Friday, 15 November 2019

Celebrating the feast of
Saint Laurence O’Toole
in Christ Church Cathedral

Saint Laurence O’Toole … an image in stained glass in the north transept in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

It was good to be back in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, last night [14 November 2019] as a guest at the Festal Choral Evensong celebrating the Feast of Saint Laurence O’Toole, patron saint of Dublin.

Saint Laurence O’Toole left Ireland in 1180 to travel to Normandy, but became ill and died on 14 November 1180.

After his canonisation, some of his relics were returned to Dublin, and they remained in Christ Church Cathedral until the Reformation.

His heart had been on display in Saint Laud’s Chapel in the cathedral until it was stolen in 2012. The heart was recovered by the Garda Síochána last year [2018] after years of investigation and now rests in the North Transept. And so, it was appropriate that one of the lessons was read by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris.

The heart of Saint Laurence O’Toole has been returned to Christ Church Cathedral, and now rests in the North Transept (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

I was present at last night’s service as Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and as a former canon of Christ Church Cathedral. Also there last night was the Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, the Very Revd Dr William Morton.

The prayers were led by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, and the preacher was the Dean of Christ Church, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne.

The service was sung by the choirs of Christ Church Cathedral. Before and after the service, piper Mark Redmond played a number of pieces of traditional Irish music, including Laurence O’Toole, King of the Blind from the Neal Collection, Christ Church Yard (1728), and traditional Irish melodies arranged by David Bremner.

Adrienne Lord’s icon of Saint Laurence O’Toole in the North Transept (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Other former and present chapter members present included my former colleague, the Revd Canon Professor Maurice Elliott, Director of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, the Ven Neill O’Raw, Archdeacon of Glendalough, and Canon Robert Deane.

After the reception in the cathedral crypt, I spent some time admiring the new icons by Adrienne Lord in the North Transept, where Saint Laurence O’Toole’s heart is now displayed.

These icons include three of the Crucifixion and one of Saint Laurence O’Toole.

Adrienne Lord’s icons of the Crucifixion in the North Transept (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Members of the Order of Saint Lazarus at last night’s service in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Tales of the Viennese Jews:
1, the chief rabbi and
a French artist’s ‘pogrom’

Edgar Degas, General Millinet and Chief Rabbi Astruc (1871), oil on canvas, Community of Géradmer, France (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Tales from the Vienna Woods is a waltz written by the composer Johann Strauss II (1825-1899) just over a century and a half ago, in 1868.

Strauss, whose other works include The Blue Danube and the Kaiser-Walzer, was baptised in the Roman Catholic Church. But he was born into a prominent Jewish family. Because the Nazis had a particular penchant for Strauss’s music, which they regarded as typically German, they tried to conceal and even deny the Jewish identity of the Strauss family.

However, the stories of Vienna’s Jews cannot be hidden, and many of those stories from Vienna are told in the exhibits in the Jewish Museum in its two locations, at the Palais Eskeles on Dorotheergasse and in the Misrachi-Haus in Judenplatz.

Rather than describe both museums in detail in one or two blog postings, I have decided over the next few days or weeks to re-tell some of these stories, celebrating a culture and a community whose stories should never be forgotten.

One of the exhibitions in the Jewish Museum on Dorotheergasse is a double portrait by the French painter Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and General Anne Francois Millinet (1768-1852) and Chief Rabbi Astruc. Although neither of these subjects is from Vienna, this painting, in oil on canvas, dates from 1871 and is currently on loan to the museum in Vienna from the Community of Géradmer in France.

The artist Edgar Degas (born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas) is known for his paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. He is especially identified with the subject of dance, and more than half of his works depict dancers.

Degas is seen as one of the founders of Impressionism, although he rejected the term, preferring to be called a realist. He was particularly masterly in depicting movement, as can be seen in his paintings of dancers, racecourse subjects and female nudes. His portraits are also known for their psychological complexity and for their portrayal of human isolation.

At the start of his career, Degas had many Jewish friends and patrons, including Charles Ephrussi, whose extended family is the subject of a major exhibition on one floor of the museum.

The double portrait by Degas of General Millinet and Chief Rabbi Astruc was painted during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871. Later, during the ‘Dreyfus Affair’ (1894-1906), Degas became a fanatical anti-Semite and vocal opponent of Captain Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935), the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice and hysterical public anti-Semitism.

This vitriolic antisemitism provides some of the background for the forceful response to the portrait by Chief Rabbi Astruc’s son, the journalist and theatre director Gabriel Astruc. He saw the double portrait of his father and the general as an anti-Semitic travesty.

‘Degas, whose anti-Semitism has made him colour-blind, has destroyed his wonderful model by replacing his small thin mouth by thick sensuous lips and transforming his sensitive and warm regard into an expression of greed,’ Gabriel Astruc wrote. ‘This work is not art, it’s a pogrom.’

A photograph of Chief Rabbi Astruc in the exhibition serves to illustrate how his son’s response is justified.

Élie-Aristide Astruc (1831-1905) was a French rabbi and author. He was born in Bordeaux on 12 November 1831, and went to school in Bordeaux before studying at the French rabbinical college in Metz.

He was appointed assistant to the Chief Rabbi of Paris in 1857, and he became the chaplain of the Paris Lyceums of Louis le Grand, Vanves, and Chaptal.

Astruc was one of the six founders of the Alliance Israélite Universelle in 1860, and in 1865 he was the delegate from Bayonne at the convention to nominate the Chief Rabbi of France.

When he was elected the Chief Rabbi of Belgium in 1866, a special decree from the Emperor Napoleon III allowed him to remain a French citizen while he held that office.

During the Franco-Prussian war (1870-1871), Astruc distinguished himself both as a French patriot and as a Jewish minister. He was a member of the comité du pain, whose chairman, the Comte de Mérode, leader of the Belgian Catholic party, cared for the wounded. As secretary of the ‘Belgian committee for the liberation of the territory (Alsace and Lorraine),’ Astruc revisited Metz for the first time in 20 years.

Astruc resigned as Chief Rabbi of Belgium in 1879. Before leaving Belgium, the King of the Belgians made him a Knight of the Order of Leopold. Back in France, he was Chief Rabbi of Bayonne from 1887 to 1891, when he retired.

In the pulpit, Astruc expressed independent but moderate views, proclaiming his moral convictions and his attachment to the Jewish faith.

Astruc was a successful writer. His first work was a French metrical translation of the principal liturgical poems of the Sephardic ritual, Olelot Eliahu, Elia's Gleanings) (1865). His small book Histoire Abrégée des Juifs et de Leurs Croyances (1869) caused a sensation. As Astruc said, he wished ‘to separate the kernel from its shell,’ or to disengage the great ideas of Judaism from egendary traditions.

His more important sermons were published as Entretiens sur le Judaisme (1879). His Origines et Causes Historiques de l’Anti-Sémitisme (1884) was translated into German and Hungarian.

He contributed to many reviews, including the Revue de Belgique, Revue de Pédagogie, and the Nouvelle Revue, often seeking to correct non-Jews and their views of Jewish history and beliefs.

He died in Brussels on 23 February 1905 at the age of 73.

