Sunday, 1 July 2018

Valentia Island: home
of the Knights of Kerry
and transatlantic cables

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

Patrick Comerford

For the people of Valentia Island, Ireland is ‘the other island.’ They say, ‘you can do Ireland in a day, but you really only do Valentia properly in a lifetime.’

So, let me confess, I spent just a day on Valentia Island at the beginning of summer, and realise that I only got a taste of the island.

I had not been to Valentia for over 50 years, and during a return visit to Ballinskelligs and the Ring of Kerry we decided to do some ‘island hopping’ in Ireland in advance of our island holiday in Greece – viewing the Skelligs Rocks and visiting Valentia Island at the south-west tip of Co Kerry.

We were on the Wild Atlantic Way, but little did we realise as we drove around Valentia in the summer sunshine that we were missing some of the major sites that tourists normally visit, including the Slate Quarry, the Lighthouse at the Cromwell Fort, Geokaun Mountain and its spectacular views, Bray Head and Signature Point.

But we enjoyed Valentia Island Farmhouse Ice Cream, sitting in a parlour looking out at the pastures where the cows that produced the milk were grazing on the Daly family’s farm.

Valentia Harbour on a calm summer’s day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Like many visitors, I had presumed that Valentia received its name from Valencia in Spain – perhaps thanks to Spanish traders or survivors of the Armanda. But I was wrong. Valentia Island is known in Irish as Inse Dairbhre, or the ‘Island of the Oak Wood,’ and the name Valentia comes from a settlement on the island called An Bhaile Inse or Beal Inse (‘mouth of the island’ or ‘island in the mouth of the sound’).

Valentia Ice Cream … an island treat in the summer sunshine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Druids and Papal taxes

Valentia Island, off the Iveragh Peninsula, is one of Ireland’s most westerly points. It is about 11 km (7 miles) long, 3 km (2 miles) wide, and has a population of 665.

It is linked to the mainland by a bridge at Portmagee, and during the summer months (April to October) the island is also served by a car ferry between Reenard Point, near Cahersiveen and Knightstown, the island’s main village. There is a second, smaller village at Chapeltown, in the middle of the island, about 3 km from the bridge.

Valentia Island and its neighbouring islets are scattered with ancient cairns, dolmens, wedge tombs, standing stones, Ogham stones, a promontory fort, and the remains of churches and numerous beehive huts.

Mug Ruith, or Mogh Roith, ‘slave of the wheel,’ a mythological, powerful, blind druid of Munster, is said to have lived on Valentia Island. It was believed he could grow to enormous size, and that his breath caused storms and turned men to stone.

But the first recorded notice of people living on the island is found 1291 in the Papal taxations of Pope Nicholas IV, when a church on the island is valued at 13s 4d.

Knightstown, the main town on Valentia Island, takes its name from the Knights of Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Trade with Spain was important in the 16th century, when Spanish wine was sold on board ships at Portmagee and in the waters around Valentia Island.

Until the 17th century, much of the island was owned by the O'Sullivans, headed by the O’Sullivan Beare.

In 1621, the title of Viscount Valentia was given to Henry Power, and a year later, his kinsman, Sir Francis Annesley, was given a ‘reversionary grant’ of the title, so that he became the new Viscount Valentia when Henry Power died in 1642. The other family titles included Baron Mountnorris, Baron Annesley, Baron Altham, Viscount Glerawly and Earl of Anglesey.

The Annesley family became the principal landowners on the island in 1653, and the other major landholder was Trinity College Dublin.

Richard Annesley assumed the tiles of sixth Earl of Anglesey and seventh Viscount Valentia in 1737. But a scandal unfolded as James Annesley challenged his claims, saying he had been born in Bunclody, Co Wexford, as the rightful heir, but had been kidnapped and sold into slavery by his uncle.

The Annesley family leased much of the island to Sir Robert FitzGerald (1717-1781), 17th Knight of Kerry, in 1752.

The title of Knight of Kerry, sometimes called the ‘Green Knight,’ is one of three hereditary knighthoods in branches of the FitzGerald family since the Battle of Callan in 1261. The other two were the White Knight and the Knight of Glin (the ‘Black Night’).

