Monday, 20 August 2018

Saint Brigid’s Church,
Ardagh, is one of Hague’s
finest churches in Ireland

Saint Brigid’s Church, Ardagh, Co Longford, seen from the north-east … designed by William Hague and one of the finest Gothic Revival churches in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Close to the ruins of Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Ardagh and Saint Patrick’s Church, the 200-year-old Church of Ireland parish church, Saint Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church is a magnificent church that dominates the east approach into Ardagh.

Built in 1878-1881, it was design in the Gothic revival style by William Hague, a protégé of AWN Pugin. This spectacular church has an important place in the architectural heritage of Co Longford and is one of the finest Gothic revival churches in Ireland.

Saint Brigid’s Church was commissioned by Archdeacon James Reynolds and was completed under Monsignor James O’Farrell. It replaced an earlier ‘T-plan’ chapel at Ardagh, which stood to the east of the present site in the townland of Cross. The church was consecrated in 1905.

The church was designed by the architect William Hague (1836-1899), an eminent church architect of the day, and his church in Ardagh is considered to be one his best works.

The north side of Saint Brigid’s Church, Ardagh, Co Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

William Hague was born in Cavan in early 1836, the eldest of five sons of the builder William Hague and his wife, Catherine. As a pupil of the architect Charles Barry (1795-1860), best known for his role in rebuilding the palace of Westminster, Hague spent four years in Barry’s office.

After practising briefly as an architect in Cavan, Hague opened an office at 175 Great Brunswick Street, Dublin, in 1861. He established a flourishing practice, particularly as the designer of Roman Catholic churches, designing or altering 40 to 50 churches throughout Ireland, including Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh. He was a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (FRIAI, 1863) and a member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (RSAI).

Hague’s other works include Carlow Town Hall, Sligo Town Hall, Saint Eunan’s Cathedral, Letterkenny, Co Donegal, Saint Martin’s Church, Culmullin, Co Meath, the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Monasterevan, Co Kildare, and Saint John’s Church (RC), Kilkenny, and he completed many of the works at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and the Church of Saint Augustine and Saint John (John’s Lane), Dublin.

Saint Brigid’s Church, Ardagh, is well composed and well massed, and it is richly ornamented throughout with cut stone carving of the very highest quality. The contrast between the yellow sandstone masonry and the grey limestone detailing creates a highly picturesque composition. The quality of the design, building materials and finishes are immediately apparent outside the church. Inside, the beauty of Hague’s design and work is overwhelming.

The church is built on a cruciform plan, with side aisles, a three-bay clerestory level, single-bay transepts on the north and the south, a chancel, a sacristy attached to the north-east corner of chancel, and a three-bay narthex at the entrance gable on the west side, which has an advanced central gabled entrance porch.

The church has rock-faced snecked sandstone walls with buttresses, an advanced plinth course, dressed limestone quoins and extensive cut limestone dressings.

The pointed arch window openings have dressed and rock-faced limestone block-and-start surrounds. The roll mouldings have label stops including cast heads.

The west front of Saint Brigid’s Church, Ardagh, Co Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

At the west front, the pointed arch entrance, which is approached by stone steps, has a dressed and rock-faced limestone block-and-start surround, ordered roll mouldings with a trifoliated inner order, and a pair of label stops in the form of cast heads of Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid.

The timber battened double leaf door have elaborate wrought-iron strap hinges. Above is a carved stone figure of Saint Brigid and carved limestone plaque with the date ‘AD 1881’.

The church has a four-stage bell tower that was finished in 1903. A niche with a carved stone figure of Saint Patrick can be seen on the east side of the bell tower. This tower was designed on a square-plan with a spire above at the angle of the chancel and the north transept, with a stair tower on square-plan attached to the north face of the tower, and a conical roof over. The spire has with cut stone waterspouts in the form of the four evangelists.

The tower and spire were completed around 1903 by the Dublin-born Thomas Francis McNamara (1867-1947), a partner of Hague and an accomplished and prolific architect whose pupils once included the stained-glass artist Harry Clarke.

The church has pitched and lean-to natural slate roofs, with terracotta ridge cresting, dressed limestone coping on the gable ends, and cut stone kneeler stones with gabled stops.

There are carved limestone cross finials, a dressed limestone eaves course and corbels. The church has cast-iron rainwater goods with moulded hoppers, square-profile downpipes and fleur-de-lis wall brackets. There is a pair of coursed dressed limestone chimneystacks above the sacristy.

Inside Saint Brigid’s Church, Ardagh, Co Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Inside, there is an arch braced timber boarded ceiling, and the wall mosaics are worth noting, not only because they are attractive and complex, but also because they are relatively rare in Ireland.

The wall mosaics in the side chapels, chancel, and south transept depict the Annunciation and Saint Brigid.

There is a marble reredos and altar rail with beautiful work in Irish and Italian marble. The high altar and altar rail were designed by Hague and carved by James Pearse (1839-1900), father of the sculptor Willie Pearse and the Patrick Pearse (1879-1916), one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916. James Pearse’s other works include the reredos in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

The five-light East Window in Saint Brigid’s Church, Ardagh, Co Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The five-light East Window, depicting the Nativity, which was added in 1919, is stained-glass by Mayer and Co of Munich, who worked on many windows for churches in Ireland. The four-light west window is also by Mayer and Co of Munich, but its date is uncertain.

Other stained-glass windows in the church are by J Watson and Co of Youghal, Co Cork. The lancet windows in the side aisles have 20th century stained and painted glass.

The four-light West Window in Saint Brigid’s Church, Ardagh, Co Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The three-bay arcade in the nave has alternating clustered polished granite and painted concrete columns, with cast heads to springing, carved stone shaft rings, and dressed limestone bases. Inside, there are stucco mouldings, capitals, corbels and polished granite colonnettes throughout the church too.

The carved stone Baptismal font has an elaborate gold painted metal cover on a pulley and chain system.

The graves of Archdeacon James Reynolds and Monsignor James O’Farrell are placed at the base of the side aisles on the inside.

The Parochial House beside Saint Brigid’s Church, Ardagh, Co Longford, was designed by Thomas Francis McNamara (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The neighbouring Parochial House or parish priest’s house was built in 1905 under the direction of Monsignor James O’Farrell. It was designed by Hague’s partner, the Dublin-born architect Thomas McNamara (1867-1947) of Hague and McNamara architects.

This is a detached, three-bay, two-storey house, with an advanced gabled bay to the south end of the front (east) elevation and a full-height canted bay window to the north end of the front elevation. Here too the contrast between the rock-faced yellow sandstone and the grey limestone creates an interesting tonal and textural variation to the façades.

There is an advanced bay with a single-storey canted bay window at the south elevation. There is a late 20th century single-storey extension behind the house.

This parochial house displays high quality craftsmanship throughout, and its deliberate asymmetry is typical of many substantial late Victorian and Edwardian buildings of this type. It is unusually grand and large for a parochial house in a small village, suggesting, and the intention may have been to highlight the place of Ardagh as the former seat of the Diocese of Ardagh.

The Annunciation depicted in a mosaic in Saint Brigid’s Church, Ardagh, Co Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Three churches on
the site of Saint Mel’s
Cathedral in Ardagh

The ruins of Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Ardagh stand on a site said to date back to the firth century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

On the way back from Wineport Lodge near Athlone, Co Westmeath, last week, I visited the village of Ardagh, Co Longford, just off the N4 Dublin-Sligo road, 10 km from Longford town and 5 km from Edgeworthstown.

