16 May 2018

A few days in the south
of France, near Dali’s
‘Centre of the Universe’

The Castillet, the main city gate, is a 14th century fortress that survived when the walls of Perpignan were razed in 1904 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I am staying in Sainte-Marie-la-Mer in the south of France for a few days, enjoying a few days in this coastal town near Perpignan until Saturday.

Although I have been to Paris half-a-dozen times or more in the past, this is my first time back in France since 2006, and my first time to visit the South of France.

I arrived at Perpignan–Rivesaltes Airport late yesterday, and I am staying in Sainte-Marie-la-Mer. My first impressions in Perpignan and on the road to Saint-Marie were of the vineyards, the bilingual signs in French and Catalan, and how the local flag, flown everywhere, is similar to the Catalan flag with its stripes of bright yellow and red.

Perpignan is Perpinyà in Catalan, the people of the city are Perpignanais(e) in French and Perpinyanés(a) in Catalan, and Sainte-Marie is known in Catalan as Santa Maria la Mar.

Perpignan was once the capital of the province and County of Roussillon, known as Rosselló in Catalan, and the continental capital of the Kingdom of Majorca in the 13th and 14th centuries, and later was part of the County of Barcelona.

Perpignan was besieged and captured by the French during the Thirty Years’ War in September 1642, and was formally ceded by Spain 17 years later in the Treaty of the Pyrenees. Ever since, it has remained a part of France, and it is the southernmost city in metropolitan France.

Perpignan was the Capital of Catalan Culture in 2008, and it is said that 34% of people in this area speak Catalan, and a further 21% understand it.

The Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí declared the city’s railway station is the ‘Centre of the Universe’ after he experienced a vision of cosmogonic ecstasy there in 1963. He claimed he always got his best ideas sitting in the waiting room there. His painting La Gare de Perpignan commemorates his vision there on 19 September 1963.

Some years later, he declared that the Iberian Peninsula rotated precisely at Perpignan station 132 million years ago, an event he commemorated in his painting Topological Abduction of Europe – Homage to René Thom (1983).

Above the station is a monument in Dali’s honour, and across the surface of one of the main platforms is painted, in big letters, ‘Perpignan Centre du Monde’ (‘Perpignan Centre of the World’).

I wonder whether he knew that this also an important centre for rugby in France?

On my way to Sainte-Marie-la-Mer late yesterday, three of us stopped to visit some vineyards, including Domaine Lafage, and later we had dinner in Canet-en-Roussillon (Canet de Rosselló), which is one of the earliest coastal resorts in the south of France and which is twinned with Maynooth.

I may not be at the centre of the universe, but there is a whole new world to explore now and when I leave on Saturday morning.

Visiting the vineyards at Domaine Lafage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Dutch Church in Austin Friars:
from Augustine to the Reformation

The Dutch Street in Austin Friars is the oldest Dutch Reformed church in the world (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

If the Reformation is described at times as a rediscovery of the writings of Saint Augustine, then it seems either historically appropriate or an irony of history that the Dutch Church in London is at Austin Friars, on the site where the Augustinian friary stood in the City of London from its foundation in the 1260s until its dissolution in 1538.

Austin Friars and the Dutch Church are signalled by signs at what seems to be a narrow passageway off Broad Street, between the Bank of England and Liverpool Street Station. But stepping through this archway is an invitation into stories of the Princes in the Tower and pretenders to the throne, Thomas Cromwell and Wolf Hall, the Reformation and an early Reformation Archbishop of Dublin, and refugees fleeing religious persecution in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Augustinians first arrived in England around 1249, and the Augustinian Friary or Austin Friars was founded in the 1260s by Humphrey de Bohun on his return from the Seventh Crusade.

The Friary was built off Broad Street on land acquired from two older churches – Saint Olave Broad Street and the Church of Saint Peter the Poor, also known as Saint Peter Broad Street.

At its height, the friary had about 60 friars, although the numbers fluctuated over time. Austin Friars also housed a house of studies for students who aspired to go on to Oxford, Cambridge or one of the major continental European universities.