The railway line from Killorglin to Renard Point … the last train left Valentia Harbour on 30 January 1960 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Poetic inspiration

Market Street or Main Street in Knightstown, a planned village (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Eventually the Knights of Kerry bought out their leases from the Annesley family. They remained the principal landlords on Valentia for generations, and had their home at Glanleam, near Knightstown.

The estate was finally bought out in 1807 by Sir Maurice Fitzgerald (1772-1849), 18th Knight of Kerry and Vice-Treasurer in the Duke of Wellington’s government. According to family tradition, Sir Maurice attended the celebrated ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

His title gave its name to Knightstown, the principal settlement on the island, which he planned and built. His guests on Valentia Island included the Duke of Rutland, the war journalist William Howard Russell (1820-1907) from Tallaght, who reported on the Crimean War for The Times; the three-times Prime Minister Lord Stanley, later the Earl of Derby; and the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. It is said that his visit to Valentia inspired Tennyson’s well-known lines:

Break, break, break,
Oh thy cold grey stones, O Sea!


The bridge linking Valentia Island with Portmagee (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

At the north-east corner of the island, the subtropical gardens at Glanleam House. are protected by windbreaks from Atlantic gales. They are never touched by frost, and they enjoy the mildest microclimate in Ireland. Although Valentia Island is on the same latitude as Newfoundland, it enjoys much milder winters and the effects of the Gulf Stream mean the island can support many sub-tropical varieties of plants.

The gardens owe their origins to Sir Peter George Fitzgerald (1808-1880), the 19th Knight of Kerry, who planted them in the 1830s and stocked them with a unique collection of rare and tender plants from South America, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Japan.

Sir Peter FitzGerald was Vice-Treasurer of Ireland in the last government of Sir Robert Peel. He succeeded his father in 1849 and lived almost constantly on Valentia Island. He was a benevolent landlord, improving the estates, and enhancing the welfare of his tenants. Local tradition says that the tenants of Trinity College Dublin were worse off and were ‘rack-rented.’

Sir Peter was instrumental in introducing and developing flax growing and weaving, the railway terminal at Renard Point, the seaport in Valentia Harbour, the European end of the transatlantic cable, a slate quarry, and planning and building Knightstown, which was named after him.

The Rocket Car recalls the early Coast and Cliff Rescue services on Valentia Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In the 1850s, Valentia became the eastern terminus of the first commercially viable transatlantic cable, and a decade of endeavours finally resulted in commercially viable transatlantic telegraph communications from Valentia to Newfoundland in 1866.

Two pioneering scientists, Benjamin Apthorp Gould (1824-1896) and AT Mosman, built a longitude observatory beside the Cable Station in 1866. Valentia Observatory, which is part of Met √Čireann, the Irish Meteorological Service, dates from 1868. The Valentia Island Weather Station is 25 metres above sea level and is one of the 22 coastal weather stations whose reports are broadcast as part of the BBC ‘Shipping Forecast.’ Valentia Island is, on average, the wettest weather station in Ireland.

The transatlantic telegraph cables continued to operate from Valentia Island for 100 years until in 1966.

Royal visits and Royal Hotel

The Royal Valentia Hotel … visited by two future kings during the reign of Queen Victoria (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The 19th Knight of Kerry also organised many royal visits to the island. Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Albert Edward, later King Edward VII, visited in 1858. When his younger brother, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, visited in 1869, the name of Young’s Hotel in Knightstown was changed to the Royal Hotel.

Inside the Royal Valentia Hotel … retaining Victorian elegance (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

On 8 July 1880, Sir Peter was given the additional hereditary title of baronet. But he died less than a month later on 6 August 1880. His title and estates passed to his eldest son, Sir Maurice FitzGerald (1844-1916), as second baronet and 20th Knight of Kerry. He was the last of the family to live on Valentia Island. His wife Amélie Bischoffsheim (1858-1947), was a daughter of the Dutch banker Henri Louis Bischoffsheim (1829-1908).

