31 October 2018

Las Casas de la Judería,
a Seville hotel that is worth
visiting … just for itself

Las Casas de la Judería, a Seville hotel that is worth visiting … just for itself (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

There are some places I keep going back to because I am so comfortable there. There are some places I feel so comfortable in that you would have to peel me out of them if I spent too long there.

In some of those places I feel I am at home, even though I do not live there at present; in others there are happy memories of how I have been shaped in my values and my personality.

I find myself going back to these places time and again. And usually it is about the places themselves rather than where I am staying. Usually, the destination is the point, and the journey adds to the excitement.

Sometimes, there are hotels that are worth staying in just for themselves. Hotels can never be homes, and I would never fool myself into thinking that any hotel could be home.

But then I am reminded when I watch Fawlty Towers, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and similar series that there was a time when hotels were natural places for people to retire to.

There are hotels that I would return to time and again just because of their location. They include the Ferrycarrig at the mouth of the Slaney in Wexford, Pepi Boutique Hotel on Tsouderon street, Rethymnon, in Crete, the Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield, and the Varvaras Diamond Hotel in Platanes near Rethymnon.

But if they were not there, I would still keep returning to Lichfield, Wexford and Rethymnon.

However, last week I stayed in the most wonderful hotel in Seville.

Las Casas de la Judería is in the historical centre of Seville, beside the Church of Santa Maria la Blanca and across the street from a range of tapas bars, cafés and restaurant, and part of the city’s old Jewish Quarter, on the edge of the Barrio Santa Cruz.

Here it was a ten-minute walk from Alcazar, Seville Cathedral and the Giralda Tower and it is just another five minutes to the Torre del Oro, the University and the banks of the River Guadalquivir.

Inside, the hotel is paradise of its own making, another world away from the city. This is a collection of 27 different 15th century traditional houses. They appear to have been assembled randomly, but they have been restored to reflect the atmosphere of the surrounding neighbourhood.

There are baroque influences, and rustic charms in this self-contained barrio with a variety of buildings, courtyards, alleyways, overhanging balconies, gardens and terraces.

The 40 patios are typical Andalusian courtyards and ooze with vibrant colour, with hanging baskets, fountains, frescoes and classical features.

We moved through the hotel, from one courtyard to the next, one garden to the next, through a lair of labyrinthine tunnels, steps and arched passageways, often to the sound of water dripping from a tap or fountain that was heard but not seen.

There are surprises everywhere in these courtyard and tunnels. Fountains, statues and Roman amphoras decorate the winding passageways linking the rooms and shared open spaces.

A Roman tunnel connects the rooms with the breakfast room and spas. At times, we criss-crossed the narrow streets and alleyways of Seville itself, yet still found ourselves in the hotel.

The hotel has 178 rooms, individually designed and decorated, each with its own unique touch, filled with history and character, and facing into beautiful cool courtyards filled with plants.

Some of the rooms have names that are reminders of the people said to have lived in these houses down through the centuries: Duke of Bejar, Count of Villamanrique, Casa del Cura … one room is even named after Christopher Columbus, who is buried in Seville Cathedral.

Some of the names are a reminder that this was the heart of the Jewish Quarter before the Inquisition … Casa de Mose Bahari … or an intricate Star of David interlaced in the woodwork of a door.

The Palace of the Zúñigas once belonged to the Zuñiga family and is now the site of the hotel reception and the piano bar, which is named the Marquis of Villamanrique Saloon.

The Padilla family once owned the area that serves as the porter’s office, and they give their name to the Palace, Garden and Small Patio of the Padillas.

We were too late in the year to use the rooftop swimming pool, which is open from May to September, and has views cross the city.

There are so many cafés and tapas bars on the doorstep we never ate in the hotel. But on Friday evening, on our last night, we enjoyed a glass of wine and the live music in the piano-bar.

Of course, if this hotel was not there, I would still want to return to Seville. But if there was no Seville, and this hotel was in the middle of nowhere, I would still want to return to Las Casas de la Judería.

Photographs: Patrick Comerford, Seville, 2018; click on images for full-screen resolution

Finding the legacy of
Josefina de Comerford,
the family ‘feme fatale,’
in the streets of Seville

Doña Josefa Eugenia Maria Francisca Comerford MacCrohon de Sales, also known as Josefina de Comerford, Condesa de Sales, spent six years confined to the Convento de la Encarnación in Seville, from 1827 to 1833 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Seville last week, I went in search of the places in both Seville and Tarifa that were associated with the extraordinary life of Josefina de Comerford, who was involved in Spanish political intrigues in the early 19th century.

She was given the title of Condesa de Sales and is the one figure in the history of the Comerford family who stands out as a femme fatale.

In recent years, Josefina has become the subject of Spanish biographical studies, but even before her death she inspired romantic semi-fictional biographies. To this day, her legacy has divided Spanish historians, who have seen her as a fanatic, an extremist, a romantic heroine, or an early feminist.

Her great-grandfather, Major-General John Comerford (ca 1665-1725), also known as Don John de Comerford, was born in Finlough in Loughkeen, Co Tipperary, and was a member of one of the Callan branches of the Comerford family in Co Kilkenny. He was sworn a freeman of the City of Waterford on 23 August 1686, and during the Jacobite Wars he was an ensign in the Jacobite Bagnall’s Regiment of Foot alongside his brother, Henry Comerford.

By 1709, John Comerford was the colonel of the Regiment de Waterford in the Spanish army. Later, he was promoted to the rank of Major-General and knighted by the King of Spain. He died in Badajoz, 200 km north of Seville, close to the Portuguese border, on 18 May 1725. His widow, Henrietta O’Neill, died in Madrid in 1747. Her first husband was another Irish exile in Spain, Colonel Henry O’Beirne, an Irish colonel in the Spanish army.

Henrietta Comerford was a daughter of Henry O’Neill of Eden, Co Antrim, and his wife, Sarah O’Neill, of Shane’s Castle. Henrietta Comerford’s brother, John O’Neill, was the father-in-law of Richard Butler, 7th Viscount Mountgarret, and was the grandfather of Lord O’Neill, who was killed at the Battle of Antrim in 1798.

Henrietta Comerford and her first husband were the parents of Maria Therese O’Beirne (died 1777), Maid of Honour to the Queen of Spain. In 1726, she married the attainted Philip Wharton (1698-1731), 2nd Duke of Wharton.

A writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine later referred to the Duchess of Wharton’s step-father, John Comerford, as her father, and in her will she referred to her half-brother, Joseph Comerford, as ‘my deceased brother Comerford.’