A photograph of Élie-Aristide Astruc at the end of the 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Thursday, 14 November 2019

The lost synagogues of
the Sephardic Jewish
community in Vienna

A 19th century silk Torah mantle and a Megillat Esther or Esther Scroll from the lost Sephardic synagogue in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

One of the many synagogues lost during the horrors of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust following the Nazi annexation of Austria was the Sephardic synagogue in Vienna. With it, the story of the Sephardic community in Vienna and their unique traditions were destroyed.

However, some of this community has been recovered and is retold in the exhibitions in the Jewish Museum in the Palais Eskeles on Dorotheergasse in Vienna. This story illustrates the diversity of the Jewish community in the Habsburg empire and also shows how changing circumstances, both political and social, offer opportunities and challenges.

The Ottoman Empire twice laid siege to Vienna, in 1528 and again in 1683. The defeat of the Turks in 1683 was an enormous, strategic setback for the Ottoman Empire, and its most disastrous defeat since its foundation four centuries earlier in 1299.

The Turkish defeat at Vienna became a turning point in history, and the Ottoman Turks ceased to be a threat to western Europe. In the war that continued until 1699, the Ottomans lost almost all of Hungary and Transylvania to the Habsburg Empire.

The Treaty of Passarowitz, signed at the end of Austro-Turkish war of 1716-1718 and the end of the Venetian-Turkish war of 1716-1718, marked the end of Ottoman westward expansion. The treaty gave Austria commercial privileges in the Ottoman Empire, and allowed some Ottoman subjects to settle and conduct business from then on in the lands of the Habsburg monarchs.

Although there was another war between Habsburg Austria and Ottoman Turkey that came to an end with the Treat of Belgrade in 1739, the provisions of the Treaty of Passarowitz allowed a group of Sephardic Jews from the Ottoman Turkish lands to settle in Vienna.

As subjects of the Sultan, these Sephardic Jews were allowed to establish a legally recognised community in Vienna in the mid-18th century and they were permitted to build their own synagogue.

Paradoxically, the same right was denied to the Ashkenazi Jews from Central and East Europe who were living in Vienna. It was the misfortune of these Ashkenazi Jews in Vienna to be subjects of the Habsburg Empire. Until Joseph II issued an edict of toleration in 1782, they were not allowed to build their own synagogues, and many of them must have found it attractive to seek ‘Turkish papers.’

The Sephardic community in Vienna was established in the early 18th century by a group of Ottoman families led by Diego d’Aguillar. Many were the descendants of Sephardic families expelled from Spain and Portugal under the Inquisition in the 15th century; others were descended from families that had once lived in Italy; and in many cases they had fled cities and islands in Greece that the Venetians were forced to cede to the Ottomans under the terms of the treaty in 1718, such as Crete and the Peleponese.

Two Ottoman-style finials for Torah scrolls survive from that time. They came from Jerusalem, which was part of the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century. Although it is not known when the Torah scrolls came to Vienna, the inscriptions on the finials say, ‘Jerusalem 1741.’

A silk Torah mantle from the 19th century and a Megillat Esther or Esther Scroll made in Vienna in 1844 also survive from the Sephardic community and are on display in the Jewish Museum.

Inside the ‘Turkish Temple,’ after a watercolour by Franz Reinhold (1890)

The first reference to a prayer house of the Turkish-Jewish or Sephardic community in Vienna is in 1778, although its location is unknown. The Sephardic prayer house on Upper Danube Street was destroyed by fire in 1824, and the community moved to the Great Mohrengasse.

As membership increased sharply, the community bought a plot of land at Fuhrmanngasse (today Zirkusgasse) 22 and began building a new prayer house that opened in 1868. However, major building defects soon appeared, and the building was demolished.

An elegant Sephardic synagogue in the Moorish Revival style inspired by the Alhambra in Spain. It was known as the ‘Turkish Temple,’ was built by the architect Hugo von Wiedenfeld (1852-1925) at Zirkusgasse in the Leopoldstadt district, between 1885 and 1887.

The synagogue was built between several neighbouring houses so that the entrance could only be reached through an atrium or vestibule. The main, square prayer room had an octagonal dome that was 12 metres high. This was supported by 17-metre high walls and was illuminated by skylights and lanterns.

The Aron ha-Kodesh or Holy Ark for the Torah scrolls, like most of the interior, was covered with marble or stucco, decorated and in gold or other colours. At the opposite end was the organ loft.

The prayer room had 314 seats on the ground floor, and galleries on three sides could accommodated another 360 people, with 250 standing spaces and 110 seats. In addition, a winter room on the first floor had 105 seats.

With new laws regulating the Jewish community in 1890, the Turkish Jewish community lost its independence and was to be incorporated into the larger Jewish community. After long negotiations, however, the Sephardic community was granted a degree of autonomy.

Rabbi Michael Papo from Sarajevo served the synagogue as a rabbi until 1918. After him, this position remained virtually vacant, and his son Manfred Papo served as a rabbi in the ‘Turkish Temple’ only sporadically. On the other hand, after World War I, Cantor Isidor Lewit, who created his own singing style based on Turkish-Sephardic melodies, made a significant contribution to the synagogue and community life.

It is said there there were 94 synagogues and prayer houses in Vienna before the Nazis moved into Austria in 1938. The Sephardic synagogue at Zirkusgasse, like all other synagogues in Vienna – with the sole exception of the Stadttempel on Seitenstettengasse, built in 1824-1826 – was destroyed during the Holocaust.

Fifty years after the ‘Turkish Temple’ was destroyed in November 1938, the City of Vienna erected a commemorative plaque in 1988 to remember the Sephardic synagogue.

Two Ottoman-style Torah finials Jerusalem … once in the Sephardic synagogue in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

This morning: The Stadttempel or City Synagogue at Seitenstettengasse 4, Vienna

How the main synagogue
in Vienna survived the
Nazis and Kristallnact

The main building of the Jewish community in Vienna, housing the Stadttempel or City Synagogue at Seitenstettengasse 4 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Stadttempel or City Synagogue on Seitenstettengasse in the Innere Stadt 1 district is the main synagogue in Vienna. It is the only synagogue in the Austrian capital to have survive World War II, when the Nazis destroyed all the other 93 synagogues and Jewish prayer-houses in Vienna.

Despite two major expulsions in the Middle Ages, Jews continued to settle in the city. In 1624, Jews were granted a new neighbourhood in Vienna. The Unter Werd was located along Taborstrasse in present-day Leopoldstadt, on the other side of the Danube.

A new synagogue was built there on the site where the Leopoldskirche church stands today. The Unter Werd ghetto, which included 132 houses, offered the Jews a certain amount of protection until it was destroyed and its residents were exiled in 1670.

With Joseph II issued an edict of tolerance in 1782, Jews settled in Vienna once again.

A new synagogue designed by the Viennese architect Josef Kornhäusel (1782-1860) was built on Seitenstettengasse in 1824-1826, marking the Jewish community’s effective return to the historical centre of Jewish life in Vienna in the Middle Ages.

The synagogue was designed by Josef Kornhäusl and built in 1824-1826 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The synagogue was designed in the elegant Biedermeier style by Kornhäusel, who had built palaces, theatres and other buildings for Prince Johann I Joseph of Liechtenstein. The construction was supervised by the official municipal architect, Jacob Heinz.
When the synagogue was built, it was fitted into a block of houses and hidden from plain view of the street. An edict from Emperor Joseph II decreed that only Roman Catholic places of worship were allowed to be built with façades that faced directly onto the city streets.