The friary church at the centre of the complex had a three-aisled nave, floored in Purbeck marble, and a two-aisled choir. The altar was probably dedicated to Saint Augustine. The mediaeval portion of the church of Saint Peter the Poor was incorporated into the friary church as the south aisle. There were several chapels, dedicated to Saint Thomas, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Catherine and the Virgin Mary.

The friary covered an area of about 2.2 ha (5.5 acres). A church stood at the centre of the friary precinct, with a complex of buildings behind it providing accommodation, refreshment and study space for both friars and visiting students. A large part of the friary precinct was covered by the friary gardens that provided vegetables, fruit and medicinal herbs.

Austin Friars was favoured by the aristocracy and wealthy merchants as a place of worship and as a place of burial. The pretender Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, the younger of the Princes in the Tower and son of Edward IV, was buried in the church in 1499 after his execution on Tyburn Hill.

Some of the precincts and land immediately adjoining the priory were to build rented tenements that were occupied by many notable figures, including Erasmus and Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII’s principal official.

Thomas Cromwell’s house in Austin Friars is the setting for a number of scenes in Hilary Mantel’s historical novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies.

A statue of Saint Augustine in Austin Friars … a reminder of the Augustinian past (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In 1526, the Cambridge scholar and Augustinian friar Robert Barnes (1495-1540) was punished for heresy at Saint Paul’s Cathedral nearby. He was the Prior of Austin Friars, Cambridge, and was sent to Austin Friars in London after had performed his public penance at Saint Paul’s and in the Fleet Prison.

George Browne (1536-1554), the Prior of Austin Friars at the Reformation, was later Archbishop of Dublin. The friary was dissolved in November 1538 on the orders of Thomas Cromwell. The City of London failed in its efforts to buy the friary church from the Crown in 1539.

Thomas Cromwell had obtained more friary land to build one of the largest private mansions in London. However, his house was seized after his fall from power and execution in 1540. It was sold off along with the friary precinct, and much of this was later demolished. His mansion became the Drapers’ Hall.

The City of London tried once again to buy the friary church from the Crown in 1546 but again was rebuffed.

The church served briefly as a Catholic chapel for Italians. But on 24 July 1550, a Royal Charter in the name of King Edward VI granted the community of ‘Germans and other strangers’ in London the use of the nave in the friary church as the ‘Temple of the Lord Jesus.’ The charter was granted ‘notwithstanding that they do not conform with the rites and ceremonies used in our Kingdom.’

In this way, the nave of the church became the first official nonconformist chapel in England under a Polish-born minister, Jan Łaski (John a Lasco), who had founded a preaching house for a group of Protestant refugees mainly from the Low Countries.

Many members of this congregation had fled from Frisia, which is now divided between Germany and the Netherlands. This connection gave the church its modern name of the Dutch Church and the Dutch language is still used there for services.

The rest of the church was turned into a storehouse for corn, coal and wine, the monuments were sold off for £100, and the lead was stripped from the roof.

When it was incorporation, the church had four pastors: two for the Dutch people and two for the French-Walloon people, who by the 1580s began using Saint Anthony’s Chapel in Threadneedle Street.

By 1570, the Dutch community was the largest group of expatriates in London. They numbered 5,000 out of the total population of 100,000 in London at the time. About half of the Dutch immigrants in London were Protestants who had fled the Flemish Low Countries because of religious persecution. Others were skilled craftsmen, including brewers, tilemakers, weavers, artists, printers and engravers, who came to England for economic opportunities. The engraver Martin Droeshout, known for his 1623 portrait of William Shakespeare, was among the Flemish Protestant migrants who arrived in London.

The choir, tower and transepts of the church were demolished in 1600.

At the end of the 17th century, the arrival of William of Orange in 1688 brought a second wave of Dutch emigrants to London. This second group included noblemen, bankers, courtiers, merchants, architects and artists.

A fire destroyed the rest of the church in 1862, and it was rebuilt in the decades that followed.