John and Henrietta Comerford were the parents of one son and four daughters:

1, Joseph John Comerford (1719-post 1777), also known as Don Joseph de Comerford.
2, Elinor, who also married into the O’Beirne family. She was living with her half-sister, the Duchess of Wharton, at her house in Golden Square, London, when she died in 1777. She was the mother of three daughters.
3, Frances (Doña Francisca) Magdalene.
4, Dorothea, who appears to have been dead by 1777, when her half-sister, the Duchess of Wharton, died in London.

The only son of John and Henrietta Comerford was:

Joseph John Comerford (1719-post 1777), also known as Don Joseph de Comerford. He was born in 1719 in Barcelona. He was a Knight of the Order of Calatranta and was living in 1744. He married Maria Magdalena de Sales, Madame de Sales, a widow sometimes described as Marquesa de Sales. Doña Maria Magdalena de Sales, Marquesa de Sales, was a native of Annecy in the Duchy of Savoy, and a member of the same family as Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva. Don Joseph de Comerford was still living in 1777 when his half-sister, the Duchess of Wharton, died in London.

Joseph and Maria Comerford were the parents of two sons:

1 (Major) Francisco Comerford (ca 1749?-1808).
2, Enrique Comerfort, Conde de Bryas.

Their eldest son:

Major Francisco Comerford (ca 1749?-1808) lived much of his life in Cádiz. He was a godfather or sponsor at the baptism of Carlos O’Donnell y Anethan, father of Leopoldo O’Donnell y Jorris (1809-1867), the first Duke of Tetuan, and Spanish Minister of War, and grandfather of Carlos O’Donnell y Alvarez de Abreu (1834-1903), the second Duke of Tetuan and Spanish Foreign Minister.

Francisco Comerford proved the will of his aunt, the Duchess of Wharton, in 1777.

He was a major in his grandfather’s Regiment of Ireland. He was stationed in Tarifa, next to Gibraltar, with his regiment, and in 1805 he was an eyewitness of the Battle of Trafalgar.

He married Maria MacCrohon from SanSebastian, and he died in 1808. They were the parents of one daughter: (Doña) Josefa Eugenia Maria Francisca Comerford MacCrohon de Sales (‘Josefina’ de Comerford) (1794-1865).

Francisco Comerford’s younger brother, Enrique Comerfort, Conde de Bryas, married a cousin, Juana Francisca de Comerford y Sales, said to be related to Saint Francis de Sales. Following the French invasion of Spain, he resigned his army commission and left for Dublin, bringing his 11-year-old orphaned niece and god-daughter Josefina with him. Later, he attended the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and died soon after.

Josefina de Comerford spent many of her childhood years in Tarifa until her father died 1808 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

His niece, Doña Josefa Eugenia Maria Francisca Comerford MacCrohon de Sales (1794-1865), is known in Spanish history and in popular folklore as Josefina de Comerford. She was born in 1794 in Ceuta, a Spanish outpost in North Africa, although old biographies say she was born in Tarifa. She was baptised on 26 December 1794 in the Church of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios in Ceuta.

Her father moved with his regiment in 1798 to the port of Tarifa, on the Straits of Gibraltar and facing Tangiers on the Moroccan coast. Josefina always said she was born in Tarfia, taking four years off her life, because she liked this legendary city more than Ceuta, which was then little more than a prison. In 1805, Francisco Comerford was an eyewitness to the Battle of Trafalgar. When her father died in 1808, Josefina was adopted by her uncle Enrique Comerford, Conde de Bryas, and she moved with him to Dublin, where she appears to have been brought up in luxury and in a wide social circle.

She was in Vienna with her uncle when he attended the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Enrique Comerford died soon after, and she then moved to Rome at the suggestion of her Irish and Spanish family and friends.

She was fluent in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. At 18, says Agustín de Letamendi, who knew and treated her, ‘she was graceful, with a flowing waist and exquisite manners, a sweet and pleasant voice, very light brown hair, a shiny forehead, and her face was white, blue eyes, cheeks rosy, Greek nose, coral mouth, teeth like pearls, and her bearing and feminine grace inspired admiration, respect and affectionate affection in all who approached her.’

When she returned to Spain in 1820, she became involved in the ultra-royalist side in the political wars of the 1820s and 1830s. In Barcelona, she made contact with the Regency of Urgel, and so began her involvement with the main guerrillas in the ultra-royalist faction, including Antonio Marañón, known as ‘The Trappist.’ Some biographers seek to claim she had a romantic affair with ‘The Trappist.’

It is said she rode into battle with her whip in one hand and a crucifix in the other, burning villages by day and praying the rosary at night. She led her followers to believe they had the support of the Holy See, the French government and the Russian emperor, who would supply them with troops, money and arms.

She was involved in the capture of Seo de Urgel in Catalonia on 21 June 1822, followed by the proclamation of Ferdinand VII as absolute monarch. For this, the Regency rewarded Josefina with the title of Condesa de Sales or Countess de Sales, derived from her paternal grandmother’s family, a distinction later confirmed by King Fernando VII.

At the fall of the constitutional regime in 1824, she moved to Barcelona, where she continued plotting ultra-royalist activities. However, while she was in in Barcelona she was far from the main focus of the rebellion in Cervera, about 100 km west of Barcelona.

When the new absolutist movement was set up in 1826, ‘The Trappist’ died as a prisoner in a convent and Josefina was imprisoned in Barcelona. However, Josefina made good her escape from Barcelona and installed herself in Cervera, where she gathered a new ultra-royalist group, with the support of a large number of priests.

She led the fight from her horse, without letting go of her sword. Yet she would also lock herself in her library ‘surrounded by war books, taking notes, drawing sketches of the most advantageous squares by their strategic position, writing memoirs, proclamations and letters.’

When the ‘malcontents’ were defeated and the main leaders were shot and hanged, Josefina was arrested on 18 November 1827 was imprisoned in the Ciudadela or citadel in Barcelona. She was accused of holding meetings in her house that gave rise to the constitution of the Junta de Cervera, as well as having encouraged more than 150 people to arm themselves.

The entrance to the Convento de la Encarnación in Seville … Josefina’s death sentence was commuted to life in the convent (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

She denied all the charges against her but was found guilty. Her death sentence was commuted because she was a woman, and she was sentenced to live an enclosed life in exile in the Convento de la Encarnación, on the Plaza Vigen de los Reyes, beside the Cathedral and the Archbishop’s Palace in Seville.

The whitewashed Augustinian convent is a Baroque building dating from 1547. It stands on the site of the 14th century Santa Marta Hospital, founded by Fernán Martínez in 1385. The hospital, in turn, was built on the site of a former mosque. It became a convent in 1591, and is still commonly known as the Convent of Santa Marta.

