to forget’ conveys the sense of negligence rather than memory loss. I am inclined to read it as describing a wilful decision not to remember to bring bread rather than some forgetful lapse of memory.

And the Greek word used here to describe to bring or to take (λαμβάνω) describes not the process of buying bread, or putting it in your shopping basket or a picnic hamper. It describes laying hands on it.

Taking, blessing, breaking and giving … essential acts of giving and receiving, Eucharistic acts.

Bread is still the staff of life, and encountering Christ in the breaking of the bread, in sacramental living, still brings and gives life.

The church is the boat, and not merely forgetting but neglecting the opportunity to share the staff of life in the Church, for me, is one of the weaknesses I find in a church that professes to be a church of word and sacrament.

On a positive note, I wanted to finish with the Collect and the Post-Communion Prayer of the day. Two days before Saint Valentine’s Day today [14 February 2017], I was delighted in the churches in Castletown and Rathkeale on Sunday morning [12 February 2017] with the coincidences provided by these prayers, bringing together love, discipleship and the Eucharist:


Almighty God,
who alone can bring order
to the unruly wills and passions of sinful humanity:
Give your people grace
so to love what you command
and to desire what you promise;
that, among the many changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Merciful Father,
you gave Jesus Christ to be for us the bread of life,
that those who come to him should never hunger.
Draw us to our Lord in faith and love,
that we may eat and drink with him at his table in the kingdom,
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was prepared for a staff meeting on 14 February 2017.

Living in the Rectory next door
to the old rectory in Askeaton

The Old Rectory in Askeaton … now known as Ballindeel House … was built in 1827 by James Pain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford
Since last month [19 January 2017], I have been living in the Rectory in Askeaton in Co Limerick. This house was built about 15 years ago, around 2001, in the orchard of the former glebe house for Askeaton which stands next door.

Earlier this week, I was welcomed by neighbours to the former rectory, and was shown around the house which is now known as Ballindeel House.

Ballindeel House is a detached, three-bay, two-storey over basement former glebe house, and was built in 1827. This former rectory was originally designed by the architect James Pain (1779-1877) for the Revd Richard Murray (1777-1854).

The old and the new side by side … the new Rectory in Askeaton, left, and the old rectory, right (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Richard Murray, who was Rector of Askeaton in 1824-1829, had been appointed to the parish through the patronage of Sir Matthew Blakiston, then the owner of the Manor of Askeaton.

Murray was the secretary of the West Limerick Bible Society, and while he was in Askeaton he was involved in what became known as the ‘Second Reformation.’ He stirred up considerable religious controversy because of his aggressive attempts to proselytise Roman Catholics and his polemical and bruising debates, laced with claim and counter-claim, with his Roman Catholic counterpart, Archdeacon Michael Fitzgerald.

However, Murray’s parishioners were not happy with his approach and his attitude, and saw him as a disruptive intruder. Behind the scenes, moves were to find an alternative appointment for Murray. This became a reality in 1829, the year Catholic Emancipation was passed, when the Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Northumberland, offered him the post of Dean of Ardagh in Co Longford.

Murray was replaced by the Revd James Drummond Money, who was presented as the Rector of Askeaton by Sir Matthew Blakiston on 25 November 1830. Money seems to have restored calm on his appointment, and remained in Askeaton until 1833, living at the new rectory.

Later, in evidence to a Commission of Inquiry in 1837, Murray claimed his converts in Askeaton had numbered between 160 and 170 adults, as well as about 300 young people and children. In his evidence, he also expressed his disappointment with the Protestants in the Askeaton area for their lack of zeal in following his own example in proselytising.

Murray remained a member of the militant Protestant Association and was the author of several books, including tracts attacking the Roman Catholic Church such as Outlines of the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland (1840) Ireland and Her Church (1845). He died in Ardagh, Co Longford, in 1854.

James Pain, who was the architect of the rectory, was also the architect of Castletown Church. He was born in Isleworth, Middlesex, in 1779, and a son of James Pain, a surveyor and builder. James and his younger brother, George Pain (1792-1838), were apprenticed to John Nash (1752-1835), the architect responsible for much of the layout of Regency London under the patronage of the Prince Regent.

The Pain brothers came to Ireland in 1811 to supervise building Lough Cultra Castle in Gort, Co Limerick, which John Nash designed for Charles Vereker. The Pain brothers settled in Ireland and they built up a considerable practice. James Pain settled in Limerick, while George lived in Cork.

The buildings they designed or worked on include Dromoland Castle, Co Clare; Saint Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, Ennis, Co Clare; Saint Mary’s Church, Shandon, Cork; Saint Patrick’s Church, Cork; Holy Trinity Church, Cork; Blackrock Castle, Cork; Baal’s Bridge, Thomond Bridge, and Athlunkard Bridge, all in Co Limerick; Limerick Gaol and part of Adare Manor, where Pain was replaced as architect by AWN Pugin.

The rear or south elevation of Ballindeel House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In 1824, James Pain was appointed architect for the Board of First Fruits in Munster. He designed and built a great number of the Church of Ireland churches and glebe houses in Co Limerick, including this Glebe House in Askeaton, and Castletown Church, near Pallaskenry, which is one of the four churches in this group of parishes.

The house has an ashlar limestone porch to the front or north elevation, and a nine-bay, two-storey extension to the east elevation.

There is a hipped slate roof with overhanging eaves, timber brackets and a rendered chimney-stack.

The porch has a carved limestone cornice and a flat roof.

The roughcast rendered walls have a render plinth course to basement.

There are square-headed openings to the first floor of the front elevation, with six-over-six pane timber sliding sash windows and limestone sills.

On the ground floor, there are round-headed window openings to the front elevation set within round-headed recesses having limestone sills. There are square-headed openings to the west elevation. At the back of the house, the south elevation there are six-over-six pane timber sliding sash windows and limestone sills.

The square-headed openings to the basement have replacement uPVC windows and limestone sills.

The round-headed opening to the east elevation has a six-over-three pane timber sliding sash window.

The round-headed opening to the porch is set within a round-headed recess having a limestone sill, a carved keystone and a spoked fanlight over a six-over-six pane timber sliding sash window with a cast-iron sill guard.

The round-headed opening to the porch at the west elevation has a carved impost course, a keystone and a spoked fanlight over the timber panelled door.

The house has a flight of limestone steps to the entrance with cast-iron railings. The round-headed opening to the porch at its east elevation has a carved impost course and keystone that are now blocked up.

The four-bay two-storey outbuilding to the west has a replacement slate hipped roof. There are roughcast rendered walls, and the square-headed openings have replacement uPVC windows and limestone sills.

At the entrance to the house, there is a pair of square-profile piers built with render over limestone and carved caps, along with replacement double-leaf metal gates. Closer to the present rectory, to the north-east of the house, there is also a pair of piers with square-profiles, built in render over limestone, with carved caps, double-leaf cast-iron gates. The sweeping rubble limestone boundary walls have a camber-headed pedestrian entrance with a single-leaf cast-iron gate.

Today, this house retains much of its attractive and well-proportioned façade, which is distinguished by the finely-cut limestone porch and dressings and these are typical representatives of 19th-century craftsmanship.

The house is set in a mature landscape, and the setting is enhanced by the well-preserved outbuildings and the decorative entrance piers and gates. Within living memory there was a gate lodge beside the west-end entrance gates, and some signs of it can still be discerned.

Marks on the boundary wall are evidence of an original gate lodge at the Old Rectory (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)