Monday, 31 December 2018

Ten synagogues I have
visited in 2018

Inside the Scuola Spagnola in Venice, founded around 1580 by Spanish and Portuguese speaking Jews (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on images for full-screen resolution)

Patrick Comerford

In previous years, in my end-of-year reviews at the end of December, I have often summarised the year’s events in my life, as well providing my own commentary on the year in news, sport, and church life.

However, newspapers and television stations provide substantial summaries of the past year at this time of the year, and the consequences of ‘Brexit’ and the Trump presidency have been devastating and depressing at one and the same time throughout 2018.

Instead, I have decided to end the year on note of celebration over the next few days, looking back at ten countries I have visited this year, ten cathedrals I have visited in Ireland, ten synagogues I have visited, and ten places I have visited in Ireland this year.

The façade of the New Synagogue on Oranienburger strasse in Berlin survived Kristallnacht and World War II (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

1, The new Synagogue, Berlin:

This year marked the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht or the ‘Night of Broken Glass.’ On the night of 9/10 November 1938, Nazi Party members, the Hitler Youth and other people went on a government-sanctioned rampage against Jews throughout Germany and Austria. That night 80 years ago is remembered as Kristallnacht or the ‘Night of Broken Glass,’ and many say it marks the unofficial beginning of the Holocaust.

The New Synagogue on Oranienburger strasse narrowly escaped being destroyed that night through the brave intervention of a district police chief, Wilhelm Krützfeld. It is around the corner from Tucholsky strasse, where I was staying in Berlin.

When the Neue Synagoge or New Synagogue opened in 1866, it was seen as an architectural masterpiece. The opening was such an important event that the attendance included Count Otto von Bismarck, soon to be the first chancellor of the German Empire.

The name ‘new’ refers to the reformed, modern rites and practices. The building was designed by Eduard Knoblauch and completed after his death by Friedrich August Stüller. It was designed in the Moorish style to resemble the Alhambra in Spain, and could hold 3,200 people.

The heavily damaged New Synagogue was essentially demolished in 1958, except for the front façade and entrance. The Centrum Judaicum Foundation opened here in 1988 and the rebuilt New Synagogue opened in 1995 as a museum, cultural centre and community offices.

The congregation in the New Synagogue today is Berlin’s only Masorti synagogue. Gesa Ederberg became the first female pulpit rabbi in Berlin in 2007 when she became the rabbi of the New Synagogue.

The site of Berlin’s first synagogue at Heidereutergasse, dedicated in 1714 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

2, The Alten (Old) Synagogue, Berlin:

Berlin’s first major Jewish house of worship, the Alten (Old) Synagogue on the Heidereutergasse, was dedicated in 1714, almost 420 years after the first documented mentioning of Jews in Berlin in 1295. By 1354, six Jewish families were living in the Kleinen Judenhof or ‘small Jewish court’ settlement. Jews were first expelled from Brandenburg in 1446, but they were allowed to return to Berlin in 1447.

A site for the first Jewish cemetery was bought in 1672 on Grosse Hamburger Strasse, and Berlin’s first synagogue, on Heidereutergasse, was consecrated in 1714. The synagogue was then called the Great Synagogue and was rebuilt in 1854-1855 by Eduard Knoblauch (1801-1865).

The Alten (Old) Synagogue remained unscathed in the Kristallnacht. The last service there took place on 20 November 1942, and it was destroyed by bombing in 1945. Today, there are 19 or so synagogues or Jewish houses of prayer in Berlin, compared with 94 synagogues in 1932.

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

3, The Synagogue Rebbi Akiva, Tangier:

At one time Tangier had over 20 synagogues. Many of these synagogues are now closed, but I found signs on Rue des Synagogues, a twisting and turning street in Tangier, 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.

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

4, The Moshe Nahon Synagogue, Tangier:

At the very end of Rue Synagogue, behind a nondescript door, I found myself at 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 Scuola Spagnola was founded around 1580 by Spanish and Portuguese speaking Jews (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

5, The Scuola Spagnola, Venice:

The Scuola Spagnola or Spanish Synagogue in the Ghetto in Venice was founded by Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Jews around 1580. This is one of the two functioning synagogues in the Ghetto, and it is open for services from Passover until the end of the High Holiday season.

The synagogue was founded by Jews whose families had been expelled from the Iberian peninsula in the 1490s. They reached Venice usually via Amsterdam, Livorno or Ferrara, in the 1550s. This four-storey yellow stone building, designed by the architect Baldassarre Longhena, was built in 1580 and was restored in 1635.

It is a clandestine synagogue, tolerated on condition that it was concealed within a building that gives no appearance of being a house of worship outside. Inside, however, it is elaborately decorated, with three large chandeliers and a dozen smaller ones, as well as a huge sculpted wooden ceiling.

The Scuola Grande Tedesca or German Grand Synagogue in Venice was founded in 1528 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

6, The Scuola Grande Tedesca, Venice:

The Scuola Grande Tedesca or German Grand Synagogue in Venice was founded in 1528 by the Askhenazi Community and is the oldest synagogue in Venice. The unknown architect had to overcome considerable difficulties to give the appearance of regularity to the asymmetric area of the main hall. He achieved this by building an elliptical women’s gallery and repeating the same motif in the banisters of the lantern-like opening in the centre of the ceiling, giving a feeling of unexpected depth.

This Synagogue was restored often over the centuries. The area with the Ark juts out on the outside over the Rio di Ghetto Novo, with a niche which is also to be seen in the Schola Canton, the Schola Italiana and the Schola Levantina.

The Scola Levantina … founded by Levantine Jews who brought different customs of worship and dress (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

7, The Scola Levantina, Venice:

The Scola Levantina in Venice was founded in 1541 by the Levantine Sephardi Jews who came from the Eastern Mediterranean between 1538 and 1561. It is probably the only synagogue in Venice that has kept nearly all its original features and has the only noteworthy exterior, with its two simple and severe facades interrupted by three orders of windows and the polygonal niche (diagò or liagò) found in the other synagogues in the Ghetto.