On the night of 15-16 October 1940, just a decade before the Dutch Church celebrated its 400th anniversary, the mediaeval building was completely destroyed by German bombs. Fortumately, the church’s collection of rare books, including Dutch Bibles, atlases and encyclopaedias, had been moved out of London for safekeeping a day before the bombing raid.

Austin Friars on Bond Street … an invitation into the stories of friars and reformers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The church was rebuilt again in 1950-1954. The foundation stone of the new church was laid on 23 July 1950 by 10-year-old Princess Irene of the Netherlands. The new church, design of Arthur Bailey, was completed in 1954. The new building is a concrete box frame, externally clad in Portland stone.

The Dutch Church in Austin Friars (Nederlandse Kerk Londen), is the oldest Dutch-language Protestant church in the world, and as such is known in The Netherlands as the mother church of all Dutch Reformed churches. The church was designated a Grade-II listed building 20 years ago in 1998.

The church celebrated its 450th anniversary in 2000. The minister of the Dutch Church, the Revd Joost Röselaers, confirmed in 2014 that the church is able to perform weddings for same-sex couples.

The collection in the church library includes a multilingual Bible published by the Plantin Press of Antwerp in 1569-1571, and a 1649 atlas by Willem Blaeu of all the cities in the Low Countries. The manuscript collection and original charter are kept in the London Metropolitan Archives.

The church remains active today, with weekly Dutch-language services, confirmation classes, and meetings for a variety of groups. The church engages in outreach work within the Dutch community in London, including ministering to the elderly, and is home to two registered charities, the Netherlands Benevolent Society and the Dutch Centre.

The Dutch Church in Austin Friars ws rebuilt in 1950-1954 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

‘Thy Kingdom Come’ (6):
Help, Mark 2: 1-5, 11-12

Patrick Comerford

‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is an invitation to pray with Christians around the world during the nine days between Ascension and Pentecost, using art and scripture.

‘Changed Lives → Changing Lives’ is the guiding theme this year as people are invited to pray afresh for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

In doing so, people are joining thousands of others around the world as part of ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ – an initiative encouraging people to explore through prayer how they might courageously witness to God’s life-changing work.

As the Apostles prayed together following Christ’s Ascension, waiting for the Holy Spirit to come at Pentecost, we too are invited to wait and pray today. They prayed in obedience, trusting that the way ahead would be revealed. May we, like the disciples, pray anticipating that the Spirit will show us new ways of living and loving. ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ asks that we may we be open to where God leads us, to be the change God wants to see in the world – whatever that might require.

As God is at work in us, he is also at work through us changing the lives of others. Please join with us as we pray together: ‘Come Holy Spirit: thy kingdom come’ and may our waiting and praying this Novena open our hearts afresh to God’s possibilities.

The ‘Pocket Prayers’ for 2018 for these nine days invite readers each day to:

LOOK at images and meet the characters caught up in life-changing moments, where the future is shaped by their encounter with God. They suggest letting those images reveal new possibilities for God’s Word to transform us and others.

WAIT prayerfully for the Holy Spirit. Pause, creating a space into which God can speak.

READ the Bible text, allow it to enliven your heart, stir your soul and spark your imagination.

LISTEN for insight through idea or image, through recollection or curiosity. Let that Word dwell within you, as you listen for yourself and your community.

RESPOND to the prompting of the Word, with an action that leads to life-giving change. Let the words of the collect gather up and bless these moments of prayerful waiting upon God, so his Kingdom might be seen more fully in you.

Wednesday 16 May: Help

LOOK … and be curious.

WAIT… with prayerful expectation.

Come Holy Spirit: Thy Kingdom Come.

READ … the text with an open mind.

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven … I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ (Mark 2: 1-5, 11-12)

LISTEN … for a word with a willing heart.

RESPOND … with prayer and action.

Oh faithful God, help us to find our way through the crowd to you. Grant us faith to rip off the roof so we may see your face; help us not to mind the mess when we bring others into your presence for the first time. And if we should ourselves be paralyzed by fear and indecision bless us with friends who will place us before your eyes and entreat your healing.