The Irish name Árd Archadh means the ‘high field.’ The village is set on high ground with good agricultural lands. About a mile from the village, a hill called Brí Leith is known locally as Ardagh Mountain, and is said to have been a centre of pre-Christian religious worship.

The ruins of Saint Mel’s Cathedral in the centre of Ardagh mark one of the most important ecclesiastical sites in Co Longford. These ruins are to the south-east of Saint Patrick’s, the Church of Ireland parish church, in a corner of the graveyard beside the road.

Tradition says Saint Patrick founded a church at Ardagh in the mid-fifth century, around 454. Here he baptised Maine, Lord of South Teffia, built a church, and consecrated his nephew, Saint Mel, the son of Patrick’s sister Darerca, as bishop, with Mel’s brother Melchu as co-bishop. It is said Mel and his three brothers had travelled with their uncle Saint Patrick to Ireland.

Although there is no historical or archaeological evidence to support these legends, Saint Mel is still regarded as the founder of the Diocese of Ardagh, and he invited Saint Brigid there to found a convent. He accepted her vows and gave her and her seven companions a site for their convent. There is no trace of an early convent in Armagh, although a holy well is named after Saint Brigid and is visited each year on her feast day, 1 February.

Saint Mel is said to have died ca 490, and his feast day is on 6 February. From the saint’s death, the line of episcopal succession in Ardagh is uncertain and the subject of speculation and legend.

Saint Erard is said to have been Bishop of Ardagh in 754, to have travelled to Rome with his companions and to have died died at Ratisbon, where he is also said to have been bishop.

At the Synod of Rath Breasail in 1111, Ardagh and Ardcarn were named as alternative centres for a diocese in East Connaught. Ardagh was chosen, and at the Synod of Kells in 1152, the Kingdom of Breifne was incorporated into the new Diocese of Kells, while the Diocese of Ardagh remained an independent see, with Saint Mel’s as its cathedral.

The first named Bishop of Ardagh was Mac Raith Ua Móráin (1152-1166). The diocese originally comprised the country of the Eastern Conmaice. It included the territory of the O’Ferals and the O’Quinns in Co Longford, called Annally, and the territory of Muintir Eolais, or the MacRannal (O’Reynolds) family in Co Leitrim.

The rival claims of Armagh and Tuam to primacy in Ardagh, beginning in 1177, led to a schism in the Diocese of Ardagh in1224. Pope Honorius III decided in favour of Armagh in 1216, this was confirmed by Pope Gregory IX in 1235, and a final settlement was agreed in 1326.

The O’Farrells, a local chieftain family, provided seven Bishops of Ardagh in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Early cathedral ruins

The ruins of Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Ardagh, with Saint Patrick’s parish church in the background (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The remains of Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Ardagh stand to the south-east of Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland parish church. Saint Mel is reputed to be buried within the walls of the cathedral ruins. However, this ruined church dates from three centuries after the saint’s death, and predates the introduction of a diocesan system in Ireland.

The present stone ruin, built in the eighth or ninth century, is of a cyclopean nature. Excavations have shown it was built on the site of an earlier timber church.

The ruins of Saint Mel’s Cathedral represent a typical early mediaeval church, with a simple rectangular room, accessed by a western lintelled doorway with inclined jambs, tapering from the base to the top.

The building is 10.35 metres long an 7.70 metres wide. The large blocks of stone that make up the walls sit on a stone plinth that projects slightly. Some limestone blocks in the wall measure an average of 2.5 metres by 0.90 metres. The roof would have been a high-pitched roof, supported somewhat by the antae located at the corners of the ruins.

The cathedral tower was destroyed in 1230 during a fight between supporters of rival claimants to the title of Bishop of Ardagh.

The cathedral was severely damaged in 1496 internecine warfare between factions in the O’Farrell family. A report to Rome said the cathedral was left without sacristy, bell tower or bell, and with only one altar open to the sky in a roofless church. and was never restored.

The cathedral remained in ruins in the 16th century, and when Bishop William O’Farrell died in 1516 Ardagh was said to consist of only four wooden houses and the ruined cathedral, ‘of which hardly the walls are left.’

Patrick MacMahon, who was Bishop of Ardagh in 1553-1572, was accused of leaving the cathedral in a ruinous state and doing nothing to repair it. Given the desolate state of Ardagh, the Bishops of Kilmore were also Bishops of Ardagh after 1604. A royal visitation in 1615 confirmed that the cathedral was still in ruins.

When William Bedell as Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh (1629-1642) visited Ardagh in 1630 and reported to William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, that Ardagh was ‘very miserable’ and that the cathedral and the bishop’s house had been razed to the ground.

Saint Mel’s crozier was found in the vicinity of the church in the 19th century. Then in 1967, archaeological excavations at the site identified the footprints of a wooden structure, dating to the eighth century, almost identical in dimensions to the present footprint of the upstanding stone structure.

The late mediaeval cathedral

The church ruins in the graveyard to the south-east of Saint Patrick’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The church ruins in the graveyard to the south-east of the 19th century Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland parish church may represent the late mediaeval church built to replace Saint Mel’s Cathedral.

This is a single-chamber rectangular building, with a west doorway and an east window, and three windows in both the north wall and the south wall. The church is covered with ivy and there is no architectural details that would indicate its date or age. There is a blocked doorway with a horizontal lintel in the graveyard wall.

This may be the ruined cathedral that Bishop Bedell saw when he visited Ardagh in 1630. If so, then it was ruined again during the rebellion of 1641.

The church or cathedral was restored after the Caroline restoration, but it was certainly probably abandoned by the beginning of the 19th century when the present parish church, Saint Patrick’s, was built in 1810-1812.

Saint Patrick’s Church

Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland parish church in Ardagh was built in 1810-1812 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland parish church was a cathedral church for a period during the early 19th century, until the Dioceses of Ardagh and Kilmore were united in 1839.

The church stands in the centre of Ardagh on an elevated site in landscaped grounds, surrounded by a graveyard to the south, east and west, and with random rubble stone boundary walls.

This church is typical of churches financed the Board of First Fruits between 1711 and 1833, with two or three bays and a tower and found throughout the Irish countryside. The front or west face of the church exhibits an interesting mix of classical influences in the cornice and frieze and Gothic details. The side vestibules are a feature found in a number of the Church of Ireland churches in Co Longford.

This may be a slightly quirky church, but it is attractive and retains its early form and character and its fabric, and fine craftsmanship can be seen in the carving and detailing.

Saint Patrick’s is a three-bay single-cell church built or rebuilt in 1810, with a three-stage tower on square-plan to the west, added around 1812. It is flanked on either side, to the north and south, by a single-bay vestibule and narthex.

The church is built of rendered walls over a dressed limestone plinth, with dressed limestone quoins to the corners.

The front of the church is reached by stone steps. The front or west elevation of the church has a parapet, with moulded cornices, a carved limestone quatrefoil decoration on the frieze, a date plaque and inscribed crosses and cross loops to west elevation.

At each side of the nave, the pointed arch window openings have dressed limestone block-and-start surrounds, sills and stone tracery with quarry and storm glazing.

The east end has a triple-light pointed arch window, with dressed limestone block-and-start surrounds, sills, timber tracery and with quarry and storm glazing. There are blind pointed arch window openings, with corbelled dressed limestone surrounds, and pointed arch timber louvered openings.