The Prayer Hall was chosen in 1950 to honour the martyrs of Nazism and Fascism. The inscription over the portal reads: ‘Blessed be he who enters, blessed be he who goes out.’

A tablet in the entrance hall reads: ‘If you understand, oh, man, what your end in the world will be, and if you show charity discreetly, then when you depart this life your place will be assured: then your chalice will be full of goodness and on your head will be placed a crown.’ Another tablet, dated 1884, commemorates a visit to Venice by Sir Moses Montefiore in 1875.

The Monasterioton Synagogue is the only surviving, pre-war working synagogue in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

8, The Monasterioton Synagogue, Thessaloniki:

The Monasterioton Synagogue at the top of Syngrou Street is the only surviving, pre-war working synagogue in Thessaloniki. It was built in 1927 by Jews from Monastir in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The synagogue was saved during World War II because it had been requisitioned by the Red Cross as a warehouse. The building was structurally damaged by the earthquake in 1978, but it was restored by the Greek government and is one of the three functioning synagogues in Thessaloniki.

In all, there are three surviving synagogues, some surviving Jewish mansions on Vassilisis Olgas Avenue, the Modiano Market, and a new Jewish Cemetery in Stavroupoli. The Jewish Holocaust Memorial at the south-east corner of Plateia Eleftherias (Liberty Square) recalls the 50,000 Greek Jews exterminated in the Holocaust. The memorial is a bronze sculpture by Nandor Glid of a seven-branch menorah whose flames are wrapped around human bodies in death.


The bimah in the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

9, The Etz Hayyim Synagogue, Chania:

Etz Hayyim synagogue stands in a small alley off Kondhilaki Streer in Evraiki or the former Jewish quarter in the old town of Chania in Crete. There has been a synagogue here since the Middle Ages, and it is in the heart of the walled maze of alleyways and narrow streets that spread out from the harbour with its mediaeval lighthouse and the port’s surviving mosque.

There had been Romaniote or Greek-speaking Jews in Crete for more than 2,300 years, and they survived wave-after-wave of invaders, including Romans, Byzantines, Saracen pirates, Venetians and Ottomans. They were strongly influenced by Sephardic intellectual traditions with the Spanish Jews in Crete in the late 14th century, and the two Jewish communities intermarried and accommodated one another.

After World War II, the Etz Hayyim synagogue stood empty. The sleeping building was desecrated, and was used as a dump, a urinal, and kennel, damaged by earthquakes and filled with dead animals and broken glass, its mikvah or ritual bath oozing mud and muck.

The revival of the synagogue is due to the vision and hard work of Nicholas Stavroulakis who grew up in Britain, the son of a Turkish Jewish mother and a Greek Orthodox father from Crete. He first learned about Crete’s lost Jews when he was a young man, and his family ties inspired many visits to this island. He returned to Crete in 1995, set about restoring the synagogue, and Etz Hayyim reopened in 1999.

The synagogue’s floor plan is in the Romaniote, or Greek tradition. The ark faces the eastern wall, while the bimah faces the western one. The rebuilt mikvah is fed by a spring. The scattered remains of the tombs of past rabbis have been recovered and they have been reburied.

In a hallway, a simple plaque bears the names of the Jews of Chania who drowned in 1944 while they were being shipped to Athens and on to Auschwitz.

Etz Hayyim suffered two arson attacks in the same month in 2010. But there was international outage, and donations poured in for the restoration of Etz Hayyim. Today, barely more than a dozen Jews live in Crete, and Evraiki, the former Jewish quarter, is now crammed with tavernas, cafés and souvenir shops. Etz Hayyim holds weekly Shabbat services in Hebrew, Greek, and English, and is home to a research library with 4,000 volumes. Rabbi Gabriel Negrin, who was once a student in Crete, regularly comes to Chania from Athens to help with the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. I was both privileged and humbled to be a guest of Rabbi Gabriel Negrin and the community at a memorial service in Etz Hayyim on 17 June to mark the anniversary of the destruction of the Jewish community of Crete.

Kehillas Ya’akov was the first Mizrachi Synagogue in Britain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

10, Kehillas Ya’akov, London:

The East End of London is the cradle of Jewish life in England. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was said there were as many Jews living in one square mile of the East End of as there are throughout Britain today – over 250,000 people.

Today, estimates say, about 2,000 Jewish people live in the East End. Many of them are elderly, and there are just three synagogues still functioning in the East End. After the two-day residential meeting of the trustees of USPG in Limehouse, in January, I strolled through the East End of London, and photographed the Kehillas Ya’akov was the first Mizrachi Synagogue in Britain.

An English Heritage report said Kehillas Ya’akov or the Synagogue of the Congregation of Jacob at 351-353 Commercial Road ‘is a remarkable survival ... and is all the more exceptional for continuing in use as a synagogue.’

This is no ordinary synagogue. From the outside, it looks unremarkable, sandwiched in the middle of a parade of shops on the Commercial Road in Stepney. But inside, there is a fusion of two worlds: one that has disappeared, and another that may be fast disappearing. Here East European Jewry meets the Jewish East End of London, and it is here that hope springs eternal.

Despite the date 1921 on the façade, the synagogue was founded in 1903 and is one of the last three synagogues still functioning in the East End.

The cupola of the Neue Synagoge or New Synagogue in the Spandau area of Berlin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Ten cathedrals I have
visited in 2018

The Blue Crucifix … an icon by Adrienne Lord in the north transept of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

In previous years, in my end-of-year reviews at the end of December, I have often summarised the year’s events in my life, as well providing my own commentary on the year in news, sport, and church life.

However, newspapers and television stations provide substantial summaries of the past year at this time of the year, and the consequences of ‘Brexit’ and the Trump presidency have been devastating and depressing at one and the same time throughout 2018.

Instead, I have decided to end the year on note of celebration over the next few days, looking back at ten countries I have visited this year, ten cathedrals I have visited in Ireland, ten synagogues I have visited across Europe, and ten places I have visited in Ireland this year.

