Saturday, 4 July 2020

From the domes of Florence
to Greek-speaking Albania
and the ghetto in Warsaw

Part of a three-page feature in the July 2020 edition of the ‘Church Review’

Patrick Comerford

My monthly column in the Church Review, the diocesan magazine in Dublin and Glendalough, is an excursion through the architecture of Florence and its influence on domes throughout Europe, Albania and the multi-faith mixture found in a country that was once the only officially atheist state in Europe, and Poland, with its many Irish connections, including an archbishop who resisted the Nazis and foresaw the horrors of the Holocaust.

Once again, the editor of the Church Review, the Revd Nigel Waugh, has given my feature a three-page colour spread, with photographs from a variety of locations from Florence, Venice and Berlin to Sarande, Warsaw and Dublin.

There is a thread that goes through these stories, weaving an intriguing tapestry. If the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown has frustrated your plans to travel in Europe in recent months, this is an opportunity to have a ‘virtual tour’ of a variety of interesting places.

But more about that on this blog tomorrow afternoon.

Pilgrims or prejudice?
the wanderings of
Carvajal and Bloom

The tomb of Christopher Columbus in Seville Cathedral … how many ‘conversos’ travelled as ‘peregrinos’ from Spain on voyages to the New World? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During his webinar lecture earlier this week, organised by the Sephardi Academia programme at Bevis Marks Synagogue, Professor Ronnie Perelis of Yeshiva University, New York, was speaking about ‘Early Modern Crypto-Judaism in its Transatlantic Context.’

He spoke, in particular, of the Carvajal family of Portuguese and Spanish origin, and how these conversos had suffered at the hands of the Inquisition in Mexico at the end of the 16th century.

The year 1492 was regarded as the annus mirabilis by many in power in Spain, who associated the year with four events: the introduction of the Inquisition, the conquest of Granada; the unification of Spain under Ferdinand and Isabel; the expulsion or forced conversion of Spain’s large Jewish population; and Christopher Columbus sailing west to the New World.

Columbus himself, in the prologue to his diary dedicated to Ferdinand and Isabel, links his voyage to the expulsion of Jews from Spain. Yet there were many conversos on the expedition, and many found safer climes in the New World. Although the Inquisition arrived in Lima and Mexico in the 1570s, many could escape forced baptisms and form communities that were cohesive for generations. In this New World, these peregrino could sow the seeds that would lead to a rebirth of Sephardic Judaism in the decades and centuries that followed.

Professor Perelis subtitled his presentation as Peregrinos de las Indias Occidentales: Criptojudaísmo en su contexto transatlántico, or ‘Pilgrims of the West Indies: crypto-Judaism in its transatlantic context.’

I was intrigued by both his maps of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the western diaspora, which showed how far these communities spread and his use of the word peregrino.

The maps were interesting, because I was already familiar with maps showing the dispersion of Spanish and Portuguese communities throughout the Mediterranean as they travelled on through Italy, North Africa, the Balkans, Greece and the Ottoman Empire.

As for the word peregrino, it conveys the sense of pilgrim – often in the context of the camino or pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela – or restless traveller. But for these conversos, the word peregrino also conveyed the concept of a convert or someone who had made the journey or return journey to Judaism.

For someone like Luis de Carvajal, his family had travelled from Portugal to Spain and Mexico, and he had made a return journey to Judaism, reconstructing his Judaism especially through the books and manuscripts he found in the monastic library at Santiago de Tlatelolco, where he had been exiled to teach Latin to the Franciscan seminarians.

The wanderings of these peregrinos and their use of this word as a self-description reminded me of the legends and stories of the ‘Wandering Jew,’ a mythical, immortal man whose legend began to spread in Europe in the 13th century. The original legend involves a Jew who is said to have taunted Christ on his way to the Crucifixion and was then cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming.

The details of the wanderer’s indiscretion varies in different versions of the tale, as does of his character. Some stories say he was a shoemaker or other tradesman, others cast him as doorman at the palace of Pontius Pilate, and he is named variously as Cartaphilus, Joseph, Ahasver, Matthias, Buttadeus, Paul Marrane, Isaac Laquadem, or the Shoemaker of Jerusalem.

In some versions, he is conflated with ‘the Disciple whom Jesus loved’: ‘So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die’ (John 21: 23).

Others refer to words in the Bible: ‘Because they have not listened to him, my God will reject them; they shall become wanderers among the nations’ (Hosea 9: 17). Others link the legend with Christ’s words: ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom’ (Matthew 16: 28).

In my naivety, I had thought the term ‘wandering Jew’ may have been derived from the story of Cain in Genesis , who is punished to wander over the earth, or the forty years of wandering in the wilderness after the people escaped slavery in Egypt.

The Book of Esther also describes the Jews as a persecuted people, scattered across every province of the vast empire of Ahasuerus, which is similar to the later Jewish diaspora in Christian-ruled empires and the experiences of Jewish refugees escaping the Inquisition and finding themselves scattered across the Mediterranean and Latin America.

A popular houseplant is known as a ‘Wandering Jew.’ The name is used for several plant species within the Tradescantia genus. They include at least 75 different herbaceous perennial species, including some noxious weeds, some prized outdoor garden plants such as the garden spiderworts, and three indoor houseplants.

The name is thought to derive from the plant’s habit to migrate to wet, moist regions, or because they are survivors that may be pushed right to the brink of desolation and but can be brought back to full health within days with tender, loving care – a reminder that life fluctuates and that things can get better.

But I sometimes wondered whether the Wandering Jew was an antisemitic trope.

Last year, the London-based Bloombox Club announced online Bloombox Club that is no longer going to refer to Tradescantia by this common name ‘Wandering Jew’: ‘We assumed the name referred to the Israelites, cursed to ‘wander’ through the desert in search of the promised land until the last member of the original generation (Moses) dies. But further research revealed ‘Wandering Jew’ to be connected to an apocryphal myth, one that has been used to justify anti-Semitism since at least the 13th century.’

A recent celebration of Bloomsday in Dublin … is the ‘Wandering Jew’ an antisemitic image in European literature (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In Ulysses, James Joyce has Leopold Bloom thinking that Jews have ‘wandered far away over all the earth, and that for 3,000 years the history of Jews as a people has been defined by expulsion, exile, and yearning for a homeland.

Bloom is half Jewish, born to an Irish mother and a Jewish father in house in Clanbrassil Street or Dublin’s ‘Little Jerusalem’ – two doors down from a Comerford family home. But Bloom was not brought up a Jew: as Ulysses relates, he has been baptised three separate times. He thinks of himself as both Jewish and Irish, and Ulysses fuses two myths, the wandering of Ulysses and the Wandering Jew.

In Calypso, Bloom thinks of his people living from ‘captivity to captivity.’ Bloom glances also at the Arab world, complaining that Jews are ‘At this very moment … sold by auction in Morocco like slaves or cattle.’

In Scylla and Charybdis, Mulligan mockingly calls Bloom ‘The wandering jew,’ explicitly introducing this image into this story about a peripatetic Jewish protagonist.

Circe makes clear the anti-Semitic implications of such speech, implicitly linking Bloom with the far less acceptably Jewish Reuben J. Dodd: ‘Reuben J Antichrist, wandering jew, a clutching hand open on his spine, stumps forward. Across his loins is slung a pilgrim's wallet from which protrude promissory notes and dishonoured bills.’