The convent is enclosed and can only be visited in the company of one of the nuns. The cloisters have an arcaded patio that is arcaded, and the walls enclosing the patio have wonderful ceramic tiles and 18th century paintings. The museum of sacred art on the second floor includes sculptures, small altars, 17th and 18th century statues of the Child Jesus and a collection of clothes to dress the statues.

A plaque on the convent wall … one of two reminders of its associations with Miguel de Cervantes and the convent (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The convent faces a square that was once home to the Corral de los Olmos (the Courtyard of the Elms), a rogues’ inn that features in many of the writings of Spain’s literary giant, Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). Two plaques on the convent walls are reminders of the links between Cervantes and the convent.

Josefina failed in her appeal for a pardon in 1830. But she regained her freedom after the death of Ferdinand VII in 1833, and for the rest of her life she lived a secluded, almost hidden life in the Corral del Conde, a large mansion on Calle Santiago, and only a six-minute walk from Las Casas de Juderia, the hotel where I was staying in the Jewish Quarter of Seville.

The Corral del Conde on Calle Santiago … Josefina moved here in 1833 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Corral del Conde (the Count’s Yard) is a typical 16th century Andalusian courtyard, and it is listed as an Historical Cultural Heritage. It is plain and stark outside, but inside it retains the charm and traditional features of a mediaeval courtyard, with a central paved patio, wooden galleries, bread oven and even its own chapel. The plants, flowers and fountain create an oasis in the heart of Seville.

It was first built when Seville was under Muslim, was rebuilt in the mudejárica style, but its present layout is influenced by the popular architecture of the 18th century. Douglas Fairbanks and his wife Mary Pickford stayed in the Corral del Conde in the spring of 1924, the year The Thief of Baghdad was released.

The Corral del Conde was refurbished and restored as an apartment building in 1982-1983. Many of the apartments are rented by artists, students and tourists.

Josefina made her will in Seville on 30 December 1863. She died in Seville of pneumonia on 3 April 1865, the Monday before Easter, at 8 Calle Garzo, now renumbered and renamed as 17 Calle García Ramos, in the Parish of San Vicente. She was buried in the Cemetery of San Fernando in grave number 527.

A glimpse of the Corral del Conde on Calle Azafran (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The first semi-biographical accounts of her adventurous life were written during her own life by her political opponents, including Agustín Letamendi (1849) and Francisco J Orellana (1856). Some of the accounts discredit her by alleging she had an affair with a young gardener in the convent where she was forced to live in Seville.

Don Antonio Pirala, the historian of the 19th century civil wars, tried to meet her in Seville in 1853 but was told either she was back in Catalonia or had returned to Ireland to settle family affairs and to recover some of her belongings.

He was disappointed not to meet ‘this extraordinary woman, who hates even the memory of the past but retains the genius, the strength of soul and manly breath of her youth despite her infirmities.’

Her life has been the subject of many popular Spanish romantic novels, so that the historical biographical details of her life are often lost in the fictional retelling of her legend. She is often described as ‘the woman general,’ ‘la dama azul,’ and ‘the fanatic,’ while other writers have defended her as ‘a defamed heroine,’ and even as the ‘Carlist Joan of Arc.’

The fountain in the courtyard of the Corral del Conde

Many of the historical accounts of her life are based on the semi-fictional two-volume book by Agustín de Letamendi, Josefina Comerford o el Fanatismo (Josefina Comerford or Fanaticism), published in Madrid in 1849, or the work of Francisco J Orellana, the author of El Conde de España o la inquisición military (The Count of Spain or the military inquisition), published in Madrid in 1856.

Letamendi’s book is influential, and many of the authors who wrote about the adventures of this Comerford countess drew on his semi-fictional book for their information, uncritically including its many errors. The details of her family origins and her guerrilla activities were copied from one book to another, reproducing silly details and many inaccuracies.

Cristóbal de Castro’s novel The English woman and the Trappist (1926) is misleading even in its title describing her as ‘the English woman.’ He rescues Josefina de Comerford as a heroine in his short, 60-page novel, in which she is portrayed as a beautiful and enigmatic woman who was known as la dama azul.

But he makes religious fanaticism the keystone of her life, and he invents the story of her affair with Frasquito, the gardener’s son. He ends with a degraded character who falls into alcoholism after her turbulent relationship held with the young man in the convent garden.

In 1948, Federico Suarez Verdeguer cited the treatment received by Josefina Comerford in history as an example of the total absence of political impartiality with which the history of 19th century Spain has been analysed. He compared her treatment with that of Mariana Pineda, who is considered a martyr for freedom because she had the courage to make a flag for liberals.

A few years later, in 1955, the ABC newspaper published an article by Pedro Sanchez Nunez entitled ‘Una heroína difamada’ (‘A defamed heroine’).

The historical and fictional accounts of her life include: Agustín de Letamendi, Josefina de Comerford o el fanatismo (Madrid, 1849), Betino Pérez Galdós, ‘Episodios Nacionales,’ in El voluntario realista (num 18, Madrid, 1976), Francisco José Orellana, El conde de España (Madrid, 1856), Antonio Pirala, Historia de la guerra civil y de los partidos liberal y carlista (Madrid, 1889-1891), Crisóbal de Castro, La Inglesa y el Trapense (Madrid, 1926), Crisóbal de Castro, La generala carlista (Madrid, 1931), Pío Baroja, Siluetas Románticas (Madrid, 1938).

‘Everyone took an oath in the hands of Josefina’ … an illustration by Vicente Urrabieta y Carnicero for the novel by Francisco José Orellana, ‘The Count of Spain or The Military Inquisition’ (Madrid: León Pablo Library, 1856)

Updated: 29 August 2022

30 October 2018

How Saint Teresa avoided
the Spanish Inquisition at
her new convent in Seville

Saint Teresa of Ávila … her image high on a corner of her convent church in Seville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

As I strolled through Seville on my last morning in the city, I wandered through the streets close to Las Casas de la Judería, the hotel where I was staying, and allowed myself to get lost in the maze and the labyrinth.

I had strolled through these streets most days, and always managed to find my way out while stumbling on something new and beguiling each time.

The Plaza de Refinadores (Refiners’ Square) is a small, quiet square, known today for its statue of Don Juan. But some of the burial remains found in the former Jewish cemetery nearby are kept in the basement of the public parking lot here.

The next square, Plaza Santa Cruz, was once the site of the main synagogue, but the building was finally demolished by the French in 1810, making way for the present square.

Nearby, a small paved square known as Las Cruces is dominated by three tall crosses, but there is no sign pointing out that this is the place where thousands of Jews in Seville were persecuted and put to death on the night of 5 June 1391.

