Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The George Tavern: an
East End pub where TV
fiction becomes reality

The George Tavern … on the site of an inn mentioned by Chaucer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I have been a fan of EastEnders for many years. The long-running BBC soap, which began in 1985, is set in the fictional East End borough of Walford. The key venues include Albert Square, the local pub the Queen Victoria, and the local market on Bridge Street.

The buildings, characters and storylines could all fit into the East End where I was staying this week during the residential meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), although in real life Stepney, Whitechapel and Limehouse are more culturally and ethnically mixed than the cast of EastEnders.

The soap deals with real life issues, including the pressures of everyday family life, domestic violence, community values, cancer, alcoholism, mental health, romance, jealousy, end-of-life issues, and the threats developers and gentrification pose to traditional working-class areas.

In recent storylines, property developers Grafton Hill and Weyland & Co acquire the freehold interest in the Queen Vic as part of their plans to redevelop the area, in which the Queen Vic would be turned into apartments.

It is a storyline that has been experienced throughout the East End. Many traditional pubs, such as the King’s Arms and the Ship on Cable Street, have closed, been sold and converted into apartments and office space.

Close by, and close to the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine, where I was staying this week, the George Tavern is a Grade II listed public house and music venue on Commercial Road owned by the artist Pauline Forster.

The story of the campaign to save the George is one that brings to life this storyline in EastEnders.

The George Tavern stands on a prominent corner site in the East End, at the corner of Commercial Road and Jubilee Street. It was once known as the Halfway House, and the building incorporates original brickwork that is said to be 700 years old.

The inn is mentioned down the centuries by Geoffrey Chaucer, Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens. Geoffrey Chaucer refers to the Halfway House in The Reeve’s Tale, written in the 1380s when he lived above the gate at Aldgate. Samuel Pepys recorded numerous visits here in the 1660s.

The George Tavern was built on the site of the Halfway House, believed to be of mid-17th century origin. Map evidence shows that the Halfway House was rebuilt in the 18th century, some time after 1745, about 50 metres north-east of the earlier inn.

The present building was probably built between 1820 and 1825 and first appears on Greenwood’s map in 1827. The pub therefore forms part of the development of Commercial Road, which was created following the Commercial Road Act of 1802 to link the newly built East India Docks and West India Docks to the boundary of the City of London. A narrow yard labelled Aylward Street behind the pub, now used as a garden, is all that remains today of the old road that once brought all the trade to the Halfway House.

The pub was remodelled in 1862 by James Harrison and the ground-floor pub interior was further remodelled in 1891 by RA Lewcock.

In the 1960s, a nightclub, Stepneys, was added in a building that backs onto the pub. The nightclub was famous for its illuminated dance floor, it was mentioned by the Rolling Stones in ‘Play with Fire,’ and countless concerts and parties took place over the years in the building.

The pub received a Grade II listing in 1973 because it is a handsome corner public house with well-detailed Italianate elevations dating the work in 1862, because it has a strong townscape interest, because it still had many of earlier features from the remodelling of the building in the 1820s, and because of the fine ornate tiling in the bar, presumed to date from the 1891 remodelling.

This corner building has two principal elevations to Jubilee Street and Commercial Road. It is painted brick building with stucco dressings, and a modillion cornice under the balustraded parapet in front of the M-roof.

The doors and windows at the front are set in a continuous arcade with round-headed arches separated by panelled pilasters, with three bays to the west elevation and four to the east, the last bay with a broader, elliptical arch. The arches have decorative floral motifs in bas relief, keystones and cast-iron openwork spandrels. There is a bracketed cornice above the ground floor.

Originally there was a yard to the rear of the pub, but this has been built over. There may have been vaults in the past, and interesting surviving details include an 18th century staircase, ornate Victorian tiling in the bar and 19th century parish boundary stones.

In 2002, the artist Pauline Forster bought the derelict building at auction and spent the next decade transforming the George into an arts, music and performance venue with an international reputation.

Since then, the George Tavern has played host to a number of musical acts, including the Magic Numbers, Kodaline, John Cooper Clarke, Nick Cave, Anna Calvi and Sir Roger Penrose. It continues to host live music on most nights of the week. It has also played host to a number of artists who have used the George Tavern as a photo shoot or film location. The venue has also hosted photo shoots for Kate Moss, Georgia Jagger, Justin Timberlake, Grimes, Amy Winehouse and Grace Jones.

As well as regular new music nights, the George Tavern has also been a venue for classical music concerts, pop-up art exhibitions, vintage jumble sales, film, poetry and spoken-word gigs.

The original plot was split at the auction in 2002, and the nightclub Stepneys was sold to a landlord, who then sold it to Swan Housing Association. In 2008, Pauline Forster became involved with a lengthy dispute with Swan Housing Association, and the future of the George Tavern as a live music venue came under threat from property developers who had bought the adjoining site.

The developers submitted a number of plans to build luxury apartments next to the pub. If the flats are built, the venue will most probably be forced to stop live music events.

About 6,000 people signed two petitions and the campaign to save the George generated positive local and national media coverage. A host of celebrities including Sir Ian McKellen, Plan B, Jo Whiley, and Ricky Wilson of the Kaiser Chiefs and BBC’s the Voice supported the campaign.

The George was successful in the Court of Appeal, which ruled in favour of Pauline Forster. But new plans for a residential development were submitted. Recently, the appeal against the refusal to grant planning permission was dismissed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

James Ketchell of Music Heritage UK said, ‘Common sense has prevailed. This is a musical ‘oasis’ in a cultural desert – it should be protected to provide east London with an eclectic and diverse musical offering.’

Beverly Whitrick of Music Venue Trust said, ‘The George is a grassroots music venue, vital to the development of new music in London and a cultural and community asset. This decision will help other venues by demonstrating that assembling a strong case with evidence about the potential impact of living next to a music venue can determine whether a development is reasonable or not.’

But, while the proposal to build houses next to the George Tavern has been rejected, Swan Housing Group still has the option to go back to the High Court. The proposed housing would almost certainly lead to complaints and restrictions on the George Tavern’s license. It will be interesting to see whether this pub, which is of architectural, historical and cultural interest, can continue to survive the plans of developers.

A vision of the new Jerusalem and
images of an old Jewish community

‘The Holy City’, a colourful picture by Thetis Blacker in the corridors of the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

The corridors and the gardens of the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine in Limehouse have an interesting collection of sculptures, paintings and other works of art. Two in particular caught my attention while I was staying there this week for a residential meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

‘The Holy City’ is a colourful picture by Thetis Blacker (1927-2006), a distinguished artist in the complex work of batik, which originated in south-east Asia, and is produced by waxing and dying fabric.

Ann Thetis Blacker was noted for her richly coloured pictures. She was born in Holmbury St Mary, Surrey, the daughter of Carlos Paton Blacker, a psychiatrist, and a granddaughter of Carlos Blacker, a friend of Oscar Wilde.

She intended to be a singer and studied in London with the German mezzo-soprano singer Elena Gerhardt. She appeared in the chorus at Glyndebourne opera in the 1950s and sang the role of Mother Goose in the Rake’s Progress by Igor Stravinsky.

When her singing career was cut short by vocal issues in the mid-1950s, Blacker turned to painting. At the Chelsea School of Art she was taught by Brenda Moore, wife of the artist Leonard Campbell Taylor.

Blacker became a Churchill Fellow in 1970 and visited India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. She worked at the Batik Research Institute in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and visited Bali and Peru, influencing her style of brightly coloured symbolic pictures using batik dyed fabric.