Two five-storey apartment blocks were built at No 2 and No 4 Seitenstettengasse at the same time, designed by the architect to screen the synagogue from the street in compliance with the Patent of Toleration.

The synagogue is in the form of an oval. A ring of 12 Ionic columns support a two-tiered women’s gallery. Originally, the galleries ended one column away from the Aron ha-Kodesh or Holy Ark holding the Torah scroll. They were later extended to the columns beside the ark to provide more seating. The building is domed and lit by a lantern in the centre of the dome, in classic Biedermeyer style.

At the consecration of the synagogue on 9 April 1826, the cantor, Solomon Sulzer, sang an arrangement of Psalms 92 written by the composer Franz Schubert.

At the time, the synagogue was considered one of the city’s most innovative buildings and it became a model for other synagogue buildings in western Europe. It became the first official Ashkenazi communal synagogue, and the prayers were conducted according to the Reform liturgy.

The Hebrew inscription from Psalm 100 at the entrance to the Stadttempel on Seitenstettengasse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Hebrew inscription at the entrance reads: ‘Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise’ (Psalm 100: 4).

Around the oval main prayer hall were 12 Ionic columns support a two-tiered women’s gallery with partitions. The ceiling was painted sky-blue with golden stars. The Bimah was at the east side of the hall and opposite it, stood the double-level Aron ha-Kodesh or Holy Ark, a splendid architectural essay in the Baroque style. On top are the Tablets of the Law within a golden sunburst. br />
A commemorative glass made at the time of the synagogue’s dedication and etched with a detailed image of the interior is now in the collection of the Jewish Museum in New York.

The synagogue was renovated in 1895 and again in 1904 by the Jewish architect Wilhelm Stiassny, adding considerable ornamentation. But the architectural historian Rachel Wischnitzer believes ‘the serene harmony of the design was spoiled.’

Before World War II, Vienna had more than 100 prayer houses, 60 synagogues and a Jewish population of about 200,000, making it one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe.

The design and construction that saved the Stadttempel that saved it on Kriistallnacht is explained in an exhibition in the Jewish Museum in the Palais Eskeles on Dorotheergasse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

This edict of Joseph II saved the synagogue from total destruction on Kristallnacht, 9-10 November 1938, because the synagogue could not be destroyed without setting on fire the buildings to which it was attached. The Hotel Metropol, 150 meters away, was the Nazi headquarters in Vienna, and they did not want a fire to spread there.

In 1938, the Nazis also closed the Jewish Museum in Vienna, which opened in 1895 and was the first Jewish museum in Europe and sent the collection of 6,000 items to different museums.

After World War II, the Stadttempel was the only synagogue in Vienna that had not been destroyed during Kristallnacht, and a small but active Jewish community re-established itself in Vienna in 1945.

The first post-war service was held in the Stadttempel in Autumn 1946, before any restoration began on the looted and defaced building. This service, commemorating the 120th anniversary of the synagogue and marking its re-dedication, was attended by cabinet ministers.

The damage inflicted on Kristallnacht and by the Nazis was repaired in 1949. That year, the coffins of Theodor Herzl and his parents were displayed at the synagogue, before they were taken to Israel for burial.

The Stadttempel was renovated again in 1963 by Professor Otto Niedermoser, with the City of Vienna providing funds for the restoration.

A mezuzah at a door in the Stadttempel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Today, the synagogue is an historic monument. The interior has a sky blue, star-speckled dome overhead. The gilded beams, white and ivory curtain in the women’s section and the ovoid shape have led one visitor to say it made ‘me feel as though I were inside a priceless Faberge egg.’

Two people at a bar mitzvah ceremony were murdered in 1981 and 30 more when injured when terrorists attacked the synagogue with machine guns and hand grenades.

Another synagogue, the Leopoldstädter Temple, was built in 1858, across the Danube not far from where the Unter Werd ghetto once stood. This attracted Jewish settlers to the district, later called Mazzesinsel, or ‘Matzoh Island.’

But very few Viennese Jews returned to Vienna after World War II. Many Jews who left the Soviet Union in the 1970s and could not adapt to life in Israel made Vienna their home. Today the Jewish population of Vienna is comprised mostly of Russians and immigrants.

Since the 1980s and 1990s, the Jewish community has once again concentrated its activity in the two historical neighbourhoods. The Jewish community in Vienna has 7,000 members and is slowly growing, but the number of Jews living in the city is far higher, with estimates ranging from 10,000 to 12,000 and even up to 15,000.

The complex at Seitenstettengasse houses the Stadttempel, the only surviving synagogue from World War II and also the offices of the Vienna Jewish Community, the Chief Rabbi of Vienna, the editorial offices of the community newspaper Die Gemeinde (The Community), the Jewish community centre, the Library of the Jewish Museum and a kosher restaurant.

The other synagogues and prayer halls include: Agudas Israel, Grünangergasse; Agudas Yeshurun, Rabensteig; Misrachi, Judenplatz; Agudas Israel, Tempelgasse; Beth Aharon, Rabbiner-Schneerson-Platz; Beth Hamidrash Tora Etz Chayim, Grosse Schiffgasse; Machsike Hadass, Grosse Mohrengasse; Or Chadash, Robertgasse; Ohel Moshe, Lilienbrunngasse; Sephardic Centre, Tempelgasse; and Blumauergasse Synagogue. They serve a variety of traditions, including Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Reform and Chassidic Jews.

A plaque recalls the attack on the synagogue in 1981 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Yesterday: The mediaeval Or-Sarua Synagogue in Vienna

This evening: The lost Sephardic synagogues of Vienna.

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Or-Sarua Synagogue in
Vienna, once the largest
mediaeval synagogue

The excavations of Vienna’s mediaeval Or-Sarua Synagogue at the Jewish Museum in the Misrachi-Haus on Judenplatz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

When Rachel Whiteread’s Holocaust Memorial was being planned in Vienna, archaeological excavations in the Judenplatz in 1995-1998 uncovered the site and remains of one of the largest-known mediaeval synagogues, dating back to the mid-13th century.

The archaeological investigation in the Judenplatz, in the heart of the early Jewish ghetto, uncovered the Or-Sarua synagogue, where 300 Jews died by suicide during a pogrom in 1421. Another 200 people were murdered.

Jews have been living in Austria since at least the third century. In 2008, archaeologists found a third-century CE amulet in the form of a gold scroll inscribed with the words of the Shema in the grave of a Jewish infant in Halbturn. This is the earliest surviving evidence of a Jewish presence in what is now Austria.

Jews first began settling in Vienna around 1150 in the area that later became Judenplatz, coinciding with the rise of the Babenberg dynasty, who ruled Vienna until they were succeeded by the Habsburgs.

The first written record of a Jew living in Vienna is of Shlom, who was the mint master of the Babenberg ruler, Duke Leopold V, in 1190. However, there may not have been an independent Jewish community in Vienna, with its own synagogue and cemetery, until the early 13th century.

This part of Vienna was first known as Schulhof, a name that appears in 1294 and continues until the pogrom of 1421.