The Bischoffsheim family founded three of the largest banks in the world: the Deutsche Bank, Parisbas Bank and Societe Generale. Lady FitzGerald’s sister, Ellen (1857-1933), married William Cuffe (1845-1898), 4th Earl of Desart; Lady Desart, who lived at Desart Court, Co Kilkenny, later became President of the Gaelic League and a Senator (1922-1933) in the new Irish Free State, and she has been described as ‘the most important Jewish woman in Irish history.’

Sir Maurice’s sisters, Elizabeth Anne and Julia, both married Francis Spring Rice (1852-1937), 4th Baron Monteagle, and his son, Charles Spring Rice (1887-1946), like many members of the Spring Rice family, was brought up at Glanleam House on Valentia Island.

The Clock Tower on Royal Pier, Knightstown … built in 1880 and restored in 1990 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The slate quarry which opened in 1816, closed after a landfall in 1911, provided slates for the House of Parliament in Westminster. Bewicke Blackburn, the engineer and quarry manager, was the father of Helen Blackburn (1842-1903), a leading women’s rights campaigner and suffragette, who was born on Valentia.

The noted naturalist and biologist Maude Jane Delap (1866-1953) was the seventh of ten children of the Revd Alexander William Delap (1830-1906), who moved to Valentia Island when he became the Rector of Cahersiveen. She lived and worked in Knightstown, carrying out important research into the marine life surrounding Valentia and identifying many new species.

Other celebrated islanders included the footballers Mick O’Connell and Ger O’Driscoll.

Church of Ireland parish church

The Church of Saint John the Baptist was one of the last churches designed by Joseph Welland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Church of Ireland parish church, Saint John the Baptist, is one of the last churches designed by Joseph Welland (1798-1860). It was built in 1860, replacing an earlier church built in 1815. The stained-glass windows are memorials to the Knights of Kerry.

The stained-glass windows in Saint John’s Church commemorate the Knights of Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A sign claims the church is the ‘most westerly Protestant church in Europe.’ It is open from May to September, and is the venue for an ecumenical Christmas service and regular musical recitals and lectures. The Sensory Garden was designed by Arthur Shackleton to cater for people with disabilities, and was opened by Bishop Michael Mayes in 2005.

The Sensory Garden in the grounds of Saint John’s Church was designed by Arthur Shackleton and opened in 2005 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The FitzGerald and TCD estates on Valentia were sold by the Congested Districts Board in 1913. Today, the FitzGerald family titles are held by Sir Adrian James Andrew Denis FitzGerald, 6th Baronet of Valentia and 24th Knight of Kerry.

Meanwhile, the title of Viscount of Valentia has passed through obscure lines of descent in the Annesley family and is held by Francis Annesley, the 16th Viscount, who succeeded in 2005. Lord Valentia is also Ireland’s premier baronet, although he has not successfully proven his right to the titles.

The Royal Valentia Hotel has been operated by the Kidd family since 2004, and has been lovingly restored over the past decade.

Valentia Island and the bridge seen from Portmagee (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This feature was published in July 2018 in the ‘Church Review' (Dublin and Glendalough) and the ‘Diocesan Magazine' (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory)

‘The Clock Tower Knightstown’ by Malcolm Sowerby

When Christ restores
women to a full place in
the community of faith

Christ healing the woman in the crowd … a modern Orthodox icon

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 1 July 2018, the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity V).

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

Readings: II Samuel 1: 1, 17-27; Psalm 130; II Corinthians 8: 7-15; and Mark 5: 21-43.

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

This morning’s Gospel reading (Mark 5: 21-43) tells two stories about Christ’s response to the plight of two very different women: a 12-year-old girl who is on her deathbed, and a woman who has been suffering for the previous 12 years, as long as the young girl has lived.

Both of them remain unnamed, like so many women in the New Testament.

One is the daughter of a leading male figure in the synagogue. But religious position and social status in the local community are of precious little value when a small girl is at the point of death.

In both cases, hope has run out for a little girl and for an old woman. In restoring their health, Christ teaches what faith means, Christ offers new hope, and Christ shows what love is.

In both cases, these women are ritually unclean … a bleeding older woman, and a dying young woman. Jesus should not touch them. Yet their plight touches his heart, and he reaches out to them with a healing touch.