The square-headed entrance opening has a pointed arch dressed limestone surround to a plain tympanum. There is a timber battened double leaf door with elaborate strap hinges, flanked by carved limestone pilasters and a moulded cornice.

There are pointed arch window openings at the sides of the vestibules too, with dressed limestone block-and-start surrounds, sills and six-over-six pane timber sliding sash windows with intersecting tracery to the heads.

The tower is built of random rubble stone at belfry level with cut stone quoins to the corners. It has cut stone corner pinnacles and a crenellated parapet. The tower also has pointed arch timber louvered openings.

The church has a pitched, natural slate roof with overhanging eaves and cast-iron rainwater goods.

The church cost £1,809 to build, and Lewis records in 1837 that the church in Ardagh is ‘a plain commodious building with a square tower, for the erection of which the late Board of First Fruits granted a loan of £900, in 1812, and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have lately granted £301 for its repair.’

The tracery details in the nave windows suggest they were altered in the second half of the 19th century, perhaps to designs by the architect James Rawson Carroll (1830-1911), who carried out extensive works in Ardagh between 1860 and 1865.

The elevated position and the prominent site in the village makes it a dominant feature in the surrounding landscape. It forms part of an interesting group of related buildings, including the former rectory and the lychgate at the entrance to the church.

The graveyard has a number of good quality grave markers, the earliest of which is dated 1818.

Saint Patrick’s Lychgate

The lychgate leading into Saint Patrick’s churchyard was erected in 1863 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A charming timber lychgate at the main, west entrance to Saint Patrick’s churchyard was erected in 1863. This is composed of a half-hipped terracotta flat tiled roof, with slates on each side, supported by a painted open timber post construction on red brick bases. There are double leaf timber gates with latches.

A lychgate was the place where priests traditionally met coffins before a church funeral. The word lych has its origins in Old English and means ‘corpse.’ Although lychgates are a typically Anglican feature, they are unusual in Ireland. In England, they can date from the 13th century, but many are thought to date from the 15th century. The tile roof is also an unusual feature in Ireland.

This lychgate was probably designed by the architect James Rawson Carroll (1830-1911), who carried out a number of works in Ardagh for Sir Thomas Fetherston in 1860-1865, when he was commissioned to improve the village as a memorial to his uncle, Sir George Fetherston.

Today’s cathedrals

In 1961, the parish church of Saint John in Sligo became the cathedral of the Dioceses of Ardagh and Elphin as the Cathedral Church of Saint Mary the Virgin and Saint John the Baptist, and the dean is the Dean of Elphin and Ardagh. In the renaming, the stories of Saint Mel have been forgotten.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Bishops of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise lived in Ballymahon from 1788, but the cathedral was moved to Longford in 1838, and today the cathedral for the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise is Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Longford.

Inside Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland parish church in Ardagh, Co Longford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Childhood and adult
memories of hurling in
Wexford and Limerick

The Dean of Limerick, the Very Revd Niall Sloane, with Limerick hurling fans outside Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick

Patrick Comerford

On the return journey from Ballybunion to Askeaton after lunch in Daroka and a walk on the beach this afternoon, every village and cluster of houses on the way back was still and quiet.

I imagine many people were preparing to watch the All-Ireland hurling final on television, had gone to the pub for the match, or had gone to watch it on the big screen in the centre of Newcastle West.

Perhaps a small number of fortunate people had even managed to wrangle tickets for Croke Park this afternoon.

Everywhere in Limerick city and country has been awash in green and white for the past fortnight or more, and despite the nail-biting close to the match with Galway, this is a day for great pride throughout Limerick.

We are in Ordinary time, and the liturgical colour is green. But someone still managed to ask me whether I was dressed in green and white to celebrate Limerick hurling. Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, turned green in the run-up to the hurling final, and today’s joy is shared throughout all sectors of Limerick society.

Watching the match in the Rectory in Askeaton this afternoon brought back many joyful memories of my own childhood fascination with hurling – a natural instinct for any boy with family roots in the south-east.

Rooting through old files and cuttings, I came across this ‘Irishman’s Diary’ I wrote for The Irish Times over 20 years ago, with memories of Wexford and Limerick hurling. It was published on 2 September 1996, the morning day the All-Ireland Hurling Final that year, when Wexford beat Limerick 1-13 to 0-14 in the final at Croke Park.

‘An Irishman’s Diary

As a boy growing up in the 1950s, I was in awe of the Wexford hurlers, the Rackard brothers, and those epic teams in what Nicky Furlong describes as “the Greatest Hurling Decade”.

Those memories have been hallowed in Billy Roche’s play, Poor Beast in the Rain, and were brought to life again with yesterday's All Ireland Hurling Final against Limerick.

There is nothing to stir Wexford pride like watching the men in Purple and Gold or hearing the band strike up The Boys of Wexford and Boolavogue, and it is no coincidence that the associations between Wexford’s sporting achievements and the memories of 1798 should be recorded by the same local historian.

Nicky Furlong is the author of The Greatest Hurling Decade. But it is in his biography of Father John Murphy that he recalls the origins of a persistent tradition invoked by Wexford supporters against Kilkenny in inter county hurling matches.

A dejected Father Murphy and his exhausted supporters had trekked as far as north Kilkenny, and were betrayed as they slept on the hills of Kilcumney, duped into believing that they were being protected by the local colliers.

Watery Kilkenny Men

During the night, the colliers deserted the Wexford rebels, every man of them from the “camp”. According to Nicky Furlong, the colliers took every gun and pike with all the gunpowder they could carry away with them from the camp. “What gunpowder they could not take with them, they pissed on”.

In all, Wexford have played 26 Leinster hurling finals against Kilkenny. And yet, the greatest abuse was reserved not for the Kilkenny supporters, but for Cork. And this was so because the memory of “Tom the Devil” was alive in Wexford century after the rising.

Thomas Honam, a sergeant with the North Cork militia earned his reputation as “Tom the Devil” for his expertise in torture and his perfection of the pitchcap. Old men who had their heads sheared and had been pitch capped as croppies were still to be seen in Co Wexford in the 1860s, and respect for them and the memory of “Tom the Devil” fired Wexford people in, the decade leading up to the first centenary of the rising.

In 1890, Castlebridge won the county hurling championship and so became the first Wexford team to play in an All Ireland Hurling Final. The 1890 final was played at Clonturk on November 16th, and Cork was represented by Augabullogue. Wexford were behind in the match but looked like drawing level with the prowess of two of their fiercest players, Tom Murphy and Will Neville. The Wexford supporters were emphatic when they accused the Cork supporters of being descendants of the North Cork Militia. As a ballad of the time puts it:

Tom Murphy and Will Neville
Began to lay them level,
When they thought of Tom the Devil,
With his pitch cap and his shears.


The Cork team were forced off the pitch by the Wexford jeers. But at that stage the scoreline stood at 1-6 to 2-2 against Wexford, and the unfinished match was awarded to Cork.

Wexford returned to Clonturk again for the 1891 final, played on February 28th, 1892. This time Crossabeg represented the county, and the team included, Tom Murphy and Will Neville once again. But Kerry's Ballyduff won 2-3 to 1-5 after a half hour’s extra play.

Wexford’s first All Ireland Hurling title was not won until 1910, when Castlebridge beat Limerick’s Castleconnel at Jones’s Road 7-0 to 6-2. Once again, the memory of 1798 must have been high in the minds of the Wexford supporters. Big, Jem Mythen of Monawilling, who scored the winning goal against, Limerick that year, has a special place in ’98 lore according to local historian Brian Cleary. And that place is recorded in Brian Cleary’s account of the Battle of Oulart in The Past, the journal of the Ui Cinsealaigh Historical Society.