In the heart of this Santa Cruz neighbourhood, leading from the Plaza Santa Cruz back towards Ximenez de Enciso and the Jewish Interpretative Centre, Santa Teresa is a narrow winding street, where the landmark attractions include the Bar Las Teresas, with its rows of jamón Iberico hanging from the ceiling.

As I wound my way along this street, I found myself in front of an impressive wooden door in an ornate portal set in an otherwise blank and forbidding wall, with just a few barred windows high above near the roof.

This is the entrance to the Convent of San José, better known as Las Teresas after its founder, Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582).

The entrance to the Convent of San José in Seville, better known as Las Teresas after its founder, Saint Teresa of Ávila (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Teresa is a prominent saint and theologians, a mystic, writer and reformer of the Carmelite nuns, and one of the few women honoured as a ‘Doctor of the Church,’ alongside Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Hildegard of Bingen and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

Saint Teresa of Ávila was born Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada in 1515 in Ávila, a small town between Madrid and Salamanca. Her grandfather, Juan Sánchez de Toledo, was a marrano, a pejorative term for a Jew who had been forcibly converted to Christianity, and who had been brought before the Spanish Inquisition in Toledo in 1485 – seven years before the final expulsion of all Jews from Spain – accused of returning to the Jewish faith.

Juan Sánchez de Toledo was condemned to wear in procession for six weeks the sanbenito or yellow garment of those condemned by the Inquisition. Later, as was custom, his sanbenito was hung in the cathedral as a reminder of his public disgrace.

Her father, however, moved to a more tolerant climate in Ávila, where he tried to hide his family’s Jewish origins, and successfully integrated into society.

Teresa’s mother died when Teresa was 14, and she was sent to be educated by the Augustinian nuns in Ávila. At the age of 20 she entered the Monastery of the Incarnation of the Carmelites, a contemplative order that claimed it was founded on Mount Carmel in the 12th century.

In the convent, she experienced the ecstatic religious trances for which she is best known, and developed the mysticism that inspired her writings.

In her 40s she felt compelled to reform her order, adopting more austere rules and spending more time in mental prayer. She started a new convent in Ávila in 1562, and went on to found 17 others throughout Spain in a 20-year reform movement.

The three crosses in Las Cruces, where thousands of Jews of Seville were put to death in 1391 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

On 26 May 1575, Saint Teresa arrived in Seville with a few nuns to found her eleventh convent. They found a house on Calle Zaragoza, near the cathedral, and the community stayed for 10 years.

At the time, Seville was the biggest city in Spain and the main port to the Indies. The city was experiencing its ‘Golden Age’ at the height of trade with the Americas. Besides the Cathedral, there were 30 parish churches, more than 100 hospitals and chapels and representatives from every religious order.

On the other side of the Guadalquivir River, the Castle of San Jorge was home to the Court of the Inquisition and the Carthusian Monastery, which she visited while she was living in Seville.

However, the location of this convent was never satisfactory. Zaragoza was one of the main streets leading down to the port, a noisy place with taverns frequented by sailors and traders.

Eventually, with the help of Saint John of the Cross, Teresa and her companions bought a property in Calle Santa Teresa to build a new home. Her brother Lorenzo, who had been the colonial treasurer in Quito in Peru, had returned to Spain and also helped to finance her new convent in Seville.

Her fellow-Carmelite Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591) was also a major figure in the Counter-Reformation and a mystic, and is also recognised as a Doctor of the Church. Born Juan de Yepes y Álvarez near Ávila, he too was a member of a converso family, descended from Jews forced to convert to Christianity.

Teresa, however, never saw her order’s new home. While travelling in northern Spain in 1582, she was taken ill and died. In a strange turn of history, she died on the night when the Church was switching from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian calendar, with the removal of the dates 5 to 14 October that year. She died either late in the evening of 4 October (Julian), or in the early hours of 15 October (Gregorian), at the age of 67.

The Convent of San José, or Las Teresas, is not open to the public but holds a number of relics, including the only portrait of Saint Teresa painted while she was alive and the original manuscript of her best-known work, Las Moradas or The Interior Castle.

Saint Teresa was beatified in 1614 and canonised in 1622. Many recent studies have pointed to the role of Judaism in her intellectual and religious journey, from Rosa Rossi’s recent biography (2013) to research by Professor Teófanes Egido López of Valladolid University, and the Carmelite theologian Cristiana Dobner.

An exhibit in the Jewish Interpretative Centre, around the corner from Las Teresas, points out how an ordinance was approved in Toledo in 1449, excluding converts of Jewish origin from holding public office in the city. This was the first of the ‘statutes of purity of blood’ that excluded Jewish converts from the military, higher education, and civil and church offices.

The statutes were soon extended to most religious orders, first to the Order of Saint Jerome, later the Dominicans, then the Franciscans, and lastly the Jesuits. For several centuries, these rules were applied to religious orders, diocesan chapters and other civic and church bodies. All candidates for membership were forced to go through an exhaustive investigation to prove none of their ancestors was from a ‘stained race.’

The statues became a breeding ground for extending suspicion, envy, accusations and blackmail. A special group was set up in Seville, los Linajudos, dedicated exclusively to extort money from converts and their descendants by researching their ancestry.

The Discalced Carmelite Sisters reimposed the ‘statutes of purity of blood’ in 1597, 15 years after the death of Saint Teresa and six years after the death of Saint John of the Cross. The statues remained in force until 10 May 1865.

Plaza Santa Cruz, close to Santa Teresa and Saint Teresa’s convent in Seville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Nada Te Turbe by Saint Teresa of Avila:

Nada te turbe,
nada te espante
todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda,
la paciencia todo lo alcanza,
quien a Dios tiene
nada le falta
solo Dios basta.

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God
Lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

The site of the Castle of San Jorge and the Court of the Inquisition in Seville on the west bank of the Guadalquivir River (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Looking for a church but
finding two synagogues
in the streets of Tangier

A sign points to two surviving synagogues on Rue Synagogue in the heart of the old city in Tangier (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Tangier last week, I tried to find my way into the Spanish mission church in the Soukh, but instead ended up finding two of the hidden synagogues in this Moroccan coastal city and learning about the story of the Jews of Tangier.

Earlier in the day, some former Jewish homes were pointed out as we strolled through the narrow streets Kasbah, but I had noticed no synagogues or churches, and attracted unwelcome responses at the few mosques I tried to visit.

After lunch in the Mamounia Palace, I went strolling through the old Medina and the Rue Es-Siaghinie, lined with cafés and bazaars, jewellers’ shops and an arts centre with displays depicting Tangier’s social history.