The most celebrated rabbi in Vienna was Izchak bar Moishe, who made the Viennese community a centre of scholarship. The community flourished culturally and economically, and became one of the most important in the German-speaking world.

By 1400, 800 people were living in the Jewish Ghetto in Vienna, including merchants, bankers and scholars. The ghetto extended north up to the Gothic Church of Maria am Gestade, the west side became Tiefer Graben street, the east side was bounded by Tuchlauben street, and the south side formed the Am Hof square.

The 70 or so houses in the Ghetto were arranged so that their back walls formed a closed boundary wall. The Ghetto could be entered by four gates, with the two main entrances on the Wipplinger street.

The Judenplatz included the Jewish hospital, the synagogue, the mikvah or ritual bath house, the rabbi’s house and the Jewish school. All of these were among the most important in German-speaking countries.

The synagogue lay between the later Jordangasse and Kurrentgasse streets. Because of the school, the square was known as Schulhof and served as a schoolyard. This name was transferred later to a neighbouring, smaller square and the original schoolyard was known as Neuer Platz from 1423, and as Judenplatz from 1437.

Judengasse or Jewish Street … a reminder of the ghetto in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The persecution of the Jews in Vienna began during the reign of Albrecht V in autumn 1420 and reached its bloody climax in 1421. At first, there were many imprisonments, with starvations and tortures leading to executions. Children were deprived and deceived into eating unclean foods, those that were defiant were sold into slavery or baptised against their will.

The poor Jews were driven out, while the wealthy were imprisoned. The few Jews still living in freedom took refuge in the Or-Sarua Synagogue at Judenplatz, in what would become a three-day siege, marked by hunger and thirst and leading to a collective suicide.

A contemporary account, the Wiener Geserah or Viennese Decree, reports that the Rabbi Jonah set the synagogue on fire so the Jews inside Or-Sarua died as martyrs. This was a form of Kiddush Hashem, or sanctification of God’s name through suffering, to escape religious persecution and compulsory baptism.

At the command of Duke Albrecht V, the remaining 200 or so members of the Jewish community were accused of crimes, including selling arms to the Hussites and the desecration of the Communion host. They were led to the pyre at Gänseweide (the Goose Pasture) in Erdberg and were burned alive on 12 March 1421.

Albrecht V decreed that no more Jews would be allowed in Austria. Their properties were confiscated, the houses were sold or given away, and the stones of the synagogue were taken to building of a university.

Nine floor tiles from the mediaeval synagogue on display in the Jewish Museum in the Palais Eskeles on Dorotheergasse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

However, Jewish settlement in Vienna did not come to an end, and a second major ghetto grew up in the Leopoldstadt district in the 17th century.

While the Holocaust Memorial in Judenplatz was being planned, excavations were carred out from July 1995 to November 1998. The quarry-stone walls, a well and cellars of a whole block from the time of a mediaeval synagogue were uncovered on the east side of the square. These are regarded as the most important urban archaeological finds in Vienna. However, the findings caused further controversy, and the site of the Holocaust Memorial was moved one metre.

The archaeological finds include the foundation walls of one of the biggest mediaeval synagogues in Europe. The remains of the synagogue are in three parts: the men’s teaching and praying area, called the ‘men’s shul’; a smaller area that was used by women; and the foundation of the hexagonal bimah, the elevated platform for Torah reading.

The remains of Aron ha-Kodesh or the Holy Ark for the Torah scrolls at the east wall of the mediaeval synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The synagogue began as a free-standing, one-room building, with the stairs of the Aron ha-Kodesh or the Holy Ark holding the Torah scrolls at the east wall. This was the men’s schul or synagogue and the central room for prayer and study. A second room was added along the north wall of the building and another outside the south wall, turning the building into a three-room synagogue that covered an area of 210 sq metres.

A coin minted in 1236-1239 or in 1246-1251 was found in the oldest floor in the men’s schul and helps to date the first building, which is helped too by comparing its architecture and pottery finds with other sites. Very little is left of this early synagogue.

The hexagonal base of the ‘bimah’ or raised platform for reading the Torah scrolls (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

It appears the synagogue was expanded shortly before 1294. The men’s schul was enlarged and turned into a double-aisled hall with three bays. In the centre of this space, between two columns, was the hexagonal base of the bimah or platform for reading the Torah scrolls. Most of the fragments of glass lamps were found at the remains of the bimah.

A third, thorough, rebuilding of the synagogue took place from the mid-14th century on. It was extended as far as possible to the east and the north room was extended to the east and fitted with colourful tile flooring. This north room may have housed the Yeshiva of Vienna.

The most significant extension of the synagogue was to the west, where most of the free space of the site was now built over.

After this extensive rebuilding, the synagogue underwent some minor changes to its interior furnishings before its destruction in 1421.

The remains of the ‘women’s shul’ in the excavations of the Or-Sarua Synagogue beneath the Holocaust Memorial in Judenplatz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A document at Vienna University reveals plans in late 1420 to use the stones of the synagogue for a new university building. The demolition work appears to have been well organised and aimed at reusing as much building material as possible, leaving largely only the foundations and floor levels.

The synagogue has been rebuilt by comparing it to other mediaeval synagogue buildings and drawing on the mediaeval traditions of synagogue architecture. As the same Christian artisans who built synagogues worked on other buildings in an area, comparisons were drawn too with churches and monasteries.

The archaeological excavations of the mediaeval synagogue beneath the Holocaust Memorial in Judenplatz can be accessed through the Jewish Museum in the Misrachi-Haus at Judenplatz 8.

The square was transformed into a pedestrianised plaza and the Holocaust Memorial was inaugurated in 2000.The other sites on Judenplatz include the statue of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and the Bohemian Court Chancery, now the Austrian Supreme Administrative Court.

Nearby are Judengasse or Jewish Street, the Jerusalem Stiege or Jerusalem Steps, and Seitenstettengasse, with the Stadttempel or City Synagogue, reminders not only of Vienna’s Jewish past, but that Vienna has living Jewish community today.

The inscription on the Jerusalem Steps reads:

Jerusalem Stiege

Zur 3000-Jahr-Feier der Stadt Jerusalem hat die Stadt Wien
diese Stiege als Zeichen der Verbundenheit benannt.

Gewidmet 1996 vom Kulturverein Wien Innere Stadt

Jerusalem Steps

For the 3000th anniversary of the city of Jerusalem, the City of Vienna named these stairs as a sign of their connections. Dedicated in 1996 by the Cultural Association of Vienna Inner City


The Jerusalem Steps or Jerusalem Stiege (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Tomorrow: The Stadttempel or City Synagogue at Seitenstettengasse 4, Vienna

The Holocaust Memorial
in Vienna is not beautiful,
… ‘it must hurt’

Rachel Whiteread’s Holocaust Memorial in Judenplatz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Vienna last week, I particularly wanted to revisit Jewish Vienna.

I also visited the Stephansdom or Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, the Peterskirche or Saint Peter’s Church, the Haas Haus and the Anker Clock. But I wanted to return to the principal sites of Jewish Vienna.

These include: the Jewish Museum at Palais Eskeles in Dorotheergasse; the Museum Judenplatz; the subterranean remains of a mediaeval synagogue; the Holocaust Memorial at Judenplatz; and the Jewish City Temple, the synagogue built in 1825-1826 by Josef Kornhäusel, the most eminent architect of the Vienna Biedermeier era.