Where Murphy Stood

As part of the 1948 commemorations for the 150th anniversary of the 1798 Rising, Jim Mythen, along with Paddy Sutton, Phil Quirke, Bud Farl and Ned Ryan, erected a monument in a corner of a field between Monawilling and Oulart, close to the place where tradition says Father John Murphy stood during the Battle of Oulart on Sunday, May 27th, 1798.

The monument stands close to Father Murphy’s Well, and according to Brian Cleary, the monument, the well and the entire battle area at Oulart are being included in the Sli Charman, the long walk planned across Co Wexford.

After their 1910 victory over Limerick, the Wexford hurlers had to wait until 1918 to return to an All Ireland hurling final.

Once again, they faced Limerick, but the Wexford selection was trounced 9-5 to 1-3 by Newcastle West.

Defeat was sweetened that year by Wexford’s sixth successive appearance in an All Ireland Senior Football final and the fourth successive football title won for the county by the Blues and Whites of Wexford town: having been defeated by Kerry in 1913 and 1914, Wexford won four times in a row from 1915.

With these record breaking exploits, hurling took second place to football throughout the 1920s, the 1930s and well into the 1940s. In 1948, the Wexford final with a team that included Nicky Rackard. But Wexford's greatest triumph that year was to see a football tournament organised to coincide with the 150th anniversary commemorations of 1798. By coincidence, Wexford reached the final, which was not played until 1949, when the team, with Martin Comerford in goal, was defeated in front of 36,000 by three points by mighty Meath.

Few could have foreseen the great revival in Wexford hurling that year too. The dual football and hurling heroes of the county included Nicky Rackard, Mick Hanlon, Padge Kehoe, Bobby Donovan, and Sam “Wilkie” Thorpe from Vinegar Hill.

The Three Rackards

The hurlers of the 1950s reached the All Ireland final in 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, with three Rackard brothers playing on each occasion and Wexford returning victorious in 1955, when Galway were defeated, and in 1956, when Cork were the losers. And there were Leinster senior titles too in 1951, 1954, 1955, and 1956.

Hurling fever swept the whole county in the early 1950s. Even Wexford town, until then a football stronghold, saw the founding of its first hurling team at Faythe Harriers. Nicky Furlong recalls how he even togged out as centre forward in the blue and black of Wexford Wanderers Rugby Football Club for an unofficial match against Young Irelands at Park Lane.

There were All Ireland hurling victories again in 1960 and 1968 against Tipperary. But there was no glory for the county like the stunning records of the 1910s and the 1950s.

Now, wouldn’t another Wexford victory in 1998 be a good way to mark the 200th anniversary of 1798?

Patrick Comerford

‘The Lord we receive at the Eucharist
is the one whom we go out to serve’

‘Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever’ (John 6: 51) … bread on sale in a shop in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 19 August 2018, Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XII, Proper 15B).

Readings: I Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5: 15-20; John 6: 51-58.

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert, Co Kerry.

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

This morning’s readings – the Old Testament, Psalm and Epistle reading – ask us to consider where we find wisdom, and the Psalm reminds us that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.’

But the purpose of wisdom, which Solomon asks for alone, is so that good and evil can be distinguished, especially when it comes to the needs of the people.

In the Gospel reading, Christ teaches us and shows how he cares for the needs of the people, both spiritually and physically.

IIn our Old Testament reading (I Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14), Solomon is at the beginning of his reign when God appears to him. Solomon asks for the gift of wisdom. God grants this request, but also adds riches and honour above other kings, which Solomon did not ask for.

Psalm 111 thanks God for his great deeds and reminds us: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Psalm 111: 10).

In our Epistle reading, Saint Paul tells the Church in Ephesus that wisdom is a characteristic of Christian living, and that we are privileged to share in God’s wisdom and insights through Christ. Before Christ comes again, we are, effectively, to know the difference between wisdom and foolishness, to be filled with the Spirit instead of drunkenness, showing this joy among ourselves, and giving thanks to God at all times for the whole of creation.

Our Gospel reading (John 6: 51-58) continues the discourse after the feeding of the multitude, in which Christ describes himself, saying ‘I am the living bread’ (verse 51).

Last Sunday, we heard Christ say to the multitude: ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6: 35). And he emphasised it, not once but twice, when he said: ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’ (verse 41) and again ‘I am the bread of life’ (verse 48).

Now, in this morning’s reading, Christ develops that theme when he says: ‘I am the living bread’ (verse 51).

In the Hebrew Bible, the meaning of God’s name is closely related to the emphatic statement ‘I AM’ (see Exodus 3: 14; 6: 2; Deuteronomy 32: 39; Isaiah 43: 25; 48: 12; 51: 12; etc.). So, the ‘I AM’ of the Old Testament and the ‘I AM’ of Saint John’s Gospel is the God who creates us, who communicates with us, who gives himself to us.

But it is worth asking ourselves, what does it mean to acknowledge Christ as ‘the bread of life’?

I was at a wedding recently that was celebrated in the context of the Eucharist or the Holy Communion.

In his sermon, the priest compared God’s self-giving to us in Christ’s body as an expression of God’s deepest love for us with the way in which a couple getting married give themselves bodily to each other … the most intimate loving action to be shown to each other.

Of course, for the love of God and the love of one another are inseparable.

Let me offer three illustrations that show how this is so.

1, ‘The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry’

I spent some time recently travelling through Cappadocia, in south-central Turkey. I was there because of my interest in sites associated with the three Cappadocian Fathers.

They are three key Patristic writers and saints: Saint Basil the Great (329-379), Bishop of Caesarea, his brother Saint Gregory (335-395), Bishop of Nyssa, and Saint Gregory Nazianzus (329-390), who became Patriarch of Constantinople.

They challenged heresies such as Arianism and their thinking was instrumental in formulating the phrases that shaped the Nicene Creed.

But their thinking was not about doctrine alone. It was also about living the Christian life.

So, for example, Saint Basil wrote: ‘The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.’

Sacramental practice must be related to the practice of Christianity, and doctrine and belief must be related to how we live our lives as Christians.

2, The ‘folly and madness’ of Bishop Frank Weston

I have also stayed in recent years in Saint Matthew’s Vicarage in Westminster, where Frank Weston (1871-1924), Bishop of Zanzibar, is said to have written a key, influential speech just a year before he died.

Bishop Frank Weston held together in a creative combination his incarnational and sacramental theology with his radical social concerns, expressed in his keynote address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923. He believed that the sacramental focus gave a reality to Christ’s presence and power that nothing else could.

He concluded that address: ‘But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you, through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums … It is folly – it is madness – to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children.’

He told people at the congress: ‘Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.’

Something similar was said in a recent letter in The Tablet [4 August 2018] by Father Derek P Reeve, a retired parish priest in Portsmouth: ‘The … Lord whom we receive at the Eucharist is the one whom we go out to serve, and, dare I say it, to adore in our neighbour …’

So sacramental life is meaningless unless it is lived out in our care for those who are hungry, suffering and marginalised.

3, Practical expression of Christian values in public action

Some years ago, the Anglican priest and Guardian columnist Giles Fraser visited the migrant camps in Calais and worshipped with them in the makeshift chapel served by Eritrean priests.