A view of Rue Es-Siaghinie towards the port of Tangier from the balcony of the Mamounia Palace … the Rue Synagogue and the Spanish Mission Church are to the right (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Spanish Mission Church, with its domes and large windows, is a Franciscan mission church dating from the 1870s. The doors were closed, and at first I thought directions at a side door were sending me on a wild goose chase. But as I turned the corner I found I was on ‘Rue Sinaguogue’ and with sign pointing to two synagogues on this colourful back street.

Unlike Morocco’s other imperial cities in the past, Tangier did not have a walled Jewish Mellah or ghetto. Instead, Tangier had an unprotected Jewish quarter.

Tangier was first inhabited by the Phoenicians and then by the Carthaginians. Archaeologists have found ceramic objects marked with menorahs that date the Jewish presence in Tangier, then called Tingis, to the period immediately after the destruction of the First Temple.

Jewish refugees from Spain fleeing the Visigoth persecutions arrived in Tangier in the fifth and sixth centuries AD, bringing with them their culture, industry and commerce. Several Berber tribes converted to Judaism and Jews lived in peace in Tangier for the next several centuries.

Abraham Ibn Daud and Joseph Ha-Kohen record how the Jewish community in Tangier was destroyed by the Almohades in the year 1148.

A Star of David above the door of an old Jewish house in the heart of the old city in Tangier (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Jewish refugees expelled from Spain in 1391 brought new life to the community, and the Jewish population of Tangier grew again with the arrival of refugees expelled from Seville, Cadiz and other parts of Spain by the Inquisition in 1492. These new immigrants brought with them their Andalusian Sephardic liturgy, creating a Moroccan Jewish culture with a distinctive Sephardic identity.

Small numbers from the Jewish communities of Azemmour and Safi settled in Tangier in 1541 when it was ruled by the Portuguese. However, the community eventually came to the attention of the Portuguese Inquisition, which tried to outlaw Jews living in the city.

When the Portuguese ceded Tangier to England in 1661, another wave of Jews and Muslims arrived in the city, particularly from the neighbouring towns of Larache and Ksar El-Kabir, along with a small number of Jews from the Netherlands.

In 1675, tensions boiled up between the Moroccan-born Jews and those from abroad who had arrived in Tangier, and the rabbis of Tetuan issued an excommunication or cherem against the new arrivals. The Jews were expelled from Tangier in 1677 and did not return until 1680.

Although the Jewish community of Tangier was generally poor, a number of notable figures lived in the city, including Solomon Pariente, an adviser and interpreter to four successive governors; Samuel de Paz, a British diplomat; and Jacob Falcon, who played an important role in building relationships between the English and the Muslims.

However, the English withdrawal in 1684 ushered in a new phase of economic decline, and most Jews left the town. By 1725, only one Jewish merchant, Abraham Benamor from Meknes, remained in the city. With the support of Moses Maman, the sultan’s treasurer, he began to organise a new community as Maman encouraged Jewish merchants from Tetuan and Rabat to move to Tangier with the promise of some tax exemptions.

A sign at the entrance to Rue Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The new community soon numbered about 150 people, and Rabbi Judah Hadida, the first dayan or rabbinical court judge of Tangier, became its leader in 1744.

When Christians were excluded from Tetuan in 1772, many European consulates moved to Tangier and the consuls were followed by their Jewish interpreters. However, the majority of the Jewish community in tangier continued to live in poverty.

Unlike Jewish communities in Europe, the Jews of Morocco suffered little or no government-sponsored violence. But all this changed under Sultan Mulay Yazid. In a brief reign of terror, many prominent court Jews were executed, including Jacob Attal who was executed in Tangier in 1783. Jewish houses were pillaged, people were killed, and women were raped.

The Jewish community of Tangier recovered in the early 19th century. There were fewer than 800 Jews living in Tangier in 1808, but by 1835 they had grown in numbers to 2,000. The community, however, was still poor, despite the presence of the Nahon family, who were successful wax traders, Joseph Chriqui of Mogador, and the Abensur, Sicsu, Anzancot, and Benchimol families.

Life was difficult for the Jewish community in Tangier during the Franco-Moroccan War of 1844. But the community escaped the French bombardment and celebrated a special Purim known as Purim de las Bombas (‘Purim of the Bombs’).

Wandering through the streets of the former Jewish quarter of Tangiers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

By 1856, Tangier was the largest port in Morocco. Life improved with the arrival of a new group of Jews from Tetuan, and numbers rose to 2,600. By 1867, there was a community of 3,500 people, and the French school, Alliance Israelite Universelle, opened in 1869.

Many Jews were involved in a new Moroccan press based in Tangier, founding and editing news newspapers, published in English, Spanish, French and Arabic, and calling for the Europeanisation of Morocco.

Jewish authors and poets, many writing in Spanish, also flourished in Tangier. The Jewish middle class founded hospitals and numerous welfare institutions in Tangier. The Jewish intelligentsia, including the historian Jose Benoliel, the kabbalist Sanuel Toldedano, and Abraham Laredo, were involved in reviving Jewish culture.

When the French Protectorate was established in 1912, Jews were given equality and religious autonomy. By the time Tangier became an international zone in 1923 administered by France, Spain and Britain, over 10,000 Jews were living in the city. But many more emigrated to South America or settled in Casablanca.

With the outbreak of World War II and the beginning of the Holocaust, many Jews fleeing Eastern Europe sought refuge in Tangier from 1939 on. By the 1940s, there were 22,000 Jews in Tangier and Morocco’s Jewish population reached its peak at 250,000 in 1948. About 12,000 Jews were living in the international zone that year, and by 1950 they were joined by 2,000 Spanish Moroccan Jews, so that the community in Tangier numbered about 15,000 people in 1951.

The Synagogue Rebbi Akiva on Rue Synagogue was originally built in the mid-19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

After Moroccan independence in 1956 and the annexation of Tangier, several Jews, including Solomon M Pinto, tried to preserve the community of 17,000. But emigration had begun; Jews from Tangier helped to build a new Jewish community in Madrid, others settled in Geneva, Canada or the US, and a few hundred emigrated to Israel. By 1968, the number of Jews in Tangier had fallen to about 4,000. By 1970, only about 250 Jews were left in Tangier.

Today, the synagogues, cemeteries, monuments and communal institutions of Tangier show how important Jewish life has been in the city over the centuries.

At one time Tangier had over 20 synagogues. On Rue des Synagogues, many of the synagogues are now closed, but I found signs pointing to two of them.

The Synagogue Rebbi Akiva on Rue Synagogue was originally built in the mid-19th century. It was restored by Rabbi Moshe Laredo in1902, and was rebuilt in 1912. More recently it has been converted into a museum of Tangier’s Jewish community, but it was closed when I visited on Thursday afternoon.