Few European cities have a history so closely connected with Jewish history as Vienna. Stefan Zweig (1881-1942), the Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist and biographer who wrote repeatedly on Jews and Jewish themes in Vienna, declared shortly before his death: ‘Nine tenths of what the world celebrated as Viennese culture of the nineteenth century was a culture promoted, nurtured or in some cases even created by Viennese Jewry.’

This is the city of Theodor Herzl, Sigmund Freud, Viktor Frankl, Arnold Schönberg and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Gustav Mahler studied here too, and it is often forgotten that the Strauss family was of Jewish descent too.

Until 1938, Vienna had a flourishing Jewish community with dozens of synagogues and prayer houses.

But the prevalent anti-Semitism of the mid-20th century provided fertile grounds for the racism and terror of the Nazis, which started immediately after the German occupation of Austria in March 1938.

Any Jew who owned something, was robbed: through ‘Aryanisation,’ Jewish property was purloined by the state or sold off to non-Jewish people at low prices. About 140,000 Austrian Jews fled Austria, but 65,000 people who could not escape were murdered in the Holocaust.

Judenplatz is a singular place of remembrance, combining three important sites that together form a unique and integrated unit of remembrance: the excavations of a medieval synagogue; a museum dedicated to Vienna’s mediaeval Jewry; and Rachel Whiteread’s Holocaust Memorial.

Judenplatz was the centre of Jewish life in Vienna during the Middle Ages and the home to one of the largest synagogues in Europe. Important rabbincal leaders taught here until 1421, when the entire Jewish community was expelled or murdered.

Today, the central place of remembrance on Judenplatz is the Shoah memorial by the British artist and sculptor Dame Rachel Whiteread. The tiles set into the ground around the memorial bear the names of the places where Austrian Jews lost their lives during the Nazi period.

The Holocaust Memorial, also known as the Nameless Library, is the central memorial for the Austrian victims of the Holocaust. It began as an initiative by Simon Wiesenthal (1908-2005) after the controversy created in 1988 by Alfred Hrdlicka’s Mahnmal gegen Krieg und Faschismus in Albertinaplatz.

This new memorial was built by the city of Vienna under the Mayor, Michael Häupl, after Rachel Whiteread’s design was chosen unanimously by an international jury chaired by Hans Hollein (1934-2014), the architect of the Haas-Haus.

The original pan was to complete the monument on 9 November 1996, the 58th anniversary of Kristallnacht. But this was delayed by controversies and setbacks. Eventually, the memorial was unveiled on 25 October 2000, a day before the Austrian national holiday and five years before the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europeor Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.

The sculptor Dame Rachel Whiteread is an English artist who primarily produces sculptures, which typically take the form of casts. She was born in London in 1963 and is the first woman to win the Turner Prize (1993). She lives and works in a former synagogue in East London with long-term partner and fellow sculptor Marcus Taylor.

Rachel Whiteread’s Holocaust Memorial … ‘This monument shouldn’t be beautiful. It must hurt.’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The memorial is a steel and concrete construction with a base measuring 10 metres by 7 meters and it is 3.8 metres high. The outside surfaces are cast library shelves turned inside out. The spines of the books face inward and are not visible, their titles unknown and their contents hidden.

The shelves of the memorial appear to hold endless copies of the same edition, which stand for the vast number of the victims, as well as the concept of Jews as ‘People of the Book.’

The double doors are cast with the panels inside out, with no doorknobs or handles. They suggest the possibility of coming and going, yet they do not open.

The memorial represents, in the style of Rachel Whiteread’s ‘empty spaces,’ a library whose books are shown on the outside but cannot be read. It also speaks of a cultural space of memory and loss created by the genocide of the European Jews.

Through the emphasis of void and negative casting rather than positive form and material, this monument is a ‘counter monument’ to the many monuments to grandiose and triumphal history.

As a work of art, the memorial is not intended to be beautiful and so it stands in stark contrasts to much of the Baroque art and architecture of Vienna. It is uncomfortable to look at, and so it evokes the tragedy and brutality of the Holocaust. At its unveiling, Simon Wiesenthal said, ‘This monument shouldn’t be beautiful. It must hurt.’

At the request of the artist, the memorial was not given an anti-graffiti coating. She explained: ‘If someone sprays a swastika on it we can try to scrub it off, but a few daubed swastikas would really make people think about what’s happening in their society.’

Although there are no texts on the cast books, two texts are engraved on the base of the memorial. On the concrete floor before the locked double doors is a text in German, Hebrew, and English, that points out the crime of the Holocaust and the estimated number of Austrian victims: ‘In commemoration of more than 65,000 Austrian Jews who were killed by the Nazis between 1938 and 1945.’

Engraved on the plinth on the two sides and back of the memorial are the names of the places where Austrian Jews were murdered during Nazi rule: Auschwitz, Bełżec, Bergen-Belsen, Brčko, Buchenwald, Chełmno, Dachau, Flossenbürg, Groß-Rosen, Gurs, Hartheim, Izbica, Jasenovac, Jungfernhof, Kaiserwald, Kielce, Kowno, Łagów, Litzmannstadt, Lublin, Majdanek, Maly Trostinec, Mauthausen, Minsk, Mittelbau/Dora, Modliborzyce, Natzweiler, Neuengamme, Nisko, Opatów, Opole, Ravensbrück, Rejowiec, Riga, Šabac, Sachsenhausen, Salaspils, San Sabba, Sobibor, Stutthof, Theresienstadt, Trawniki, Treblinka, Włodawa and Zamość.

Judenplatz and the memorial are unique in Europe. The square unites the excavations of the mediaeval synagogue underground, that was burned down in the ‘Viennese Geserah’ of 1420, with the modern memorial above ground.

The foundations of the mediaeval synagogue, uncovered in 1995, are beneath the memorial and are accessible through the museum.

The names and dates of the 65,000 Austrian Jews murdered in the Holocaust, and the details of their persecution and murder, are presented in the museum at the Misrachi Haus on the Judenplatz.

A second, smaller memorial plaque by the entrance to the Misrachi-Haus reads: ‘Thanks and acknowledgment to the just among the people, who in the years of the Shoah risked their lives to help Jews, persecuted by the Nazi henchmen, to escape and survive. — The Austrian Jewish Community, Vienna, in the month of April 2001.’

The memorial plaque near the entrance to the Misrachi Haus on Judenplatz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Compass Rose Society visit:
5, Bunratty Castle

Bunratty Castle stands out on the landscape in south Co Clare, close to the estuary of the River Shannon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Bunratty Castle is a large 15th-century tower house in Bunratty village, off the road between Limerick and Ennis, near both airport and Shannon Town. The name Bunratty (Bun Ráite, or Bun na Ráite) refers to either the ‘river basin,’ or the River Ratty, the river that runs alongside the castle and flows into the Shannon Estuary at this point.

The first recorded settlement at the site may have been a Norse settlement or trading camp that is recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters and said to have been destroyed by Brian Boru in the year 977. Local tradition says this camp stood on a rise south-west of the present castle, although there is no evidence to support this claim.