His visit stirred controversy in English red-top tabloids. There was speculation at the time in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and other papers that the BBC was going to film Songs of Praise in Calais, which caused furtive but feigned panic about public money, the licence fees, being used to tell the migrants’ stories.

Despite hyped-up talk long before the ‘Brexit’ referendum about ‘swarms’ of migrants supposedly trying to reach British shores from Calais, only four per cent of Europe’s asylum seekers are applying to stay in the UK.

That debate in Britain was in sharp contrast to the humanitarian work of Irish naval vessels on the high seas at the same time, saving hundreds if not thousands of lives in the Mediterranean waters between Italy and North Africa.

The crews of those naval vessels are hallowed expressions of public values in this society … and a practical expression of Christian values in public action.

Appropriately, the Post-Communion Prayer this morning prays: ‘God of compassion, in this eucharist we know again your forgiveness and the healing power of your love. Grant that we who are made whole in Christ may bring that forgiveness and healing to this broken world, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.’

Some conclusions

There are three points that might be drawn from this morning’s Gospel reading:

1, God gives to us in Christ, and in the Sacrament, so too we must give lovingly.

2, Doctrine and belief must be related to discipleship, indeed they are meaningless unless they are reflected in how we live our lives, a point made by Saint Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians.

3, Our sacramental practice must always be related to how we live our lives every day so that we make Christ’s love visible.

To summarise, our doctrines and creedal expressions, our attention to Scripture and our attention to sacramental life find their fullest meaning in how we reflect God’s love for each other and how we express God’s love for those who are left without loving care. For they too are made in God’s image and likeness, and in their faces we see the face of Christ.

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

‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven’ (John 6: 51) … bread on the table in a restaurant in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

John 6: 51-58:

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ 53 So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’

‘He provides food for those who fear him’ (Psalm 111: ) … bread on a shop shelf in Powerscourt, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray
and to give more than either we desire, or deserve:
Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid,
and giving us those good things
which we are not worthy to ask
save through the merits and mediation
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

God of compassion,
in this eucharist we know again your forgiveness
and the healing power of your love.
Grant that we who are made whole in Christ
may bring that forgiveness and healing to this broken world,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘Bread of the world in mercy broken’ (Hymn 403) … bread in a Greek baker’s window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

643: Be thou my vision, (CD 37);
346: Angel voices, ever singing (CD 21);
403: Bread of the world, in mercy broken (CD 24).

‘Bread of the world in mercy broken’ (Hymn 403) … bread in the window of Hndleys Bakery, Tamworth Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

Bringing forgiveness and
healing to this broken
world in the name of Christ

‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven’ (John 6: 51) … bread on the table in a restaurant in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 19 August 2018,

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XII, Proper 15B).


Readings: I Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5: 15-20; John 6: 51-58.

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

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

This morning’s readings – the Old Testament, Psalm and Epistle reading – ask us to consider where we find wisdom, and the Psalm reminds us that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.’

But the purpose of wisdom, which Solomon asks for alone, is so that good and evil can be distinguished, especially when it comes to the needs of the people.

In the Gospel reading, Christ teaches us and shows how he cares for the needs of the people, both spiritually and physically.

In our Old Testament reading (I Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14), Solomon is at the beginning of his reign when God appears to him. Solomon asks for the gift of wisdom. God grants this request, but also adds riches and honour above other kings, which Solomon did not ask for.

Psalm 111 thanks God for his great deeds and reminds us: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Psalm 111: 10).

In our Epistle reading, Saint Paul tells the Church in Ephesus that wisdom is a characteristic of Christian living, and that we are privileged to share in God’s wisdom and insights through Christ. Before Christ comes again, we are, effectively, to know the difference between wisdom and foolishness, to be filled with the Spirit instead of drunkenness, showing this joy among ourselves, and giving thanks to God at all times for the whole of creation.

Our Gospel reading (John 6: 51-58) continues the discourse after the feeding of the multitude, in which Christ describes himself, saying ‘I am the living bread’ (verse 51).

Last Sunday, we heard Christ say to the multitude: ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6: 35). And he emphasised it, not once but twice, when he said: ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’ (verse 41) and again ‘I am the bread of life’ (verse 48).

Now, in this morning’s reading, Christ develops that theme when he says: ‘I am the living bread’ (verse 51).

In the Hebrew Bible, the meaning of God’s name is closely related to the emphatic statement ‘I AM’ (see Exodus 3: 14; 6: 2; Deuteronomy 32: 39; Isaiah 43: 25; 48: 12; 51: 12; etc.). So, the ‘I AM’ of the Old Testament and the ‘I AM’ of Saint John’s Gospel is the God who creates us, who communicates with us, who gives himself to us.

But it is worth asking ourselves, what does it mean to acknowledge Christ as ‘the bread of life’?

I was at a wedding recently that was celebrated in the context of the Eucharist or the Holy Communion.

In his sermon, the priest compared God’s self-giving to us in Christ’s body as an expression of God’s deepest love for us with the way in which a couple getting married give themselves bodily to each other … the most intimate loving action to be shown to each other.

Of course, for the love of God and the love of one another are inseparable.

Let me offer three illustrations that show how this is so.

1, ‘The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry’

I spent some time recently travelling through Cappadocia, in south-central Turkey. I was there because of my interest in sites associated with the three Cappadocian Fathers.

They are three key Patristic writers and saints: Saint Basil the Great (329-379), Bishop of Caesarea, his brother Saint Gregory (335-395), Bishop of Nyssa, and Saint Gregory Nazianzus (329-390), who became Patriarch of Constantinople.

They challenged heresies such as Arianism and their thinking was instrumental in formulating the phrases that shaped the Nicene Creed.

But their thinking was not about doctrine alone. It was also about living the Christian life.

So, for example, Saint Basil wrote: ‘The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.’

Sacramental practice must be related to the practice of Christianity, and doctrine and belief must be related to how we live our lives as Christians.

2, The ‘folly and madness’ of Bishop Frank Weston

I have also stayed in recent years in Saint Matthew’s Vicarage in Westminster, where Frank Weston (1871-1924), Bishop of Zanzibar, is said to have written a key, influential speech just a year before he died.

Bishop Frank Weston held together in a creative combination his incarnational and sacramental theology with his radical social concerns, expressed in his keynote address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1923. He believed that the sacramental focus gave a reality to Christ’s presence and power that nothing else could.

He concluded that address: ‘But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you, through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums … It is folly – it is madness – to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children.’

He told people at the congress: ‘Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.’

Something similar was said in a recent letter in The Tablet [4 August 2018] by Father Derek P Reeve, a retired parish priest in Portsmouth: ‘The … Lord whom we receive at the Eucharist is the one whom we go out to serve, and, dare I say it, to adore in our neighbour …’

So sacramental life is meaningless unless it is lived out in our care for those who are hungry, suffering and marginalised.

3, Practical expression of Christian values in public action

Some years ago, the Anglican priest and Guardian columnist Giles Fraser visited the migrant camps in Calais and worshipped with them in the makeshift chapel served by Eritrean priests.

His visit stirred controversy in English red-top tabloids. There was speculation at the time in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and other papers that the BBC was going to film Songs of Praise in Calais, which caused furtive but feigned panic about public money, the licence fees, being used to tell the migrants’ stories.

Despite hyped-up talk long before the ‘Brexit’ referendum about ‘swarms’ of migrants supposedly trying to reach British shores from Calais, only four per cent of Europe’s asylum seekers are applying to stay in the UK.