A number cathedrals and churches in Britain, Europe, and the US commissioned her work including a series of five major pieces based on mythical themes: Apocalypse, at Saint Andrew’s House, Arbor Cosmica, A Bestiary of Mythical Creatures, The Creation, at Winchester Cathedral, and Search for the Simurgh.

She also received commissions for Saint George’s Chapel, Windsor, with an exhibition in 2000; St Albans Abbey; Grey College Chapel at the University of Durham; and Durham Cathedral. These works in cathedrals and churches also include altar frontals and clerical vestments.

She died in Bramley, Surrey in 2006.

Thetis Blacker gave her picture ‘The Holy City’ to the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine. This picture relates to the contemplative theme of the Tree of Life described in the Book of Revelation (Chapter 21-22):

I saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven from God. The city did not need the sun or the moon to shine upon it for the glory of God gave it light.

The river of water of life, sparkling like crystal, flowed down the middle of the city’s street from the throne of God and on either side of the river stood a tree of life. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of nations.

In the week after Holocaust Memorial Day, it did not take a big leap of imagination to make a connection between an image of the New Jerusalem and images of the old Jewish population that once lived in this part of the East End.

On the same corridor, a work by the Cable Street artist Dan Jones recalls the Jewish life and culture that was once associated with the area around Cable Street.

Dan Jones’s mother, the artist Pearl Binder, came to live in Whitechapel in the 1920s, and since 1967, he has lived in Cable Street where he was brought up his family in an old terraced house next to the Crown and Dolphin.

He was first employed in youth work in the Cable Street area, and later he was involved in social work with immigrant families. He is a prolific painter, and his works are always exuberant and playful. He has been a popular figure in the East End for many years, and his canvases are crammed with affectionate portraits of the people he has come to know through his work and political campaigning.

His work is usually pointedly political, dealing with themes such as combatting racism and celebrating the interfaith and multicultural dimensions of life in the streets close to Saint Katharine’s, including Cable Street, Brick Lane, Petticoat Lane, Commercial Road, Watney Market and other parts of Shadwell, Stepney, Tower Hamlets, Wapping and Whitechapel.

He also produced a series of smaller pictures to illustrate two books of Nursery Rhymes, Inky, Pinky, Ponky and Mother Goose comes to Cable St, both published in the 1980s. In recent years, he has undertaken a series of large playground murals portraying school children and the infinite variety of their games and rhymes.

Today, Dan Jones works for Amnesty International and he continues to paint as well as pursuing his lifelong passion for collecting rhymes.

Jewish figures from the East End in a work by Dan Jones in the corridors of the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Charles I: remembered today
as king, martyr and art collector

Charles I, executed on 30 January 1649 and remembered in London today as king, martyr – and art collector (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The residential meeting of trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) came to an end today at the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine.

Saint Katharine’s is in the heart of the East End in London, and we met there for two days. We discussed climate change, ethical investment, budgets, and USPG’s work with global partners in mission.

Each day began and ended with prayer. But the variations in the calendars of the Church of England and the Church of Ireland can sometimes catch me by surprise, and I was not prepared for this morning’s commemoration at the Eucharist of ‘Charles King and Martyr, 1649.’

Charles, King and Martyr, or Charles I, was king from 1625 until his execution on 30 January 1649, and his feast day in Anglican calendars falls on 30 January, the anniversary of his execution.

This observance was one of several ‘state services’ removed from the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England and the Church of Ireland in 1859. But there are churches and parishes dedicated to Charles the Martyr in England, and the former chapel in the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin, was also dedicated to him.

King Charles is still named in the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship and is commemorated at the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall, Pusey House in Oxford, and by some Anglo-Catholic societies, including the Society of King Charles the Martyr founded in 1894.

King Charles is regarded by many as a martyr because, it is said, he was offered his life if he would abandon the historic episcopacy in the Church of England. It is said he refused, however, believing that the Church of England was truly Catholic and should maintain the Catholic episcopate.

Mandell Creighton, Bishop of London, wrote, ‘Had Charles been willing to abandon the Church and give up episcopacy, he might have saved his throne and his life. But on this point Charles stood firm: for this he died, and by dying saved it for the future.’

The political reality, though, is that Charles had already made an Engagement with the Scots to introduce Presbyterianism in England for three years in return for the aid of Scots forces in the Second English Civil War.

However, High Church Anglicans and royalists fashioned an image of martyrdom, and after the Restoration he was added to the Church of England’s liturgical calendar by a decision at the Convocations of Canterbury and York in 1660.

The red letter days or state commemorations in the calendar of the Book of Common Prayer included the Gunpowder Plot, the birth and restoration of Charles II, and the execution of Charles I. These were marked with special services and special sermons.

The State Services were omitted from the Book of Common Prayer by royal and parliamentary authority in 1859, but without the consent of Convocation. Later, Vernon Staley would describe the deletion as ultra vires and ‘a distinct violation of the compact between Church and Realm, as set forth in the Act of Uniformity which imposed the Book of Common Prayer in 1662.’

Of the three commemorations, only that of King Charles I was restored in the calendar in the Alternative Service Book in 1980, although not as a Red Letter Day. A new collect was composed for Common Worship in 2000.

I was reminded in London later today how King Charles I amassed an extraordinary art collection, acquiring works by some of the finest artists of the past, including Titian, Mantegna, Holbein, Dürer, and commissioning leading contemporary artists such as Van Dyck and Rubens.

After his execution in 1649, his collection was sold off and scattered across Europe. Many works were retrieved by Charles II after the Restoration, but others now form the core of museums such as the Louvre and the Prado.

The current exhibition at the Royal Academy, ‘Charles I: King and Collector,’ has brought together great masterpieces from this collection for the first time. It includes over 100 works of art, ranging from sculptures to paintings, and from miniatures to tapestries.

For the first time since the 17th century, this landmark exhibition brings together the astounding treasures that changed the taste of a nation. By bringing these works together, the exhibition demonstrates the radical impact they had at the time and sheds light on how they fostered a vibrant visual culture that was hitherto unknown in England.

Collect:

King of kings and Lord of lords,
whose faithful servant Charles
prayed for those who persecuted him
and died in the living hope of your eternal kingdom:
grant us by your grace so to follow his example
that we may love and bless our enemies,
through the intercession of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

A ‘lost local’ in Lichfield
and an old pub that has
survived on Market Street

The Oxfam shop on Market Street, Lichfield … once the Castle Inn, dating back to the 16th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing earlier this week about the Three Crowns on Breadmarket Street, Lichfield, a ‘lost local’ pub and the inn where Samuel Johnson stayed frequently during his return visits home to Lichfield.

Johnson was born next door in the corner house that is now the Samuel Johnson Birthplace and Museum. He obviously loved the inns and taverns of Lichfield, for he wrote on 21 March 1776: ‘There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.’

At one time, however, there were so many pubs in this part of the heart of Lichfield, that magistrates considered reducing their numbers in the 1930s and cancelling their licences.

One of these, around the corner from the former Three Crowns is the former Castle Inn at Nos 16 and 16A Market Street.

This is a Grade II listed building, and is a Tudor-era, timber-frame building that dates from the late 16th century.

This is a three-storey building with a two-window range, jettied upper floors and two gables. Building has moulded bressumers – the one on the first floor is on joist ends, while the one on the second floor is on end corbel heads.