During the year, as Precentor, I tried to visit each of the cathedrals and former cathedrals in this diocese: Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s Killaloe, Co Clare, and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, Co Galway, as well as the former Saint Brendan’s Cathedral in Ardfert, Co Kerry, Saint Fachan’s Cathedral, Kilfenora, Co Clare, and the site of the former Saint Alibeus’s Cathedral in Emly, Co Tipperary.

I have presided at the Eucharist and preached in Saint Mary’s, Limerick, given a lecture on Prince Milo of Montenegro as part of the history programme marking the celebration of the cathedral’s 850th anniversary, and was invited to make a presentation to Stephen Cleobury after the concert in Saint Mary’s by the Choir of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

Needless to say, as Precentor, I am not a visitor in a cathedral where I am the precentor. But I have visited at least ten other cathedrals in Ireland in the past 12 months.

The Malabar community from Kerala in India at a special ecumenical service in Saint John’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

1, Saint John’s Cathedral, Limerick:

As Ireland awaited the arrival of Pope Francis, I was invited to take part in a special service in Saint John’s Cathedral, Limerick, in August to mark the opening of the World Meeting of Families.

The service of Solemn Evening Prayer was entitled Le Chéile le Críost and was led by Bishop Brendan Leahy of the Roman Catholic Church and Bishop Kenneth Kearon of the Church of Ireland. Other participants included the Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the Very Revd Niall Sloane, who read the Epistle reading, the Methodist minister in Adare, the Revd Ruth Watt, who joined me in leading the intercessions, and members of the Italian, Spanish and Polish community.

We were led in and out of the cathedral by members of the Malabar community from Kerala in India, carrying colourful parasols.

Inside the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

2, The Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Ennis, Co Clare:

The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at the junction of Station Road and O’Connell Street in Ennis, is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Killaloe. It was designed by the architect Dominick Madden, who had been disgraced earlier in his career, accused of stealing furniture from the Vice-Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, but who had been commissioned the previous year to design the new cathedrals in Ballina, Co Mayo, and Tuam, Co Galway.

Madden’s designs display a very simple form of Gothic that shows little of the influence of AWN Pugin. The interior was completed under the supervision of JJ McCarthy in 1861. The arcades and piers, the panelled ceiling and the gallery at the west end are his work, as were the altars and the reredos.

For many years, this was officially a pro-cathedral for the Diocese of Killaloe, and it was not dedicated as a cathedral until 1990.

The Ascension depicted in the East Window in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

3, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh:

I was in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, during this year’s General Synod of the Church of Ireland, when I was one of the hosts for the ecumenical guests. After a long day in London at a meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society, Partners in the Gospel), I travelled to Armagh for the opening of the General Synod on Ascension Day [10 May].

At the opening Eucharist, I appreciated that the East Window in the cathedral depicts the Ascension.

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

4, The site of Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Ardagh, Co Longford:

On the way back from Wineport Lodge near Athlone, Co Westmeath, in August, I visited the village of Ardagh, Co Longford, between Longford town and Edgeworthstown.

The ruins of Saint Mel’s Cathedral in Ardagh mark one of the most important ecclesiastical sites in Co Longford. These ruins are to the south-east of Saint Patrick’s, the Church of Ireland parish church, in a corner of the graveyard beside the road. Tradition says Saint Patrick founded a church at Ardagh in the mid-fifth century, around 454, although there is no historical or archaeological evidence to support these legends, and Saint Mel is regarded as the founder of the Diocese of Ardagh.

Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, on the evening David McDonnell was installed as Dean of Ossory (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

5, Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny:

I was in Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny, at the end of August for the installation of the Very Revd David McDonnell as Dean of Ossory, in succession to Katharine Poulton.

It was good to meet so many friends, colleagues and former students, and because I stayed overnight in Kilkenny, there was extra time to enjoy what I still regards as the most beautiful and interesting city in Ireland.

The deans of this cathedral in the 16th century included Edmund Comerford, who was also Bishop of Ferns, and his son William Comerford. Sometimes, someone who knows me only too well, says that at times she has to peel me out of Kilkenny if I am going to leave.

Inside Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford, designed by John Roberts and built in 1773-1779 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

6, Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford:

Waterford is unique as an Irish city, not in having two cathedrals, but in having two cathedrals, one Anglican and one Roman Catholic, with the same formal dedication and designed by the same architect. On my way to Kilkenny last Thursday [30 August 2018], I stopped in Waterford to visit both cathedrals.

Both the Church of Ireland cathedral on Cathedral Square – Christ Church Cathedral, or more formally, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, and the Roman Catholic cathedral on Barronstrand Street – Holy Trinity Cathedral, were designed in the neoclassical style by John Roberts (1712-1796), whose imagination gave shape to much of Georgian Waterford, and I visited both cathedrals on my way from Askeaton to Kilkenny for the installation of Dean David McDonnell.

During the demolition of the earlier cathedral, the mediaeval vestments missing since Patrick Comerford, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, left for France in 1651, were found in the crypt. In a gesture of ecumenical goodwill centuries before ecumenism became standard practice, they were presented by Bishop Richard Chenevix to his Roman Catholic counterpart, Bishop Peter Creagh, and they are now kept in the Museum of Treasures in Waterford and the National Museum in Dublin.

Inside Holy Trinity Cathedral, Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

7, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Waterford:

The Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity on Barronstrand Street, Waterford, was also designed by John Roberts (1714-1796), the great architect of Georgian Waterford, and is the oldest Roman Catholic cathedral in Ireland. Both cathedrals are part of the Georgian glory of Waterford, and Holy Trinity Cathedral is an important landmark on Barronstrand Street in the heart of the city.

John Roberts had built Christ Church Cathedral, the new Anglican cathedral on the site of Waterford’s mediaeval Gothic cathedral, in 1773, and this was finally completed in 1792. A year later, in 1793, Roberts was invited to build a new Roman Catholic cathedral on the site of the old Penal chapel and an adjoining plot of land on Barronstrand Street provided by the city corporation.

The cathedral was built in 1793-1796, making it Ireland’s oldest Roman Catholic cathedral. It was built while William Egan was Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1775-1796) at a total cost of £20,000.