But Oxen of the Sun uses kinder language to present the same mythical figure: ‘Of Israel’s folk was that man that on earth wandering far had fared.’

Joyce’s frequent association of Moses with Bloom helps to bring positive qualities to the figure of the Wandering Jew. In Aeolus, Moses appears as a Jewish leader whose rousing call to national identity symbolically figures Ireland’s own longing for the restoration of its homeland. Joined with the nostos theme of Homer’s Odyssey, it is almost as though Moses gives homelessness a good name.

The word wander is repeated throughout Ulysses. On Christian lips, it is a term of moral opprobrium. But when it enters the orbit of Bloom, ‘that vigilant wanderer’ (Oxen of the Sun), and Stephen, ‘wandering Ængus of the birds,’ the word gathers positive associations from minds devoted to exploring experiential reality.

Disturbed by the antisemitic appropriation of Hebrew lettering and Jewish prayers around the figure of the Crucified Christ on the Crucifix on the Charles Bridge in Prague, and the image of the feminine persona of Sinagoga, blinded by a snake in her portrayal on mediaeval cathedrals, including Lichfield Cathedral, I wondered too about the theme of the ‘Wandering Jew’ throughout western literature.

Perhaps Bloom and Luis de Carvajal combine to redeem the image of the Peregrinos and the ‘Wandering Jews.’

But I still wonder.

A plaque claims Leopold Bloom was born at No 52 Upper Clanbrassil Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Friday, 3 July 2020

The peace of the wicked and
the suffering of the righteous
in a Shabbat meditation

Turkish carpets on a stall in Goreme … meaningless tangles of threads or intricately designed pattern? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In my morning or evening prayers and in my meditations, I often use the Authorised Prayer Book.

In his commentaries, the former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks includes a number of Shabbat meditations for Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. These include commentaries and notes on the ‘Ethics of the Fathers,’ from which a chapter is read each Shabbat after Pesach (Passover) until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

The ‘Ethics of the Fathers’ or Pirkei Avot (פִּרְקֵי אָבוֹת) is a tractate of the Mishnah that gathers many of the ethical teachings of the Sages. These are often pithy sayings, like the sayings of the Desert Fathers in Christian tradition.

In Chapter 4, we read that Rabbi Yannai, a third century scholar, said: ‘It is not in our power to explain either the peace of the wicked or the suffering of the righteous’ (4: 19).

In his commentary on this saying (p 551), Rabbi Sacks observes that, ‘seen from beneath, a Turkish carpet looks like a meaningless tangle of threads. Only when we view it from the other side do we see its intricately designed pattern.’

He concludes: ‘So it is with the justice of events. On earth, we seem to see the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. Only from the other side – Heaven – is it possible to see the logic, the pattern; but that is a vantage point we cannot attain in this life.’

Coming to Christ with doubts
and questions like those of
Saint Thomas the Apostle

Saint Thomas and the Risen Christ depicted in a fresco in a church in Athens … Saint Thomas comes to Christ with doubts and questions while the disciples are locked away in fear (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In many calendars of the Western Church, including the Book of Common Prayer in the Church of Ireland, and Common Worship in the Church of England, today is the feast day of Saint Thomas the Apostle.

He was once commemorated on 21 December, and still is in the Episcopal Church (TEC). But his commemoration was moved many years ago to 3 July, the date given in the Martyrology of Saint Jerome and the day on which his relics are said to have been moved from Mylapore, near Madras, on the coast of India, to Edessa in Mesopotamia. After a short stay on the Greek island of Chios, the relics were moved in September 1258 to the West, and are said now to be in Ortona in Italy.

I think Saint Thomas is an appropriate apostle to recall today as many of his prepare to reopen our churches on Sunday (5 July 2020) as another stage of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown is lifted, knowing that many people are going to stay locked away for fear, and others are not going to come because they have other doubts.

Perhaps Saint Thomas reminds us too that all our planned celebrations and liturgies are meaningless without faith in the Resurrection.

In the Gospels, Saint Thomas is named ‘Thomas, also called the Twin (Didymus).’ But the name ‘Thomas’ comes from the Aramaic word for twin, T'oma (תאומא), so there is a tautological wordplay going on here.

Syrian tradition says the apostle’s full name was Judas Thomas, or Jude Thomas. But, who was his twin brother – or sister?

The Temple of Apollo in Didyma ... one of the most important shrines and temples in the classical world to Apollo and his twin sister Artemis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I have often visited Didyma on the south coast of Anatolia. There, the Didymaion was one of the most important shrines and temples in the classical world to Apollo and his twin sister Artemis. Apollo was the sun-god, the son of Zeus; he was the patron of shepherds and the guardian of truth, and in Greek and Roman mythology he died and rose again.

Is the story of Saint Thomas’s doubts an invitation to the followers of the cult of Apollo to turn to Christ, the true Son of God the Father, who is the Good Shepherd, who is the way, the truth and the light, who has died and who is truly risen?

We can never be quite sure about Saint Thomas in Saint John’s Gospel. After the death of Lazarus, the disciples resist Christ’s decision to return to Judea, where there had been an attempt to stone Jesus. But Thomas shows he has no idea of the real meaning of death and resurrection when he suggests that the disciples should go to Bethany with Jesus: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’ (John 11: 16).

And, while Thomas saw the raising of Lazarus, what did he believe in?

Could seeing ever be enough for a doubting Thomas to believe?

The Apostle Thomas also speaks at the Last Supper (John 14: 5). When Christ assures the disciples that they know where he is going, Thomas protests that they do not know at all. He has been with Christ for three years, and still he does not believe or understand. Seeing and explanations are not enough for him. Christ replies to his remarks and to Philip’s requests with a detailed exposition of his relationship to God the Father.

In the Resurrection story in Saint John’s Gospel, Saint Mary Magdalene – who is commemorated later this month on 22 July – does not recognise the Risen Christ at first. For her, appearances could be deceiving, and she thinks he is the gardener. But when he speaks to her, she recognises his voice, and then wants to hold on to him. From that moment of seeing and believing, she rushes off to tell the Disciples: ‘I have seen the Lord.’

Two of the disciples, John the Beloved and Simon Peter, have already seen the empty tomb, but they fail to make the vital connection between seeing and believing. When they hear Mary’s testimony, they still fail to believe fully. They only believe when they see the Risen Lord standing among them, when he greets them, ‘Peace be with you,’ and when he shows them his pierced hands and side.

They had to see and to hear, they had to have the Master stand over them in their presence, before they could believe.

On the first Easter Day, the Disciples locked themselves away out of fear. But where is Thomas? Is he fearless? Or is he foolish?

For a full week, Thomas is absent and does not join in the Easter experience of the remaining disciples. He has not seen and so he refuses to believe. When they tell him what has happened, Thomas refuses to accept their stories of the Resurrection. For him hearing, even seeing, are not enough.

Thomas wants to see, hear and touch. He wants to use all his learning faculties before he can believe this story. He has heard, but he wants to see. When he sees, he wants to touch … he demands not only to touch the Risen Christ, but to touch his wounds too before being convinced.