Around 1250, Henry III granted the area to Robert de Muscegros, who cut down around 200 trees in the King’s wood at Cratloe about a year later. He may have used these trees to build a motte and bailey castle that was the first castle at Bunratty, although its exact location is unknown. Later, in 1253, Robert de Muscegros was granted the right to hold markets and an annual fair at Bunratty.

The lands later returned to Henry III, and they were granted to Thomas de Clare, a descendant of Strongbow, in 1276. Thomas de Clare built a second castle that was the first stone castle in Bunratty. This large stone tower stood from about 1278 on or near the site of the present Bunratty Castle.

In the late 13th century, Bunrattty had about 1,000 inhabitants. The castle was attacked several times by the O’Briens and their allies. While Thomas de Clare was away in England, the site was captured and destroyed in 1284.

When Thomas de Clare returned to Ireland in 1287, he rebuilt the castle with a 130-metre fosse around it. The castle was again attacked but it did not fall until 1318, when Richard de Clare was killed at Dysert O’Dea. Bunratty Castle and the village were burned down and Lady de Clare fled to Limerick. The de Clare family never returned to Bunratty and the remains of the castle collapsed, leaving no traces or remains of this second castle.

In 1353, Sir Thomas de Rokeby led an army against the MacNamaras and the MacCarthys, and a third castle was then built at Bunratty, perhaps on the site of the later Bunratty Castle Hotel. However, around 1355, the new castle fell into the hands of Murtough O’Brien while Thomas Fitzjohn Fitzmaurice was the Governor or captain of Bunratty.

The present Bunratty Castle is the fourth castle on the site and was built by the MacNamara family around 1425.(Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The present castle was the fourth castle on the site and was built by the MacNamara family around 1425.

Bunratty Castle came into the hands of the O’Briens family, the most powerful clan in Munster and later Earls of Thomond, around 1500.

In 1558, Bunratty Castle as taken by the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Radclyffe (1525-1583), 3rd Earl of Sussex, from Donal O’Brien of Duagh, the last King of Thomond, who died in 1579.

Meanwhile, Bunratty Castle was given to Donal O’Brien’s nephew, Connor O’Brien. His son, Donogh O’Brien, may have moved his family seat from Clonroad in Ennis to Bunratty, and his improvements to the castle included a new lead roof on it.

During the Confederate Wars in Ireland in the 1640s, the Cromwellian commander Lord Forbes took Bunratty Castle in 1646. Barnabas O’Brien, who tried to play off the royalists against both the Irish rebels and the Roundheads, left for England, where he joined King Charles I.

The defence of the River Shannon and Bunratty Castle gave the forces holding the castle a position to blockade access from the sea to Limerick. The castle was held then by Admiral Sir William Penn (1621-1670), father of William Penn (1644-1718), the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania. After a long siege, Penn surrendered the castle to the Irish Confederates and sailed away safely to Kinsale, Co Cork.

After the Civil War in the 1640s and 1650s, Bunratty Castle returned to the O’Brien family, and in the 1680s the castle was the principal seat of the Earls of Thomond. In 1712, Henry O’Brien (1688-1741), the 8th and last Earl of Thomond, sold Bunratty Castle and 191 ha of land to Thomas Amory for £225 and an annual rent of £120. Amory in turn sold the castle to Thomas Studdert who moved in around 1720.

When the Studdert family left the castle, it to fall into disrepair and they moved into Bunratty House, which they built in 1804.

For some time in the mid-19th century, the castle was a police barracks used by the Royal Irish Constabulary. The Studdert family returned to Bunratty Castle at the end of the 19th century, and Captain Richard Studdert was living there in 1894. But the roof of the Great Hall collapsed in the late 19th century.

In 1956, Bunratty Castle was bought and restored by the 7th Viscount Gort, with the support of the Office of Public Works. He reroofed the castle and saved it from ruin. The castle was opened to the public in 1960, decorated and filled with furniture, tapestries and works of art dating from the 17th century.

Today, Bunratty Castle is a major tourist attraction, along with Bunratty Folk Park, and both the castle and Bunratty House are open to the public. The castle and the adjoining folk park are run by Shannon Heritage as tourist attractions.

Bunratty Castle is known for its mediaeval banquets, and Bunratty Folk Park is an open-air museum with an array of about 30 buildings, including traditional farmhouses, churches, schoolhouses and a pub.

By the banks of the Shannon Estuary at Bunratty (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These notes were prepared for a tour of Co Clare by members of the Compass Rose Society on 12 November 2019

Compass Rose Society visit:
4, Cliffs of Moher and Doolin

The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most visited tourist sites in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Cliffs of Moher on the south-west edge of the Burren form one of the most visited sites in Ireland, and stretch along the coast for about 14 km. The Cliffs of Moher attract about 1.5 million visitors a year.

At their southern end, the Cliffs rise 120 metres (390 ft) above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head, and reach their greatest height – 214 metres (702 ft) – just north of O’Brien’s Tower, and then continue at lower heights, always with the edge abruptly falling away into the churning Atlantic below.

O’Brien’s Tower was built as an observation tower on the Cliffs of Moher in 1835 by Cornelius O’Brien (1782-1857), a benevolent local landlord who was MP for Co Clare (1832-1847, 1852-1857).

Local stories remember O’Brien as a man ahead of his time, who believed the development of tourism would benefit the local economy and bring people out of poverty. It is said locally he ‘built everything around here except the Cliffs.’

When O’Brien built the tower, he planned it as an observation tower for hundreds of tourists who then visited the Cliffs of Moher, so they could see out to the Aran Islands.

The nearest village, Doolin, is a popular departure point for the Aran Islands and also the village that is at the heart of Irish traditional music. Doolin is a seaside village on the north-west coast of Co Clare, surrounded by the rugged in Burren district and facing out to the Aran Islands and the Atlantic Ocean.

Doolin was once a fishing village, but today it is a base for exploring the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren. It is a busy place in the summer months, with people catching ferries to the Aran Islands or boarding boats for tours of the Cliffs of Moher.

Doolin is also at the heart of Irish traditional music, with a reputation built on the work of musicians like Micho Russell and continuing in the live music and spontaneous singing in pubs and bars. But the range of restaurants, shops and accommodation makes Doolin popular all year round.

Doolin also offers many activities ranging from sea angling, caving and scuba diving to pitch and putt, rock climbing and hill walking. Doolin is also surfing destination, and a break that generates Ireland’s biggest wave, Aill na Searrach, is just off the Cliffs of Moher.

There are many archaeological sites nearby, some dating to the Iron Age or earlier. Doonagore Castle and Ballinalacken Castle are also in the area.

Most of the activity in Doolin takes place in the original areas of Fisher Street and Roadford. The harbour at Doolin is the departure point for boat trips to the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher, and also for trips to Doolin Cave. The Great Stalactite in Doolin Cave measures 7.3 metres. When it was discovered in 1952, it was recognised as the longest stalactite in the Northern hemisphere.

The Aran Islands can be seen further out from the harbour and Doolin is one of three places with ferry services to the Aran Islands – the others are Galway and the village of Rossaveal on the north-west shore of Galway Bay.

