Monday, 18 February 2019

Visiting the library that
tells the moving story of
a church in Ballybunion

Saint Augustine’s, the former Church of Ireland parish church in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, is now a local library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Two years ago, for the first time, I visited Saint Augustine’s Church, the former Church of Ireland parish church in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, on a Saturday afternoon [19 February 2017]. It was my first time to visit the most westerly town and church in this group of parishes, although the church is now used as a library.

I have visited Ballybunion many times since that afternoon, but until this past weekend I never managed to see inside this church.

Three of us went for a walk on the beach in Ballybunion this Saturday afternoon [16 February 2019], and for the first time in two years I found the library was open and I was able to visit one of my former parish churches.

Walking on the beach in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, on Saturday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019; click on image for full-screen view)

The library and former church stands at the corner of Sandhill Road in Ballybunion. This building that was once Saint Augustine’s parish church in the Church of Ireland. It is a single-storey Gothic Revival style church. The walls are of snecked limestone with Portland stone dressings. The entrance is through a projecting porch.

Saint Augustine’s Church was originally built at Rattoo, near Ballyduff, in 1877-1879. However, after the original Church of Ireland parish church in Ballybunion was demolished in the 1950s, it was decided to move Saint Augustine’s to Ballybunion.

From 1669 to 1882, the parish of Ballybunion was held by the Rectors of Aghavillan. Killehenny Church was built as the parish church in Ballybunion on a site donated by HB Harene, close to the cliffs, and was consecrated in 1858.

The parish was united with Rattoo in 1883, and the first rector of the new union was the Revd Cecil Richard Hoggins, a former naval chaplain. Hoggins was succeeded by the Revd Charles Edward Fry. Later, it was recalled, ‘the rector suffered terribly from shyness. His manner was painfully nervous.’

In 1922, the parish was joined with Listowel. By then, Killehenny Church and its clocktower had become familiar landmarks in Ballybunion.

But for almost a century, the church was battered by the weather and the elements. A local historian, Russell McMorran of Tralee, mused that it must have been an exciting experience going to church there on a stormy, winter’s day.

After almost 100 years, the decision was taken in 1957 to close the church and to demolish it.

Meanwhile, another Church of Ireland church in the neighbourhood had fallen into disuse. Saint Augustine’s Church was originally built at Rattoo, near Ballyduff, in 1877-1879, on a site ‘within the shadow of the ancient round tower.’ It was built by Wilson and Gertrude Gun for their family, friends, tenants and workers, and for the Staughton family, who were neighbouring landlords.

The church, dedicated to Saint Augustine of Hippo, was designed by the Kerry-born architect, James Franklin Fuller (1835-1924), an eccentric snob who also wrote high-Victorian melodramatic novels. He claimed to have ‘carried out professional work in every county in Ireland’ and the Dictionary of Irish Architects lists over 200 of his works.

Fuller undertook considerable work for the Guinness family and Lord Ardilaun, most notably Kylemore Abbey in Co Galway, the refurbishment of Farmleigh House, next to the Phoenix Park, in 1881-1884, the refurbishment of Iveagh House on Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, and the Superintendent’s Gate Lodge in Saint Stephen’s Green.

His other works include Saint Mary’s Church, Julianstown, Co Meath, the wonderful terracotta-decorated Gallaher building at the corner of D’Olier Street and Hawkins Street, Dublin, the former National Bank building on Arran Quay in Dublin, the now lost gate lodge for Cherryfield House in Firhouse, and the rectory at Saint Brigid’s Church, Stillorgan.

The library in Ballybunion retains many of the features of Saint Augustine’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The foundation stone of Fuller’s new church at Rattoo was laid on 20 September 1877 by Wilson Gun, who paid the cost of the contract, excluding the tower and belfry. The church was consecrated in October 1879.

Fuller designed Saint Augustine’s as a single-storey Gothic Revival style church. This church, dated 1879, has a four-bay nave, a single-bay single-storey gabled projecting porch to the south-west, a single-bay single-storey lower chancel to the north gable end, and a single-bay single-storey gabled vestry projection to the north-west.

There is a steeply-pitched slate roof with a clay ridge comb, the gable parapets have Portland stone copings and there are profiled cast-iron gutters on a Portland stone corbel table.

There are rock-hewn snecked grey limestone walls with Portland stone quoins and springers, and buttresses with Portland stone dressings. The Portland stone plate-tracery windows have paired pointed lancets and cinquefoils over. There are triple lancets with trefoil heads to transept.

The Portland stone doorcase has a double-leaf boarded door and limestone steps. There are triple windows to the porch.

There are exposed timber trusses inside the former church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Inside, there are exposed timber trusses and white marble plaques on the west wall. The retaining timber door to the vestry is set in an arched niche. There is a snecked rubble wall to the street, with replacement concrete copings.

When the old church in Ballybunion was demolished, Saint Augustine’s was dismantled stone-by-stone by local builders Boyle and Harnett. The work involved numbering, cleaning and polishing each stone as the building was transported and reconstructed in its exact original state on the present site in Sandhill Road, Ballybunion. Wilson and Gertrude Gun were buried beneath the nave of the church in its new location.

The church was rededicated on Saint Augustine’s Day, 28 July 1957, by Bishop Hodges of Limerick. Radio Eireann broadcast the ceremony, and this was the national broadcaster’s first-ever outside broadcast event.

The Church of Ireland community in Ballybunion was strong until the end of the 1980s, and the decision was taken to close Saint Augustine’s in 1987. The church was deconsecrated on 1 June 1987, almost 30 years after it had been moved to this site.

The church was handed over to the Co Kerry Library Service and it opened to the public as a library on 20 December 1990. Ballybunion Library is open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. and 2.30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

As well as lending books, the library hosts several successful events, including an Active Retirement Group’s Creative Writing Workshop and a Children's Book Festival.

A plaque on the west wall in the former parish church in Ballybunion, Co Kerry, commemorates Wilson and Gertrude Gun (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Sunday, 17 February 2019

A fountain with no function,
a forgotten synagogue
and a lost Wren church

‘La Maternité’, a charity fountain at Royal Exchange, is a reminder of a forgotten synagogue and three lost London churches (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

A fountain without a function, the monument to the memory of Paul Reuter and the Peabody statue in Royal Exchange eventually led me to the story of a lost synagogue in London and of three lost churches, including one designed by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire.

‘La Maternité’ is a charity drinking fountain at Royal Exchange that shows a breast-feeding mother with two children, one at her breast. It is difficult to imagine how this fountain caused controversy when it was erected in 1878-1879.

The inscription on the front of the plinth reads:

Erected 1878 at the expense of John Whittaker Ellis Esq Alderman & William Hartridge Esq Deputy, supplemented by a vote in Wardmote.

The inscription continues just above the basin:

Also by donations from The Drapers Company and the Merchant Taylors Company.