That debate in Britain was in sharp contrast to the humanitarian work of Irish naval vessels on the high seas at the same time, saving hundreds if not thousands of lives in the Mediterranean waters between Italy and North Africa.

The crews of those naval vessels are hallowed expressions of public values in this society … and a practical expression of Christian values in public action.

Appropriately, the Post-Communion Prayer this morning prays: ‘God of compassion, in this eucharist we know again your forgiveness and the healing power of your love. Grant that we who are made whole in Christ may bring that forgiveness and healing to this broken world, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.’

Some conclusions

There are three points that might be drawn from this morning’s Gospel reading:

1, God gives to us in Christ, and in the Sacrament, so too we must give lovingly.

2, Doctrine and belief must be related to discipleship, indeed they are meaningless unless they are reflected in how we live our lives, a point made by Saint Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians.

3, Our sacramental practice must always be related to how we live our lives every day so that we make Christ’s love visible.

To summarise, our doctrines and creedal expressions, our attention to Scripture and our attention to sacramental life find their fullest meaning in how we reflect God’s love for each other and how we express God’s love for those who are left without loving care. For they too are made in God’s image and likeness, and in their faces we see the face of Christ.

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

‘Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever’ (John 6: 51) … bread on sale in a shop in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 6: 51-58:

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ 53 So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’

‘He provides food for those who fear him’ (Psalm 111: ) … bread on a shop shelf in Powerscourt, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green.

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray
and to give more than either we desire, or deserve:
Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid,
and giving us those good things
which we are not worthy to ask
save through the merits and mediation
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

‘Bread of the world in mercy broken’ (Hymn 403) … bread in a Greek baker’s window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

643: Be thou my vision, (CD 37);
346: Angel voices, ever singing (CD 21);
425: Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts (CD 25).

‘Bread of the world in mercy broken’ (Hymn 403) … bread in the window of Hindleys Bakery, Tamworth Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Tales of Russian love
and poetry in the mosaics
in Mullingar Cathedral

Saint Anna … Boris Anrep’s image in Mullingar Cathedral was inspired by his former lover, the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on images for full-screen views)

Patrick Comerford

The works of art for which the Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, is most noted are the mosaics in the side chapels dedicated to Saint Patrick and Saint Anne. These are the work of the Russian-born mosaic artist Boris Anrep (1883-1969), a celebrated artist and socialite who is best known for his monumental mosaics at the National Gallery, Westminster Cathedral, and the Bank of England in London.

The Saint Patrick mosaic depicts Saint Patrick lighting the Paschal fire on the Hill of Slane. In the Saint Anne mosaic, Saint Anne’s name is spelled Anna, and the image of Saint Anne resembles the poet Anna Akhmatova.

Boris and Anna had an affair in Russia during World War I. But Boris Anrep left Russia before the October Revolution, and did not contact Anna for 48 years. Yet, she remained the muse who haunted his imagination. She appears in several of his mosaics, but this one in Mullingar is the only to include her name. In return, up to 34 of her poems are about him.

In England, Boris was close to the Bloomsbury Group and was a leading figure in London social and intellectual life from 1912 until the mid-1960s. In Ireland, he is known for his mosaics in Mullingar Cathedral. In Russia, he is associated with the Silver Age of Russian Poetry as the focus of many beautiful poems by Anna Akhmatova, including her Tale of the Black Ring. Anrep was also friendly with Nikolay Gumilyov, an outstanding poet and Anna’s husband, and Nikolay Nedobrovo, a talented critic, two prominent figures of the 1910s in Saint Petersburg.

But how did this Russian love affair end up being depicted in Orthodox-style mosaics in a cathedral in a market town in the Irish Midlands, and in mosaics in the National Gallery in London?

Boris Anrep was born Boris Vasilyevich Anrep in St Petersburg on 27 September 1883. The Anrep family, originally from Westphalia, belongs to Swedish and Russian nobility and family members included famous army officers from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

His father, Vassily von Anrep, was a professor of forensic medicine. He held senior positions in the Russian education and interior ministries and was elected to the Duma, the Russian parliament, in 1907.

From 1899 to 1901, Boris went to school in Kharkov, where he first met Nikolay Nedobrovo. He spent the summer of 1899 learning English in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, and from 1902 he studied law in St Petersburg,.

After Nedobrovo introduced Anrep to the painter Dmitri Stelletsky, Boris took an active in the creative arts. In 1904, Boris travelled with Stelletsky to Italy, and there he was enthralled by the Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna. It was on this visit that he determined to become a mosaic artist himself.

He graduated in law at St Petersburg in 1905. He also met Yunia Khitrovo that year, and they were married in 1908. He then abandoned his law studies and left for Paris to study art, followed by a year at the Edinburgh College of Art in 1910-1911.

In France, Boris had become friends with the painters Henry Lamb and Augustus John, and he soon befriended other English artists and intellectuals, including Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry and Virginia Woolf. He fell in love with Helen Maitland, a friend of Augustus John’s wife Dorelia. They lived together from 1911, had two children, and got married in 1918. However, the marriage was unhappy, and Helen left him to become the lifelong companion of the artist and critic Roger Fry.

Anrep worked with the art critic Clive Bell on Roger Fry’s second Post-Impressionist exhibition in 1912. He was in charge of the Russian section and presented pictures by Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov and Nicholas Roerich.

His first success in London came in 1914 he created mosaics for the Crypt in Westminster Cathedral.

By now, Boris was writing poetry in Russian and in English, influenced by the English romantics, including Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake. His poem Fiza was read in 1913 in his absence in St Petersburg and would give its name to the society of poets that included Anna Akhmatova, her husband Nikolay Gumilyov, and Osip Mandelstam and became the centre of Acmeism, a new trend in Russian poetry.

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Anrep enlisted as an officer in the Russian army and fought in Galicia until 1916. Before joining the army, he visited Nedobrovo in Tsarskoe Selo and was introduced to Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), who lived nearby. They met continually during Anrep’s short breaks in St Petersburg.

Anna, who was born Anna Andreyevna Gorenko, is regarded as one of the most significant Russian poets of the 20th century.

Boris described their relationship as a ‘warm friendship,’ but for Anna it was intense and inspired over 30 poems that trace their affair from her early hopes and dreams to her bitter disappointment at their parting. They include 17 poems in her third book and 14 poems in her fourth book ‘devoted’ to Boris.

These poems suggest strongly that Anna was passionately in love with Boris. She sees him everywhere in his absence. She dreams of turning the inattentive Boris into an attentive lover, she imagines him as an angel who will reward her for all her suffering, she fantasises about how he would react if she took her own life, she sees herself abandoning everything to live with him as a beggar in a foreign city, and she rails against his eventual decision to leave Russia and to leave her for England in April 1917, and to live permanently in England.

Boris had been called back to London as Military Secretary to the Russian Government Committee. He never returned to Russia. The same year, Anna used a line from Fiza as an epigraph to her book White Flock.

Back in London, Boris resumed his work as an artist. In 1917-1920 he was commissioned to decorate the hall of the Chelsea home of the artist Ethel Sands. This included a turquoise blue floor with Byzantine characters (1917) and walls decorated with portraits of Lytton Strachey, his companion Dora Carrington, and Virginia Woolf in male costume (1920).