This Gospel passage presents us with a large cast of dramatis personae, people who receive the gentle, caring, loving pastoral attention of Christ in equal measure, each within the list of people we are told should be our priority.

They include:

The crowd who gather around Jesus by the lake are going to learn what the Kingdom of God is like, not through another sermon or another lecture, but by seeing what Jesus does. After hearing this Gospel story, would each and every one of them be happy to wear one of those wristbands with the initials ‘WWJD’ – ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ If they looked at our actions for an example of Christian lifestyle, would they know what Jesus does?

Jairus is a respected provincial leader. He shows what true worship truly is when he throws himself at the feet of Jesus. He prays, entreats, begs, not on behalf of himself, but on behalf of a sick and dying girl. If we were to look at ourselves today, would we see ourselves placing our lives at the feet of Christ, and making our first priorities the needs of others who cannot speak for themselves?

By now the large crowd is pressing in on Jesus. They really want to see what he is about, what the Christian lifestyle is about. And who becomes the focus of attention within this crowd?

Too often in a crowd, it is those who get to the front first, who have the loudest voices, who are heard and whose demands are met.

In this case, though, it is not the loud and the proud, the rich or the famous, who grab the attention of Christ – it is a weak, timid, neglected impoverished, exploited and sick woman. All her money has gone on quacks, and she has no man to speak up for her.

But look at what Christ does for her. Without knowing it, he heals her. And when he realises what has happened, he calls her ‘Daughter.’

In a society where men had the only voices, where to have a full place in society was to be known as a Son of Israel, she is called ‘Daughter.’ She too has a full and equal place in society, she is commended for her faith, she is restored personally and communally, she is offered healing, and she is also offered peace. From now on, she can be at one with herself, with her society, with the world and with God.

But perhaps there was a danger that all this could become a sideshow for the crowd. Poor Jairus appears to have been forgotten. His household – perhaps religious and community leaders too – tell him to give up on Christ.

Christ does not want to put on a show, either to impress the pressing crowd, or to prove wrong the inner circle around Jairus. Instead, with just his three closest friends – Peter, James and John … the three disciples who would soon witness the Transfiguration – he goes directly to the house of the dying girl, where her family and neighbours are in great distress.

It is shocking that the first reaction of some of the key local figures is to upbraid Jairus for seeking whatever help he can find for his daughter, and not to offer him comfort and sympathy. We can see that in his despair this man was finding no hope from his own community.

Their lack of compassion and sympathy contrasts sharply with the compassion Christ shows for the woman who has been suffering for 12 years. She has spent all her money with consultants and doctors and specialists. None of them has been able to offer a cure, and now that all her money has run out, all her hope has run out too. All this is compounded by the fact that she is ritually unclean … no man should come near her.

Even as he was being told not to bother coming, even when he was being laughed at, Christ keeps focussed on who is important here – not those who shout the loudest and who press their demands.

Twelve-year-olds have no say and no voice and no power. But Jesus now offers this girl new life, new hope, a new future, a full place in society. When Jesus was her age, he was in the Temple. God becomes present in the presence of the young and vulnerable.

I am going to spend the next three days at the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (the United Society Partners in the Gospel) in High Leigh, Hertfordshire. Three years ago at this conference (2015), I heard powerful and engaging stories of how projects supported by USPG are empowering women, from these islands to South Africa, from the West Indies and West Africa to India and Pakistan.

Canon Delene Mark from South Africa, gave harrowing accounts of gender-based violence, people trafficking, child murder and forced prostitution.

Sheba Sultan from the Church of Pakistan described the lives of women in Pakistan, from tribal people with few resources and many restrictions, to the elite women who have lives of luxury but find cultural values also stop them from living life to the full.

Anjun Anwar, a Muslim woman born in Pakistan, spoke of her experiences on the staff of Blackburn Cathedral.

The Revd Dr Monodeep Daniel shared the work of the Delhi Brotherhood in challenging gender-based violence, including rape and murder.

Deaconess Dr Rachele Evie Vernon spoke of women challenging injustice and violence in Jamaica and in Liberia.