The Cathedral of the Assumption in Thurles, Co Tipperary, was designed by JJ McCarthy and built in 1865-1879 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

8, The Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles, Co Tipperary:

During one of my day-trips from Askeaton this year using publish transport, I visited Thurles, Co Tipperary, and the Cathedral of the Assumption, the Roman Catholic cathedral for Cashel, in July. This striking cathedral is unusual for its style and stands on the site of earlier chapels that at one time were the only Roman Catholic churches in Thurles.

The cathedral forms part of a group the other church buildings on Cathedral Street, including the Bishop’s Palace, the former seminary at Saint Patrick’s College, the presbytery and the neighbouring convents.

The style of this cathedral is informed by North Italian Romanesque architecture, and both the façade and the Baptistry are modelled on those at the cathedral in Pisa. The exterior was designed by the architect James Joseph McCarthy (1817-1882), who claimed the mantle of AWN Pugin.

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

9, The Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar, Co Westmeath:

The Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, is a landmark building in the Irish Midlands. The campanile towers and the dome dominate the skyline and approaches to Mullingar, and the silhouette of the cathedral has become a symbol of Mullingar. This is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Meath and it towers above the centre of the town.

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

I visited Mullingar Cathedral while I was staying at Wineport Lodge near Athlone in August. The cathedral was formally opened and dedicated on 6 September 1936, when, at the request of Pope Pius XI, it became the first cathedral in the world to be dedicated to Christ the King.

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

Visitors lost in the new labyrinth in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

10, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin:

For many years I was not a visitor to Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, for I was a canon and a member of the chapter until I moved to Askeaton last year. But I visited the cathedral last week to see the new stone labyrinth in the redesigned grounds of the cathedral. Funding from Dublin City Council and Fáilte Ireland enabled the redesign and landscaping of the grounds.

Inside the cathedral, I also saw the heart of Saint Laurence O’Toole, which went on public display last month [14 November] following an ecumenical service of dedication and thanksgiving to mark the return of the heart of the city’s patron saint.

The saint’s heart was stolen from the cathedral in March 2012, but following a long-running police investigation, the heart was recovered earlier this year by the gardai after a six-year absence. The heart is now housed in the north transept in a specially designed art piece crafted by the Cork-based artist Eoin Turner.

I could have looked at the many cathedrals I have visited in England this year, including Lichfield, Birmingham and Westminster, or looked at ten cathedrals I have visited across Europe this year, including cathedral in Berlin, Seville, Venice, Torcello, Chania, Rethymnon, Thessaloniki, Perpignan, Elne and Gorizia. But this is just a taste of some of the cathedral I have visited this year.

This evening: Ten synagogues I visited in 2018.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Ten places I visited
in Ireland in 2018

Sunset on an early summer evening on the River Deel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on images for full-screen views)

Patrick Comerford

Moving to Askeaton and the Rathkeale Group of Parishes two years ago has opened up a new part of Ireland to me, and has brought me closer to parts of Ireland that might have more difficult to visit otherwise.

In previous years, in my end-of-year reviews at the end of December, I have often summarised the year’s events in my life, as well providing my own commentary on the year in news, sport, and church life.

However, newspapers and television stations provide substantial summaries of the past year at this time of the year, and the consequences of ‘Brexit’ and the Trump presidency have been devastating and depressing at one and the same time throughout 2018.

Instead, I have decided to end the year on note of celebration over the next few days, looking back at ten countries I have visited this year, ten cathedrals I have visited in Ireland, ten synagogues I have visited across Europe, and ten places I have visited in Ireland this year.

Earlier today, I was looking back at ten countries I have visited this year. But this evening I want to look back at ten places I have visited in Ireland this years.

Walking the long sandy beach at Ballinskelligs in April (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on images for full-screen views)

1, Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry:

When the Easter Vestry meetings were over, I took a day or two off in Ballinskelligs (Baile ’n Sceilg) in south-west Kerry and returned to the small village of Dungeagan, where I stayed in Tig an Rince.

Over half a century ago, when I was in my teens in 1966, I had spent a month in Ballinskelligs at the Irish College, in a desperate attempt by my parents to ensure I did not fail Irish in my school exams. In April this year, I found the house I had stayed in over 50 years, walked the long sandy beach, and rekindled many happy memories.

Valentia Island seen from Renard Point, the seaport in Valentia Harbour (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

2, Valentia Island, Co Kerry:

That visit to Ballinkelligs also brought me to Glenbeagh, Caherciveen, Waterville and Killroglin, around the Ring of Kerry, allowed me to see the Skelligs Rocks, invited me to visit a chocolate factory for the first time, and brought me back to Valentia Island.

The Church of Ireland parish church in Knighstown, the Church Saint John the Baptist, is one of the last churches designed by Joseph Welland (1798-1860). A sign claims that this church is the ‘most westerly Protestant church in Europe.’

Evening lights by the shores of the River Shannon and Lough Ree at Wineport Lodge near Athlone, Co Westmeath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

3, Wineport Lodge, Co Westmeath:

A retirement gift from colleagues at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute allowed two of to stay at the Wineport Lodge in Co Westmeath.

It was a culinary experience, and opportunity to enjoy being by the shores of Lough Ree and on the banks of the River Shannon. During that stay we also visited Athlone, Mullingar and Ardagh.

The former Binchy shop on Main Street, Charleville … the birthplace of Irish diplomat Daniel Binchy (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2018)

4, Charleville, Co Cork:

Because I passed a certain age earlier this year, I now have free use of public transport in Ireland. Occasionally, on a day off in the middle of Ireland, I have decided to hop on a train or a bus and visit a town that I might not otherwise have visited, and explore its streets, its architecture and its history.

An example of one of those short day-trips is Charleville, Co Cork. But the surprising and unexpected story was the story of Daniel A Binchy, the first Irish Minister or ambassador to Germany from 1929 to 1932. His reports to Dublin were sharp and prescient. He predicted the consequences of the failure of the democratic parties to work together and had no illusions about the brutality, cynicism, anti-Semitism and murderous racism of Hitler’s new regime.

In his assessment of Hitler, Binchy refers to his ‘fanatical belief’ and writes, ‘there are only two barriers to megalomania in public life: intelligence and a sense of humour. Either of these qualities would suffice to prevent it, but I believe Hitler to be lacking in both.’