The first floor has 1:3:1-light canted oriels on shaped brackets with leaded glazing and iron opening casements. The second floor has three-light windows with wooden-ovolo-mullioned windows that have leaded glazing.

The square framing has herring-bone bracing on the first floor, and decorative bracing on the second floor.

The rear of the building is almost as interesting, but with plainer framing, a gabled wing and a smaller gabled wing to the left.

The Castle Inn was managed by David Cox in 1793, and later it was run by his son David Cox from 1818 to 1850. The last landlord was William Norman Gallimore, and the Castle Inn closed as a pub in 1962.

Today, the former Castle Inn is divided into offices and a shop for Oxfam, with a late 20th century timber shopfront on a brick plinth with an entry to the right.

A few doors away, the Scales has survived as a pub at No 24 Market Street. This too is a Grade II listed building on the south side of Market Street, and dates from the early to mid-18th century.

The pub derives its name from a time when it was the venue for the jockeys’ weighing room at a time when races were held at venues throughout the Lichfield area in the 18th and 19th century.

This two-storey, five-window range building has interesting stucco work on the façade, a tile roof with brick stacks, platt bands over both floors and at the top there is a coped parapet.

The entrance to the right of the centre has a doorcase with pilasters and a bracketed cornice, and there is a stained-glass overlight above the panelled door. The carriage entrance to the left end is an interesting feature that has survived since this was one of Lichfield’s old coaching inns.

Two windows on the ground floor have consoled cornices, one to the right end has a bracketed cornice, indicating that this may have been the original entrance, and one window has a plain opening; all these windows have etched plate glass.

On the first floor, the window at the left end is 4:12:4-pane tripartite sash window; the other windows have cross-casements with iron opening casements. There are gabled wings at the rear of the building.

The Scales at 24 Market Street is another of Lichfield’s ancient inns. There was a tavern or inn on this site in the 17th century, and it was well established by 1784 when the Freemasons established their earliest known lodge in Lichfield here. Lodge 224 (originally designated 220) on the register of the Antients Grand Lodge was formed at the Scales Inn on 10 March 1784 and was officially constituted on 1 April 1784. This was the seventh lodge to be constituted in the County of Staffordshire, since the formation of Grand Lodge in 1717.

This lodge ‘swapped sides’ and became a ‘Moderns Lodge’ that was constituted as Lodge of Unity on 24 July 1787 at the Three Crowns Inn around the corner in Breadmarket Street Lichfield. The last record of this lodge ws of a celebration meeting with a parade to Lichfield Cathedral on 16 September 1797. The lodge had closed by 1811.

Meanwhile, in 1793, it was run by John Hill, and was run by members of the Hill family 1834, and in the early part of the 19th century it was known as the Swan and Scales.

The races continued in Lichfield until the racecourse was moved permanently to Whittington Heath with the opening of Whittington Barracks in 1895.

Neil Coley notes that from 1879 to 1905, the landlord of the Scales was Charles Smallwood, who also ran a tobacconists’ business, livery stables and a carriage and car hire company, which he ran from the stables in the pub yard. He died in June 1905 when he struck a match to light his cigar, startling his horse, who bolted – Smallwood’s trap overturned, he fractured his skull and died.

His son, Charles H Smallwood, took over the business, but ended his own life tragically at Torquay in 1923. Two years later, the pub was run by RC Cornwell, who offered bed and breakfast at 5 shillings a night.

The Scales almost closed in the 1930s, when magistrates suggested there were too many licensed premises in Market Street. But the threatened closer was averted when Woolworth opened across the street, brining more business into Market Street.

In the early 1970s, the pub still displayed a jockey in blue and yellow silks sitting on the weighing scales.

The Scales … a link with Lichfield’s racing past (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Additional reading:

John Shaw, The Old Pubs of Lichfield (Lichfield: George Lane Publishing, 2001/2007).

Neil Coley, Lichfield Pubs (Stroud: Amberley, 2016).

Monday, 29 January 2018

Theodolites and theology
at Saint Katharine’s
in London’s East End

The gardens and the former Georgian Vicarage of Saint James, Ratcliff, at the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

A team of surveyors have been going around the buildings and grounds in the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine in the East End of London, measuring the rooms and the corridors for a survey. I suppose you could say this is some heady mixture – theodolites and theology – while I am here for a two-day a residential meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel USPG).

I was last here over a year ago for a similar two-day residential meeting in November 2016.

I arrived back this morning at Saint Katharine’s, which stands at the East End crossroads connecting the communities of Stepney, Shadwell and Limehouse, close to the site of the old docks. It is just a few steps from Cable Street, the scene of a famous street battle over 80 years ago between Oswald Moseley’s fascists and the East End communities who protected the local Jewish people against racist taunts and assaults in 1936.

Saint Katharine’s offers a place of transforming calm for visitors who are in London on a short stay, on a business trip, or for a personal retreat and who find this is a unique alternative to London hotels.

Despite these busy two days, this is a relaxing place to stay, with a peaceful environment. The garden is home to undisturbed wildlife, with blackbirds, wood pigeons in the sheltered spaces. In the rose garden, there is a rose bush planted by Queen Elizabeth II during her last visit. This setting is enhanced by the lounge, conservatory, garden and small library.

The Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine’s dates back to 1147, when it was founded by Queen Matilda. Since then, this has been a centre for worship, hospitality and service for many centuries.

Originally known as Saint Katharine’s by the Tower, it has been a mediaeval church, hospital and centre of Saint Katharine’s precinct, a liberty housing over 2,000 people. It once had its own courts, prisons, factories and breweries and prisons.

Saint Katharine’s by the Tower – its full name was the Royal Hospital and Collegiate Church of Saint Katharine by the Tower – was a mediaeval church and hospital next to the Tower of London. The church was a royal peculiar and the precinct around it was an extra-parochial area, eventually becoming a civil parish that was dissolved in 1895.

Saint Katharine’s was founded in 1147 by Queen Matilda, the wife of King Stephen, in memory of two of her children, Baldwin and Matilda, who died in infancy and were buried in the Priory Church of Holy Trinity at Aldgate.

The endowment was increased by two Queens of England, Eleanor of Castile, who gave a gift of manors, and Philippa of Hainault. After a dispute over its control, Queen Eleanor granted a new charter in 1273, reserving the patronage of the Foundation to the Queens of England.

This was a religious community and mediaeval hospital for poor infirm people next to the Tower of London. The foundation included a Master, six ‘poor clerks’ or priests, three brethren, three sisters and a beadswoman. Unusually for that time, the brothers and sisters had equal rights.

For 678 years, the Foundation carried on its work in East London. In the 15th century, its musical reputation rivalled that of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and in 1442 it was granted a Charter of Privileges. This charter made Saint Katharine’s and its precinct, extending to 23-acre (93,000 square metre) a Liberty with its own prison, officers and court, all outside the ecclesiastical and civil jurisdiction of the City of London.

Its status as a Liberty and the fact that it was personally owned and protected by the Queen Mother, meant that Saint Katharine’s was saved from being dissolved along with other monastic houses at the Reformation.

By the 16th century, there were 1,000 houses, including a brewery in the precinct, where the residents included foreigners, vagabonds and prostitutes. These people were crammed into houses along narrow lanes that had names such as Dark Entry, Cat’s Hole, Shovel Alley, Rookery and Pillory Lane. Many were in poor repair, and John Stow’s Survey of London in 1598 described them as ‘small tenements and homely cottages, having as inhabitants, English and strangers [i.e. foreigners], more in number than some city in England.’