And so, for a second time within eight days, Christ comes and stands among his disciples, and says: ‘Peace be with you.’

Mary was asked in the garden on Easter morning not to cling on to Christ. But Thomas is invited to touch him in the most intimate way. He is told to place his finger in Christ’s wounded hands and his hand in Christ’s pierced side.

Yet we are never told whether Thomas actually touched those wounds with his fingers. All we are told is that once he has seen the Risen Christ, Thomas simply professes his faith in Christ: ‘My Lord and my God!’

In that moment, we hear the first expression of faith in the two natures of Christ, that he is both divine and human. For all his doubts, Saint Thomas provides us with an exquisite summary of the apostolic faith.

Too often, perhaps, we talk about ‘Doubting Thomas,’ when we might better call him ‘Believing Thomas.’ His doubting leads him to question. But his questioning leads to listening. And when he hears, he sees, perhaps he even touches. Whatever he does, he learns in his own way, and he comes not only to faith but to faith that for this first time is expressed in that eloquent yet succinct acknowledgment of Christ as both ‘My Lord and My God.’

In our society today, are we easily deceived by appearances?

Do we confuse what pleases me with beauty and with truth?

Do we allow those who have power to define the boundaries of trust and integrity merely to serve their own interests?

Too often, in this world, we are deceived easily by the words of others and deceived by what they want us to see. Seeing is not always believing today. Hearing does not always mean we have heard the truth, as we know in Irish life and politics today. It is easy to deceive and to be deceived by a good presentation and by clever words.

Too often, we accept or judge people by their appearances, and we are easily deceived by the words of others because of their office or their privilege. But there are times when our faith, however simple or sophisticated, must lead us to ask appropriate questions, not to take everything for granted, and not to confuse what looks like being in our own interests with real beauty and truth.

As our churches reopen on Sunday, we need to find ways to assure people in their doubts, in their reluctance to join with us, and to find ways to invite them to see and believe again in their own time, to encounter the living Lord.

Saint Thomas … an icon in the chapel of Saint Columba House retreat centre in Woking, where USPG trustees met late last year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Readings: Habakkuk 2: 1-4; Psalm 31: 1-6; Ephesians 2: 19-22; John 20: 24-29.


Almighty and eternal God,
who, for the firmer foundation of our faith,
allowed your holy apostle Thomas
to doubt the resurrection of your Son
till word and sight convinced him:
Grant to us, who have not seen, that we also may believe
and so confess Christ as our Lord and our God;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of hope,
in this Eucharist we have tasted
the promise of your heavenly banquet
and the richness of eternal life.
May we who bear witness to the death of your Son,
also proclaim the glory of his resurrection,
for he is Lord for ever and ever.

The font from Saint Thomas Church in Newcastle West, Co Limerick … the font is inscribed ‘One Baptism For Remission of Sins’ … the church was deconsecrated in 1958 and demolished in 1962 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Thursday, 2 July 2020

A lost manuscript tells the life
of a Portuguese secret Jew
and the Inquisition in Mexico

Diego Rivera, ‘Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park’ (a detail), 1947, Museo Mural Diego Rivera, originally Hotel del Prado, Mexico City, illustrating an account by Professor Ronnie Perelis of his work on Luis de Carvajal and his manuscripts

Patrick Comerford

During the Covid-19 lockdown, one of my very individual choices for continuing education is taking part in a series of weekly Zoom seminars or webinars on Sephardic history, organised by the Bevis Marks Synagogue and the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Community in London.

Earlier this week (30 June 2020), Rabbi Shalom Morris was in conversation with Professor Ronnie Perelis of Yeshiva University, New York, who spoke about ‘The Sephardic Atlantic: networks of family and faith.’

Yeshiva University has grown from a small yeshiva offering some secular education to Jews on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1886 to a prestigious university that integrates the knowledge of Western civilisation and the rich treasures of Jewish culture.

Yeshiva University supports three undergraduate schools, including Torah studies programes, seven graduate and professional schools, affiliates such as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, scholarly centres and institutes, several libraries, a museum and a university press. Yeshiva University has four campuses in New York, and each school retains the intimate character of a smaller institution.

Professor Ronnie Perelis is an Associate Professor of Sephardic Studies at Yeshiva University. He believes that the past can inform and energise the present, and in his work he explores the complex relationship between Iberian and Jewish culture, with research that explores connections between Iberian and Jewish culture during the medieval and early modern periods.

His research interests include Jewish culture and society in mediaeval Iberia; post-expulsion Sephardic diasporas; early modern Jewish autobiography and travel literature; the Inquisition and crypto-Judaism in colonial Latin America; Atlantic studies; and Latin American Jewish culture.

His work on Sephardic history investigates the dynamics of religious transformation within the context of the crypto-Jewish experience. His conversation in this week’s webinar drew on his book, Blood and Faith: Family and Identity in the Early Modern Sephardic Atlantic (Indiana University Press, 2016), which explores family and identity in the Sephardic Atlantic world.

In this book, identity, family and community unite three autobiographical texts by New World crypto-Jews, or descendants of Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity in 17th-century Iberia and Spanish America. There he presents the fascinating stories of three men who were caught up in the persecutions of the Inquisition, expanding global trade, and the network of crypto-Jewish activity.

On Tuesday, Dr Perelis introduced us to these writings, which depict the social history of transatlantic travel, the trade between Europe and the Americas, and the physical and spiritual journeys of the age.

He told us how the oldest Jewish document of the New World has been returned to Mexico more than seven decades after it disappeared. The autobiography of Luis de Carvajal, a New Christian or converso Jew in Mexico, dates from 1595 but was stolen from Mexico’s national archives almost 90 years ago.

Luis de Carvajal was born in Portugal and became the governor of the Spanish province of Nuevo León in present-day Mexico. His enemies knew he was a descendant of conversos and bribed one of his captains to mention his name to the Inquisition in Mexico City.

The Carvajal family were conversos, descendants of Jews who converted to Catholicism often under great duress in Spain and Portugal during the late Middle Ages. A minority of these forced converts maintained their Jewish faith in secret, braving the wrath of the Inquisition. While the Inquisition only functioned in the Americas from 1571, many conversos migrated to the ports and major urban centres in the Americas.

The Carvajal family moved to Mexico seeking economic opportunities and the chance to remake themselves in a new land. Carvajal’s uncle, also Luis de Carvajal, was a decorated conquistador who became the governor of the frontier territory of the Nuevo Reino de León in the north-east part of modern-day Mexico.

He invited his relatives to join him in New Spain. While he was a devout Catholic, many of his family were crypto-Jews, including his nephew Luis, who became his main assistant.

Eventually, their secret unravelled, and the family was arrested by the Inquisition in 1589. The younger Luis, his mother, and his sisters all asked for mercy and were placed in the monastery of Santiago de Tlatelolco to serve out their penance and where he taught Latin to the Franciscan seminarians. There in the library, he also had access to classical works of Jewish scholarship, such as Maimonides, Rashi and the Midrash. He created an anthology of sources, and translates works that he shares with others, and reconstructs a form of Judaism for himself. His uncle, for his part, was stripped of his position, exiled and died in prison.