Perhaps today we need someone with his perceptive insights to warn us of the dangers of born natural orators, who rehearse their gestures and gesticulations before speaking, who seek to blame all their nation’s woes on identifiable but marginalised groups, and who promise to make their nation great again. As Binchy’s friend warned him almost a century ago, ‘No lunatic with the gift of oratory is harmless.’

Inside Comerford’s Bar in Doobeg, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

5, Doonbeg, Co Clare:

I got to see not just one but two Saint Patrick’s Day parades this year: one on Saint Patrick’s Day itself, when I was invited onto the reviewing platform in Askeaton, and the second in Doonbeg, Co Clare, the next afternoon.

Two of us had crossed the Shannon Estuary on the ferry from Tarbert, Co Kerry, to Kilimer, Co Clare, and drove out on to Doonbeg on the west coast of Co Clare. Doonbeg has beautiful beaches and is known for its surfing.

Initially, we thought we might look for the Trump Golf resort, hoping against hope that he would never visit the area and that we would not need to familiarise ourselves with the Trump properties in preparation for any future protests. But, if Trump delivers on his commitment to Leo Varadkar in the White House to visit his property in Doonbeg next year, then it is important to know where the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel are.

We were in search of lunch, but nothing could entice me to explore the possibility of lunch in a Trump Hotel … no matter what the food is like, or how enticing the menu might be, nothing could entice me to add to that man’s wealth or boost his profits, no matter how meagre my contribution might be.

Instead, we visited Comerford’s Bar in Doonbeg, which dates from 1848, according to signs in the pub, although it has its origins from earlier in the previous decade. This branch of the Comerford family of Doonbeg is said to have originated at Clare Cottage, once known as Comerford Lodge, a pre-famine thatched cottage in Spanish Point. In 1839, George Comerford, originally from Spanish Point, married Lucy Burns, whose family owned the pub in Doonbeg.

It was easier to indulge in a little but of family history with the Comerfords than to think about the end of history brought about by Trump. The irony is that despite continuing to deny climate change, that man wants the Irish taxpayers to fund shoring up the sand-dunes that have been damaged by climate change and to protect his golf links from coastal erosion.

The fading front of a once-colourful pub is a reminder of days gone by in Thurles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

6, Thurles, Co Tipperary:

I hopped a train in Limerick early one morning for a day-trip to Thurles, Co Tipperary, which had once been a stopover in my childhood days during journeys between Dublin and Cappoquin, Co Waterford.

In Thurles, I visited the Cathedral of the Assumption, which is JJ McCarthy’s only Romanesque-style cathedral, Saint Mary’s, the Church of Ireland parish church, Saint Patrick’s College, which Newman had visions of turning into the Oxford of Ireland but which is now part of Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, and searched for castle ruins.

Two sides of the cloisters survive in the ruins of the Franciscan Friary in Ennis, Co Clare, (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

7, Ennis, Co Clare:

Ennis, which has been voted the ‘Friendliest Town in Ireland,’ is another town I visited on one of these short, one-day journeys from Askeaton by bus and train. It was a rainy day, but I visited the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Saint Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, said to be the last church in the Church of Ireland built before disestablishment, and the ruins of the Franciscan Friary with its restored royal MacMahon tomb.

As teenagers in Ballinskelligs, two of the Irish dances they tried to teach us were the known as the Walls of Limerick and the Siege of Ennis. The Walls of Limerick have all but disappeared as a site in Limerick, but there was never an incident in history known as the Siege of Ennis, and so it is known – in jest – as the ‘Siege of Venice’ … or even, at times, as the ‘Sea of Guinness.’

The Morris House on Great George’s Street housed the offices of the Waterford Chamber of Commerce and the Port of Waterford Company for the best part of two centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

8, Waterford City:

One of my longer journeys from Limerick was by train to Waterford City. This took a little more planning, as I have learned to dread the prospect of either missing a train connection at Limerick Junction, or being stuck in the wilderness at Limerick Junction for too long, without any chance to buy a coffee.

When I was a child in Cappoquin, Waterford was a big city, and the large towns we tended to find ourselves in included Thurles and Dungarvan. Waterford was an excursion, and it an exciting place to visit, with Reginald’s Tower and the Clock Tower as the two most noticeable landmarks on the Quays.

I had breakfast before visiting the two cathedrals, strolling through the narrow streets that September day, and noticing the passing of some familiar landmarks, including Doolan’s on Great George’s Street, once a picture postcard image of Waterford.

The Romanesque doorway at Saint Cronan’s Church, Roscrea, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

9, Roscrea, Co Tipperary:

Roscrea, Co Tipperary, is another town in this region that is accessible on a day-trip from Askeaton by public transport. In September I visited the town with its ancient monastic site, round tower, Romanesque doorway and high cross beside Saint Cronan’s, the Church of Ireland parish church, Roscrea Castle and Damer House, the ruins of the Franciscan Friary and Saint Cronan’s Roman Catholic parish church, the Methodist Church on the Mall, and Mount Saint Joseph Abbey, the Cistercian abbey and school on the edges of the town.

Autumn colours in Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

10, Adare, Co Limerick:

Although I am now living in Askeaton, I have stayed overnight in two other places in Co Limerick this year: the Dunraven Arms Hotel in Adare, which was the venue for this year’s clergy conference for the Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert and the Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry; Glenstal Abbey, where I stayed for a 24-hour retreat in July.

I also spent time in Limerick city itself and time exploring neighbouring towns and villages in the country, including finding the ruined church in Ballycahane – although Ballycahane is in the Adare group of parishes, as Precentor of Limerick I am also (nominally) the Prebendary of Ballycahane.

My choice of ten places in Ireland has been random. I could have chosen ten beach walks, ten river-side walks, or ten boat trips: on the Lakes of Killarney; from Tarbert to Killimer; along the River Deel from Askeaton to the mouth of the River Shannon; from Tarifa to Tangier through the Pillars of Hercules; along the Grand Canal in Venice; from Venice to Torcello; from Venice to Murano and Burano …

But, whatever my choices might have been, it has been a good year this year.