He made the mosaics Christus Militans and The Vision of Saint John for the chapel at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (1921). Another commission was the vestibule in Mayfair for Sir William Jowitt, showing Various Moments in the Life of a Lady of Fashion (1922). Lesley Jowitt was shown telephoning in bed, in her bath, and at a nightclub. In 1923, he decorated the octagonal room in the Tate Gallery with eight panels, illustrating ‘The Proverbs of Hell’ from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake.

The trustees of Saint Sophia, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Bayswater, London, commissioned Boris in 1926 to execute a major set of mosaics in the sanctuary. He designed a scheme of Byzantine-style mosaics depicting the Incarnation and the mystery of the Eucharist. They depict the Nativity, the Hospitality of Abraham or the Old Testament Trinity, and angels with the chalice at the Eucharist.

He was invited back to decorate other parts of the cathedral from 1932 to 1956, with full length figures of the Major Prophets, busts of the Minor Prophets, and depictions of Saint Nicholas and Saint Christopher with the Christ Child.

Boris also created four colourful mosaics that decorate the imposing staircase built by Sir John Taylor in 1887 for the entrance hall of the National Gallery. The mosaics were paid for by the industrialist Samuel Courtauld and Maud Russell, wife of the banker Gilbert Russell and another of Boris Arnep’s lovers.

The four mosaics are ‘The Labours of Life’ (1928) in the west vestibule, ‘The Pleasures of Life’ (1929) in the east vestibule, ‘The Pleasures of Life’ (1929) in the east vestibule, ‘The Awakening of the Muses’ (1933) on the half-way landing.

Anna Akhmatova, portrayed as Caliope, appears with other contemporary figures in these mosaics, including Sir Osbert Sitwell (Apollo), Clive Bell (Bacchus), Diana Mitford (Polyhymnia), Virginia Woolf (Clio), Greta Garbo (Melpomene), Lady Keynes (Terpsichore), Lady Christabel Aberconway (Euterpe), Maria Volkova (Urania), Mary Hutchinson (Eratoas) and as Lady Lesley Jowitt (Thalia).

Boris returned to National Gallery in 1952 to create the mosaics depicting the ‘Modern Virtues’ in the north vestibule. Once again, Anna appears in Boris’s mosaics, this time as ‘Compassion,’ alongside Loretta Young, Lord Rutherford, Winston Churchill, Margot Fonteyn, Edward Sackville-West, Lady Diana Cooper, TS Eliot, Bertrand Russell, Fred Hoyle, Augustus John and Edith Sitwell.

In this series, ‘Compassion’ is a portrait of Anna Akhmatova surrounded by the horrors of war. She is looking towards another panel that depicts Anrep’s gravestone, linking together his art and her poetry.

The mosaic of Saint Patrick by Boris Anrep in the Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on images for full-screen views)

Boris is best known in Ireland for his two colourful mosaics of Saint Patrick and Saint Anne in the Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar. The cathedral, built in 1933-1939, was designed by Ralph Byrne and the decorative work is by Oppenheimer of Old Trafford, Manchester.

Boris was living in Paris when John Kyne, Bishop of Meath, invited him to Ireland to create his mosaics in Mullingar Cathedral to mark the Marian Year in 1954.

His mosaic depicting Saint Patrick shows Saint Patrick lighting the Paschal fire on the Hill of Slane. Saint Patrick is seen lifting the cross with one hand in a vigorous movement, and in his other hand he is holding a torch. The firewood is arranged in a Christogram, signifying the symbolic importance of the fire, an is also one of the signs of the strong influence of Eastern Orthodox iconography on this mosaic.

In the upper part of the mosaic, Christ is enthroned – Mullingar Cathedral is the first in the world to have been dedicated to Christ the King. Christ is enthroned between two angels, an image that draws on the composition of the Visitation of Abraham or the Old Testament Trinity in Orthodox iconography, best known in the West through the work of the Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev.

Below are inscriptions drawing on the Breastplate of Saint Patrick and images inspired by the High Cross in Castledermot, Co Kildare.

Saint Anna is the dominant figure in the mosaic by Boris Anrep celebrating the Marian Year in 1954 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on images for full-screen views)

His mosaic to celebrate the Virgin Mary presents a scene clearly inspired by the Eastern Orthodox tradition. The young Virgin Mary is being presented to High Priest in the Temple by her mother, Saint Anne, as her father, Saint Joachim, watches on.

Although this was the Marian Year, the dominant figure in this scene is Saint is Anne. She is tall and swathed in dazzling yellow and blue. Below the figures, mirroring the style of the Saint Patrick mosaic in the side chapel opposite, there are Celtic crosses and motifs inspired by the High Crosses at Monasterboice, Co Louth, and a an ancient mediaeval hymn in Latin praising Saint Anne.

Boris gives her name not as Anne but as Anna, with the letters ‘S. Anna’ at the centre of the mosaic. The long face of the saint, with her large dark eyes and curved nose, has an uncanny resemblance to the poet Anna Akhmatova in her mid-20s.

Boris wrote that the face is ‘full of calm dignity.’ He also wrote that he was trying to capture her ‘touching motherly care’ and ‘culminating vision of her child.’ Perhaps he was thinking of Anna queuing outside the Kresty prison to bring food to her son Lev, incarcerated in a gulag.

In this mosaic, Boris transforms the woman he had abandoned almost 40 years earlier into an icon of endurance and acceptance.

He uses an unconventional spelling of Saint Anne in the mosaic and calls her Anna. Additionally, the saint’s image bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the poet Anna Akhmatova in her mid-20s.

Did Boris still love Anna, the woman who had remained his muse throughout almost 40 in exile?

During those four decades, Anna stayed on in St Petersburg, which became Leningrad, and she suffered throughout the Stalinist years. Gumilev, Punin and Mandelstam were murdered, and her son Lev spent years in a gulag.

For 30 years, Anna lived in an apartment in the Fountain House, a former palace in St Petersburg. It is now a museum to her memory and to that of her husbands, Nikolai Gumilev and Nikolai Punin, and her friend Osip Mandelstam, who were all murdered by the Stalinist regime.

For many years, Boris and Anna did not communicate. But they met again, and for the last time, in 1965, where Paris had been living since the end of World War II. Anna had been shortlisted in 1965 for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Sadly, Boris and Anna had little to say to each other. Anna had immortalised Boris in her poems in Russia, Boris had immortalised Anna in his mosaics and icons in London and Mullingar. But East is East and West is West, and the last meeting lacked the love and romance of their first encounters.

After receiving an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, Anna suffered a heart attack and was taken to hospital in Oxford. From there, she was moved to a sanitorium in Moscow, and she died on 5 March 1966 at the age of 76.

Boris spent his last years were spent in Hyde Park Gardens with Maud Russell. His last great work, completed when Boris was almost 80, is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in Westminster Cathedral which went back in style to the pre-Byzantine Roman mosaics, with little gold and far from the expected monumental sightless figures. They are full of colour, light and rhythm.

Boris Anrep died in London on 7 June 1969. He was cremated at Golder’s Green and his ashes were taken away. According to some sources, his ashes were buried at Mottisfont Abbey, where Maud Russel was buried in the family mausoleum.

Boris Anrep’s image of Christ the King in his Saint Patrick mosaic draws on the composition of the Visitation of Abraham or the Old Testament Trinity best known in the West in the work of Andrei Rublev (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on images for full-screen views)

Mullingar Cathedral declares
Catholic triumphalism in
post-independent Ireland

The Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar, Co Westmeath … a landmark building in the Irish Midlands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

The Cathedral of Christ the King in the centre of Mullingar, Co Westmeath, is a landmark building in the Irish Midlands. The campanile towers and the dome dominate the skyline and approaches to Mullingar for many miles around, and the silhouette of the cathedral has become a symbol of Mullingar.