At the very end of this twisting and turning street, behind a nondescript door, I found myself outside the Moshe Nahon Synagogue, the last surviving functioning synagogue in the old city. From the street, appearances are deceptive, but inside this is a monumental and lavish building, and one of the most beautiful synagogues in Morocco.

This synagogue was built in 1878 and was a working synagogue until it fell into despair in the late 20th century. But it was renovated in 1994, revealing intricately covered carvings that are illuminated by hanging lamps and many Jewish artefacts.

The Moshe Nahon Synagogue, the last surviving functioning synagogue in the old city, was built in 1878 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Chaar Rafael on 27 Boulevard Pasteur is another surviving synagogue in Tangier. This Jewish-owned villa was built in 1919, and was converted into a synagogue in 1954, when the owner Raphaël Bendriahm died.

The Jewish Cemetery in Tangier, known as the ‘old cemetery,’ has more than 1,000 graves, some dating back to the 16th century, with tombstones in Hebrew, Portuguese and French.

Today, there is a vibrant Jewish community in Morocco numbering about 2,000 to 2,500 people. Moroccan Jews make up the second largest community in Israel, and Moroccan Jews and their descendants can be found in France, Canada, Spain, the US and Venezuela.

I never found my way into the Spanish Mission Church, nor did I find Saint Andrew’s Anglican Church before I left Tangier on Thursday evening and returned to Seville. But I found evidence of an openness and tolerance that many people do not expect in islamic-majority and Arab-speaking countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

29 October 2018

Two sculptures in Seville
recall human rights: 2,
‘Bartolomé de las Casas’
by Emilio García Ortiz

The monument to ‘Fray Bartolomé de las Casas’ by Emilio García Ortiz on the banks of the River Guadalquivir in Seville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

As I walked along the banks of the River Guadalquivir in Seville early on Friday afternoon, taking time to watch the rowers on the river between the Torre del Oro at the Puerta de Jerez and the Puente de Isabel II, I took time to admire two sculptures close to the Triana Bridge that are moving reminders of tolerance and intolerance in Seville.

The ‘Monument to Tolerance’ by Eduardo Chillida, accompanied by a poetic text by Elie Wiesel, recalls the mutual tolerance that was often found in Seville until the ‘Catholic Monarchs,’ Ferdinand and Isabel, and the Spanish Inquisition expelled all Jews from Spain in 1492.

On the other side of the pedestrian steps up to the bridge, a sculpture by Emilio García Ortiz in 1984 commemorates Fray Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566), a Dominican friar and missionary bishop from Seville who is revered as a ‘Universal son of Seville’ and a father-figure in the development of international human rights.

The sculpture stands on the bank of the Guadalquivir River, across from Triana, where Fray Bartolomé de las Casas was born, to mark the fifth centenary of his birth, and shows Fray Bartolomé as Bishop of Chiapas with some Indians and some Spanish soldiers.

The sculptor Emilio García Ortiz (1929-2013) was also born in Triana, and for many years he was Professor of Sculpture and Ceramics at the Faculty of Fine Arts in the University of Seville.

Bartolomé de las Casas was an historian and social reformer before becoming a Dominican friar. He was the first resident Bishop of Chiapas and the first official Protector of the Indians.

Bartolomé de las Casas was born in Seville on 11 November 1484. His father, Pedro de las Casas, a merchant, was descended from a family that had migrated from France to Seville. One biographer says, his family were of converso heritage, descended from Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity to escape the Inquisition.

Las Casas and his father migrated in 1502 with the expedition of Nicolás de Ovando to the island of Hispaniola – divided today between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. There, Las Casas became a hacendado and slave owner, taking part in slave raids and military expeditions against the Taíno people of Hispaniola. When he was ordained a priest 1510, he was first priest ordained in the Americas.

A group of Dominican friars led by Pedro de Córdoba arrived in Santo Domingo in September 1510. Appalled by the injustices they saw, they decided to deny slave owners the right to confession.

Fray Antonio de Montesinos, a Dominican friar, preached a sermon in December 1511, implicating the colonists in the genocide of native people. The colonists, led by Diego Columbus, sent a complaint against the Dominicans to the King of Spain, and the Dominicans were recalled from Hispaniola.

Las Casa was a chaplain during the Spanish conquest of Cuba in 1513, when he took part in the massacre of Hatuey. He witnessed many atrocities and later wrote: ‘I saw here cruelty on a scale no living being has ever seen or expects to see.’

But while Las Casas was studying a passage in Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 34: 18-22 as he prepared a Pentecost sermon in 1514, he became convinced that Spanish activities in the New World were illegal and a great injustice. He gave up his slaves and began preaching that other colonists should do the same. He soon realised he would have to take his campaign to Spain and arrived back in Seville in November 1515.

By the banks of the River Guadalquivir in Seville, close to the monument to Bartolomé de las Casas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

While King Ferdinand lay ill in Plasencia, Las Casas was provided with an introduction to the king by Diego de Deza, Archbishop of Seville, and they met on Christmas Eve 1515. However, King Ferdinand died on 25 January 1516.

At first, Las Casas argued that Black slaves should be brought from Africa to relieve the suffering Indians. But he later rejected this idea too, and also became an advocate for Africans in the colonies. He also proposed fortifying the northern coast of Venezuela, establishing ten royal forts to protect the Indians and starting up a system of trade in gold and pearls.

When he arrived in Puerto Rico in January 1521, he heard the Spaniards of the islands had launched a raid into the very heart of the territory that he wanted to colonise peacefully.

He entered the Dominican monastery of Santa Cruz in Santo Domingo as a novice in 1522 and took vows as a Dominican friar in 1523. He worked throughout Hispaniola, Peru, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico, and came into conflict with the Franciscan orders and their approaches to the mass conversion of the Indians.

As a direct result of the debates between the Dominicans and Franciscans and spurred on by Las Casas’s treatise, Pope Paul III promulgated the Bull Sublimis Deus, which stated the Indians were rational beings who should be brought peacefully to the faith.

Las Casas returned to Guatemala in 1537 with two mission principles: to preach the Gospel to all and treat them as equals, and conversion must be voluntary and based on knowledge and understanding of the Faith.

Las Casas then spent a year in Mexico, before returning to Spain in 1540, where he secured official support for his Guatemalan mission and continued his struggle against the colonists’ mistreatment of the Indians. He presented a narrative of atrocities against the natives of the Indies and argued for new laws and legal protections.

Before Las Casas returned to Spain, he was also appointed as Bishop of Chiapas. He was consecrated in the Dominican Church of San Pablo on 30 March 1544, and took possession of his new diocese when he returned in 1545.