The restrictions and rules of the London City guilds did not apply here, and so foreign craftsmen were attracted to the Liberty, along with many seamen and rivermen. Despite this high population density, the mortality rate in the Liberty during the Great Plague was half of the rate in areas to the north and east of the City of London.

The continuing establishment of lay brothers and sisters seems to have drawn hostile attention from extreme Protestants, and during the Gordon Riots in 1780 Saint Katharine’s was saved from being burned down by the mob.

In 1825, commercial pressure for larger docks up-river led to Saint Katharine’s, with its 14th and 15th century buildings and some 3,000 inhabitants, being demolished to provide a dock close to the heart of the City. The land was excavated and flooded to form a new dock. This was the smallest of London’s docks and was named Saint Katharine Docks.

There was some opposition to the demolition of an ancient establishment. But many others welcomed the demolition of ‘some of the most insanitary and unsalutary dwellings in London.’

Saint Katharine’s by the Tower was grouped into the Whitechapel District in 1855 and became a civil parish in 1866 when its extra-parochial status ended, following the Poor Law Amendment Act 1866. The parish became part of the County of London in 1889. In 1895 it was abolished as a parish and combined with Saint Botolph without Aldgate.

Meanwhile, the institution, now called the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine’s, moved to Regent’s Park, where it took the form of almshouses, and continued for 125 years.

After World War II, Saint Katharine’s finally moved back to its spiritual home in the East End in 1948, moving onto the site in Limehouse once occupied by Saint James’s Church, Ratcliff, which had been destroyed in the Blitz. It was just a mile from the original site, and the former chapel at Regent’s Park later became the Danish Seamen’s Church.

The foundation was housed in the Georgian vicarage and over time a new complex has grown up around it, carefully built to preserve the sense of an oasis in the city.

In Limehouse, Saint Katharine’s became a retreat house with Father St John Groser, the revolutionary Anglo-Catholic slum priest, as Master. A decade earlier, he had played a significant role in the defence of Cable Street in 1936. He was joined by members of the Community of the Resurrection from Mirfield in providing worship and service in the area, and the foundation remained under the care of the Community of the Resurrection for 45 years until 1993.

In 2004, Saint Katharine’s modernised and expanded its facilities to include a retreat and conference centre, so making available its hospitality more widely within the Church of England and to other churches, charities, voluntary and public sector bodies and to associated individuals.

The re-ordered chapel is normally the centrepiece of retreat and reflection, and is gracefully knitted into the fabric connecting the Georgian house with the retreat and conference centre. However, it is closed throughout this January and February while the lighting is being refitted and the chapel is redecorated.

In 2014, the Foundation opened Saint Katharine’s Precinct, a community project made entirely from shipping containers and yurts that will be recycled at the end of the project. The new facilities include a Well-being Hub, London’s first Yurt café and reflective space and artist studios in partnership with Bow Arts.

The Foundation is committed to Worship, Hospitality and Service. The vast majority of meetings and conferences here benefit from subsidised rates for Church-based organisations and for the not-for-profit sector, and thousands of people stay here each year during conferences, on personal retreats, or as an alternative to busy London hotels.

The Foundation is ranked 5 out of 949 places to stay in London as part of the ‘speciality lodgings’ category on Tripadvisor and rated 4.5 of 5 at TripAdvisor. It was recently included in Alastair Sawday’s ‘Special Places to Stay.’

The cloister-like passage linking the Chapel at the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine with the former vicarage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A street photograph taken
in Bologna becomes part
of Holocaust Memorial Day

Via Mario Finzi, named in honour of a Jewish hero of the resistance in Bologna … the closing photograph in a new film to mark Holocaust Memorial Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Holocaust Memorial Day was marked in Ireland yesterday [28 January 2018] with many public ceremonies, and it was one of the themes in my Sunday sermons in both Castletown Church and Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

At the same time, the World Jewish Congress was in Bologna to participate in yesterday’s ‘Run for Mem,’ a commemoration run through Jewish sites in the city for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and a run to bring the community together toward the future.

The city’s Jewish community has been in Bologna since mediaeval times and has also experienced tragedy in modern times.

To mark that occasion, a special video, ‘The Jews of Bologna,’ was produced, and it concludes with a photograph I took in Bologna two months of the street sign on Via Mario Finzi. This is the street where Bologna’s main synagogue stands, and it was named after Mario Finzi (1913-1945), a hero of the resistance who is named on the Holocaust memorial on the façade of the synagogue.



Bologna’s main synagogue was destroyed in 1943 during World War II. But the synagogue was rebuilt ten years later by Guido Muggia, the son of the original architect, and was dedicated in 1953.

For the first time, the façade – albeit on a side street – was visible to the public. For security reasons, the entrance to the synagogue is through the Community Centre at the back. But the façade of the synagogue can be seen on Via Mario Finzi.

The street is just three minutes’ walk west of Piazza Maggiore in the heart of the historic centre of Bologna. Originally named Vicolo Tintinaga, it was renamed in honour of Mario Finzi, who was a Jewish magistrate and judge and a talented musician.

Finzi was born in Bologna in 1913, the son of teachers. He was a talented musician and pianist, and was already a magistrate and a judge at the age of 24. He began his legal career in Milan in 1938, but he was soon hampered by the Fascist racist laws promulgated that year. He then moved to Paris, where he dedicated himself totally to a life as a musician, working as a pianist on a contract with French Radio.

When World War II broke out, Finzi was back in Italy renewing his French visa and found he could not return to Paris … nor could he resume work as a lawyer or a magistrate in his own home country.

He began teaching at the Jewish school in Bologna, and in 1940-1943 he was active in a Jewish organisation assisting Jewish refugees in Italy. Soon he was directly involved in helping hundreds of Jewish orphans from Germany and the Balkans to find shelter, and he was at Venice station to welcome the first train of young refugees from Croatia.

On several occasions, he cycled all the way from Bologna to Venice to visit the children, to play with them and to play the piano for them.

When Nazi Germany occupied Italy after 8 September 1943, Finzi continued in his underground activities helping persecuted Jews, helping to smuggle children into Switzerland, and procuring false Italian identity cards for Poles, Russians, Germans, Hungarians and others.

Finzi was arrested on 31 March 1944. He was on his way to a local hospital to pay for the stay of a sick Jewish boy. At first he was detailed in Bologna in the jail at San Giovanni al Monte and then in the Fossoli concentration camp, before he was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 1944.

According to Eliakim Cordoval, a Jew from Rhodes who helped him, Finzi died because of a grave intestinal infection on 22 February 1945, almost a month before the camp was liberated. Another version says Finzi threw himself on the high-tension wire surrounding the camp, leaving behind a message asking his parents for their forgiveness.

His name is kept alive in Bologna today on the pedestrianised street where Bologna’s main synagogue stands. And it was an honour to have my photograph from the street used as part of the Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations in Bologna yesterday.

Mario Finzi’s name is on the Holocaust memorial on the façade of the synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A plaque on a ‘lost local’
recalls Samuel Johnson’s
return visits to Lichfield

The site of the former Three Crowns on Breadmarket Street … a ‘lost local’ in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Like Samuel Johnson, I find myself constantly returning to Lichfield, and staying in a variety of places. For Dr Johnson, they were return visits to the place he had born; for me, they are return visits to the place that nurtured me spiritually in my late teens and shaped and formed by spirituality and my Anglicanism.