There are two smaller inscriptions. One on the right side of the plinth reads:

J Edmeston – Archt 1878.

The name and date on the back of the sculpture read:

Dalou, 1879.

The marble group was carved in 1877 by the French-born sculptor, Aimé-Jules Dalou (1838-1902), and was erected in 1878. However, it was altered by weathering and was replaced by an inferior copy in bronze in 1897.

The fountain and marble group were erected by the Drapers’ Company and the Merchant Taylors’ Company. A number of sources say the fountain commemorates Alderman William Bartman, but it appears to have been erected without the specific intention of commemorating anyone or anything.

However, the depiction of a breast-feeding mother was controversial at the time. A letter in the Globe, headed ‘An arrangement in milk and water’ and referring to the nearby statue of George Peabody, complained: ‘Do you not think, Sir, that propriety demands that Mr Peabody’s chair should be turned, at least until the delicate operation of lacteal sustentation be concluded, or until the Drapers or Merchant Taylors, to whom the young woman and youngsters belong, provide them with the requisite clothing.’

This collection of the three monuments – the fountain, the Reuter sculpture and the Peabody statue – stand on the site of the church of Saint Benet Fink. The church originally stood on Threadneedle Street, but was later rebuilt on this site by Sir Christopher Wren after an earlier church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London.

Saint Benet’s, Saint Bartholomew by the Exchange and Saint Anthony’s Hospital Chapel, were demolished in 1842-1844 to make way for the third, enlarged Royal Exchange and for widening Royal Exchange Avenue.

The churchyard was acquired by Act of Parliament but had a long history, and a 10th century wheel-headed cross was discovered on the site.

The church of Saint Benet Fink originally stood on Threadneedle Street. The church was rebuilt in 1670-1675 by Sir Christopher Wren in after an earlier church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was baptised in Saint Benet Fink on 9 April 1801.

Saint Anthony’s Hospital Chapel was first built as a synagogue in 1231 but became a chapel of the French Hospital in 1243. It was destroyed and rebuilt in 1666.

Demolition to make way for commercial expansion was the fate of many City churches in the economic boom of the Victorian era. These three churches were demolished in 1842-1844 to make way for the new, much expanded Royal Exchange built by Sir William Tite in 1841-1844 and for widening Royal Exchange Avenue. At the same time, the churchyard was acquired by Act of Parliament.

Tite’s Royal Exchange was the third on the site, London’s first Exchange was founded by Sir Thomas Gresham in 1566-1570. The original Renaissance-style building replaced after the Great Fire by a building erected in 1667-1671 that was described as ‘the grandest monument of artisan classicism in the City.’

This second exchange burnt down in 1838 and Tite won the competition for the new Exchange. General trading in the building carried on until 1939 and was then replaced by specialist exchanges. The building has a central courtyard area that was designed by Tite as an open space but covered in 1883.

A paved area to the west end of the Royal Exchange has a number of statues: an equestrian statue of Wellington (1844) designed by Chantrey on a plinth; a War Memorial (1919-1920) by Sir Aston Webb with a sculpture by Alfred Drury; a statue in Cornhill of JH Greathead (1993) by James Butler. This area at the junction of Threadneedle Street and Cornhill was re-landscaped in 1985 with low walls, some planting and seating, cast-iron lamps.

Royal Exchange Square, to the east of the Royal Exchange, is a paved pedestrian piazza beside Royal Exchange Buildings (1906-1910) designed by Sir Ernest George & Yeates.

The sculptures and monuments here include the fountain with Dalou’s bronze figure of a nursing mother set on a granite plinth surrounded by planting, as well as Michael Black’s sculpture of Paul Julius Reuter by Michael Black (1976) and WW Story’s seated figure of the philanthropist George Peabody (1795-1869), erected in 1868).

A drinking fountain commemorating the Jubilee of the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association is at the south end, a copy of one that was stolen and placed here in 1911 but which had originally been where the War Memorial now stands to the west of the Royal Exchange.

This paved area with seating set around flower beds marks the site of the forgotten Wren church.

‘La Maternité’ caused controversy when the breast-feeding mother was unveiled (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

‘They had come to hear him and
to be healed of their diseases’

Inside Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 17 February 2019,

The Third Sunday before Lent.

Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, Co Clare

11.30 a.m.:
The Cathedral Eucharist

Readings: Jeremiah 17: 5-10; Psalm 1; I Corinthians 15: 12-20; Luke 6: 17-26.

‘Power came out of him and he healed them’ (Luke 6: 19) … the chapel in Dr Milley’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

It is good to be back this Cathedral this morning, and to be invited to preach here as the Precentor of the Cathedral.

The Cathedral Chapter in this diocese decided last year that the cathedral canons should preach once a year in either Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, or Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, and that, for their part, the deans of Limerick and Killaloe would preach on those Sundays in the parish churches of the canons.

So, this morning, the Dean of Killaloe [the Very Revd Gary Paulsen] is visiting Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, Co Kerry, and we had breakfast in the Rectory in Askeaton earlier this morning before heading off to each other’s churches.

It is two years since I was installed as Precentor, but this is my first time to preach here as Precentor, although I preached here three years ago [21 February 2016] as a visitor, and I have been back to Killaloe a few times for chapter meetings and similar events.
In other words, it’s a delight to be back here, thank you for your welcome, and I’m sorry you’re losing Gary as Dean and Rector within the next few weeks.

These few weeks before Lent are seen in the Church as a time for preparation, a time to get ready, a time to think and reflect before we move into Lent itself.

Does anyone remember how this Sunday, the Third Sunday before Lent, was once known as Septuagesima?

These Latin names were a reminder that Lent is just around the corner. But, of course, Lent itself is a reminder too that Holy Week and Easter are just around the corner – a reminder to prepare for Good Friday and Easter Day, to get ready for the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

The Epistle reading this morning (I Corinthians 15: 12-20) continues Saint Paul’s reflections on the meaning of faith in the Resurrection, a reminder that our faith is an Easter faith, that the Resurrection is at the very heart of Christian faith.

Our Gospel reading (Luke 6: 17-26), therefore, tells us what this faith should look like to the outsider. We have just listened to Saint Luke’s version of the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ which sets out what our Christian faith, our faith in the Risen Christ, should look like to everyone else.

Saint Luke presents us with a set of contrasts between the two sets of people, although those who first heard this must have been surprised by who fits into which category.

Christ has ascended a mountain to pray. While there, he has chosen twelve of his disciples. Now he descends the mountain as far as a level place. Here he finds a large number of people, including other followers, as well as many Jews (‘people from all Judea and Jerusalem’) and many Gentiles (‘people from … the coast of Tyre and Sidon’). They come to hear and to be healed – they are here in mind and body, expecting their spiritual and their physical needs to be met.