The gate leading from the Lady Garden to the Monastic Graveyard at Glenstal Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Tomorrow: Ten cathedrals.

Getting lost and losing
children at holiday time

William Holman Hunt, ‘The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple’ (1854-1860), Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 30 December 2018,

The First Sunday of Christmas.


11 a.m.: United Group Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

Readings: I Samuel 2: 18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3: 12-17; Luke 2: 41-52.

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

I wonder whether you were expecting this morning’s Gospel story (Luke 2: 41-52) as our Gospel reading on this, the First Sunday of Christmas?

Perhaps you were expecting another traditional Christmas story, such as:

● the visit of the Shepherds and the naming of Jesus (Luke 2: 15-21)

● the Presentation in the Temple and the encounter with Simeon and Anna (Luke 2: 22-40)

● the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2: 1-12), which we are going to hear next Sunday (6 January 2019)

● or, perhaps the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2: 13-23).

You may even be wondering: Why are we jumping from the story of Jesus’ birth in a stable in Bethlehem on Christmas Day to the story of the teenage Christ who is lost in the Temple on this first Sunday after Christmas?

What happened to the intervening years between the story of the stable and Jesus at the age of 12?

But this story completes the early identification of who Jesus is in Saint Luke’s Gospel. The Angel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that her child will be ‘holy’ and will be called the ‘Son of God’ (Luke 1: 35). At the presentation, he is identified as ‘holy’ (Luke 2: 23). Now, in this story, he identifies himself as God’s Son.

In the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading, parents living in provincial towns go to the Temple to worship and there they find their young sons ministering in the Temple.

But this morning we might ask ourselves where do we find Christ?

Where do we seek him?

Where is God’s Temple, the place where we are found to be truly in communion with God?

And who got lost … the child or the parents?

I still remember with dread how we once lost sight of one of our children on an evening out in Crete over 25 years ago. He was about three or four at the time and was missing only for a few moments. It may have been for only three or four minutes, but the fear and panic that struck us made it feel not like three or four minutes as we searched and shouted out his name, but like an eternity.

Temporary fears seemed to have everlasting consequences that we could not even bear to contemplate in our furtive search. I still remember the horror of that moment, it was so vivid and so real. When we found him, he knew where he was all the time, and could not grasp the enormity of our fears.

What was he doing that he lost sight of us?

What were we doing that we lost sight of him?

Who did we blame?

Did we ever thank those who helped our search?

Did that experience inhibit us in his later years when we should have let our sons have the freedom to grow and to mature?

Christ is no longer a child in this reading. But Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary do not yet see him as an adult. I can fully identify with them in their panic and in their fear in this reading.

It was our pattern to go on holiday in Greece each summer, and we had felt safe, perhaps naively safe, wherever we were. Perhaps, because they went to Jerusalem for the Passover each year, Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary felt comfortable and relaxed as they moved through the courts and the arcades of the Temple, and through the side streets and the market stalls of Jerusalem.

On the way home, if Jesus was regarded still as a child, he might have travelled with the women in the caravan; if he was now seen as a man, he might have been expected to travel with the men in the caravan. Any family travelling through a modern airport on holidays today, with the father taking some children through and the mother taking others, understands completely what may have happened at that Passover.

If it is an experience you have forgotten, gone without or have yet to go through, you can catch some of the flavour of the setting for this story by watching one of the all-time favourite Christmas movies, Home Alone (1990).

In the opening chapters of his Gospel, Saint Luke portrays Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary as a devout and righteous couple. They observe the religious rites and practices of Judaism, they have Jesus circumcised (Luke 2: 21), and they are then said to have acted ‘according to the law’ three times (verses 22, 24, 39).

In this reading, we are told that they go to the Passover festival in Jerusalem ‘every year’ and they observe the ‘custom of the feast’ (see KJV, NIV).

With this emphasis on the family’s religious devotion, Saint Luke is saying the Jewish boy Jesus grew up in a thoroughly Jewish world. It is a story that challenges anti-Semitism whenever and wherever it finds its ugly expressions today.

The setting for this story is the festival of the Passover, celebrating the deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Every year, Joseph, Mary and Jesus go to Jerusalem for this festival (verse 41), and they are still doing this in the year he is a 12-year-old (verse 42).

When the eight-day festival ends, the people they have travelled with begin the long journey back home to Nazareth. The entourage in this caravan includes both ‘relatives and friends’ (verse 42), which makes it a safe group but also a large crowd. They have gone a full day when Joseph and Mary realise Jesus is missing. Perhaps they were about to have a meal together, perhaps they had the tents up or had arrived at a hostel or inn to stay the night.

They search for him there first of all before returning to Jerusalem. After three days, they find Jesus in the Temple, ‘sitting among the teachers’ (verse 46), the experts in Jewish law or rabbis. He not only listens and asks questions, but he also answers their questions.

This was the rabbinical style of teaching at the time.

When Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary find him, they are distraught as Mary asks, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety’ (verse 48).

In their eyes, Jesus is still a child.

But the words in verse 49 mark a turning point in this Gospel. These are the first words Christ speaks in the Gospels. And Jesus speaks of his bounden duty to do the work of God, the work of God the Father.

The Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph do not understand what Jesus says to them (verse 50). Now they have found Jesus, they probably have to travel back north to Nazareth by themselves, which was much more dangerous than traveling with the caravan they had had to leave. This danger is understood by everyone who first heard the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). Perhaps this too is a literary hint at the later dangers in the journey that Jesus makes to Jerusalem.

When the family returns to Nazareth, Jesus is obedient to his parents in everyday life. In spite of not understanding what has happened and what has been said, Mary ‘treasured all these things in her heart’ (verse 51) – just as she ‘treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’ after she heard the shepherds’ report of what the angels proclaimed (Luke 2: 19).

Saint Luke says that after this story, Jesus spent his years in Nazareth growing ‘in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour’ (verse 52). But, in the meantime, something has changed. Jesus is now on the way, on the path.

Did you notice how Joseph and Mary search for Jesus for three days?