Like Samuel Johnson, I find myself staying in a variety of places, and last week I stayed in the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on the northern fringes of Lichfield, in a semi-rural setting on the corner of Stafford Road and Cross in Hand Lane.

One of the places where Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) often stayed on his return visits is the former Three Crown Inns, one of Lichfield’s lost pubs, which once stood at 7-9 Breadmarket Street, next door to the birthplace of the man who is, perhaps, Lichfield’s greatest literary figures.

A plaque on the site of the former Three Crowns on Breadmarket Street remembers Samuel Johnson’s return visits to Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

During his many return visits, Johnson frequently stayed at the Three Crowns, which he described in 1763 as ‘not one of the great inns, but a good old fashioned one.’

A plaque on the wall recalls:

Dr Johnson frequently stayed here during his many visits to Lichfield. In 1776 he was accompanied by Boswell, who described him as ‘now monarchising with no fewer than three crowns over his royal brow’.

This three-storey Georgian building dates from the early 18th century, although there are many later alterations. Indeed, there may have been an earlier inn on this site, as the name Three Crowns refers not to the papal tiara but to the three crowns of England, Ireland and Scotland which were brought together in the early 17th century when James VI of Scotland was crowned James I in 1603.

The Three Crowns appears on Snape’s map of Lichfield in 1781, three years before Samuel Johnson died. The earliest known masonic lodge in Lichfield was formed around the corner at the Scales Inn in Market Street on 10 March 1784 and it became a ‘Moderns Lodge’ when it was constituted as Lodge of Unity on 24 July 1787 at the Three Crowns Inn on Breadmarket Street. The lodge had closed by 1811.

Meanwhile, the Three Crowns continued to be run by members of the Cato family for almost 80 years: by Joseph Cato from 1793 to 1834, and by his son John Joseph Cato from 1834 to 1859.

This has been a Grade II listed building since 1952. The notable features include the central carriageway, the paired doors, and the 20th century shop front in traditional style.

The last landlord was probably John Barber, and the Three Crowns closed for the last time in the 1960s.

The former inn is now divided into shops and offices, including a branch of the Yorkshire Building Society and the Coffee House – until recently a shopfront for the Lichfield Mercury – and Devote-Tea. A coffee shop and a tea shop, in their own ways, I suppose, continue the hospitality traditions of the original Three Crowns, and Samuel Johnson, of all people, knew the importance of a coffee shop.

Recently, the premises featured in City Life in Lichfield in October 2016 in a feature ‘A window on the past: the lost locals of Lichfield’ with a collection of photographs from the local history group ‘You’re probably from Lichfield Staffs if …’

Additional reading:

John Shaw, The Old Pubs of Lichfield (Lichfield: George Lane Publishing, 2001/2007).

Neil Coley, Lichfield Pubs (Stroud: Amberley, 2016).

Continuing a tradition of welcome and hospitality … the former Three Crowns Inn on Breadmarket Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Auschwitz is not too far away from
any of us, in distance or in time

‘Arbeit macht frei’ … the gate at Auschwitz. This weekend marks Holocaust Memorial Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 28 January 2018,

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (Holocaust Memorial Day)


11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion II), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Readings: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; Psalm 111; I Corinthians 8: 1-13; Mark 1: 21-28.

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

Today many churches on these islands and throughout the Anglican Communion are marking Holocaust Memorial Day, which falls on 27 January.

Holocaust Memorial Day recalls the millions of people killed in the Holocaust, the Nazi persecutions and in later genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. The date was chosen because 27 January marks the anniversary of the liberation by Soviet troops of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

In Ireland, the Holocaust commemoration takes place today [28 January, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.] in the Mansion House, Dublin, when the speakers include President Michael D Higgins. This day recalls all who died in the Holocaust – the millions of men, women and children, persecuted and murdered by the Nazis because of their religious beliefs, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or political affiliation.

Six million European Jews as well as millions of other people were annihilated by the Nazis, including two million Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 gay men.

Holocaust Memorial Day is an opportunity to reflect on the issues and the challenges posed by the Holocaust and all genocides, and to reflect especially on the fate of European Jewry. It is challenging to be reminded that in the examples of genocide being recalled tonight, Christians have been among the victims, the bystanders, and the perpetrators.

Fourteen months ago [November 2016], I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and Kraków, staying in the old Jewish Quarter in Kraków. That visit included a traumatic day visiting the concentration camps in Auschwitz and Bikenau, where about 1.5 million people were annihilated by the Nazis between 1940 and 1945.

Many images from Auschwitz and Birkenau are so familiar to all of us, yet none of them prepared me for the ghastly reality of what we are capable of doing to each other in war, in the outworking of racism and religious hatred, in our demeaning of any part of humanity, in allowing political extremism to go unchallenged.

Auschwitz is not too far away from any of us, in distance or in time: at least two Irish people died there – Ettie Steinberg and her son Leon – and the Irish diplomat in Berlin then, William Warnock, refused to intervene on their behalf.

Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us that evil is still powerful in our world, that we must speak out to protect every community from discrimination, intimidation and violence.

This year, the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘The Power of Words.’ Its focus is on the role words play, to harm and to heal, to destroy and to build.

‘Words can make a difference – both for good and evil.’ Anne Frank wrote in her diary on 5 April 1944: ‘I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I am so grateful to God for having given me this gift [of writing], which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s in me. When I write I can shake off all my cares; my sorrow disappears; my spirits are revived.’

In our Old Testament reading (Deuteronomy 18: 15-20), we hear Moses’s last words to the people of Israel. His are words of power and hope that call those who listen to belief and to a life lived according to God’s guidance.

A few verses earlier (verses 10-11), prophets are described as the mouthpieces for God. Prophets were chosen to speak God’s words.

In those verses Moses warns the people against false religion, false gods and false worship, which included child sacrifice. Now Moses warns the people about false prophets and their false teachings and false predictions, false words.

The power of words is so great that in the wake of violence in Paris, Barcelona and Manchester last year, slogans like I ♥ Manchester caught the public imagination. Words have the power to make or break people in an instant, to build up or to destroy. We should nurture and encourage one another to speak words of peace that reflect love and hope and that challenge injustice.

But how do we know who is speaking God’s words? Prophets speak of issues that are eternal and that face every generation in times of crisis and challenge. We can all be led astray by words. The vulnerable and the weak are exploited, and great evil follows.

The challenge is to listen to God faithfully and to act on his words faithfully. The people are not to fall for just anything.

The measure of all religious law and practice must be: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength … You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12: 30-31; see Matthew 22: 34-40; Luke 25-28).

What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

I heard someone once say that knowledge is knowing tomatoes are a fruit; wisdom is not putting tomatoes in a fruit salad.

Sometimes there are people who know everything and show nothing for it.

In the New Testament reading (I Corinthians 8: 1-13), the Apostle Paul reminds us of the difference between knowledge and love, between knowing and loving.

There is a difference between knowing who God is, and loving God, just as there is a difference between knowing who someone is and loving that person. Christian life is less about knowing, and all about loving.

‘When the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught’ (Mark 1: 21) … the Old Synagogue in Kraków, built in 1407, is the oldest Jewish house of prayer in Poland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In our Gospel reading (Mark 1: 21-28), Christ shows how to teach what the love of God is about. He is confronted in two ways: he is confronted by the evil that has taken a grip of – that is in possession of – this poor, sad and demented man; and he is confronted by the religious authorities of the day, who challenge his right to preach, teach and heal.