Many are healed, so they realise in their own bodies that they have been restored to their rightful place in the Kingdom of God: those who were once regarded as unclean now have a place in the religious and worshipping community.

Saint Luke then narrates his account of the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (verses 20-26). Here he tells of four beatitudes and four corresponding woes or warnings. It is a form of blessing that we have heard in the psalm (Psalm 1).

The word blessed (Greek μακαριοι, makarioi) also means ‘happy’ or ‘fortunate.’

Some are blessed, happy, fortunate to be included in the Kingdom of God, others are warned of the consequences of their choices in life.

The paired blessings and warnings are:

● to the poor (verse 20), and to the rich (verse 24);
● to the hungry (verse 21), and to the ‘full’ (verse 25a);
● to those who weep (verse 21), and to those are laughing (verse 25);
● to those who are hated, excluded, reviled and defamed (verse 22), and to those who are held in esteem (verse 26).

Saint Luke records the ‘poor’ without any qualification (verse 20), compared with Saint Matthew’s ‘poor in spirit’ (see Matthew 5: 3). In Jewish tradition, the poor and the hungry are not cursed or impure, but are deserving recipients of divine and earthly care (see Deuteronomy 11: 15; Isaiah 49: 10; Jeremiah 31: 25; Ezekiel 34: 29). The poor are to receive the Kingdom of God; the rich have their reward today in their comfortable lifestyles.

Those who are excluded are denied their right to worship in the Temple and in the synagogue. But in the past, the prophets – including Jeremiah – were hated, excluded, reviled and defamed (verse 23), while the people in power spoke well of the false prophets (verse 26; see Jeremiah 5: 31).

Our Gospel reading this morning begins by telling us a large crowd of people came to hear Jesus and to be healed, and that those who were troubled were cured. If the same people came to our churches today – if they came to me as a priest of the church today – would they know from how we behave – from how I behave – that Jesus cares for them, that he seeks to restore them to the fullness of life?

Poverty comes in many forms today. Exclusion and marginalisation are common experiences for many in our society today.

Those who hunger and who weep are not just around us, but among us, in the Church, in our community, in this society.

If you feel you are excluded or marginalised, if you know you are hungry and you are often close to tears, do you feel the rest of us in the Church do enough to see to it that you know you are counted in when it comes to the Church being a a sign of the Kingdom of God?

If you think you are financially secure, that you have enough to eat, if you have plenty of good reason to laugh and be happy, if you know people respect you and treat you properly, do you see the rest of us in the Church as a blessing to you, as an opportunity to share your blessings, to share your joys, to share your Easter faith in the Risen Christ?

In Oscar Wilde’s satirical play, A Woman of No Importance (1893), Lord Illingworth observes wisely: ‘The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.’

In the past, the Church made Lent, and these few weeks before Lent, as a time of gloom and doom, of penitence and of sorrow.

But perhaps we ought to have also stressed that this a time to take stock again, to realign our priorities, so that we can show one another that we truly are looking forward to the Church being a living sign of our faith in the Living, Risen, Christ and in the Kingdom of God.

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

‘They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases’ (Luke 6: 18) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 6: 17-26 (NRSVA):

17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 ‘But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 ‘Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

‘He came down with them and stood … with a great multitude of people from … the coast’ (Luke 6: 17) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who alone can bring order
to the unruly wills and passions of sinful humanity:
Give your people grace
so to love what you command
and to desire what you promise;
that, among the many changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed
where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Merciful Father,
you gave Jesus Christ to be for us the bread of life,
that those who come to him should never hunger.
Draw us to our Lord in faith and love,
that we may eat and drink with him at his table in the kingdom,
where he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.


10, All my hope on God is founded
630, Blessed are the pure in heart
494, Beauty for brokenness
324, God, whose almighty word (Moscow)

‘And all in the crowd were trying to touch him …’ (Luke 6: 19) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Saturday, 16 February 2019

A note in ‘The Irish Times’ today
on Killaloe Cathedral tomorrow

Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The ‘Church of Ireland notes’ on p 22 in The Irish Times today [16 February 2019] includes the following news report:

As part of a programme of exchanges between deans and canons in Limerick and Killaloe, Canon Patrick Comerford will be in St Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, tomorrow (Sunday) and the Dean of Killaloe, the Very Revd Gary Paulsen, will visit the Rathkeale group of parishes. Last year, St Mary’s Cathedral celebrated its 850th anniversary and during the year a Community Awards Scheme was launched. This scheme was created to highlight the “unsung heroes” of Limerick. A special service will be held tomorrow (Sunday) evening at 7 pm to present the winners of the Community Award – the recipients are Sr Delia O’Connor, Mr Paul Carey, Mr Philip Doran, Mr Tom Naughton, Ms Maura O’Neill, and the Bedford Row Project.

Reuter’s statue in London
is a reminder of the need
for journalistic freedoms

The statue of Paul Julius Reuter (1816-1899) at the Royal Exchange in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Tucked away in a small corner in the City of London, close to the statue of George Peabody at Royal Exchange, a fine granite sculpture by the Oxford-based sculptor Michael Black commemorates Paul Julius Reuter, the 19th century pioneer in communications and news delivery.

I stopped to visit this monument earlier this week as I was walking back to Liverpool Street Station from a meeting of trustees of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Paul Julius Baron von Reuter (1816-1899) was a German-born, British entrepreneur who was a pioneer in telegraphy and news reporting, a reporter and media owner, and the founder of Reuters News Agency.

Reuter was born as Israel Beer Josaphat in Kassel on 21 July 1816. His father, Samuel Levi Josaphat, was a rabbi; his mother was Betty Sanders. While he was working in a bank as a young man in Göttingen, he became friends with a local physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss, who was experimenting with the transmission of electrical signals by wire.

Reuter moved to London on 29 October 1845, calling himself Julius Josaphat. In a ceremony in Saint George’s German Lutheran Chapel in London, he converted to Christianity on 16 November 1845, and changed his name to Paul Julius Reuter. A week later, in the same chapel, he married Ida Maria Elizabeth Clementine Magnus from Berlin, the daughter of a German banker.

Back in Germany in 1847, the former bank clerk became a partner in Reuter and Stargardt, a Berlin book-publishing firm. Reuter later became involved in the Revolutions of 1848, challenging the authority of the German Confederation with protests demanding freedom of the press and a national assembly. The distribution of radical pamphlets by the firm at the beginning of the 1848 Revolution may have brought official scrutiny to Reuter.

When the movement was suppressed later that year, Reuter left for Paris and worked in Charles-Louis Havas’s news agency, Agence Havas, now known as Agence France Presse.

In Aachen, Reuter set up an organisation that used carrier pigeons to send messages between Brussels and Aachen. This was before telegram became available, and Reuter had found the missing link to connect Berlin and Paris. The carrier pigeons were much faster than the post train, giving Reuter faster access to news from the Paris stock exchange.