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes from Durham talked about gender justice and shared a vision of equality for men and women who are created equally in the image and likeness of God, who are made one in Christ, who are called and equipped by the Holy Spirit, and who live with the promise of abundant life for all.

We were challenged each day that week to ask ourselves: how is the Gospel good news for women?

Speaker after speaker insisted it is Good News – but only if we read it, accept its consequences for us, and then live it out.

The Gospel is Good News for the two women in our Gospel reading: they are at opposite ends of the scale in terms of both social status and age. Yet one does not come before the other.

The younger woman is restored to her place in her family and in her community. The older woman, who has lost everything, who is at risk of being marginalised even by the Disciples, is offered the hope of her proper place.

Christ has equal compassion for both, and restores them to full life, physically, spiritually and socially, despite objections from men on the scene – the privileged men who have access to the house of Jairus, or the men around Christ who find that a poor, old sick woman is embarrassing.

The Gospel is Good News for women like these two women in this morning's reading, for the women I have heard at USPG conferences. But it is only good news if we hear it and then put it into practice.

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

‘The Daughter of Jairus’ by James Tissot (1836-1902)

Mark 5: 21-43:

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ 29 Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31 And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32 He looked all round to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

‘Christ raises the daughter of Jairus’ (left), in the Hardman window by JH Powell at the west end of the nave in Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
Hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Hymns:

593, O Jesus, I have promised
211, Immortal love for ever full
592, O Love that wilt not let me go


The Mayer window in Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick, depicting the three virtues (from left): Faith, Charity and Hope (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Gospel is Good News
for women … but only
when we put it into practice

‘The Daughter of Jairus’ by James Tissot (1836-1902)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 1 July 2018, the Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity V).

9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Readings: II Samuel 1: 1, 17-27; Psalm 130; II Corinthians 8: 7-15; and Mark 5: 21-43.

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

This morning’s Gospel reading (Mark 5: 21-43) tells two stories about Christ’s response to the plight of two very different women: a 12-year-old girl who is on her deathbed, and a woman who has been suffering for the previous 12 years, as long as the young girl has lived.

Both of them remain unnamed, like so many women in the New Testament.

One is the daughter of a leading male figure in the synagogue. But religious position and social status in the local community are of precious little value when a small girl is at the point of death.

In both cases, hope has run out for a little girl and for an old woman. In restoring their health, Christ teaches what faith means, Christ offers new hope, and Christ shows what love is.

In both cases, these women are ritually unclean … a bleeding older woman, and a dying young woman. Jesus should not touch them. Yet their plight touches his heart, and he reaches out to them with a healing touch.

This Gospel passage presents us with a large cast of dramatis personae, people who receive the gentle, caring, loving pastoral attention of Christ in equal measure, each within the list of people we are told should be our priority.

They include:

The crowd who gather around Jesus by the lake and are going to learn what the Kingdom of God is like, not through another sermon or another lecture, but by seeing what Jesus does. After hearing this Gospel story, would each and every one of them be happy to wear one of those wristbands with the initials ‘WWJD’ – ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ If they looked at our actions for an example of Christian lifestyle, would they know what Jesus does?

Jairus is a respected provincial leader. He shows what true worship truly is when he throws himself at the feet of Jesus. He prays, entreats, begs, not on behalf of himself, but on behalf of a sick and dying girl. If we were to look at ourselves today, would we see ourselves placing our lives at the feet of Christ, and making our first priorities the needs of others who cannot speak for themselves?

By now the large crowd is pressing in on Jesus. They really want to see what he is about, what the Christian lifestyle is about. And who becomes the focus of attention within this crowd?

Too often in a crowd, it is those who get to the front first, who have the loudest voices, who are heard and whose demands are met.

In this case, though, it is not the loud and the proud, the rich or the famous, who grab the attention of Christ – it is a weak, timid, neglected impoverished, exploited and sick woman. All her money has gone on quacks, and she has no man to speak up for her.

But look at what Christ does for her. Without knowing it, he heals her. And when he realises what has happened, he calls her ‘Daughter.’

In a society where men had the only voices, where to have a full place in society was to be known as a Son of Israel, she is called ‘Daughter.’ She too has a full and equal place in society, she is commended for her faith, she is restored personally and communally, she is offered healing, and she is also offered peace. From now on, she can be at one with herself, with her society, with the world and with God.