Christ and his disciples go to Capernaum, a prosperous town on the Sea of Galilee. In the synagogue it was the practice on Saturdays for the scribes, who specialised in the interpretation and application to daily life of the law of Moses, to quote scripture and tradition.

In Capernaum, Christ preaches and teaches in the synagogue. All are astounded by his teaching, but when he puts it into practice, they are amazed. He not only teaches, but he puts it into practice, he teaches not just with knowledge, but with authority; not only can he say, but he can do.

But instead of quoting Scripture and tradition to interpret and apply the law of Moses, Christ speaks directly, confident of his authority and of his very essence.

The ‘man with an unclean spirit’ (verse 23) was, we might say, possessed, or under the influence of evil force, at one with this evil force. In Jewish terms, he is under Satan’s direction, separated from God.

Speaking through this man (verse 24), the devil asks what Christ is doing meddling in the domain of evil. He recognises who Christ is and that his coming spells the end of the power of the devil and he understands the significance of the coming Kingdom. Other wonder-workers of the day healed using ritual or magic, but Christ exorcises simply through a verbal command.

The Word is in control of the word and words – he is clearly divine – and the crowd in their own words acknowledge Christ’s ‘authority’ in word and deed.

The parallel reading in Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 4: 31-37) is preceded by the story of Christ preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4: 16-30), when he proclaims the foundational text for his ministry, almost like a manifesto:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’


These are high ideals and, if put into practice, threaten social stability and the ordering of society. This threat is realised by those who hear him, and they drive him out of the synagogue.

Driven out of the synagogue, Christ has three options:

1, to allow himself to be silenced;

2, to keep on preaching in other synagogues, but to never put into practice what he says so that those who are worried have their fears allayed and realise he is no threat;

3, or to preach and to put his teachings into practice, to show that he means what he says, that his faith is reflected in his priorities, to point to what the kingdom of God is truly like.

Christ takes the third option. He brings good news to the poor, he releases this poor captive, he sees things as they are and as they ought to be, the oppressed man goes free and all are amazed.

There is a saying attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: ‘Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.’

Christ preaches with authority in the synagogue. But in this Gospel reading we are not told what he said. We are only told what he did. In his actions he demonstrates the love of God and the love of others that are at the heart of the Gospel.

Christ is recognised for who he truly is. It is an Epiphany moment when he is not only recognised but so too is his authority in the words of power he speaks

Christ demonstrates that his actions lived up to his words. Can we say that our words match our actions? Do we practice what we preach?

Christ’s powerful words strike to the core of our very being. Christ’s words are words of life.

How often have we been in the presence of someone who speaks with true authority? What is the difference between those people and the dictators and perpetrators of evil, in the past and present, who demand allegiance by exploiting people’s fear? How do we as Christians respond to authorities that have and still are exterminating thousands of people?

In this Gospel, we are confronted with the unclean spirit that can be seen as a metaphor for the presence of evil in human history. Evil today challenges us with the same words in the text ‘What can you do?’ Christ replied: ‘Be silent and come out of him.’ We read that Christ is not so much meek and mild but speaks with a steely authority.

When we are confronted with evil and it stares us in the face, like those in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, are we going to allow that evil to continue? Or are we going to stand up and speak with a moral authority that comes from God?

The stories of genocide are reminders of how vulnerable people were drawn into carrying out atrocities and how others died.

But the message of Epiphany is that God is here with us, drawing us into a life that sets us free from captivity and evil. We must continue not only to proclaim the message of love, hope and inclusion, but to live it out in our lives, each and every day.

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

This sermon was prepared for Sunday 28 January 2018

Hope against adversity … a fading rose on the fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau; behind is one of the concentration camp watchtowers and a train wagon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Penitential Kyries:

God be merciful to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine on us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

May your ways be known on earth,
your saving power to all nations.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Collect:

Creator God,
who in the beginning
commanded the light to shine out of darkness:
We pray that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ
may dispel the darkness of ignorance and unbelief,
shine into the hearts of all your people,
and reveal the knowledge of your glory
in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Our Saviour Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there shall be no end. (Isaiah 9: 6, 7)

Preface:

For Jesus Christ our Lord
who in human likeness revealed your glory,
to bring us out of darkness
into the splendour of his light:

Post Communion Prayer:

Generous Lord,
in word and Eucharist we have proclaimed
the mystery of your love.
Help us so to live out our days
that we may be signs of your wonders in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Blessing:

Christ the Son be manifest to you,
that your lives may be a light to the world:

The train tracks in Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayers for Holocaust Memorial Day:

Opening prayers:

Creator God, in the silence of the beginning:
You spoke and the world awakened.

Companion God, in the chaos of life:
You spoke and lives were healed.

Redeeming God, in the opportunity of today and the hope of tomorrow:
You speak and we are here to respond.

These responses are based on the Jewish blessing on hearing bad news

Blessed are you,
Lord God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have this time
To gather to learn the truth of ourselves.
We cannot always feel joy for this life
We know too much of lives that have been broken.
Give us courage when we hear tragedy, despair and death
To bless you, the one true Judge. Amen.

Living God,
you speak through priest and prophet,
through friend and stranger,
through all of us and in every situation in which we find ourselves.
Help us, O God,
when we fail to hear the cry of pain
or ignore the warning signs of evil.
Speak through us O God
so that by our words and our actions
we may reflect your highest calling
and do our utmost for good. Amen.

Prayers of confession:

God our Father, you called the world to live in peace and community with each other.
But we lack the courage to challenge injustice.

Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

God our companion, you journey with us through heartbreak and joy.
But we forget your words of peace and despair takes us.

Christ have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

God the Spirit of life, you brought the world to being.
But our actions make life fragile and breaking.

Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

God, the Three in One,
you reveal yourself in our lives
and you show us how far we are from realising God’s desire for the world.
If we confess our sins, you are faithful and just and you will forgive us.
So we offer our confession to you
and pray for forgiveness and healing, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

535, Judge eternal, throned in splendour
529, Thy hand, O God, has guided
323, The God of Abraham praise

The Jewish Holocaust Memorial on Platia Eleftherias near the port in Thessaloniki ... in July 1942, all the men in the Jewish community aged from 18 to 45 were rounded up in this square for deportation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The challenge to listen to God
faithfully and to act on his words

The train tracks in Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 28 January 2018,

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (Holocaust Memorial Day)


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

Readings: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; Psalm 111; I Corinthians 8: 1-13; Mark 1: 21-28.

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

Today many churches on these islands and throughout the Anglican Communion are marking Holocaust Memorial Day, which falls on 27 January.

Holocaust Memorial Day recalls the millions of people killed in the Holocaust, the Nazi persecutions and in later genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. The date was chosen because 27 January marks the anniversary of the liberation by Soviet troops of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

In Ireland, the Holocaust commemoration takes place today [28 January, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.] in the Mansion House, Dublin, when the speakers include President Michael D Higgins. This day recalls all who died in the Holocaust – the millions of men, women and children, persecuted and murdered by the Nazis because of their religious beliefs, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or political affiliation.

Six million European Jews as well as millions of other people were annihilated by the Nazis, including two million Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 gay men.

Holocaust Memorial Day is an opportunity to reflect on the issues and the challenges posed by the Holocaust and all genocides, and to reflect especially on the fate of European Jewry. It is challenging to be reminded that in the examples of genocide being recalled tonight, Christians have been among the victims, the bystanders, and the perpetrators.