As telegraphy evolved, Reuter founded his own news agency in Aachen, transferring messages between Brussels and Aachen using carrier pigeons and so linking Berlin and Paris. The pigeons were speedier than the post train and gave Reuter faster access to financial news from the Paris stock exchange. Eventually, pigeons were replaced by a direct telegraph link.

A telegraph line was between Britain and Europe was being set up, and so Reuter moved to London, rented an office near the Stock Exchange, and founded the international news organisation that bears his name in No 1 Royal Exchange in the City of London on 19 October 1851.

The Reuters News Agency, which he founded, originally used carrier pigeons to send dispatches. But later, combining journalism with the telegraph, it became a ‘news-wire service,’ using the telegraph to send news stories to subscribing newspapers. Over the following decades, his agency became the leading source for breaking news across Europe, with wire connections to Asia and North and South America.

On Saint Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1857, Reuter became a naturalised British subject. But the Irish connection is more interesting than this. In 1863, he privately erected a telegraph link to Crookhaven, Co Cork, the farthest south-west point in Ireland. When ships from America approached Crookhaven, they threw canisters containing news into the sea. These were retrieved by Reuters and telegraphed directly to London, arriving long before the ships reached Cork.

On 7 September 1871, Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and elder brother of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, gave Reuter the German title of freiherr (baron). Two decades later, in November 1891, Queen Victoria gave Reuter and his male heirs the right to use that German title in Britain as Baron von Reuter.

Reuter died on 25 February 1899 at Villa Reuter in Nice. He was buried in West Norwood Cemetery in south London.

This bust of Paul Julius Reuter near the Royal Exchange in London is next to the Royal Exchange where he founded his Reuters news service. This granite monument set there by Reuters to mark the 125th anniversary of the Reuters Foundation and was unveiled by Edmund L de Rothschild on 18 October 1976.

The words on the front of the sculpture read:

Paul Julius Reuter

Born 1816 Kassel, Germany. Died 1899 Nice, France. Founded the world news organisation that bears his name in No. 1 Royal Exchange Buildings in the City of London, near this site, on 14 October 1851.

On the back of the sculpture, the words read:

The supply of information to the world’s traders in securities, commodities and currencies was then and is now the mainspring of Reuters activities & the guarantee of the founder’s aims of accuracy, rapidity and reliability. News services based on those principles now go to newspapers, radio & television networks & governments throughout the world. Reuters has faithfully continued the work begun here. To attest this & to honour Paul Julius Reuter this memorial was set here by Reuters to mark the 125th anniversary of Reuters Foundation & inaugurated by Edmund L de Rothschild, TD, 18.10.76.

The Reuters News Agency Reuters News Agency has been part of the Thomson Reuters conglomerate since 2008.

At a time when journalistic freedoms are under assault from President Trump and other world leaders, and when ‘Brexit’ is coming to typify isolationism and nationalism, Reuter’s statue was a good reminder this week of one of the key founding figures in modern journalism.

Reuter should be remembered not only for his innovations but as voice that spoke out for civil liberties, human rights and religious freedom, and who understand the need for different voices to speak to one another internationally.

Saint Stephen Walbrook,
a Wren church in the heart
of the City of London

Saint Stephen Walbrook is the heart of the City of London and is listed by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as one of the 10 most important buildings in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During the past few years, I have tried to visit Saint Stephen Walbrook, beside the Mansion House in London. The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner lists it as one of the 10 most important buildings in England.

This is the parish church of the Lord Mayor of London, but it is best-known for its dome by Sir Christopher Wren, the once-controversial altar by the sculptor Henry Moore, and its associations with the founder of the Samaritans, the late Canon Chad Varah.

Last year, when I was in London for a meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), I arrived at this domed church early in the morning before it opened, and late in the afternoon, but on both occasions, it was closed. So it remained high on my ‘must visit’ list until I managed to visit one afternoon this week.

Saint Stephen Walbrook stands on the site of a seventh century Saxon church that was probably built on the foundations of a second or third century temple of Mithras. In this temple, Roman soldiers sought valour and virility in shower-baths of hot blood from slaughtered bulls. But after the recall of the legions to Rome in 410 the building became a quarry.

Saint Stephen Walbrook stands on the site of a seventh century Saxon church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The original Church of Saint Stephen stood on the west side of the Walbrook, a brook or stream running south across the City of London from the City Wall near Moorfields to the Thames. This brook was later concealed in a culvert.

Saint Stephen’s Church is first mentioned around 1096. In 1100, during the reign of Henry I, it was given by one of the king’s courtiers, Eudo, to the monastery of Saint John at Colchester.

The church moved to its present site, on the east side of the Walbrook, in the 15th century. In 1428, Robert Chichely, acting as executor of will of the former Lord Mayor of London, Sir William Stondon, bought a piece of land on the east side of the Walbrook from the Grocers’ Company to build a new, larger church, and presented it to the parish. Several foundation stones were laid on 11 May 1429, and the church was consecrated on 30 April 1439.

This church was 38 metres long long and 20 metres wide, and was considerably larger than the present building. That church also had a memorial to the composer John Dunstaple.

At the east end of the church was Bearbidder Lane, the source of the Great Plague of 1665.

The dome inside Saint Stephen Walbrook, designed by Sir Christopher Wren (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The nearby Church of Saint Benet Sherehog was destroyed in the same fire but was not rebuilt, and instead its parish was united with the parish of Saint Stephen.

The present church was built in 1672-1679 to a design by Sir Christopher Wren, at a cost of £7,692, becoming one of his largest parish churches in London.

The church is rectangular in plan, with a dome and an attached north-west tower. Entry to the church is up a flight of 16 steps, enclosed in a porch attached to the west front.

Wren also designed a porch for the north side of the church. This was never built, and the north door was bricked up in 1685 because it let in offensive smells from the slaughterhouses in the neighbouring Stocks Market. The walls, tower, and internal columns are made of stone, but the dome is of timber and plaster with an external covering of copper.

The 19 metre high dome is based on Wren’s original design for Saint Paul’s Cathedral. It is centred over a square of 12 Corinthian columns. The circular base of the dome is not carried, in the conventional way, by pendentives formed above the arches of the square, but on a circle formed by eight arches that spring from eight of the 12 columns, cutting across each corner in the manner of the Byzantine squinch. This all creates what many believe to be Wren’s finest church interior.

The contemporary carved furnishings of the church, including the altarpiece and Royal Arms, the pulpit and font cover, are attributed to the carpenters Thomas Creecher and Stephen Colledge, and the carvers William Newman and Jonathan Maine.

The 17th century altarpiece is attributed to the carpenters Thomas Creecher and Stephen Colledge, and the carvers William Newman and Jonathan Maine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The spire was added to the square tower in 1713-1715 as were the square urns on the tower balustrade, and may have been designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The design is similar to those of Saint James Garlickhithe and Saint Michael Paternoster. The architect Sir John Vanbrugh was buried in the north aisle of the church. George England provided a new organ in 1760.