When early Christians heard this story in the context of the Passover (verses 41-42) and the phrase ‘after three days’ (verse 46), they would have thought immediately of the Passover when Christ was raised from the dead after three days. So, we should also read this story in the light of the Resurrection.

In the Resurrection, the new family of God supersedes our earthly family, the Temple becomes the place where Christ is at the centre. He is in dialogue with the tradition, yet with a new understanding.

There can be no true meaning in Christmas unless it looks forward to Easter.

When we next meet Jesus in this Gospel, he is at the Jordan, about to be baptised by Saint John the Baptist, which is the Gospel reading (Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22) for Sunday week, the First Sunday after the Epiphany (13 January 2019).

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

Rod Borghese, ‘Jesus and Doctors’ … a challenging reworking of Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Jesus among the Doctors’ with its ant-Semitic stereotyping

Luke 2: 41-52 (NRSVA):

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, ‘Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ 49 He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.

James Tissot, ‘Jesus Found in the Temple,’ Brooklyn Museum

Liturgical colour: White or Gold.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
Grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Heavenly Father,
you have refreshed us with this heavenly sacrament.
As your Son came to live among us,
grant us grace to live our lives,
united in love and obedience,
as those who long to live with him in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9: 6)

Preface:

You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:

Blessing:

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:

166, Joy to the world, the Lord is come! (CD 10)
162, Infant holy, infant lowly (CD 9)
152, Come and join the celebration (CD 9)

James Tissot, ‘Jesus Among the Doctors’

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

Ten countries I have
visited in 2018

Gondolas tied up and waiting for the tides to fall at Rialto Bridge, just a five minute walk from the Palazzetto San Lio in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

In previous years, in my end-of-year reviews at the end of December, I have often summarised the year’s events in my life, as well providing my own commentary on the year in news, sport, and church life.

However, newspapers and television stations provide substantial summaries of the past year at this time of the year, and the consequences of ‘Brexit’ and the Trump presidency have been devastating and depressing at one and the same time throughout 2018.

Instead, I have decided to end the year on note of celebration over the next few days, looking back at ten countries I have visited this year, ten cathedrals I have visited in Ireland, ten synagogues I have visited across Europe, and ten places I have visited in Ireland this year.

The wisteria was already fading in Hall Court in Sidney Sussex College when I visited Cambridge this summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

1, England:

As with every year, I have visited England throughout the year. I have stayed twice in London during two-day residential meetings of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel): at the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine in Limehouse in the East End in January, and in November in the Kairos Centre in south-west London, close to the campuses of Roehampton University and overlooking Richmond Park.

I was also in London for meetings of USPG’s trustees in May and September, and at the meetings of USPG trustees and council and the annual USPG conference at the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon in July, and a regional meeting of USPG volunteers and supporters in Birmingham at the end of November.

I also visited Lichfield three times this year: for two days of retreat and reflection and to celebrate my birthday in January, to lecture on the Wyatt architectural dynasty in April at the invitation of Lichfield Civic Society, and again in November, for a short visit to Lichfield Cathedral and the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital.

I missed the annual summer school organised in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, but I had a short visit to Cambridge in early July, while some of the fading wisteria could still be seen in the courts of Sidney Sussex College.

The arcades around the bailey seen from the Chapel of Saint Sebastian in the Fort de Salses, near Perpignan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

2, France:

In May, I spent a few days in the south of France, staying in Sainte-Marie-la-Mer, a coastal town near Perpignan. Although I had been to Paris half-a-dozen times or more in the past, this was my first time back in France since 2006, and my first time to visit the South of France.

In Perpignan, I visited the Palace of the Kings of Majorca (Palais des Rois de Majorque), the Cathédrale St-Jean, with its Gothic architecture, its wrought-iron bell tower and its cloistered cemetery, and the statue of the Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí facing la Gare de Perpignan, which Dalí proclaimed it to be the ‘Centre of the Universe’ after he experienced a vision of cosmogonic ecstasy there in 1963.

Beyond Perpignan, I visited Collioure on the Côte Vermeille, close to the French border with Spain at the Pyrénées. Collioure, with its typical Mediterranean bay, attracted several Fauvist artists who made it their centre in the early 20th century. They were inspired by the colours of Collioure, its castle, mediaeval streets, and the lighthouse converted into the church of Notre-Dame-des-Anges. Almost 100 reproductions of works by Matisse and Derain are exhibited around the port and harbour in the very same place where they painted the originals in the early 20th century.

I also visited the hills and narrow streets of Elne, including the Cathedral of Sainte-Eulalie-et-Sainte-Julie, and the Fort de Salses, also known as the Forteresse de Salses, an impressive and massive Catalan fortress 20 minutes from Perpignan, off the road to Narbonne.

Tucholskystraße is close to the New Synagogue in Berlin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

3, Germany:

I passed through Frankfurt Airport twice (4 and 9 April), on my way to and from Thessaloniki to experience the celebrations of Orthodox Easter in the northern Greek city.

Both stopovers allowed time to eat, but I was back in Germany later in the year (11 to 14 September), when I spent three or four days in Berlin. I stayed on a corner of Tucholskystraße, around the corner from Oranienburger Straße and the Neue Synagoge or New Synagogue, built in 1859-1866 as the main synagogue of Berlin’s Jewish community.

The visit included a day at the former concentration camp in Sachsenhausen and a four-hour walking tour of Jewish Berlin’s destruction and rebirth.

I also visited the Pergamon Museum, the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the site of the Berlin Wall, Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) and a number of historic churches, including the Marienkirche and Sophienkirche, and strolled along Unter den Linden.

Travelling over the Alps, somewhere above Austria, on my way between Dublin and Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

4, Austria:

After experiencing Easter in Thessaloniki, it took three flights to get back to Dublin in April: a flight to Vienna, a flight to Frankfurt, and from there to Dublin. For the travel weary, some say you cannot count being in a country if you have not stayed overnight. Most agree that it does not count if you only touch down for a refuelling or to change flights. But for me, the safe definition is if you have to pass through passport control and have at least a cup of coffee.