Fourteen months ago [November 2016], I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and Kraków, staying in the old Jewish Quarter in Kraków. That visit included a traumatic day visiting the concentration camps in Auschwitz and Bikenau, where about 1.5 million people were annihilated by the Nazis between 1940 and 1945.

Many images from Auschwitz and Birkenau are so familiar to all of us, yet none of them prepared me for the ghastly reality of what we are capable of doing to each other in war, in the outworking of racism and religious hatred, in our demeaning of any part of humanity, in allowing political extremism to go unchallenged.

Auschwitz is not too far away from any of us, in distance or in time: at least two Irish people died there – Ettie Steinberg and her son Leon – and the Irish diplomat in Berlin then, William Warnock, refused to intervene on their behalf.

Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us that evil is still powerful in our world, that we must speak out to protect every community from discrimination, intimidation and violence.

This year, the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘The Power of Words.’ Its focus is on the role words play, to harm and to heal, to destroy and to build.

‘Words can make a difference – both for good and evil.’ Anne Frank wrote in her diary on 5 April 1944: ‘I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I am so grateful to God for having given me this gift [of writing], which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s in me. When I write I can shake off all my cares; my sorrow disappears; my spirits are revived.’

In our Old Testament reading (Deuteronomy 18: 15-20), we hear Moses’s last words to the people of Israel. His are words of power and hope that call those who listen to belief and to a life lived according to God’s guidance.

A few verses earlier (verses 10-11), prophets are described as the mouthpieces for God. Prophets were chosen to speak God’s words.

In those verses Moses warns the people against false religion, false gods and false worship, which included child sacrifice. Now Moses warns the people about false prophets and their false teachings and false predictions, false words.

The power of words is so great that in the wake of violence in Paris, Barcelona and Manchester last year, slogans like I ♥ Manchester caught the public imagination. Words have the power to make or break people in an instant, to build up or to destroy. We should nurture and encourage one another to speak words of peace that reflect love and hope and that challenge injustice.

But how do we know who is speaking God’s words? Prophets speak of issues that are eternal and that face every generation in times of crisis and challenge. We can all be led astray by words. The vulnerable and the weak are exploited, and great evil follows.

The challenge is to listen to God faithfully and to act on his words faithfully. The people are not to fall for just anything.

The measure of all religious law and practice must be: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength … You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12: 30-31; see Matthew 22: 34-40; Luke 25-28).

What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

I heard someone once say that knowledge is knowing tomatoes are a fruit; wisdom is not putting tomatoes in a fruit salad.

Sometimes there are people who know everything and show nothing for it.

In the New Testament reading (I Corinthians 8: 1-13), the Apostle Paul reminds us of the difference between knowledge and love, between knowing and loving.

There is a difference between knowing who God is, and loving God, just as there is a difference between knowing who someone is and loving that person. Christian life is less about knowing, and all about loving.

‘When the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught’ (Mark 1: 21) … the Old Synagogue in Kraków, built in 1407, is the oldest Jewish house of prayer in Poland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In our Gospel reading (Mark 1: 21-28), Christ shows how to teach what the love of God is about. He is confronted in two ways: he is confronted by the evil that has taken a grip of – that is in possession of – this poor, sad and demented man; and he is confronted by the religious authorities of the day, who challenge his right to preach, teach and heal.

Christ and his disciples go to Capernaum, a prosperous town on the Sea of Galilee. In the synagogue it was the practice on Saturdays for the scribes, who specialised in the interpretation and application to daily life of the law of Moses, to quote scripture and tradition.

In Capernaum, Christ preaches and teaches in the synagogue. All are astounded by his teaching, but when he puts it into practice, they are amazed. He not only teaches, but he puts it into practice, he teaches not just with knowledge, but with authority; not only can he say, but he can do.

But instead of quoting Scripture and tradition to interpret and apply the law of Moses, Christ speaks directly, confident of his authority and of his very essence.

The ‘man with an unclean spirit’ (verse 23) was, we might say, possessed, or under the influence of evil force, at one with this evil force. In Jewish terms, he is under Satan’s direction, separated from God.

Speaking through this man (verse 24), the devil asks what Christ is doing meddling in the domain of evil. He recognises who Christ is and that his coming spells the end of the power of the devil and he understands the significance of the coming Kingdom. Other wonder-workers of the day healed using ritual or magic, but Christ exorcises simply through a verbal command.

The Word is in control of the word and words – he is clearly divine – and the crowd in their own words acknowledge Christ’s ‘authority’ in word and deed.

The parallel reading in Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 4: 31-37) is preceded by the story of Christ preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4: 16-30), when he proclaims the foundational text for his ministry, almost like a manifesto:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’


These are high ideals and, if put into practice, threaten social stability and the ordering of society. This threat is realised by those who hear him, and they drive him out of the synagogue.

Driven out of the synagogue, Christ has three options:

1, to allow himself to be silenced;

2, to keep on preaching in other synagogues, but to never put into practice what he says so that those who are worried have their fears allayed and realise he is no threat;

3, or to preach and to put his teachings into practice, to show that he means what he says, that his faith is reflected in his priorities, to point to what the kingdom of God is truly like.

Christ takes the third option. He brings good news to the poor, he releases this poor captive, he sees things as they are and as they ought to be, the oppressed man goes free and all are amazed.

There is a saying attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: ‘Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.’

Christ preaches with authority in the synagogue. But in this Gospel reading we are not told what he said. We are only told what he did. In his actions he demonstrates the love of God and the love of others that are at the heart of the Gospel.

Christ is recognised for who he truly is. It is an Epiphany moment when he is not only recognised but so too is his authority in the words of power he speaks

Christ demonstrates that his actions lived up to his words. Can we say that our words match our actions? Do we practice what we preach?

Christ’s powerful words strike to the core of our very being. Christ’s words are words of life.

How often have we been in the presence of someone who speaks with true authority? What is the difference between those people and the dictators and perpetrators of evil, in the past and present, who demand allegiance by exploiting people’s fear? How do we as Christians respond to authorities that have and still are exterminating thousands of people?

In this Gospel, we are confronted with the unclean spirit that can be seen as a metaphor for the presence of evil in human history. Evil today challenges us with the same words in the text ‘What can you do?’ Christ replied: ‘Be silent and come out of him.’ We read that Christ is not so much meek and mild but speaks with a steely authority.

When we are confronted with evil and it stares us in the face, like those in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides, are we going to allow that evil to continue? Or are we going to stand up and speak with a moral authority that comes from God?

The stories of genocide are reminders of how vulnerable people were drawn into carrying out atrocities and how others died.

But the message of Epiphany is that God is here with us, drawing us into a life that sets us free from captivity and evil. We must continue not only to proclaim the message of love, hope and inclusion, but to live it out in our lives, each and every day.

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

This sermon was prepared for Sunday 28 January 2018

Hope against adversity … a fading rose on the fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau; behind is one of the concentration camp watchtowers and a train wagon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Penitential Kyries:

God be merciful to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine on us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

May your ways be known on earth,
your saving power to all nations.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Collect:

Creator God,
who in the beginning
commanded the light to shine out of darkness:
We pray that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ
may dispel the darkness of ignorance and unbelief,
shine into the hearts of all your people,
and reveal the knowledge of your glory
in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Our Saviour Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there shall be no end. (Isaiah 9: 6, 7)

Blessing:

Christ the Son be manifest to you,
that your lives may be a light to the world:

‘Arbeit macht frei’ … the gate at Auschwitz. This weekend marks Holocaust Memorial Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayers for Holocaust Memorial Day:

Opening prayers:

Creator God, in the silence of the beginning:
You spoke and the world awakened.

