Thursday, 1 March 2018

The real-life story of
the mystery prince
buried in Limerick

The simple and humble gravestone of Prince Milo of Montenegro in the churchyard at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, is celebrating its 850th anniversary this year. The programme to mark this anniversary was launched recently by Bishop Kenneth Kearon and Dean Niall Sloane, and celebrates the role of the cathedral in the life of the city – including the community, civic, cultural, educational, ecumenical, musical, historical, sporting and tourism dimensions.

Saint Mary’s was a gifted to the Church by Donal Mor O Brien, the last King of Thomond and the great-great-great grandson of Brian Boru. The cathedral has been a site of Christian worship since 1168 and is one of the oldest buildings in Limerick City.

Dean Sloane has said celebrating this special anniversary includes ‘opening it up to the city of Limerick and the wider community. The main themes for the year are welcoming in, so anybody is welcome to come in.’ There will also be a tangible dimension to the celebrations as each month will focus on a charity or cause based in or around Limerick.

The highlights of this anniversary include a visit by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and a special service of thanksgiving.

In addition, each month the cathedral is highlighting figures associated with Saint Mary’s Cathedral. The first figures were Donal O’Brien, the benefactor of the cathedral (16 January), and the Barrington family (20 January).

Later this month, as part of this series of lunchtime talks and tours, I am speaking on Milo Petrović-Njegoš (1889-1978), Prince of Montenegro. Prince Milo was born in Njeguši in the tiny principality of Montenegro, which was divided between Austria and Poland during World War I, and later incorporated into the modern state of Yugoslavia.

Prince Milo dedicated his life travelling the world pursuing diplomatic efforts to regain international recognition for his country from China to Italy and Britain, to and Mexico and the US. Towards the end of his life, he lived in Roundwood, Co Galway. He died in Barrington’s Hospital, Limerick, in 1978.

It may all sound very Ruritanian, but I hope to tell his real-life story and to explore why he is buried in a simple and humble grave in the cathedral churchyard.

Later historical figures and themes in this series of lunchtime talks and tours include the Cleeves family (17 April), Robert Graves the poet (15 May), Pádraig Pearse (19 June), Edmund Sexton Pery the patron of Limerick architecture (17 July), Dr Samuel Crumpe physician (21 August), Hannah Villiers educationalist and philanthropist (18 September), Frances Condell, Mayor of Limerick (16 October), Bishop John Jebb (20 November), and the cathedral’s musical legacy (18 December).

I preached in the cathedral last month (18 February) as the canon precentor. Visiting preachers and speakers later in the year include the Very Revd Victor Stacey, former Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (17 March); Frank McDonald of The Irish Times; Canon Daniel Nuzum, chaplain of Cork University Hospital (26 August); Canon Peter Campion of the King’s Hospital, Dublin (26 September, Diocesan Schools Service); Archdeacon Andrew Orr (7 October, Harvest); John Lonergan, former Governor of Mountjoy Prison (14 October, Prison Sunday); Bishop Paul Colton of Cork (21 October, Civic Service); and Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel (4 November, Remembrance Sunday).

Saint Mary’s has a special place in the life of Limerick and its citizens. It has been a royal palace and today it is a place of pilgrimage and prayer, with a unique role in all aspects of city and diocesan life. Dean Sloane says the central theme of this year’s celebrations is opening the doors to all and forging links with Limerick and beyond ‘so that we may echo the Christian message of faith, love, and witness.’

The cathedral community is passionate about conserving, preserving and sharing the rich heritage of Saint Mary’s. We do not receive any Government or EU funding toward the day-to-day running and maintenance of this historic building. Support, through admission fees and donations is important and makes a difference in ensuring that the many and varied aspects of the cathedral’s life and ministry continue.

A Prayer for Saint Mary’s Cathedral:

Almighty God,
in whose keeping are the plans and purposes of your Church,
mercifully look upon this ancient place of worship,
inspire its worship,
so that your light may spread throughout these United Dioceses and City,
to the Glory of your Name, and the coming of your Kingdom. Amen.

Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 16:
Longford 14: Jesus is
placed in the tomb

Station 14 in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford … Jesus is placed in the tomb (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Each morning in Lent, as part of my meditations and reflections for Lent this year, I am being guided by the Stations of the Cross from three locations.