In the past, I have stayed in Vienna in 2002, when I was on a panel at a seminar organised by the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, and stayed over twice in 2005 on way to and from China for Church visits.

This time there was time for no more than a cup of coffee in the airport … but I suppose that still counts.

On one of the many daily walks on the beaches of Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

5, Greece:

I was in Greece twice this year, and stayed in three places. I stayed in Thessaloniki from 4 to 9 April, experiencing Orthodox Easter, but also visiting the city’s only surviving synagogues, the old Jewish quarter, the Jewish Museum, some surviving Jewish mansions on Vassilisis Olgas Avenue, and the Jewish Holocaust Memorial at Liberty Square, a bronze sculpture by Nandor Glid that has been desecrated a few times this year.

In Thessaloniki, there was time for meals with friends, walks along the seafront, visits to churches, cathedrals and a few quiet hours in the Monastery of Vlatadon which is perched like a balcony above the city and the harbour, as well as a full-day visiting Mount Athos.

Later, I spent two summer weeks (6 to 20 June) back in Crete, with one week in Rethymnon, staying at Varvaras Diamond Hotel near the beach in Platanes, and a week at the Corissia Princess Hotel in Georgioupoli.

There were days strolling through the labyrinthine back streets of Rethymnon, long lingering dinners with friends, and days on the beaches in Platanes and Georgioupoli, visits to cathedrals, churches and icon workshops, visits to Chania in the west of Crete, to mountain villages, through gorges and across the White Mountains, to Hora Sfakíon and Frangokastello on the south coast, to the Monastery of Saint George in Karydi, and to villages and olive groves in the mountains.

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

6, Spain:

With a new passport in my hands from August, I visited Spain at the end of October, and spent four nights in Seville (23 to 27 October. I stayed in the Hotel Las Casas de la Judería de Sevilla, an unusual hotel complex made up of 27 traditional houses, where the 134 different rooms are linked through 40 patios, courtyards, gardens and a labyrinth of small passageways, balconies and Roman-style tunnels.

The hotel takes its name from its location in the heart of the old Jewish quarter of Seville, just minutes away from the main landmarks in the city.

As well as visiting the Cathedral, the Real Alcazar and the other sites every tourist tries to visit in Seville, I also visited places in Seville and Tarifa associated with the extraordinary life of Josefina de Comerford, Doña Josefa Eugenia Maria Francisca Comerford MacCrohon de Sales (1794-1865), who was involved in Spanish political intrigues in the early 19th century.

These include the Convento de la Encarnación, where she was confined after her death sentence was commuted to life in a convent, and the Corral del Conde (the Count’s Yard), where she lived out most of her later years.

In a side street in Tangier, once known as a city of spies and smugglers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

7, Morocco:

My visit to Seville also offered the opportunity to visit Tangier in Northern Morocco (25 October). Tangier once had a reputation as a safe haven for spies and their spying activities. It played host nests of spies throughout the Cold War and before that during World War II, and the association of Tangier with spies and their secretive lifestyles has made the city a location for many books and films.

Gondolas at the Palazzo Ducale, with San Giorgio Maggiore on the other side of the canal (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

8, Italy:

Some important dates in the family calendar were marked with a few days in Venice near the end of the year (5 to 9 November 2018). I stayed at the Palazzetto San Lio in the heart of Venice, between the Rialto Bridge and Saint Mark’s Square. It is at the end Calle del Frutariol in the sestiere or district of Castello, and just a stone’s throw from Rialto and the Grand Canal.

I had visited Venice in the past while staying in other p;aces in northern Italy. But this was my first time to stay in Venice itself. Palazzetto San Lio is a Venetian palace built in the 17th and 18th centuries, and has been owned by an old Venetian family for generations.

During those few days, there were visits to Saint Mark’s Basilica and Saint Mark’s Square, many of the great churches of Venice, the Ghetto and its memorials and synagogues, boat trips along the Grand Canal, and visits to islands in the lagoon, including Murano, Burano and Torcello.

The railway station at the Slovenian side of Europa Square, the crossing point between Italy and Slovenia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

9, Slovenia:

While I was staying in Venice, I visited the divided town of Gorizia, both Gorizia and Nova Gorica, crossing the border between Italy and Slovenia a number of times, arriving and leaving from one railway station in Italy, and having lunch in another railway station in Slovenia.

The frontier dividing Gorizia remained in place until Slovenia became part of the Schengen Agreement on 21 December 2007.

Today, the border between Italy and Slovenia is almost invisible, an artificial line that runs between Gorizia in Italy and Nova Gorica in Slovenia. The most celebrated border crossing is at Europa Square, an open pedestrian square in front of the Transalpina railway station. But there are other border crossings between Gorizia and Nova Gorica, for the border is a straight line that ignores the natural contours and bends in the streets and buildings, still seen in the remains of a fence that once ran across streets and even divided gardens.

Today, the two towns form one conurbation that also includes the Slovenian municipality of Šempeter-Vrtojba. Since May 2011, these three towns are joined in a common trans-border metropolitan zone, administered by a joint administration board. As I stepped between three towns and two countries, no-one asked me for a passport, no one asked me to take my place in a queue, asking for identity, or my opinion on who should be in the European Union and who should be out.

Cherry blossoms at the City of Armagh Hotel during a break at the General Synod this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

10, Ireland:

Of course, most of the year was spent in Ireland, but I visited all four provinces, stayed in places in both the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland – in Armagh during the General Synod – and visited each of the cathedrals in the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe.

This year, 2018, was a year that I was blessed with opportunities to take part in baptisms, weddings and funerals, ecumenical services, and the ordinary, every-day life of a parish that brings me many blessings. There was community engagement too, and I was invited to lift two All-Ireland cups this year: the Sam Maguire Football Cup when it visited Ardagh, Co Limerick, as part of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the Ardagh Chalice; and the Liam McCarthy Hurling Cup, when the Limerick Hurling Champions visited Askeaton.

But, most of all, I was blessed this year by the people I love and the people who love me.

Hands across the border at Europa Square, at the border between Slovenia and Italy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This Evening: Ten places I have visited in Ireland in 2018.