Rocks on the coast at Doolin … the harbour offers ferries to the Aran Islands in Galway Bay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

These notes were prepared for a tour of Co Clare by members of the Compass Rose Society on 12 November 2019

Compass Rose Society
visit: 3, Kilfenora Cathedral

The East End of Saint Fachan’s Cathedral in Kilfenora, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Kilfenora is in the centre of the Burren, about 28 km from Ennis and 5 km from Ennistymon. Although Kilfenora has a cathedral, it is a small village, and it is more likely to be associated in Irish minds with the Kilfenora Ceili Band, founded in 1909, than with a mediaeval cathedral and diocese was once described as the ‘poorest see in Ireland.’

The name Kilfenora may mean the Church of the White Brow or Meadow, or Fionnuir’s Church. In either case, the story of Kilfenora dates back to at least the sixth century when, according to tradition, Saint Fachan, also known as Saint Fachanan, Saint Fachtna or Saint Fachtnan, first built a church here.

This saint has also been identified with Saint Fachtna, the founder of Roscarbery in Co Cork.

The first church building here was probably of wood and was followed by a stone building. But the early church was burned down in 1055 by Murtough O’Brien. It was rebuilt in 1056-1058, only to be plundered in 1079 and then destroyed in an accidental fire in 1100.

The East Window in the ruined nave of Saint Fachan’s Cathedral, Kilfenora (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Kilfenora was recognised as a diocese at the Synod of Kells in 1152, when a new diocese was one of three carved out of the Diocese of Killaloe. The smaller dioceses of Roscrea and Scattery Island lost their diocesan status within a short time, but Kilfenora remained the centre of a diocese that corresponded with the ancient territory of Corcomroe.

By the 12th century, there were six or even seven high crosses on the site at Kilfenora, forming one of the largest collections of high crosses in Ireland.

Nevertheless, over the centuries, there were few able candidates who were willing to become Bishop of Kilfenora. An unnamed Bishop of Kilfenora took the oath of fealty to Henry II in 1172, but his two successors are known only by their initials.

The first names Bishop of Kilfenora, Bishop Johannes, was appointed in 1224, but even then many of his successors are only known by their first name alone.

In time, Kilfenora was the second smallest diocese in Ireland, with Waterford the only diocese that was smaller. The Diocese of Kilfenora is 29 km long, 14.4 km wide, and extends to 55,000 ha (135,700 acres). It is slightly smaller than the adjacent Diocese of Kilmacduagh; the three Aran islands – Inisheer, Inishmaan and Inishmore – were also included in Kilfenora.

The list of Bishops of Kilfenora is still not clear in the immediate post-Reformation period, and it is still not clear whether the loyalties of Bishop John O’Neylan (1541-1572) were to Rome or to the Anglican Reformation. The crown made no appointment to the diocese between 1541 and 1606, and from 1606 to 1617 Kilfenora was held with Limerick.

Because Kilfenora was remote, impoverished and insignificant, it was difficult to attract bishops in the 17th century. When Richard Betts arrived in 1628, he declared ‘I have no wish to become bishop of the poorest see in Ireland’ – and he promptly returned to England.

Ten years later, Bishop John Bramhall of Derry, later Archbishop of Armagh, told the Lord Deputy in 1638 that Kilfenora was so poor that no-one wanted to go there. Robert Sibthorpe would only accept a nomination if he was allowed to remain Dean of Killaloe. He was the last separate Bishop of Kilfenora, and after his death in 1661.

Kilfenora continued to be regarded as an impoverished diocese throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and its survival depended on being united with various dioceses, including Limerick, Tuam, Clonfert, Killaloe (1752-1976) and Limerick and Killaloe (since 1976).

Richard Mant, Bishop of Killaloe and Kilfenora (1820-1823), visited Kilfenora shortly after becoming bishop in 1820, and described it as ‘the worst village that I have seen in Ireland, and in the most desolate and least interesting country’ – a reference to the Burren and not to Ireland.

The West End of Saint Fachan’s Cathedral, Kilfenora, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Fachan’s Cathedral dates from 1189-1200, when it was built in the so-called Transitional style with a nave and a chancel, and the early building may have been aisled.

According to local tradition, the chancel, dating from late 12th to early 13th century, had an oak ceiling decorated in blue with gold stars, and this survived until the end of the 18th century. There is some evidence of alterations and extensions in the 14th and 15th centuries, but little remains of this work.

Today, the church shows a curious mix of styles from a number of periods. The oldest part is probably the rough-cast north wall of the nave with blocks that are now covered with plaster.

The former chancel is now without a roof. It is 10.8 metres long and 6.3 metres wide, and the walls are about one metre thick. The three-light east window is rounded and moulded, with carved capitals. On both sides of the window is a carved effigy: a bishop with his right hand raised in blessing, possibly dating from the early 14th century, to the north, and a tonsured, bareheaded cleric holding a book, possibly 13th century, to the south.

A carved 15th-century Gothic recess, once described as a sedilia, may have been a 15th century wall tomb (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

An elaborately carved and screened recess in the north wall is often described as a 15th-century Gothic sedilia, but the seats between the piers are too narrow and, instead, it may have been a 15th century wall tomb.

On the south wall, there is a double sedilia with a plain dividing shaft, a double piscina, and a square aumbry.

The Blood family monument in the Chancel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

One of the tombs in the chancel is the burial site of the Very Revd Neptune Blood, who received his name because he was born at sea. The memorial in Latin names his seven children, dating from 1683 to 1700. Dean Blood was an uncle of Thomas Blood, who tried to steal the crown jewels of King Charles II in 1671.

A short 15th-century doorway in the north wall of the chancel leads into a rectangular building attached to the north-east of the Chancel. In the 19th century, this was known as the Lady Chapel, although it may have been a sacristy or chapter room, or the O’Brien Chapel mentioned by earlier historians of the cathedral. It may have been built at the same time as the main building, and at first may have served as a transept.

Here there are two lancet-type windows, a broken two-light window, arched recesses and a low double piscina.

The chancel and the nave were separated in 1837 and by 1839, ‘thirty-six feet of the east end’ was without a roof. The nave, which is 20.6 metres long and 6.3 metres wide, was rebuilt and refitted as the Church of Ireland parish church with a grant of £42 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

‘A pile of emigrants’ luggage, with a rabbit hutch or birdcage overhead’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The west wall of the nave has crude, stepped gable that has been compared to ‘a pile of emigrants’ luggage, with a rabbit hutch or birdcage overhead.’ There is a small bell-turret at the apex that is topped by a small stone pyramid. There is a carved head of a bishop over the door into the south porch.

Two grave slabs that have been moved into the south porch have effigies representing a 14th century unnamed Bishop of Kilfenora, with a mitre, crosier and episcopal ring, and a priest or nobleman of the 14th century, holding a book.

A grave slab in the south porch representing an unknown 14th century Bishop of Kilfenora (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Inside the parish church, the large square stone baptismal font possibly dates from around 1200. The bishop’s throne was donated in 1981 for the enthronement of Walton Empey, Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, as Bishop of Kilfenora.

Today, the cathedral remains in a partially ruined state. The National Monument Service carried out restoration work in the early 2000s. The ‘Lady Chapel’ or north transept was fitted with a glass roof in 2005 to protect the remains of the three high crosses that were moved there.