But perhaps there was a danger that all this could become a sideshow for the crowd. Poor Jairus appears to have been forgotten. His household – perhaps religious and community leaders too – tell him to give up on Christ.

Christ does not want to put on a show, either to impress the pressing crowd, or to prove wrong the inner circle around Jairus. Instead, with just his three closest friends – Peter, James and John … the three disciples who would soon witness the Transfiguration – he goes directly to the house of the dying girl, where her family and neighbours are in great distress.

It is shocking that the first reaction of some of the key local figures is to upbraid Jairus for seeking whatever help he can find for his daughter, and not to offer him comfort and sympathy. We can see that in his despair this man was finding no hope from his own community.

Their lack of compassion and sympathy contrasts sharply with the compassion Christ shows for the woman who has been suffering for 12 years. She has spent all her money with consultants and doctors and specialists. None of them has been able to offer a cure, and now that all her money has run out, all her hope has run out too. All this is compounded by the fact that she is ritually unclean … no man should come near her.

Even as he was being told not to bother coming, even when he was being laughed at, Christ keeps focussed on who is important here – not those who shout the loudest and who press their demands.

Twelve-year-olds have no say and no voice and no power. But Jesus now offers this girl new life, new hope, a new future, a full place in society. When Jesus was her age, he was in the Temple. God becomes present in the presence of the young and vulnerable.

I am going to spend the next three days at the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (the United Society Partners in the Gospel) in High Leigh, Hertfordshire. Three years ago at this conference (2015), I heard powerful and engaging stories of how projects supported by USPG are empowering women, from these islands to South Africa, from the West Indies and West Africa to India and Pakistan.

Canon Delene Mark from South Africa, gave harrowing accounts of gender-based violence, people trafficking, child murder and forced prostitution.

Sheba Sultan from the Church of Pakistan described the lives of women in Pakistan, from tribal people with few resources and many restrictions, to the elite women who have lives of luxury but find cultural values also stop them from living life to the full.

Anjun Anwar, a Muslim woman born in Pakistan, spoke of her experiences on the staff of Blackburn Cathedral.

The Revd Dr Monodeep Daniel shared the work of the Delhi Brotherhood in challenging gender-based violence, including rape and murder.

Deaconess Dr Rachele Evie Vernon spoke of women challenging injustice and violence in Jamaica and in Liberia.

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes from Durham talked about gender justice and shared a vision of equality for men and women who are created equally in the image and likeness of God, who are made one in Christ, who are called and equipped by the Holy Spirit, and who live with the promise of abundant life for all.

We were challenged each day that week to ask ourselves: how is the Gospel good news for women?

Speaker after speaker insisted it is Good News – but only if we read it, accept its consequences for us, and then live it out.

The Gospel is Good News for the two women in our Gospel reading: they are at opposite ends of the scale in terms of both social status and age. Yet one does not come before the other.

The younger woman is restored to her place in her family and in her community. The older woman, who has lost everything, who is at risk of being marginalised even by the Disciples, is offered the hope of her proper place.

Christ has equal compassion for both, and restores them to full life, physically, spiritually and socially, despite objections from men on the scene – the privileged men who have access to the house of Jairus, or the men around Christ who find that a poor, old sick woman is embarrassing.

The Gospel is Good News for women like these two women in this morning's reading, for the women I have heard at USPG conferences. But it is only good news if we hear it and then put it into practice.

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

Christ healing the woman in the crowd … a modern Orthodox icon

Mark 5: 21-43:

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ 29 Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31 And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32 He looked all round to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

‘Christ raises the daughter of Jairus’ (left), in the Hardman window by JH Powell at the west end of the nave in Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
Hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Holy and blessed God,
as you give us the body and blood of your Son,
guide us with your Holy Spirit,
that we may honour you not only with our lips
but also with our lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hymns:

593, O Jesus, I have promised
211, Immortal love for ever full
592, O Love that wilt not let me go


The Mayer window in Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick, depicting the three virtues (from left): Faith, Charity and Hope (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.