Soon after the younger Luis de Carvajal was released from the monastery, he began writing his spiritual autobiography. He was a trained calligrapher and wrote his story in tiny, lucid script in a small leather-bound book that he kept hidden on his person throughout his travels.

Carvajal wrote under a pseudonym and told of his Jewish faith. A dedication to the Lord of Hosts announces the beginning of Carvajal’s tale. He charts the guiding hand of Providence in his spiritual adventures, and his manuscripts includes memoirs, a book of psalms and commandments, and a collection of prayers.

The manuscripts also include El modo que es de Rezar, a guide to prayer for himself and others secret Jews in Mexico, and a two-page list of the acts of mercy that the ‘most high God performed for Joseph’ – a review of the major events in his short and tumultuous life. One section includes the Ten Commandments in Latin, written in beautiful large letters with gold leaf.

A page towards the end lists Jewish holidays and their corresponding Christian dates, with a column listing the names of Hebrew months and a list of transliterated Hebrew numbers from one to 10 – a Hebrew primer for a fully Latinised Converso Jew. There are some psalms in Latin, some prayers in Portuguese, and some cryptic lists that Dr Perelis thinks may be mystical codes waiting to be deciphered.

The last entry tells of his planned escape to Italy. But Carvajal and his family were arrested before they made it to safety. The autobiography that was meant to declare God’s mercies was found by the Inquisitors and used as evidence against them. In 1596, Luis de Carvajal, his mother and sisters, were condemned to the flames of an auto da fé in Mexico City for their secret adherence to Judaism.

The autobiography and some of Carvajal’s other writings were preserved with the extensive trial records in the Mexican National Archives until they were stolen in 1932. For over 80 years they were lost, until they resurfaced in New York in 2015. They were identified by Leonard Milberg, a renowned collector, who alerted the authorities and arranged to return the documents to Mexico.

Before their return, the manuscripts were displayed in New York, where Professor Perelis was able to study them. He had been working on Carvajal’s life story for the previous 15 years and had relied on a transcript of Carvajal’s autobiography by Alfonso Toro, made a few years before their theft.

The experience of the Carvajal family is often read as an exemplary tale of the abuses of religious authority and the struggle for freedom of belief. But Dr Perelis believes their story also complicates and enriches our understanding of Latin American religious history and points to the diversity of colonial society and the dynamism of religious creativity and expression that can still speak to spiritual seekers today.

An image at Lichfield
Cathedral that recalls
mediaeval anti-Semitism

The figure of Sinagoga, blindfolded by a snake, at Lichfield Cathedral … a motif surviving from mediaeval art depicting a hidden anti-Semitism (Photograph courtesy Clive Read)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing yesterday about the Crucifix on Charles Bridge, and how it became a symbol of anti-Semitism in the Czech capital from 1696, when Elias Backoffen, a Jewish community leader, was punished for an alleged blasphemy by a Jewish businessman and was forced to pay for gold-plated lettering in Hebrew around the head of Christ in a misappropriation of a sacred Jewish liturgical text.

But a collection of photographs taken by Clive Read around Lichfield and posted later in the day in a Facebook group, reminded me that there is another figure on Lichfield Cathedral that appears on cathedrals throughout Europe too and that is often interpreted as a mediaeval anti-Semitic image.

Notre Dame Cathedral in the heart of Paris is among the most visited sites on the planet and a splendid example of Gothic architecture.

Two statues, known as Ecclesia and Sinagoga and often seen as pair on mediaeval cathedrals. Ecclesia is often dressed in fine clothing and appears to be bathed in light, while Sinagoga is dishevelled, with a large snake draped over her eyes like a blindfold.

Together, this pair forms a common mediaeval motif that represents the theological concept known as supercessionism, in which the Church is triumphant and the Synagogue is defeated. Sinagoga is sometimes seen – for example in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris – with head bowed, broken staff, and the tablets of the law or Ten Commandments slipping from her hand and a fallen crown at her feet. Ecclesia stands upright with crowned head and carries a chalice and a staff adorned with the Cross.

Images mocking Jews and Judaism and encouraging anti-Semitic violence have been common throughout Europe since the early Middle Ages. In a time when many were illiterate, these images were the political cartoons and posters of the age, and the ridicule and carnage they promoted was both routine and sanctioned by the secular and religious authorities of the day.

Ecclesia and Sinagoga often appear as large, sculpted figures on either side of a church or cathedral portal. Famous examples include those at Strasbourg Cathedral. They are also found in Romanesque art standing on either side of the Cross at the Crucifixion.

In images of the Crucifixion, Ecclesia may hold a chalice catching the blood flowing from Christ’s side, while Sinagoga may hold a sheep or goat or its head, signifying Temple sacrifice, in contrast to Ecclesia’s chalice representing the Eucharist. If she is not blindfolded, Sinagoga is usually looking down.

They first appear in documents in the early ninth century. They appear in Crucifixion scenes from the 11th century, and reappear in the 12th century in a more strongly contrasted way that emphasises the defeat of Sinagoga. From then on, blindfolded Sinagoga is seen with a broken lance becomes usual. The portal figures at cathedral portals date from the 13th century on.

These figures reflect a Christian view, often known as Supersessionism, that held that Judaism was no longer a valid religion with a covenantal relationship with God, and that all Jews should convert to Christianity.

Mediaeval Sinagoga’s blindfold reflected the charge that Jews had stubbornly failed to ‘see’ that Christianity had replaced Judaism. This view spread throughout the mediaeval church and became an excuse for anti-Semitism, typified in the vile anti-Semitism expressed by Martin Luther and others. Today, this has been replaced generally by dual-covenant theology.

The covering over Sinagoga’s eyes is derived Saint Paul’s words in II Corinthians:

[We are] not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed (II Corinthians 3: 15-16, NRSVA).

The paired figures are generally found on the cathedrals of larger cities in northern Europe that had significant Jewish communities, especially in Germany. They were intended to remind Jews of their place in a Christian society. Many Jews, like Christians, conducted business in churches, and, coming and going, they would pass through these figures.

There are examples on the portals of the cathedrals at Minden, Bamberg and Freiburg in Germany, and Paris, Metz and Strasbourg in France. There are remains of pairs in England at Rochester, Lincoln, Salisbury and Winchester. There may have been pairs in London and York too, but this is the first time I have realised there is a similar image at Lichfield Cathedral.

In most cases, they date to the arrival of larger Jewish communities in Western Europe from the late 10th to the 12th centuries, and to the 12th-century Renaissance debates between Christian and Jewish scholars on interpretations of the Hebrew Bible.

But what is surprising about the Lichfield Sinagogia is that until now mediaeval Lichfield seems to have had no considerable Jewish presence. Perhaps this is an area for further research and exploration.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Some new books, with
new chapters, fresh
papers and book reviews

With Professor Salvador Ryan of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and Dom Colmán Ó Clabaigh of Glenstal Abbey at the launch of ‘Marriage and the Irish’ in the Royal Irish Academcy last year

Patrick Comerford

It is that time of the year when the Church of Ireland Directory is asking me to update my entry, with any changes to my personal details, including lists of any new publications since the 2020 edition of the Directory was published.