The ‘Doorty Cross’ in the Lady Chapel or North Transept (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The finest of these high crosses is the Doorty Cross with a carving of bishop, possibly representing Saint Fachan. The shaft of this high cross was reused in the 18th century as part of the gravestone of the Doorty family. In 1955, it was reunited with the upper part of the cross, which until then had lain in the chancel of the church.

The ‘North Cross’ has survived relatively intact. Unlike the other crosses on the site, it does not have a ringed head, but has distinctive carved ornamentation.

One of the high crosses was moved from to Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, in the 19th century.

The ‘North Cross’ has survived relatively intact (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today, Saint Fachan’s Cathedral is only remaining Church of Ireland parish church in the Diocese of Kilfenora. It is grouped with Drumcliffe (Ennis) group of parishes, where the Rector is the Revd Kevin O’Brien. The Dean of Kilfenora is the Dean of Killaloe, who is also the Dean of Clonfert and the Provost of Kilmacduagh, but this position is vacant at present.

The last Roman Catholic Bishop of Kilfenora, James Augustine O’Daly, died in 1749. A year later, in 1750, the diocese was united with Kilmacduagh. In 1883, Kilfenora and Kilmacduagh was merged with the Diocese of Galway.

Today, the bishops of Galway and Kilmacduagh are styled Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora, because Galway and Kilmacduagh are in the Province of Tuam and Kilfenora is in the Province of Cashel. This means that, in Canon Law, the Pope remains the Bishop of Kilfenora.

The carved head of a bishop above the door into the South Porch of Kilfenora Cathedral (Photograph; Patrick Comerford)

These notes were prepared for a tour of Co Clare by members of the Compass Rose Society on 12 November 2019

Compass Rose Society
visit: 2, Ennis Cathedral

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

Patrick Comerford

The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at the junction of Station Road and O’Connell Street in Ennis, is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Killaloe. Co Clare also Church of Ireland cathedral at Killaloe and in Kilfenora.

The Roman Catholic parish church in Ennis originally stood on what is now Chapel Lane, and was built in 1735, and is now used as a community centre.

The chapel was too small for a growing parish and its location made it impossible to extend the building, and plans to build a new church were frustrated by a public dispute – involving the chaplaincy at Ennis jail – between the parish priest of Ennis, Dean Terence O’Shaughnessy (1761-1848), and his curate, Father Patrick McDonogh.

Dean O’Shaughnessy was a nephew of Bishop James O’Shaughnessy of Killaloe and was a difficult but colourful public figure. He had witnessed the execution of Louis XVI in Paris in 1793, and in 1828 he was criticised for not publicly supporting the election campaign of Daniel O’Connell, perhaps because the other candidate, Vesey FitzGerald, had been a generous donor to Ennis parish.

The principal local landlord, Francis Gore, donated the site for a new parish church in Ennis to the Diocese of Killaloe in 1828, the year Daniel O’Connell was elected MP for Co Clare and a year before the enactment of Catholic Emancipation.

Plans for a new church were drawn up later that year, and Dean O’Shaughnessy hoped the new parish church would, in time, become the cathedral of the Diocese of Killaloe.

The winning design was drafted by the architect Dominick Madden, who had been disgraced earlier in his career, accused of stealing furniture from the Vice-Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, but who had been commissioned the previous year to design new cathedrals in Ballina, Co Mayo, and Tuam, Co Galway.

Madden’s designs for his three cathedrals display a very simple form of Gothic that shows little of the influence of AWN Pugin.

The Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at the junction of Station Road and O’Connell Street in Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The foundation stone was laid in June 1828, but progress on building work was slow, and it was further delayed by yet another public dispute – this time between Dean O’Shaughnessy and the Franciscans, who had opened a new church in the town at the end of 1830. In 1837, the dean was suspended from office for denouncing the Christian Brothers, who had been in the town since 1827.

Building work was resumed in November 1836, but proceeded slowly, and Mass was first said in the unfinished church on 4 September 1842. Within six months, the church was dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul by Peter Kennedy, Bishop of Killaloe (1836-1850), on 26 February 1843.

However, both fundraising and building work were set back yet again as the economic consequences of the Great Famine were felt throughout Ennis. Meanwhile, Dean O’Shaughnessy died in 1848, and he was buried in the church without ever seeing either its completion or its dedication as a cathedral.

The 1970s High Altar and the surviving reredos by Hardman and Earley in Ennis Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The interior was completed in 1861 under the supervision of JJ McCarthy, the architect who claimed Pugin’s mantle. The arcades and piers, the panelled ceiling and the gallery at the west end are his work, as were the altars and the reredos.

Work later resumed on the tower and spire, and they were completed by Maurice Fitzgerald in 1874.

The cathedral is built of limestone ashlar and has a crenellated parapet and tall pointed windows with tracery. The original façade is partially obscured by the porches, but the original doorways can still be seen inside. The three-storey diagonally buttressed tower is surmounted by a broach spire and rises to a height of 42.6 metres.

The patterned square panels in the ceiling are the work of Earley and Powell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Inside, there is an aisled nave of six bays with clerestory and transepts, each of two bays. The slender Doric piers with fanciful tracery in the spandrels support a coffered ceiling of floral patterned square panels, painted by Earley and Powell, and divided by white ribs.

The carved stone reredos was designed by JJ McCarthy and executed by the Birmingham-based Hardman partnership, closely associated with Pugin. The reredos includes paintings by John Farrington Earley (1831-1973) of Earley and Powell, the Birmingham-born stained-glass artist who was strongly influenced by Pugin and Hardman.

Saint Senan of Scattery and Saint Paul on the reredos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The paintings on the left (north side) of the reredos show Saint Senan, the patron of Scattery Island, and Saint Paul, while those on the right (south side) show Saint Peter and Saint Flannan, the patron of the Diocese of Killaloe. Two further paintings, over the side doors depict Saint Joseph and the Archangel Michael.

The busts in the upper tier of the reredos depict Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Bridget and the Virgin Mary, on the left, and Christ, Saint Joseph and Saint Patrick on the right.

Saint Peter and Saint Flannan of KIllaloe on the reredos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When Thomas McRedmond was appointed coadjutor Bishop of Killaloe in 1889 and then bishop of the diocese in 1891, he decided to base the diocese at the church in Ennis, and so the parish church was designated as the pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Killaloe.

The main entrance to the cathedral was built in 1894, and the building was redecorated extensively. It had taken two architects and almost 70 years to complete the cathedral.

In the 1930s, a new sacristy and chapter room were added to the building, and the present pipe organ and chapter stalls were installed.

The west gallery and organ in Ennis Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The cathedral was closed for six months in 1973 while it was remodelled in line with the liturgical changes introduced with the Second Vatican Council, and McCarthy’s High Altar was removed, as well as the altar rails and pulpit. The new altar, ambo, font and tabernacle were designed in Wicklow granite by Andrew Devane.

The pro-cathedral was re-dedicated as a cathedral in 1990. After a fire in the cathedral in 1995, the sanctuary was rebuilt and the interiors were redecorated, with work completed at the end of 1996.

The sanctuary was rebuilt and the interiors were redecorated in 1995-1996 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, the Church of Ireland cathedral in the Diocese of Killaloe, see HERE.

These notes were prepared for a tour of Co Clare by members of the Compass Rose Society on 12 November 2019