The central window in the east wall was bricked up in 1776 to allow for the installation of Benjamin West’s painting, Devout Men Taking Away the Body of Saint Stephen, which was commissioned for the church by the rector, the Revd Thomas Wilson.

Wilson also set up a statue of the radical Whig republican historian, Catharine Macaulay (1731-1791), in the church the following year. Macaulay was still alive and Wilson admired her political ideals, but the statue was removed after protests.

The east window was unblocked and West’s painting was moved to the north wall in 1850 during extensive restorations.

The church suffered some bomb damage during the London Blitz in 1941. It was restored after World War II, was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950, and was rededicated in 1954. The united parishes of Saint Mary Bothaw and Saint Swithin London Stone, which were merged in 1670, were united with Saint Stephen’s in 1954.

The church was closed for structural repairs from 1978 to 1987. Chad Varah’s son, Andrew, built chairs to replace the pews as part of this programme of repairs and reordering.

Henry Moore’s altar in Saint Stephen Walbrook (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

But the greatest great controversy followed the installation of a large circular altar in travertine marble by Henry Moore (1898-1986), commissioned by Varah and his churchwarden, the property developer and art collector Peter Palumbo, later Lord Palumbo and chair of the Arts Council.

This massive white polished stone altar was carved in 1972 and was installed in the centre of the church. Its unusual positioning required the authorisation of a rare judgement of the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved, which granted a retrospective faculty for its installation.

By carving a round altar table with forms cut into the circular sides, Henry Moore suggested that the centre of the church reflected the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, commemorating the sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac as a prefiguring of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and the place for the offering of the Eucharist at the heart of worship. This place was designed for people to gather as a community around the altar where God could be found at the centre.

A circle of brightly coloured kneelers designed by Patrick Heron (1920-1999), was one of Britain’s foremost abstract painters, was added around the altar in 1993.

West’s Devout Men Taking Away the Body of Saint Stephen, which once hung on the north wall, was put into storage following the reordering. This decision was controversial, as the initial removal of the painting was illegal.

In 2013, the church was given permission to sell the painting to a foundation, despite opposition from the London Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, and by the Church of England’s Church Buildings Council. The foundation has since loaned it to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which has undertaken restoration work on the painting.

Saint Stephen Walbrook seen from the garden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The pleasant tree-lined and largely paved raised churchyard is tucked behind Saint Stephen’s, bounded by wall topped with iron railings, with access from Saint Stephen’s Row through ornamental gate flanked by fine stone piers with steps up to churchyard garden. Today the churchyard has seats and modern sculptures.

At one time, a prayer written by the nonjuror, Bishop Thomas Ken (1637-1711), was inscribed on the door of the church:

‘O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship, narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife.

‘Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling-block to children, nor to straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power.

‘God make the door of this house the gateway to thine eternal kingdom.’

The list of rectors includes Henry Pendleton, the ‘Vicar of Bray,’ several divines, one of whom was later sent to the Tower of London, and the Revd Robert Stuart de Courcy Laffan (1853-1927), whose family was born from Dun Laoghaire and who helped Baron Courbetin to revive the Olympic Games.

The Irish poet, novelist, historian and Anglican priest, George Croly, was rector of Saint Stephen Walbrook from 1835 until he died in 1860. His hymns included ‘Spirit of God, descend upon my heart,’ written in 1854:

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart,
wean it from earth, through all its pulses move;
stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art,
and make me love thee as I ought to love.

Charlotte and Anne Brontë visited Saint Stephen’s Walbrook, on their first visit to London, hoping to hear Croly preach, as he was by then a famous author and cleric. Unfortunately, he was absent that Sunday. Croly was buried at Saint Stephen Walbrook, where there are and memorials to him, his wife, daughter and eldest son.

The pulpit and other furnishings are attributed to the carpenters Thomas Creecher and Stephen Colledge, and the carvers William Newman and Jonathan Maine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

But, undoubtedly, the best-known rector of Saint Stephen’s must be Canon Chad Varah (1911-2007), who founded the Samaritans, the world’s first crisis hotline telephone support for people contemplating suicide, in 1953. The first branch of the Samaritans met in the crypt beneath the church. A telephone in a glass box in the church was the first telephone used by the Samaritans.

Canon Edward Chad Varah was born in Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire, on 12 November 1911, the eldest of nine children of Canon William Edward Varah, Vicar of Saint Peter’s. Edward Varah was a strong Tractarian and named his son after Saint Chad of Lichfield. According to the early historian of England, the Venerable Bede, Saint Chad had founded the 7th century monastery ad Bearum, ‘at Barrow,’ that may have stood in an Anglo-Saxon enclosure beside Barton Vicarage.

Chad Varah studied Natural Sciences and then Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Keble College, Oxford, and graduated in 1933. He then moved to Lincoln Theological College, where his lecturers included Michael Ramsey, later Archbishop of Canterbury.

He was ordained deacon in 1935 and priest in 1936. He was a curate at Saint Giles, Lincoln (1935-1938), Saint Mary’s, Putney (1938-1940), and Barrow-in-Furness (1940-1942). He was then Vicar of Holy Trinity, Blackburn (1942) and Saint Paul, Battersea (1949).

The Grocers’ Company offered him the living of Saint Stephen Walbrook in 1953, and he became rector of the Wren church.

Chad Varah supported the ordination of women, but preferred the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. Despite the absence of a permanent congregation, his church remained popular for weddings, and he officiated at the marriage of Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, only daughter of Princess Margaret, to the actor Daniel Chatto in 1994.

He became an Honorary Prebendary (canon) of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in 1975, becoming Senior Prebendary in 1997. He retired in 2003, aged 92, by which time he was the oldest incumbent in the Church of England.

Entry to the church is up a flight of 16 steps, enclosed in a porch attached to the west front (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Varah began to understand the problems facing the suicidal when he was taking a funeral as an assistant curate in 1935, his first church service, for a 14-year-old girl who had taken her own life because she had begun to menstruate and feared that she had a sexually transmitted disease.

Chad Varah also influenced my childhood reading habits because he was also closely associated with founding the comic The Eagle with another Anglican priest, the Revd Marcus Morris, in 1950. He supplemented his income by working as a scriptwriter for The Eagle and its sister publications Girl, Robin and Swift until 1961.

He used his scientific education to be ‘Scientific and Astronautical Consultant,’ as he put it, to Dan Dare. He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1961 with by Eamonn Andrews.

Canon Varah was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Gold Medal in 1972, and became an Honorary Fellow of Keble College in 1981. He held several honorary doctorates, was made OBE in 1969, CBE in 1995, and a Companion of Honour (CH) in 2000, and he also received the Romanian Patriarchal Cross.