I had three papers to list in this year’s Directory: a feature in the Redemptorist publication Reality on Cecil Frances Alexander and her hymn ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and two chapters on weddings and marriages in a book edited by my friend and colleague Professor Salvador Ryan of Maynooth, Marriage and the Irish (Dublin: Wordwell, 2019), one on the 17-year-old wife of Bishop John Leslie, the ‘oldest bishop in Christendom’ and the other on ‘Four Victorian weddings and a funeral.’

The chapters in Salvador Ryan’s book follow two chapters in an earlier book on a similar theme, Death and the Irish (Dublin: Wordwell, 2016).

Like any writer, I have any number of projects on the go at any one time, and sometimes I lose track of papers submitted for publication in between the submission date and actual publication.

Since the 2020 edition of the Directory was prepared for publication, I have seen the publication of these papers or chapters:

Wellington: the Irish hero at Waterloo who introduced Catholic Emancipation’, in Hugh Baker and John McCullen (eds), Drogheda Grammar School, 1669-2019 (Drogheda: Drogheda Grammar School, 2019, xii + 236 pp), pp 31-37.

Are ‘conservative evangelicals’ really conservative and evangelicalSearch, a Church of Ireland journal, Vol 43 No 1 (Spring 2020), pp 5-13.

But there are other papers in the pipeline, or going to press, and I wondered in recent days whether they had been accepted or were being published. When I was in academic life, publication in books and peer-reviewed journals was important for one’s academic reputation and standing. So, it was good to hear this week that five more papers are going to see the light of day this year or early next year.

Two submissions are to appear in a new book edited by Salvador Ryan and John-Paul Sheridan marking the 225th anniversary of Maynooth. One looks at the history of Saint Mary’s Church of Ireland parish church, which abuts the grounds of Maynooth College, and the other recalls the day I graduated STB, BD, at Maynooth in 1987:

Salvador Ryan and John-Paul Sheridan (eds), We Remember Maynooth: A College Across Four Centuries (Dublin: Messenger Publications, in press, to be published October 2020).

Two further submissions are to appear in Salvador Ryan’s planned follow-up to Death and the Irish and Marriage and the Irish. One looks at the birth in poverty in Dublin of Albert Grant, who became a Conservative MP and a financial fraudster, and the other tells the story of sons in the French family in Co Roscommon who were born to parents who married each other, not once but twice, and why some of them were unable to inherit the family title:

Salvador Ryan (ed), Birth and the Irish: a Miscellany (Dublin: Wordwell Press, forthcoming, 2021).

In addition, Professor Ryan is one of the co-editors of the Irish Theological Quarterly, and one of my book reviews is being published in the August 2020 edition (85: 3).

It is always pleasant for a writer to work with an appreciative and encouraging editor. There might even be a few Christmas presents in the making here.

We Remember Maynooth: A College Across Four Centuries

How the Charles Bridge
Crucifix became an image
of anti-Semitism in Prague

The Crucifix on the Charles Bridge, Prague … the head of Christ is surrounded with verses from the ‘Kedushah’ – and has a backward letter aleph (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

In today’s debates about the appropriate place of statues of slaveholders and politicians with extreme views, perhaps some attention should turn towards a statue on the Charles Bridge, one of the best known sights in Prague, the Czech capital.

At first sight, a large Crucifix and Calvary scene might seem appropriate early expressions of Catholic piety alongside the saints that line each side of the 15th-century bridge across the Vltava River.

But all is not as it seems, as I learned during a visit to Prague last year.

In all, there are 30 statues or collections of statues on the pedestrian bridge that connects the Old Town to Prague Castle. They form two rows, one on each side of the bridge. Over the years, many statues have been damaged and many originals being replaced by copies.

The statue of Saint John of Nepomuk is the first of the many Baroque statues on the Charles Bridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The statue of Saint John of Nepomuk, installed on the north side of the bridge in 1683, was the first of the many Baroque statues on the bridge. It was commissioned to mark the 300th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint John of Nepomuk.

The bronze statue is based on a clay model made in 1681 by the Viennese sculptor Matthias Rauchmiller (1645-1686). The sculptor Jan Brokoff (1652-1718) created a large wooden sculpture based on Rauchmiller’s model, which was then cast in bronze in Nuremberg. Rauchmiller’s clay model is now in the National Gallery of Prague.

The statues of Saint Norbert, Saint Wenceslaus and Saint Sigismund on the north side of the Charles Bridge are the work of Josef Max (1804-1855), who was commissioned by the Abbot of Strahov in Prague, Dr Jeroným Zeidler. Saint Wenceslas is the patron of Prague and has another statue on the bridge, Saint Norbert was reburied in Strahov in 1627.

The statues of Saint Wenceslas, the patron of Prague, with Saint Norbert and Saint Sigismund (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

However, the one truly cringe-worthy statue on the bridge is a Crucifix that is part of a Calvary scene. The head of Christ is surrounded by the Hebrew words Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh, Adonai Tzva’ot (‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts’) from the Jewish prayer, the Kedushah. The inscription essentially appropriates Jewish liturgy to tell Jews they should worship Christ as God and in a not-too-subtle way seeks to blame Jews for the crucifixion of Christ.

The Crucifix and Calvary scene is one of the most historically interesting sculptures on the bridge, and it gained its present appearance gradually over many centuries.

The original wooden crucifix was installed soon after 1361 and was probably destroyed by the Hussites in 1419. A new crucifix with a wooden corpus was erected in 1629. but this was severely damaged by the Swedes near the end of the Thirty Years’ War. The remnants of this crucifix can be found in the National Museum in Prague.

The second crucifix was replaced by another wooden Calvary which, in turn, was replaced with a metal version in 1657. This crucifix, bought in Dresden, was originally made in 1629 by H Hillger, using a design by WE Brohn. Two lead figures were added in 1666, but these were replaced in 1861 by the present sandstone statues by Emanuel Max of the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist.

The controversial part of this composition is the gold-plated lettering which Elias Backoffen, a Jewish community leader, was forced to pay for in 1696 as a punishment for an alleged blasphemy by a Jewish businessman.

As his punishment, Backoffen was ordered to raise the funds to buy the gold-plated Hebrew letters that were placed around the head of the statue, spelling out ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord of Hosts,’ the Kedushah, the solemn Hebrew prayer incorporating verses from the Book of Isaiah, the Book of Ezekiel, and Psalm 146.

The Kedushah is traditionally the third section of all Amidah recitations. In the silent Amidah, it is a short prayer, but its public repetition is considerably lengthier and requires a minyan or quorum of ten Jewish men over the age of 13. The prayer incorporates three Biblical verses:

קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ ה' צְבָאוֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh Adonai Tz’vaot M’lo Khol Ha’aretz K’vodo

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory’ (Isaiah 6: 3).

בָּרוּךְ כְּבוֹד ה' מִמְּקוֹמוֹ

Baruch K’vod Adonai Mim’komo

‘Blessed is the Glory of the Lord in Its Place’ (Ezekiel 3: 12).

יִמְלֹךְ ה' לְעוֹלָם. אֱלֹהַיִךְ צִיּוֹן לְדֹר וָדֹר. הַלְלוּיָהּ

Yimloch Adonai L’Olam, Elohayich Tziyon L’dor Vador Hall’luyah

‘The Lord will reign for ever, your God, O Zion, for all generations, Hallelujah’ (Psalms 146: 10).