As a bishop, Las Casas was embroiled in frequent conflicts and in a pastoral letter on 20 March 1545, he Casas refused absolution to slave owners, even on their death bed, unless all their slaves had been set free and their property returned to them. He also threatened to excommunicate anyone who mistreated Indians within his diocese.

He became so unpopular among the Spanish colonists that he had to leave his diocese, never to return. He left for Europe in December 1546, arriving in Lisbon in April 1547 and in Spain in November 1547.

In 1548, the Crown decreed that all copies of his Confesionario be burnt. But he publicly defended his views on slavery, mission, war and the rights of Indians in a formal, public debate in Valladolid in 1550-1551. Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda argued that the Indians were less than human and required Spanish masters in order to become civilized. But Las Casas maintained that they were fully human and that forcefully subjugating them was unjustifiable.

Las Casas spent the rest of his life working closely with the imperial court in matters relating to the Indies, working on behalf of the natives of the Indies, with many of them asking him to speak directly to the Emperor on their behalf.

He had to defend himself repeatedly against accusations of treason, and was denounced to the Spanish Inquisition. His extensive writings, including A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies and Historia de Las Indias, chronicle the first decades of the colonisation of the West Indies and describe the atrocities committed by the colonisers against the indigenous peoples.

He died in Madrid on 18 July 1566.

Although he failed to save the indigenous peoples of the Western Indies, his efforts improved the legal status of the natives, and increased focus on the ethics of colonialism. Las Casas is often considered to be one of the first advocates of the universal human rights.

Sadly, the monument is fenced off to deter repeated graffiti and attacks by vandals who do not value the monumental and cultural legacy of Seville.

The monument by Emilio García Ortiz on the banks of the River Guadalquivir in Seville hails ‘Fray Bartolomé de las Casas’ as a founding figure in the concept of Universal Human Rights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This morning:Monument to Tolerance’ by Eduardo Chillida

Two sculptures in Seville
recall human rights: 1,
‘Monument to Tolerance’
by Eduardo Chillida

The ‘Monument to Tolerance’ by Eduardo Chillida on the banks of the River Guadalquivir in Seville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

On Friday afternoon, I took a stroll along the banks of the River Guadalquivir in Seville, from the Torre del Oro and the Puerta de Jerez to the Puente de Isabel II, the bridge that crosses the Guadalquivir river and links the heart of Seville with the barrio of Triana on the other side of the river.

Many of the boat trips along the river begin beneath the Torre del Oro, a crenelated tower built by the Moors in the 13th century to protect the port and now housing a small maritime museum.

The long, tree-lined promenade between the Paseo de Cristóbal Colón and the east bank of the river is also an ideal place to relax, watching scullers and rowers practice their strokes earnestly.

Rowing on the River Guadalquivir in Seville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Two sculptures on this side of the river, close to the Triana Bridge, are moving reminders of tolerance and intolerance in Seville and of a friar from Seville who is regarded as a father-figure in the development of international human rights.

The Guadalquivir River was used by the Phoenicians, the Romans, who built Hispalis on the site of present-day Seville in the 2nd century BC, and the Moors during their rule between 712 and 1248. And, of course, the ‘Catholic monarchs,’ Isabella and Ferdinand, brought all that gold and silver from the New World up this same river.

But Ferdinand and Isabel also signed the Decree of Alhambra expelling the Jews from Spain in 1492. It seems appropriate, then, that Eduardo Chillida’s ‘Monument to Tolerance’ and the sculpture by Emilio García Ortiz of Fray Bartolome de las Casas, a Dominican friar and bishop and early human rights activist who campaigned against mistreatment of slaves, should stand on the east side of the Puente de Isabel II or Puente de Triana.

The ‘Monument to Tolerance’ was installed as a piece of public art in 1992 as part of the Seville Expo ’92 and was inaugurated by President Chaim Herzog of Israel to mark the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

The sculptor Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002), a celebrated Basque artist, is known for his large-scale sculptures in museums, parks and public squares across the world. He was born in San Sebastián and spent much time in both Madrid and Paris. Many of his works are dedicated to public figures or commemorative events, and tolerance is a theme running through many of his work.

This sculpture on the banks of the Guadalquivir celebrates the tolerance once shared in Seville by the three great monotheistic faiths, Jews, Christians and Muslims, but that was destroyed by the Inquisition in 1492.

Is it a stylised menorah, broken by the antisemitism of the Inquisition, when the light of Judaism was quenched in Spain?

Or is this someone generously offering an understanding embrace or a lonely figure seeking the solace and comfort of a hug?

Poetic words by Elie Wiesel by the ‘Monument to Tolerance’ by Eduardo Chillida in Seville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This great abstract figure is accompanied by two stone walls, one with poetic words by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), written for the inauguration of this sculpture:

Deteneos hombres y mujeres que
pasais. Deteneos y escuchad.

Escuchad la voz de Sevilla voz
herida y melodiosa. La de su
memoria, que es también la vuestra,
es judia y cristiana musulmana y
laiaca, joven y antigua.
La humanidad entera en sus
sobresaltos de luz y sombras, se
recoge en esa voz para extraer del
pasado fundamentos de esperanza.

Aqui com en otros sitios, se amaba
y se odiaba por razones oscuras y
sin razon alguna; se hacian
rogativas por el sol y por la
lluvia; se interpretaba la vida
dando muerte, se crei ser fuerte
por seguir a los débiles, se
afirmaba el honor de Dios, pero
támbien la deshonra de los hombres.

Aqui como en otro sitios,
la tolerancia se impone, y lo sabeis
bien vosotros, hombres y mujeres
que escuchais esta voz de Sevilla.
Sabeis bien que, cara al destino
que os es común, nada os separará.
Puesto que Dios es Dios. Todos sois
sus hijos. A sus ojos, Todos los
seres valen lo mismo. La verdad que
invocan no es valida si a todos no
los convierte en soberanos.

Ciertamente, toda la vida termina en
la noche. Pero iluminarla es nuestra misión.

Por la tolerancia.

Elie Wiesel
Sevilla, Abril MCMXCII

As I read it, I tried to translate it:

Stop all who pass by, men and women. Stop and listen.

Listen to the voice of Seville, a voice that is wounded and melodious.

This memorial, which is also yours, is Jewish and Christian, Muslim and secular, young and old. Humanity is created in both light and darkness, it develops in that voice that reaches down to the foundations of hope, deep in the past.

Here as in other places, they loved and they hated themselves for dark reasons and for no reason at all. They prayed in the sun and the rain. Life was understood in death, and believed it had found strength in persecuting the weak. It affirmed the honour of God, yet at one and the same time brought dishonour to humanity.

Here as elsewhere, tolerance prevails, and you know it well, men and mothers, who heed this voice of Seville. You know well that, faced with your shared fate, nothing separates us from each other.