When Chad Varah retired at the age of 92 in 2003, he was the oldest serving incumbent in the Church of England. His wife Susan (Whanslaw) was World President of the Mothers’ Union in the 1970s. Chad Varah died on 8 November 2007, four days before his 96th birthday.

Until recently, the rector of Saint Stephen Walbrook was the Revd Jonathan Evens. The Revd Stephen Baxter became the Parish Priest of Saint Stephen Walbrook in March 2018. He was ordained in 2014 and spent 3½ years as curate and then associate vicar of Saint Olave Hart Street and Saint Katharine Cree in the City of London.

Saint Stephen Walbrook is rectangular in plan, with a dome and an attached north-west tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Friday, 15 February 2019

A day of two very different
journeys in East Anglia

Early Spring in the countryside between Broxbourne and Roydon this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Anyone who has missed a train and been left waiting at Limerick Junction, knows how public transport in England is far better.

Despite excuses of ‘leaves on the line,’ complaints about trains that do not run or that overcrowded, and the biting cuts and mismanagement that are consequences of negative Tory attitudes to the needs for public transport, commuter trains and provincial buses still run regularly and are far more reliable than their counterparts in Ireland – with, perhaps, the notable exception of the Luas in Dublin.

But when something goes wrong with public transport, it really goes wrong.

When I am taking part USPG trustee meetings in London, I usually catch the first morning flight from Dublin to Stansted, allowing ample time to get to Liverpool Street Station and to have breakfast long before a meeting begins. I then catch a late flight back from Stansted, leaving me time to network, or to take time off to visit and photograph churches in the London area.

These plans fell apart this week, however.

I thought I was going to catch a train from Stansted to Liverpool Street early on Wednesday morning [13 February 2019]. But I was left sitting on the train for almost an hour and a half. Passengers were told constantly that we would be kept updated. But telling us we would be updated is quite different to being updated practically.

There was an ‘incident’ on the line, somewhere between Stansted and Bishop’s Stortford. After a time, the power was switched off, the train got colder, and we were left in the dark in every sense of the term.

The descriptions and location of the incident varied, but it took an hour and a half before passengers were told buses were available to take passengers to the train station in Broxbourne.

The scramble was unseemly, signs and guidance were not helpful, and the queues for the buses had already lengthened. We must have looked like a scene set up for one of those disgraceful Nigel Farage Brexit referendum posters.

But at least the journey through the Essex and Hertfordshire countryside and villages, and close to the Lea Valley, was pleasant in the warm, early Spring sunshine. I am familiar with Harlow, Roydon, Hoddesdon, Broxbourne and much of this region through attending USPG conferences almost every year at the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon.

It took almost an hour to get to Broxbourne, only to be told that the next train had been cancelled. Eventually I got to Liverpool Street by 12 noon, about 4½ hours after my flight had landed at Stansted.

I finally got to the meeting of USPG trustees at 12.20, in time for the last ten minutes of the morning part of the meeting – without breakfast, but just in time for lunch.

The meeting ended at 3 p.m. Worried that there might have been a knock-on effect on train timetables for the rest of the day, I stopped in the afternoon to see only one Wren church in the city. I had seen Saint Stephen Walbrook, beside the Mansion House, before, and this was my first time inside.

On the way back to Stansted, the trains were on time and the journey back through East Anglia countryside was beautiful in the warm Spring sunshine of mid-February.

When it works well, public transport can bring its joys and its blessings, and – despite Brexit – England remains a ‘green and pleasant land.’

Thursday, 14 February 2019

A boat trip on the River Douro
under the six bridges of Porto

The Dom Luís Bridge was designed by Gustave Eiffel’s collaborator, the German engineer Théophile Seyrig (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Porto is blessed with its imposing architecture and rich cultural heritage, the welcoming people population, the great food and wine – including its Port Wine – and the walks by the River Douro.

During my time in Porto last week, I visited a number of churches and synagogues, museums and towers, restaurants and railway stations, sculptures and music halls, took the cable car by the river and crossed some of the bridges.

On my last day in Porto, I took a riverboat cruise on a rabelo, one of the traditional old boats once used to carry Port Wine from the Douro Valley to the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia. This 50-minute journey offered another view of the city and the river, but also brought me under the famous six bridges of Porto.

The boat brought us by the gardens of the Crystal Palace, the Solar do Vinho do Porto (the Port Wine Institute) and the Hospital of Saint Anthony (Santo António) which reflect the importance and wealth of the city. But we also the cellars, the cold warehouses, a variety of architectural styles, and only turned back at the mouth of the sea, Foz do Douro, before getting to see its beautiful beaches and walks.

These six stunning bridges connect Porto one side of the Douro and Gaia on the other, and no two bridges are alike, so that each bridge has its own story in architecture and engineering.

The Dom Luís Bridge was designed by Gustave Eiffel’s collaborator, the German engineer Théophile Seyrig (1843-1923), although many tour guides try to tell visitors that this is the bridge designed by Eiffel.

The Dom Luís I Bridge is a double-deck metal arch bridge. When it was first built its 172 metres span was the longest of its type in the world. It is often confused with the nearby Maria Pia Bridge, just 1 km to the east.

The Infante Dom Henrique Bridge, launched in 2003, is the last bridge built in Porto (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Infante Dom Henrique Bridge was launched in 2003. This was the last bridge to be built in Porto, and it is a remarkable example of how engineering can present elegant solutions to difficult challenges.

The D. Maria Pia Bridge is a railway bridge designed by Seyrig and Eiffel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The D. Maria Pia Bridge is a beautiful railway bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel and Théophile Seyrig. It is sometimes confused with the Dom Luís bridge, but it was built nine years earlier in 1877.

Most tour guides attribute this bridge to Eiffel, but it is difficult to attribute responsibility for the actual design of the bridge. It is probable that a large part was played by Seyrig, Eiffel’s business partner, who presented a paper on the bridge to the Société des Ingénieurs Civils in 1878. Eiffel, in his account of the bridge, which accompanied the 1:50 scale model exhibited at the 1878 World’s Fair, credited Seyrig, along with Henry de Dion, with work on the calculations and drawings.

The São João Bridge was built in 1991 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The D. Maria Pia Bridge was superseded as a railway in 1991 by the São João Bridge, built just a few meters away.

The São João Bridge was designed by the engineer Professor António Mesquita Cardoso (1913-2000) to replace the Maria Pia Bridge.

The Freixo Bridge, launched in 1995, with the ‘VCI’ road to the left (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Freixo Bridge, behind the São João Bridge, was launched in 1995. A new road called ‘VCI’ surrounds the city between Freixo bridge and Arrábida bridge, and this is the road many visitors travel from the airport into Porto.

The Freixo Bridge was built as an alternative to Arrábida and D. Luis I bridges. It was designed by António Reis and Daniel de Sousa. The bridge has a total length of 705 metres and eight spans.