All three of the verses are recited as part of the congregational response to the cantor. For the first verse (Isaiah 6: 3), it is traditional for everyone to rise to their toes with each recitation of the word קָדוֹשׁ (kadosh, ‘holy’). During the Kedushah of the Amidah, those taking part in the prayer are expected to stand.

Of course, these verses are also adapted liturgically by Christians in the Sanctus and Benedictus at the Eucharist. But this lettering above the Crucifix is pointedly in Hebrew, and so the city fathers of Prague were appropriating one of the most sacred quotations in Judaism in a public effort to humiliate the city’s Jews with a reminder that they would be forced to look on each day as they crossed the bridge.

This has since become a prime example of late mediaeval European anti-Semitism and has long offended Jewish tourists in the city where the legendary mystic Rabbi Judah Loew created the fearsome Golem.

The letter א (aleph) in the word Tzva’ot is backwards, and tour guides once interpreted this as a secret signal to other Jews. In fact, the letter was removed by the Nazis during their occupation of Prague, and when the Czechs who restored the letters after the war made a mistake. In addition, the letter ו (vav) in Adonai seems to have gone missing.

The Charles Bridge is lined with 30 statues or collections of sculptures, and is one of the best-known sights in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019; click on image for full-screen view)

In recent years, in a long overdue righting of a wrong, the city has added a bronze tablet under the statue, with explanatory texts in Czech, English and Hebrew. The tablet was installed after Rabbi Ronald Brown of Temple Beth Am in Merrick, New York, noted the possibly offensive intention of the text during a visit to Prague.

After three centuries of silently mocking Prague’s Jews, three small plaques – in Czech, English and Hebrew – were affixed on a wall under the crucifix in 2009.

The bronze plaques read: ‘The addition to the statue of the Hebrew inscription and the explanatory texts from 1696 is the result of improper court proceedings against Elias Backoffen, who was accused of mocking the Holy Cross.’

The addition of the Hebrew inscription, ‘which represents a very important expression of faith in the Jewish tradition, was supposed to humiliate the Jewish Community.’ It is signed ‘The City of Prague.’

The texts were the subject of negotiations. An early draft featured much stronger language and called the cavalry scene ‘a witness to the gross disparagement of the idea of holiness.’ It detailed the hostile trial of Elias Backoffen and said the inscription was ‘a result of violence and an attempt to humble a community that worshipped in a different way.’

The plaques were unveiled on 8 March 2000, with about 40 North American rabbis, the Mayor of Prague, Jan Kasl, and several Catholic leaders present. The date was chosen to mark a variety of Christian reconciliation projects advocated by Pope John Paul II and Cardinal John O’Connor, Archbishop of New York.

Jan Kasl, who paid for the plaques himself, received critical letters from local neo-Nazis questioning the move. Some people at the unveiling hoped the plaques signalled improved relations between the city’s Christians and small, struggling Jewish community in Prague.

‘This statue now becomes a monument of the horrors of anti-Semitism and a great symbol of reconciliation,’ said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the North American Boards of Rabbis.

Bishop Pavel Pilsner said the plaques do not mean a diminution of Christian devotion to Christ, but are an effort to ask forgiveness from the Jewish community for the offending inscription that ‘insulted and reduced the dignity of the Jewish community of Prague.’

An armed Turk at the base of the statues of Saint John of Matha, Saint Felix of Valois, and Saint Ivan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

As for the other statues on the bridge, the statues of Saint John of Matha, Saint Felix of Valois and Saint Ivan form the most spacious and expensive sculpture. This collection was designed in 1714 by Jan Brokoff’s son, Ferdinand Brokoff (1688-1731), who is known for several statues on the bridge.

The sculpture was commissioned to honour the two founders of the Trinitarians, the order that ransomed or bought back and redeemed Christians held in captivity by the Turks. Saint Ivan, the saint patron of Slavs was added to the group for unknown reasons.

The base depicts a cave in which three chained Christians are praying for salvation behind a grille, watched over by Turk and a guard-dog.

Three chained Christians behind a grille beneath the statues of Saint John of Matha, Saint Felix of Valois and Saint Ivan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

A new Anglican province
is formed in Egypt
and across North Africa

Patrick Comerford with Archbishop Mouneer Anis at a recent USPG conference in High Leigh

Patrick Comerford

The Province of Alexandria has become the 41st province or self-self-governing Church in the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal/Anglican Province of Alexandria officially became the 41st province of the Anglican Communion yesterday (29 June 2020).

The new province was previously known as the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, and was then a diocese within the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.

The first Primate of the new autonomous church is Archbishop Mouneer Anis, who will continue in this role and in his existing role as the Bishop of Egypt until his retirement next year (2020).

The new Province of Alexandria has four dioceses: Egypt, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and Gambella (Ethiopia). It also covers ten countries: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. Morocco is included within the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe because to its proximity to Gibraltar.

The former Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa completed its transition into an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion after the move was approved at meeting of Anglican Primates in Jordan in January and by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The General Synod of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East approved the request to secede from its province, and the diocese then came under the temporary Metropolitical authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who signed a Dead of Relinquishment legally inaugurating the new Province of Alexandria.

The new Province is named after Alexandria, the north Egyptian city that was home to one of the earliest branches of the Christian Church.

Archbishop Mouneer Anis said, ‘the early church in Alexandria has shaped the Christian thought of the whole world during the first millennium. It is our prayers that the new Province of Alexandria would do the same during the third millennium.’

The former Diocese of Egypt has played a vital role in inter-faith dialogue and in recent years has been helping refugees from South Sudan and other countries along it borders.

An international service of thanksgiving to mark the inauguration of the new Province will be held in Cairo at a later date. The Province of Alexandria has been allocated Sunday 2 August in this year’s Anglican Cycle of prayer – a date that had been allocated to the now-postponed Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops.

Some years ago, when Archbishop Mouneer was the President Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, he was a speaker at the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), when he spoke about recent upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa.

He was asked frank questions about the conflict in Libya, the state of affairs in the ‘Holy Land,’ and what Anglicans can do.

Archbishop Mouneer has visited Libya many times, and before his fall Colonel Gadafy had handed over to the Anglican Church ‘a wonderful 16th century church’ in Tripoli that had been renovated at a cost of $1 million.

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said that Jerusalem has been at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict not just since the Israeli state was declared in 1948, but from very early on. Jerusalem is at the heart of the issue and at the heart of the conflict, he said, and we cannot ignore the place of Christians either. All three faiths have rights in the city. This is an international city, to which these three main religions should have free access. Both Jews and Muslims want exclusive access to Jerusalem, but a common-sense solution is required he said.

He spoke openly of the role of Anglicans as a small Church in every part of the Middle East. We have a bridging role between the Churches, as is being experienced in Egypt and Jerusalem, and in the Gulf, but Anglicans also have a bridging role between Christianity and Islam, and he believes Anglicans are the most active Church in dialogue in the region.

He provided an interesting analysis of the different Islamic groups in the Middle East, and pointed out that the majority of Muslims in the Middle East are peaceful, peace-loving moderate people, who have co-existed with Christians and Jews in the region for the past 14 centuries.