Since God is God, you are all his children.

In his eyes, all of us are of equal value. The truth they invoke has no valid unless it makes sovereign beings of all.

Certainly, all life ends in the night, but to bring light to it is our mission.

For Tolerance.

Elie Wiesel. April 1992

Appropriately, across the river in Triana, the ruined Castillo de San Jorge was once a seat of the tribunal of the Inquisition in Seville. The ‘Monument to Tolerance’ invites reflections on this dark period in European history.

This evening: The monument to Fray Bartolomé de las Casas by Emilio García Ortiz

The Torres del Oro by the banks of the River Guadalquivir in Seville (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

28 October 2018

We are building up the household of God
upon the foundation of the apostles

‘Christ is our corner-stone’ (Hymn 327) … a cross in a corner of the church in the Monastery of Vlatadon in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

28 October 2018, the Fifth Sunday before Advent (Proper 25).

Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles.

11.30 a.m.:, the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale (with Sunday School).

Readings: Isaiah 28: 14-16; Psalm 119: 89-96; Ephesians 2: 19-22; John 15: 17-27.

Readings: Isaiah 28: 14-16; Psalm 119: 89-96; Ephesians 2: 19-22; John 15: 17-27.

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

This morning offers a number of choices. The Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday before Advent tells the story of Blind Bartimaeus being healed outside the walls of Jericho by Christ on his way to Jerusalem.

This is also being marked in some parish churches as the Bible Sunday, and many of us are familiar with the words of the Collect of the Day:

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
Help us to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

But this morning, we are celebrating Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles, whose feast day is celebrated in the Church Calendar today.

Many people on our city streets may associate Saint Simon with the homeless and housing crisis in Ireland, and think of Saint Simon as someone cares for the homeless people on our streets. However, the Simon Community takes its name from Simon of Cyrene who helps Christ carry his cross on the way to Calvary and his Crucifixion.

If you asked who Jude is, you might be told he is ‘Obscure’ – or the Patron of Lost Causes.

These two are little known as apostles, without fame, and that obscurity is almost affirmed by the fact that they have to share one feast day and do not have their own separate, stand-alone celebrations in the Calendar of the Church.

In an age obsessed with reality television, the X-Factor, the Apprentice or celebrities who are celebrities – just because they are – Simon and Jude appear like a pair of misfits: we know little about their lives or how they lived them, they are hardly famous among the disciples, and they certainly are not celebrity apostles.

Simon and Jude are way down the list of the Twelve Apostles, and their names are often confused or forgotten. In the New Testament lists of the Twelve (Matthew 10: 2-4; Mark 3: 16-19; Luke 6: 14-16; Acts 1: 13), they come in near the end, in tenth and eleventh places. Well, with Judas in twelfth place, they just about make it onto the ‘first eleven.’

The ninth name on the lists is James, the James who was remembered last Wednesday [23 October]. Judas or Jude is often referred to as ‘the brother of James,’ and this in turn leads to him being identified with the ‘brothers of the Lord.’ So, on this day, we celebrate Simon the Zealot, one of the original Twelve; and Jude or Judas of James, also one of the Twelve and author of the Epistle of Jude.

But poor Simon is not mentioned by name in the New Testament except on these lists – after all, there is a better-known Simon than this Simon: there is Simon Peter. As for Jude, his name is so close to Judas – in fact, their names are the same (Ιούδας) – is it any wonder that he became known as the patron saint of lost causes? Trying to remember him might have been a lost cause.

After the Last Supper, Jude asked Christ why he chose to reveal himself only to the disciples, and received the reply: ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ (John 14: 22-23).

In his brief Epistle, Jude says he planned to write a different letter, but then heard of the misleading views of some false teachers. He makes a passionate plea to his readers to preserve the purity of the Christian faith and their good reputation.

His Epistle includes a memorable exhortation to ‘contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’ (Jude 3), and ends with that wonderful closing: ‘Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen’ (Jude 24-25).

But after that, surprisingly, we know very little about the later apostolic missions of Simon and Jude, where they were missionaries or whether they were martyred.

In truth, we know very little about these two saints, bundled together at the end of a list, like two hopeless causes. There was no danger of them being servants who might want to be greater than their master (John 15: 20). All we can presume is that they laboured on, perhaps anonymously, in building up the Church.

But then the Church does not celebrate celebrities who are famous and public; we honour the saints who labour and whose labours are often hidden.

In the Gospel reading (John 15: 17-27), the Apostles are warned about suffering the hatred of ‘the world.’ Later, as the Gospel was spread around the Mediterranean, isolated Christians may not have realised how quickly the Church was growing. In their persecutions and martyrdom, they may have felt forlorn and that Christianity was in danger of being a lost cause.

But in the Gospel reading, Christ encourages a beleaguered Church to see its afflictions and wounds as his own.

No matter how much we suffer, no matter how others may forget us, no matter how obscure we become, no matter how many people forget our names, no matter how often our faith and discipleship may appear to others to be lost causes, no matter how small our congregations may be, not matter how often we feel our parishes are isolated or even forgotten, we can be assured that we are no longer strangers and aliens, that we are citizens with the saints.

As Saint Paul reminds us in this morning’s Epistle reading, we are building up the household of God upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the cornerstone, and we are being built together spiritually into the dwelling place of God (Ephesians 2: 19-22).

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

Saint Simon … a stained-glass window in the Church of Saint John the Baptist, Clontarf (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 15: 17-27 (NRSV):

[Jesus said:] 17 ‘I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

18 ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”

26 ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

Saint Jude … a stained glass window in the Church of Saint John the Baptist, Clontarf (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Colour: Red.


Almighty God, who built your Church upon the foundation
of the apostles and prophets
with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone:
So join us together in unity of spirit by their doctrine
that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect (Fifth Sunday before Advent):

Blessed Lord,
who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
Help us to hear them,
to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them
that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word,
we may embrace and for ever hold fast
the blessed hope of everlasting life,
which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord, you are gracious and compassionate.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

You are loving to all,
and your mercy is over all your creation.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your faithful servants bless your name,
and speak of the glory of your kingdom.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

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

The Preface:

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

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
the source of truth and love:
Keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
united in prayer and the breaking of the bread,
and one in joy and simplicity of heart,
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Blessing:

God give you grace
to share the inheritance of all Saint Simon and Saint Jude
and of his saints in glory ...


327, Christ is our corner-stone (CD 20)
528, The Church’s one foundation (CD 30)
459, For all the saints, who from their labours rest (CD 27)

‘Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning’ (the Collect) … pages from Saint John’s Gospel, the first complete hand-written and illuminated Bible since the Renaissance, in a recent exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral; Sunday may also be marked as Bible Sunday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org