The Arrábida Bridge is an arch bridge of reinforced concrete, that carries six lanes of traffic over the Douro River. It was also designed by Edgar Cardoso and built in 1957-1963.

The Arrábida Bridge is a superb piece of engineering and it is possible to climb the arch of the Arrábida bridge from the inside – although I am told the view from the top is not spectacular.

It is possible to climb the arch of the Arrábida bridge from the inside (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Casa da Música in
Porto is a masterpiece
in modern architecture

The Casa da Música is a spectacular, multifaceted building at the top of Avenida de Boavista (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I had lunch one afternoon last week in the Casa da Música (the House of Music) in Porto. This spectacular, multifaceted building at the top of Avenida de Boavista is a masterpiece in modern architecture by the innovative Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

The Casa da Música was planned as part of Porto’s celebration as the European Capital of Culture in 2001. It was designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, in association with the Porto Office of Metropolitan Architecture, the scene agency Ducks scéno, the acoustic designer Renz Van Luxemburg and AFA. The building engineers were AFA Arup Group (London) and Afassociados (Porto).

The building is one of the outstanding works of the Dutch architect Remment Lucas ‘Rem’ Koolhaas, one of the most important architectural thinkers of this generation. Born in 1944, he studied architecture in London and at Cornell University and is Professor in the Practice of Architecture and Urban Design at Harvard. He received the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 2000 and Time magazine has listed him among the top 100 of the ‘World’s Most Influential People.’

The Casa da Música was designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The interiors of the Casa da Música were designed by Inside Outside (Petra Blaisse). They include 13 large surfaces, ranging from 22 by 15 metres to 65 by 8 metres, with a gold leaf wood grain pattern in the large auditorium.

Because of its unusual configuration, the building was a challenge to the engineers and builders. Building work took four years and the project ran over schedule, so that building was not completed until 2005 – four years after Porto had celebrated being the European Capital of Culture. The final cost was over €100 million.

The Casa da Música finally opened on 14 April 2005, with performances by Clã and Lou Reed. The official inauguration took place the next day in the presence of the Portuguese President, Prime Minister and other prominent public figures, with a concert by the Orquestra Nacional do Porto.

Immediately, the Casa da Música became a city icon. With a 1,300-seat auditorium suffused with daylight, it is the only concert hall in the world with two walls made entirely of glass.

The Casa da Música is the only concert hall in the world with two walls made entirely of glass (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The building stands on its own in a paved square, between two main traffic routes at the Boavista roundabout, where many of Porto’s roads and avenues converge. Nearby, the Praça Mouzinho de Albuquerque is a large green space with many trees and the monument to the Heroes of the Peninsular War who liberated Portugal from Napoleon’s occupying forces.

This innovative building is composed of an asymmetrical polyhedron that extends over nine floors. The building is covered in plaques of white cement, cut by large undulated or plane glass windows. The principal entrance and its staircase face onto Avenida da Boavista. The building is surrounded by a yellow marble pavement with a hint of brown, giving interesting and added dimension and beauty to the building and the neighbourhood.

There are two main auditoriums inside. But the Casa da Música is designed so that many other spaces can be adapted for concerts and other cultural activities, such as workshops, recitals and educational visits.

At the heart of the building, the large 1,100 square metres rectangular auditorium, the Sala Suggia, is named as a tribute to the great Portuguese cellist Guilhermina de Medhin Suggia (1885-1950).

This space includes a sloped arena with seating for 1,238 and flexibility to vary the space, as well as two balconies. The glazed windows give a visual connection to the public spaces outside. The spaces are decorated predominantly in gold and silver tones.

There are many open spaces throughout the building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The smaller auditorium on the fifth floor is a highly flexible space. This 320 square metre area can hold audiences of 300 seated and 600 standing, depending on the event, the location of the stage, and the size of equipment.

Throughout the building, there are many other open spaces for artistic, cultural and musical events. The Cybermúsica Hall, a 156 square metres space on the fourth floor, is used for innovative educational projects. Its ceiling and walls lined with pyramidal volumes.

The Renaissance Hall on the fifth floor is covered in decorative blue, green and white azulejos. There are also purple and orange halls on the fifth floor for children’s events.

The VIP hall on the sixth floor is a multi-functional space for small groups. The walls and ceilings are covered in azulejo panels, replicas of many hand-painted tiles typical of churches, public buildings and museums across Portugal.

The area on the seventh floor is divided into platforms that are raised to the top, in glass, transformed into a terrace, with views out to the sea. It is used for book launches, press conferences, public presentations and receptions.

The roof-top restaurant and terrace is placed within two of the polyhedron’s vertices. Here an esplanade offers views across Boavista and the city of Porto. The restaurant has direct access to the main auditorium and is lit through an elaborate light that included hundreds of bottles of pommery champagne. In the original plan, the restaurant would seat 250 people, but this has been scaled back to 50.

The building also has smaller halls of different sizes in the sub-basement used for training and group activities.

The building is surrounded by a yellow marble pavement with a hint of brown that adds an interesting an dimension to area (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The design of the Casa da Música has been acclaimed worldwide. Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic of the New York Times, said it is the ‘most attractive project’ Koolhaas ‘has ever built.’

He has described it as ‘a building whose intellectual ardour is matched by its sensual beauty.’ He adds, ‘Only looking into the original aspect of the building, this is one of the most important concert halls built in the last 100 years.’

Today, the Casa da Música is home to the Fundação Casa da Música, and to three orchestras: Orquestra Nacional do Porto (Porto National Orchestra), Orquestra Barroca (Baroque Orchestra) and Remix Ensemble.

The Casa da Música is ‘a building whose intellectual ardour is matched by its sensual beauty’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

São Bento station in Porto
is one of the world’s most
beautiful train stations

The São Bento Railway Station in Porto is one of the most beautiful train stations in the world (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The São Bento Railway Station is not only the main railway station in Porto, but is also regarded by many as one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. Its façade is a well-known landmark in Portugal, and its interior decoration is one of the country’s great works of art.

The station stands in the centre of Porto, on a site between the Praça Almeida Garrett, Rua da Madeira and Rua do Loureiro, as well as the escarpment of Batalha, where a tunnel was carved into the hill.

The station is named after Saint Benedict because it stands on the site of the Benedictine Convent of São Bento da Avé Maria, built by King Manuel I of Portugal in 1518. The monastery was burnt in a fire in 1783 and later rebuilt, but it was in a state of great disrepair by the end of the 19th century.

A railway station was planned for central Porto as early as 1864, but the plans were not presented until 1887. The station was designed by the Porto architect José Marques da Silva (1869-1947), whose design was strongly influenced by French Beaux-Arts architecture.

Work on the tunnel lasted from 1890 to 1893, and the first train arrived at São Bento in 1896, but a landslide in 1897 blocked the opening of a tunnel on the south edge of the station site. The tunnel was completed in 1898, the new station was built in 1900-1916, and the station was opened officially in 1916.