This is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Meath and it stands at the top of Mary Street, at the junction with College Street and Bishop’s Gate Street, towering above the centre of the county town of Westmeath.

Mullingar Cathedral is yet another statement by the Dublin-based architect Ralph Byrne of the confidence of Roman Catholicism in post-independence Ireland in the 1920s and 1930s, like his cathedral in Cavan and his strong emphatic churches in Athlone, Co Westmeath, and Harold’s Cross, Dublin.

I visited both his Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone and his Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar while I was staying at Wineport Lodge outside Athlone earlier this month.

Byrne’s cathedral in Mullingar replaced an earlier cathedral, dedicated to Saint Mary, that stood on the same site from 1836. This was a large Gothic Revival T-plan church, with four octagonal turrets at the west front, and this, in turn, had replaced the parish chapel dating from 1730.

Planning for a new cathedral began in 1920. The building work began in March 1933 and the foundation stone was laid on 6 August 1933 by Thomas Mulvany, Bishop of Meath (1929-1943).

The new cathedral was designed by the Dublin-based architect, Ralph Henry Byrne (1877-1947). Byrne was noted for his academic approach to architectural design. He favoured the classical idiom for much of his church designs, moving away from the Gothic Revival-style, which had been in vogue for Roman Catholic building projects since the early 19th century.

Inside the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Byrne designed the cathedral to look like a basilica in form and renaissance in style. The distinctive twin towers, surmounted by bronze crosses, rise to a height of about 42.6 metres. The nave is 36.5 metres long and 15.2 metres wide. It follows the pattern of great Roman basilicas such as Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Murphy of Dublin were the builders, while much of the artistic decoration work, including the marble altar goods and the bronze and brass fittings, was designed and fitted by Earley of Camden Street, Dublin, Gunning Smyth’s, and J and C McGloughlin of Dublin, and Oppenheimer of Old Trafford, Manchester.

The cathedral is designed on a complicated regular plan and on a north-south axis rather than an east-west axis. It has a seven-bay nave with a clerestory over and flanking single-storey side aisles, full-height transepts terminated by pediments, a broad apsidal chancel at the north or liturgical east end, and a circular drum with a copper dome above at the central crossing.

At the south side or liturgical west end, the cathedral has a central two-storey block with a pedimented breakfront and with colonnades or loggias at both the first and second floor levels. This is flanked by single-storey blocks on each side supporting the four-storey arcaded campanile towers, each crowned with limestone domes, topped with gilded cross finials.

The main, square-headed entrance has timber panelled double-doors, with a segmental-headed window over, to the centre of the south façade. It is set behind a Venetian-type arrangement of a central round-headed arch flanked by lower square-headed openings, divided by Doric columns in antis.

Albert Power’s elaborate sculpture on the tympanum of Mullingar Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The elaborate sculpture on the pediment or tympanum is in Portland stone by Albert George Power (1881-1945), the leading Irish sculptor of the 1920s and 1930s. It depicts the Virgin Mary handing over a model of the previous Gothic Revival cathedral into the care of Christ the King. There is a number of sculpted panels by H Thompson of Dublin on the front façade above the main entrances.

The cathedral is built of channelled ashlar granite, with extensive ashlar limestone and ashlar granite detailing. There is a variety of window openings, mostly square-headed with metal glazing bars and cut stone surrounds. The ground floor window openings in the nave are set in round-headed recesses. There are pitched roofs.

Inside, the vast open interior of the cathedral is reminiscent of the layout of a Roman basilica and seats over 1,800 people. It is lavishly decorated using different types and colours of marble and has least seven side chapels. There are numerous columns in various types of marble, including colonnades formed of paired Doric columns in Rochambeau marble, separated by high round-headed arches, giving access to the side aisles and to the transepts.

The mosaic in the apse in the sanctuary depicts the Ascension (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The mosaic in the apse in the sanctuary represents the Ascension. The cathedra or bishop’s throne and the chapter stalls were carved in Irish oak in Waterford.

There are seven individual side chapels in the cathedral, dedicated to Saint Patrick, Saint Anne, Saint Joseph and the Holy Family, Saint Therese of Lisieux as patron of Foreign Missions, a mortuary chapel, a Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. Some of these chapels are decorated with mosaics by the Russian artist Boris Anrep (1883-1969).

The Baptistry is now the cathedral shop and the double baptism font has been moved to the top of the west or right-hand aisle.

The Stations of the Cross are in opus sectile and mosaic. The pulpit, of white marble, has carvings depicting the Sermon on the Mount, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Patrick. There is an extensive collection of marble altar goods and a number of bronze fittings and railings.

The new cathedral was formally opened and dedicated on 6 September 1936. At the request of Pope Pius XI, this became the first cathedral in the world to be dedicated to Christ the King. The cathedral was dedicated on 6 September 1936 and was solemnly consecrated on 4 September 1939. The total cost of the building, including decoration, was £250,000 to £275,000, an enormous sum for those days.

The Baptism Font has been moved to the top of the west (left) aisle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The works of art for which Mullingar Cathedral is most noted are the mosaics in the chapels of Saint Anne and Saint Patrick. These are the work of the Russian-born mosaic artist Boris Anrep, a celebrated artist and socialite, best known for his monumental mosaics at the National Gallery, Westminster Cathedral, and the Bank of England in London.

The Saint Patrick mosaic depicts Saint Patrick lighting the Paschal fire on the Hill of Slane. Saint Patrick is seen lifting the cross with one hand in a vigorous movement, and in his other hand he is holding a torch. The firewood is arranged in a Christogram, signifying the symbolic importance of the fire.

In the Saint Anne mosaic, her name is spelled Anna, and the image of Saint Anne is said to resemble the poet Anna Akhmatova. Anrep had an affair with her during World War I. But the story of Boris and Anna is worth returning to later today.

The entrance porch in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Byrne was the architect of choice for the Roman Catholic Church at this time and during the 1930s his commissions included the new cathedral in Cavan and the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone, Co Westmeath, during the 1930s.

In Mullingar, Byrne calls on an eclectic mix of architectural styles, drawing on the classical imperial traditions of Rome, the work of Palladio, the Italian Baroque, Webb and perhaps even the neoclassicism of James Gandon and the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens in New Delhi.

Despite Byrne’s seemingly ad hoc use of classical styles, his cathedral in Mullingar is a polished architectural work. The stark cold ashlar granite on the façade contrasts with the opulence of the marble interior. The façade is a complex arrangement of classical elements, giving out a strong message of triumphalism, and is dominated on the upper storey by the pedimented temple with inset Corinthian columns.

The cathedral is set back from a busy junction in the town centre in extensive mature grounds, with the Bishop’s Residence to one side, a school in its own grounds on the other side, north-east and a large forecourt and car park at the front.

Mullingar Cathedral has been compared in terms of architectural style and ambition to the state-sponsored architectural projects built in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy at the same time. Other critics are kinder when they say this is one of the most stylishly triumphant cathedrals in Ireland, offering visitors ‘an overwhelming experience.’

Whatever you think of it, this massive and extensively detailed cathedral is a monumental statement of the confidence, power and the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland in the first decades after Irish independence.

The towers and dome of Mullingar Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)