He offered interesting insights into the recent developments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Yemen Jordan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq, and spoke with compassion and passion of the experiences of young people and of women.

Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis with the Coptic leader, the late Pope Shenouda III (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the USPG conference that year, Archbishop Mouneer pointed out that the Coptic Orthodox Church, with 12 million members, is not only the biggest Church in Egypt, but is also the biggest Church in the Middle East. They are paying a heavy price, he said, and they remember that they were martyred in the first centuries and after the Islamic conquest, that they have suffered in the past, and that they have paid the price.

He offered interesting insights into the role of Turkey and its influence on many thinkers in Syria, Egypt and Tunisia. He pointed out that Islam in Turkey is different, more moderate and more peaceful, that Arab countries are watching Turkey, and, he suggested then, they were thinking Turkey’s model could be a good one.

I first got to know Archbishop Mouneer during working visits to Egypt around 2003 and 2004, when I was working on a resource pack, including a DVD, on Christian-Muslim dialogue. Later, he visited Ireland, including Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. He took part in one of the ‘Discovery’ services in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s Church, I brought him to the mosque in Clonskeagh, and he and his family were guests in my home in Dublin.

Archbishop Mouneer Anis spent 26 years in medical practice before becoming a bishop. Speaking at that USPG conference in High Leigh, near Hoddesdon, he drew on his own experiences as a doctor and a bishop in Egypt.

A pressing need in the 21st century is the need for health care, which is a basic human right and which underpins the millennium development goals. As Anglicans, he said, we need to be involved in restoring wholeness, and to follow in the steps of Jesus who sent his disciples to heal the sick and preach the kingdom.

Archbishop Mouneer pointed out that the healing ministry of Christ was linked with his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, and the outcome of healing always was that people give glory to God. When the Church offers healing, we walk in the steps of Christ and fulfil his mission, offering a practical response to the command to love our neighbour.

He also recalled the beginnings of the medical mission of the Anglican Church in Egypt, which is traced back to Dr Frank Harpur, a TCD-trained doctor and CMS missionary from Ireland who is well-known for eradicating the parasite enclostomi in Egypt.

Dr Harpur began working on the Nile on a floating house boat that he used as a hospital, visiting villages on the banks of the Nile and in the Nile delta, treating villagers. From this work, the Harpur Memorial Hospital was built in Menouf in 1910. ‘And they are still talking about Harpur,’ said Dr Mouneer, a former director of the hospital.

Providing figures on the state of the health of the world’s children, he told that year’s USPG conference: ‘Looking at all these sad figures, the Church cannot be silent.’ The work may be like a drop of water in the ocean, but we should do our best to relieve the suffering of people, in that way becoming partakers in Christ’s mission and compassion, he said.

We need to translate the good news of the Gospel into action, Archbishop Mouneer said. ‘There is an abundance of preaching in the Church, but the world wants to see the Gospel in action and not just to hear about it.’

He said health care is showing the Gospel in action. He recalled that he is asked frequently by Muslim friends in Egypt when they see the work of Christian-run hospitals, why Christians care in such a way. He answers because Jesus taught us to love everyone, and because he loved everyone. Love involves action and sacrifice. Healing and health are not only physical but holistic. The healing ministry is a vocation and not just a job, and practising medicine is a calling and not a job.

Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis in Christ Church Cathedral during a visit to Dublin

July 2020 in the Rathkeale and
Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes

A vision of the heavenly city (see Revelation 21) depicted in the West Window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The churches in this group of parishes re-open, with a mixture of caution and joy, in July: Askeaton and Tarbert on Sunday 5 July and Castletown and Rathkeale on Sunday 12 July.

If you feel vulnerable, or you are in the ‘at risk’ category, or you have recently been in contact with someone who has had Covid-19 symptoms, you may find comfort instead in reading the Sunday sermons and intercessions on-line.

Some pews have been roped off or marked in each church to help us maintain social distancing. The names and contact details of people attending will be kept for 14 days, only for the purposes of contacting and tracing.

On the first two Sundays, the Parish Eucharist will be celebrated to mark this special landmark in the life of these parishes. But after those two Sundays, we shall return to the normal rota of Sunday services in each church, hopefully.

To reduce the amount of time we are indoors, we are having only two readings and two hymns each Sunday at the moment.

No prayer books or hymnals are available, there is no exchange of peace, to reduce contact risks, and for these first few weeks there is no hymn-singing. But laminated service sheets are being prepared, and we can sit and thoughtfully listen to the two recorded hymns.

The Holy Communion will be administered only in one kind, and there is no shared common cup, for health reasons. At first, we may find that the administration of Communion is awkward or difficult. But be assured we are all in Communion with God and with one another.

Hand sanitising facilities are available at each church. Please do not bring your own prayer book or hymnal, and please remember to take home everything, including your tissues.

‘Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house’ (I Peter 2: 5) … a cross carved into a corner stone at the church in Vlatadon monastery in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sunday 5 July (Trinity IV):

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

11.30 a.m. The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2): Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry

Liturgical colour: Red

Readings: Revelation 21: 9-14; Psalm 122; Matthew 21: 12-16


325: Be still, for the presence of the Lord (CD 20)
338: Jesus stand among us (CD 20)

Sunday 12 July (Trinity V):

9.30 a.m. The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2): Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick

11.30 a.m. The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2): Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick

Liturgical colour: Red

Readings: I Peter 2: 1-10; Psalm 121; John 10: 22-29


330: God is here! As we his people (CD 20)
374, When all thy mercies, O my God (CD 22)

Sunday 19 July (Trinity VI):

9.30 a.m. Morning Prayer (MP 2): Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

11.30 a.m. The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2): Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry

Liturgical colour: Green

Readings: Genesis 28: 10-19a; Psalm 139: 1-11, 23-24; Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43


657, O God of Bethel, by whose hand (CD 38)
336, Jesus, where’er thy people meet (CD 20)

Sunday 26 July (Trinity VII):

9.30 a.m. Morning Prayer (MP 2): Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick

11.30 a.m. The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2): Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick

Liturgical colour: Green


Genesis 29: 15-28; Psalm 105: 1-11, 45b; Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52


544, O perfect love, all human thought transcending (CD 31)
95, Jesu, priceless treasure (CD 6)

Saints’ Days in July:

3 July: Saint Thomas
22 July: Saint Mary Magdalene
25 July: Saint James the Apostle

Monday, 29 June 2020

A reminder of ministry,
mission and unity
on Saint Peter’s Day

The Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul holding the church in unity … an early 18th century icon in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Last week, I marked the 20th anniversary of my ordination as deacon in 2000 and the 19th anniversary of my ordination as priest in 2001. In recent days, many of ordained colleagues have been posting photographs on social media celebrating the anniversaries of their ordinations too.

Today is Saint Peter’s Day (29 June), and this time of the year is known in Anglican tradition as Petertide, one of the two traditional periods for the ordination of new priests and deacons – the other being Michaelmas, around 29 September.

The Cambridge poet-priest Malcolm Guite says on his blog that Saint Peter’s Day and this season is appropriate for ordinations because Saint Peter is ‘the disciple who, for all his many mistakes, knew how to recover and hold on, who, for all his waverings was called by Jesus “the rock,” who learned the threefold lesson that every betrayal can ultimately be restored by love.’