The symmetrical, three-storey, granite building has a U-shaped plan, with its main façade facing south-west.

The tiles on the north wall depict the Battle of Arcos de Valdevez (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The station’s forecourt is covered with 20,000 painted tiles in the Portuguese tradition of blue and white azulejo tiles. They date from 1905-1916 and were designed by the Portuguese painter Jorge Colaço (1868-1942).

Colaço was born in Tangier, the son of a Portuguese diplomat, and studied art in Lisbon, Madrid and Paris. Although he was a canvas painter and caricaturist, he specialised in designing and painting azulejo panels to decorate large surfaces. His designs had a late Romantic taste, celebrating the achievements of Portuguese history.

Along with historical themes, he also produced ethnographic and landscape scenes. His other important works include tile panels in the Palace Hotel, Bussaco (1907), the Sports Pavilion at Eduardo VII Park, Lisbon (1922), and the façade of the Church of Saint Ildefonso, Porto (1932).

His 20,000 blue and white azulejo tiles in the forecourt of São Bento present major events in the history of Portugal and they are integrated into the design of the building with frames in granite that decorate the lines of the atrium.

The scene to the left of the entrance, on the north wall, depicts the Battle of Arcos de Valdevez (1140), with two opposing groups and other knights in the background.

Below, another composition depicts the meeting at Toledo in the 12th century between Egas Moniz and Alfonso VII of León, offering his life and the lives of his wife and his sons after Egas Moniz felt humiliated when he failed to negotiate a Portuguese surrender. Alfonso finally recognised Portugal’s independence at the Treaty of Zamora in 1143.

The tiles on the south wall depict the arrival of King João I and Princess Philippa of Lancaster for their wedding in Porto (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

To the right on the south wall, the tiles depict the arrival of King João I in Porto with his fiancé, Princess Philippa of Lancaster, to celebrate their wedding in the Sé or Cathedral in Porto in 1387.

Below is a depiction of the Conquest of Ceuta in 1415, when the Infante Dom Henrique defeated the Moors.

The upper part of the frieze is lined with azulejos depicting a chronology of different types of transport in Portugal, including the transportation of Port Wine in a Barco Rabelo on the River Douro.

The lower and upper frame of the frieze consists of a line of tiles in blue, browns and yellow in stylised geometric patterns.

The wall into the station is divided into multiple compositions. To the left, a vision of the procession of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios in Lamego, an exhaustive description and detail showing crowds in an urban setting. Under this composition are two panels that represent her promise and a miraculous fountain.

The lower panels show a picture of a cattle fair and pilgrim camp. The central panels of the wall represent four work scenes: the vineyards, the harvest, the wine shipment down the Douro and work in the watermill. There are similar presentations on the pilasters.

Above these are medallions depicting romantic scenes and, below, allegories associated with the railway referencing time and signalling, in an expression of contemporary Art Deco.

São Bento is the main terminus of Porto’s suburban lines and the western terminus for the scenic Douro line between Porto and Pocinho. The station was listed as a heritage site in 1988.

São Bento station was listed as a heritage site in 1988 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The tower and church of
Clérigos are Baroque
masterpieces in Porto

The Torre dos Clérigos at the Igrejo dos Clérigos is one of the landmark sights in Porto (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

One of the best-known and most visited churches in Porto must be the Clérigos Church (Igreja dos Clérigos) or the Church of the Clergy. But it is visited mainly not because it is a beautiful Baroque church in Porto, but because of its tall bell tower, the Torre dos Clérigos, which dominates the city skyline and which is one of the best-known symbols of Porto.

The church was built for the Brotherhood of the Clérigos (Clergy) by Nicolau Nasoni, an Italian architect and painter who left an extensive corpus of work in northern Portugal in the 18th century. He came to Porto in 1725 to work on the Sé or cathedral, and his works in Porto include the façade of thed Misericórida Church, the Archbishop’s Palace and the loggia on the north side of the cathedral.

The 18th century complex at Clérigos was commissioned by the Brotherhood of the Clérigos, founded to offer support to poor priests in Porto. It was built in the old town, on the ‘hill of the hanged men,’ where executed prisoners were once buried.

The Igrejo dos Clérigos was designed by the Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni and built in 1732-1750 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Work on building the Clérigos Church began in 1732 and was finished in 1750. This is one of the first baroque churches built in Portugal with a baroque elliptic floorplan. The bell tower and the monumental stairway in front of the church were completed in 1763.

The main façade of the church is heavily decorated with baroque motifs, such as garlands and shells, and an indented broken pediment. This is based on an early 17th-century Roman scheme. The central frieze above the windows presents symbols of worship and an incense boat. The sides of the church follow the elliptical floorplan of the interior.

Inside the Igrejo dos Clérigos in Porto (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The main altarpiece in the church is made of polychrome marble and is the work of Manuel dos Santos Porto.

The two organs in the church are adorned with luxurious floral gold carving. These organs, now over 200 years, are still in use each day with a free 20-minute live concert at noon.

Clérigos was a personal commitment for Nasoni, who worked on the building without charge, and he saw it as his masterpiece. He later joined the Clérigos Brotherhood and at his own request he was buried in the crypt of the Clérigos Church, although the exact place of his burial is no longer known.

The high altar and twin organs in the Igrejo dos Clérigos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The monumental tower attached to the church was built in 1754-1763 and dominates the skyline of the city. The baroque decoration of the tower also shows the influence of Roman Baroque, and its design was inspired by Tuscan campaniles.

For many years the Torre dos Clérigos was the highest tower in Portugal, and it served several roles during its history. During the 19th century, a mechanism known as Meridiana fired a mortar from the tower to announce to the people of Porto when it was 12 noon, allowing merchants to break for lunch. It served also as an orientation mark for vessels in the Douro estuary.

The tower is 75.6 metres and six floors high, with a climb of 240 steps up its stone spiral staircase to the top. It takes more patience than effort, with many visitors ascending and descending all at the same time.

The first stop is on the fourth floor, where a special curved room, lined in dark brown cork, has touch screens with real time images of the outside view from above, and a room with a chronology that highlights the influence of Nicolau Nasoni on Baroque architecture in the Porto region.

A circular balcony around the tower provides views of the city below, including the Lello bookshop.

At the top of the tower, 49 bells form a large carillon, programmed to play twice a day at 12 noon and 6 p.m. It is connected to two atomic clocks – one in England, and one in Germany – that guarantee its precision and accuracy.

There too the tower offers a clear view across the city and the river and out to the Atlantic. At night, especially during summer, the tower offers a unique Clérigos fora d’horas (‘after hours’) programme, with spectacular views across the city.

A view down Rua 31 de Janeiro from the steps in front of Igrejo dos Clérigos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)