The idea for this series of morning Lenten meditations came from reading about Peter Walker’s new exhibition, ‘Imagining the Crucifixion,’ inspired by the Stations of the Cross, which opened in Lichfield Cathedral last month and continues throughout Lent.

Throughout Lent, my meditations each morning are inspired by three sets of Stations of the Cross that I have found either inspiring or unusual. They are the stations in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, at Saint John’s Well on a mountainside near Millstreet, Co Cork, and in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield.

In my meditations, I am drawing on portions of the Stabat Mater, the 12th century hymn of the Crucifixion (‘At the cross her station keeping’) attributed to the Franciscan poet Jacopone da Todi. Some prayers are traditional, some are from the Book of Common Prayer, and other meditations and prayers are by Canon Frank Logue and the Revd Victoria Logue of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.

For two weeks, I am looking at the 14 Stations of the Cross in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, sculpted by Ken Thompson in Bath stone with chisel and mallet, with lettering inspired by the work of Eric Gill and haloes picked out in gold leaf.

He uses blue to give a background dimension that works almost like a shadow in itself, providing the foreground figures with greater relief. The bright gold leaf haloes establish the central image of Christ as well as his mother and disciples or saints.

Rather than using the traditional title for each station, the text at the foot of each panel is allusive. He has chosen two lines of scripture for each panel, cut them in lettering inspired by Eric Gill, and highlighted them in terracotta.

Station 14: Jesus is placed in the tomb

When Christ is laid in the tomb in Station XIV, the panel is luminous, the lidded grave is finished like a tablecloth. The Virgin Mary, hands crossed as if she were about to approach the Altar at the Eucharist to receive the Body of Christ, watches as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus gently lay Christ’s body in the grave.

Through the door of the tomb, we can see the empty Cross, on the hill of Calvary. On the hill, seven Spring daffodils are blooming once again as signs of hope springing up. Seven is the number of completeness and perfection, both physical and spiritual: there are seven days of creation. God’s work is complete and God rests on the seventh day; now Christ is to rest in the grave on the seventh day, his work is complete.

On the lintel are inscribed the initials NIKA. A common Greek acronym or Christogram is ICXC NIKA, meaning ‘Jesus Christ is Victorious.’

An angel descends from the Heavens with a scroll bearing the word ‘Gloria.’ During the Liturgies throughout Lent, it is traditional to omit the doxology or Gloria at the end of Psalms and Canticles. But we resume this use at Easter, joining the angels in their joy at the Resurrection.

The inscription in terracotta capital letters at the base of this station are the words: ‘Why Seek You the Living Among the Dead,’ a phrase that moves us from the death of the Cross on Good Friday to the life of the Resurrection on Easter morning.

Early on Sunday morning, before dawn on the first day of the week, the women come to the tomb with spices they have prepared. But they find the stone has been rolled away from the tomb, there is no body, and two men in dazzling clothes ask them ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen’ (Luke 24: 5). There is a similar greeting in the other two Synoptic Gospels: ‘He is not here; for he has been raised’ (Matthew 28: 6); ‘He has been raised; he is not here’ (Mark 16: 6).

From Stabat Mater:

Jesus Christ, crucified, have mercy on us!
By the cross with thee to stay,
There with thee to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of thee to give.

Meditation:

Cold stone. A shroud. Darkness.
Sabbath rest at last.
The disciples gather in fear.
A grain of wheat waits for spring.

Prayers:

Alpha and Omega, you are beginning and end. In death you conquered death so that even at the grave we praise your name. Help us to find you as the way, the truth and the life and to lead others out of darkness and into your light. This we pray in the name of Jesus, our crucified Lord, the King of Glory, the King of Peace. Amen.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.
Because by your holy cross You have redeemed the world.

Jesus, your body is prepared for burial. Joseph gave you his own tomb. He laid your body there and rolled a large stone in front of it, then went home. What a sad day it has been for so many people.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honour of your Name. Amen.

A prayer before walking to the next station:

Holy God,
Holy and mighty Holy immortal one,
Have mercy on us.

Tomorrow: Introducing the Millstreet Stations of the Cross.

Yesterday’s reflection

The Burial of Christ … a 15th century painting in the Chiesa di San Francesco, the Franciscan church in San Marino (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)