Companion God, in the chaos of life:
You spoke and lives were healed.

Redeeming God, in the opportunity of today and the hope of tomorrow:
You speak and we are here to respond.

These responses are based on the Jewish blessing on hearing bad news

Blessed are you,
Lord God of all creation.
Through your goodness we have this time
To gather to learn the truth of ourselves.
We cannot always feel joy for this life
We know too much of lives that have been broken.
Give us courage when we hear tragedy, despair and death
To bless you, the one true Judge. Amen.

Living God, you speak through priest and prophet, through friend and stranger, through all of us and in every situation in which we find ourselves. Help us, O God, when we fail to hear the cry of pain or ignore the warning signs of evil. Speak through us O God so that by our words and our actions we may reflect your highest calling and do our utmost for good. Amen.

Prayers of confession:

God our Father, you called the world to live in peace and community with each other.
But we lack the courage to challenge injustice.

Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

God our companion, you journey with us through heartbreak and joy.
But we forget your words of peace and despair takes us.

Christ have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

God the Spirit of life, you brought the world to being.
But our actions make life fragile and breaking.

Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.

God, the Three in One,
you reveal yourself in our lives
and you show us how far we are from realising God’s desire for the world.
If we confess our sins, you are faithful and just and you will forgive us.
So we offer our confession to you
and pray for forgiveness and healing, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

535, Judge eternal, throned in splendour
529, Thy hand, O God, has guided
323, The God of Abraham praise

The Jewish Holocaust Memorial on Platia Eleftherias near the port in Thessaloniki ... in July 1942, all the men in the Jewish community aged from 18 to 45 were rounded up in this square for deportation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saturday, 27 January 2018

The woman who sculpted
the figures on the west
door of Lichfield Cathedral

The figures on the West Door of Lichfield Cathedral were carved by the Victorian sculptor Mary Grant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Although the 18th century was a golden age for the City of Lichfield, it was a period of decay for the cathedral. The 15th-century library, on the north side of the nave, was pulled down and the books moved to their present location above the Chapter House.

Most of the statues on the west front of the cathedral were removed the 18th century and the stonework covered with Roman cement. At the end of the 18th century, James Wyatt organised major structural work, removing the High Altar to make one worship area of Choir and Lady Chapel and adding a massive stone screen at the entrance to the Choir.

The ornate west front was extensively renovated in the Victorian era by the Gothic revival architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878). He was influenced and inspired by AWN Pugin, and his pupils included George Edmund Street.

The west front includes a remarkable number of ornate carved figures of kings, queens and saints, working with original materials where possible and creating fine new imitations and additions when the originals were not available.

Almost all the 113 figures on the west front were replaced during Scott’s restoration of the cathedral. The architectural historian, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, dates them to 1876-84, ‘replacing cement or stucco statues of 1820-1822.’ Most of the statues were produced locally from the Bridgeman workshop nearby in Quonian’s Lane.

The only exceptions were a likeness of Queen Victoria on the main façade, by her sculptor daughter Princess Louise, and those around the central doorway by Mary Grant (1831-1908). A mediaeval carving of Christ in Glory remains in place in the canopy over the doorway.

Visitors viewing the west front seem to pay less attention to the figures around the central doorway by Mary Grant. These include her sculpture of the Virgin Mary, who supports her lifelike infant gently. The Christ Child has one arm raised in blessing. Next to them, on the viewer's left, stands Saint Mary Magdalene, holding ointment, and the ‘Other Mary’ to the right. The figure of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, with the two women who visit the grave at Easter morning placed behind them, link the Incarnation and the Resurrection, Christmas and Easter.

Mary Grant, once described as ‘one of the busiest of lady-sculptors,’ was born in 1831 in Kilgraston, Perthshire, into a distinguished family. She was a granddaughter of the seventh Earl of Elgin, who pilfered the Parthenon Marbles from the Acropolis in Athens and sold them to the British Museum in London.

Her aunt, Mary Anne Grant, and her uncle, Sir Francis Grant, were artists too. Sir Francis was a successful portrait painter and became President of the Royal Academy and a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery. Another uncle, General James Hope Grant, was a British military hero.

Sculpture was a profession that required a degree of physical strength but her aristocratic and artistic background probably were advantages for a woman seeking to work in what was virtually an all-male preserve in the Victorian era.

After taking up sculpture in her 20s in the 1850s, Mary Grant studied in Florence under Odoardo Fantachiotti, then with John Gibson in Rome. After further studies in Paris under Michel Merier, she set up a studio in London in the late 1860s, where she worked under the direction of John Henry Foley. She later visited America.

She was best known for medallion reliefs and received commissions from aristocratic families and from Queen Victoria. Her work includes a portrait of Queen Victoria for India and a bronze bust of Charles Stewart Parnell for the Royal Academy.

Her other works include the screen of Winchester Cathedral and the marble reredos and a group of Saint Margaret and the Dragon in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh.

Mary Grant never married, and she died in Chelsea on 20 February 1908.

The ornate west front of Lichfield Cathedral was extensively renovated by Sir George Gilbert Scott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The rustic charms of Beacon Street
and Stafford Road in Lichfield

Morning lights on a winter stroll along Beacon Street in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Each day during my all-too-short stay in Lichfield this week, I enjoyed the 15-minutes stroll between the Hedgehog, on the northern fringes of the city, along Stafford Road and Beacon Street to the daily services in Lichfield Cathedral.

In the light of early morning and in the late evening, with the birdsong in the trees and the lights of the winter sun, there is a semi-rural feeling in the air, enhanced by the rustic look of many of the houses along these streets.

During the December snows, when a Facebook friend posted photographs from this area, I told him if I was to live in any street in Lichfield, I would probably want to buy a house on Beacon Street.

Lickle Cottage on the west side of Beacon Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Some years ago, I wrote that it is striking how many buildings along Beacon Street have strong educational associations. But Beacon Street is a truly charming residential area in the north of Lichfield, with some timber-framed houses and cottages dating back to the 18th century or earlier.

Not all of these houses and cottages are listed buildings, but Lickle Cottage with its charming size and position typifies the charm of this part of Lichfield.

Later houses, influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, and Tudor-style pubs like the prize-winning Feathers and the Fountain, recently rescued from threats of closure, add to the character of the area and give it a curious ambience that is a mixture of both rural setting and late Victorian suburb.

The Fountain on the west side of Beacon Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

As Beacon Street turns into Stafford Road, the rustic ambience becomes even more noticeable. The Cottage and Little Cottage are Grade II listed houses side-by-side at 24 and 24A Stafford Street.

The Cottage at 24 Stafford Road, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Cottage at No 24 is house, while Little Cottage is the converted former stable block, both dating from around 1820, with late 20th century alterations. They are built in brick (No 24) and roughcast (No 24A) and have tile roofs and brick stacks. There are modillioned brick cornices, a doorcase with a cornice, an overlight to the six-panel door, and a canted bay window. Two windows on the ground floor have 20th century bowed oriels.

The Little Cottage at 24A Stafford Road, Lichfield, is a converted former stable block (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

As I continued along Stafford Road, the moles had dug their hills and holes in the open spaces, and the lawns in front of the Hedgehog were beginning to show what I imagined were the first hints of Spring growth.

Staying at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on the northern fringes of Lichfield this week (Photograph; Patrick Comerford, 2018)