In other church calendars, today is the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, honouring their martyrdom in Rome.

In the Orthodox Church, Saint Peter and Saint Paul are seen as figures of Church Unity, sharing a common faith and mission despite their differences. They are often seen as paired, flanking images at entrances to churches, and the icon of Christian Unity in the Orthodox tradition shows the Apostles Peter and Paul embracing each other – signs of the early Church overcoming its differences and affirming its diversity.

Peter’s Cell is an unusual place-name in the heart of the old city in Limerick. It marks the site of a house established by Donal Mor O Brian (1168-1194) for the Canonesses of Saint Augustine in 1171. Very little is known about these canonesses, apart from the fact that they had a church dedicated to Saint Peter – the word cell comes from cella or a room for each nun.

Despite the forced departure of the Augustinian canonesses at the dissolution of monastic houses during the Reformation, the name of Peter’s Cell survived in a small corner near the junction of Bishop Street and Peter Street. In the late 17th century, the Quakers had a small burial ground near Peter’s Cell, and the Dissenters, the precursors of the Presbyterians, rented the former site of the canonesses, from Lord Milton from the 1690s until they built a new meeting house or chapel in Peter Street in 1765.

Part of the ruined convent buildings was converted into the Peter’s Cell Theatre around 1760. Later, Saint Munchin’s College was located in Peter’s Cell briefly in 1800-1809.

So, Peter’s Cell has been used by Augustinians, Quakers, Presbyterians, theatregoers, and as a diocesan seminary. Another form of ecumenism and diversity in centuries gone by, I suppose. But then our ministry must always involve mission in a broken world, and not in a world as we would like to find it. And, at the heart of that ministry and mission must be the quest for unity among all Christians.

Pope Francis marked the feast of Saint Peter and Paul earlier today stressing the importance of unity in the Church and allowing ourselves to be challenged by God, urging people to spend less time complaining about what they see going wrong, and more time in prayer.

He noted that Saint Peter and Saint Paul were two very different men who ‘could argue heatedly’ but who ‘saw one another as brothers, as happens in close-knit families where there may be frequent arguments but unfailing love.’

God, he said, ‘did not command us to like one another, but to love one another. He is the one who unites us, without making us all alike.’

Saint Peter in chains (see Acts 12) … the window by Charles Eamer Kempe in Lichfield Cathedral commemorating Dean Herbert Mortimer Luckock shows (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)


Ezekiel 3: 22-27; Acts 12: 1-11; Matthew 16: 13-19.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who inspired your apostle Saint Peter
to confess Jesus as Christ and Son of the living God:
Build up your Church upon this rock,
that in unity and peace it may proclaim one truth
and follow one Lord, your Son our Saviour Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The name of Peter’s Cell has survived at the corner of Peter Street and Bishop Street in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When Catholic Staffordshire
was once pitied as
‘the fag-end of the world’

Inside Holy Cross Church, Lichfield … built before the arrival of Irish Catholics in Lichfield in large numbers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In my stories in recent weeks about Staffordshire Catholics and the Wolseley family, many families emerge as prominent Roman Catholics in Staffordshire for successive generations, so that, as Michael Greenslade says in his book Catholic Staffordshire, it is obvious how Catholicism survived in Staffordshire more strongly that anywhere else in England except Lancashire.

These families included the Aston, Biddulph, Clifford, Comberford, Draycott, Fitzherbert, Fowler, Giffard, Harcourt, Howard, Littleton, Perry, Stafford, Stanford, Sutton, Talbot, Weld and Whitgreave families.

The late Sir Charles Wolseley was anxious to point out to me that his family were Catholics too. Some 16th and 17th century members of the family, including Cassandra, Erasmus and Walter Wolseley, were Catholics. But later members of the family became Catholics through marriages with some of these families, including the Clifford and Weld families. So, in the traditional understanding of the term, his family were not one of the old recusant families in Staffordshire.

Some of these families had early Irish connections, including the Wolseleys, and in the complex, tangled web that is their family tree, the English title of baronet was inherited in the Irish branch of the family, and another Irish branch of the family who received their own title became, in turn, heirs to the English title.

Saint Giles’s Church, Cheadle … designed by AWN Pugin and built for the Earl of Shrewsbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Some of the early Irish connections with Staffordshire Catholics include the marriages between the Dillon family and the heirs of the Stafford family and of the Lee family, Earls of Lichfield.

The self-styled Sir James Fitzgerald, who used an Irish title of baronet from Co Limerick or Co Cork, was living at Wolseley Hall at the time of his death in 1839. His widow, Lady Fitzgerald, lived at Maple Hayes, near Pipe Hall, Lichfield, before moving to Castle Ishen, Co Cork, with her children in the 1840s or 1850s.

John Talbot (1791-1852), 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, who lived at Alton Towers and commissioned AWN Pugin to build many churches in Staffordshire, including Saint Giles’s Church in Cheadle, was once ‘the most prominent British Catholic of day’ – although he was the last Earl of Shrewsbury to be a Roman Catholic.

Lord Shrewsbury extended his family’s Irish connections when he married Maria Theresa Talbot, daughter of Thomas William Talbot of Castle Talbot, Co Wexford – an Irish branch of the Talbot family that were patrons of Pugin too and that for generations claimed close kinship with the Talbots, Earls of Shrewsbury, in a way that parallels the claims of the Comerford family in Ireland to kinship with the Comberford family in Staffordshire.

The Talbot mausoleum dating from the early 19th-century in the mediaeval churchyard at John Street, Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

John and Maria were the parents of two daughters who married two Italian princes. Their elder daughter, Lady Mary Alathea Beatrix Talbot, married Prince Filippo Andrea Doria-Pamphilj Landi in Rome in 1832 after meeting at the coronation of Queen Victoria, who suggested Lady Mary as one of the eight coronal train-bearers as a gesture towards her father who was then the oldest earl in the kingdom and a Roman Catholic. Later, Mary was given the title of Prinzessin von Bayern, or a Princess of Bavaria, by King Ludwig I of Bavaria.

Their younger daughter, Lady Gwendoline Catherine Talbot (1817-1840), was described by William IV as the ‘greatest beauty in the realm.’ She too married an Italian prince: Prince Marcantonio Borghese, Prince of Sulmona, in Rome in 1835.

The families of both daughters – like many leading Staffordshire Catholic families of the day – attended the society wedding of Sir Charles Wolseley and Anita Murphy in London in 1883. Today, the Anglican Centre in Rome is housed in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

A carved portrait at Oscott College of Father John Kirk … he built new churches in Lichfield and Tamworth in the 1820s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But, despite these Irish connections by marriage and descent in earlier families, the perceived wealth and social status of the Dillon-Lee, Fitzgerald, Talbot, Wolseley and other old recusant families in Staffordshire, isolated them from the Irish silk weavers who arrived in Staffordshire in the early 19th century, and the impoverished Irish immigrants who arrived in Lichfield and other parts of Staffordshire from the mid-19th century on.

Irish immigrants had settled in the potteries by the late 1820s, but those Irish silk weavers who late moved on to Manchester and Macclesfield in the 1830s.

Meanwhile, Father John Kirk built Holy Cross Church in Lichfield in the 1820s and a new church in Tamworth partly endowed by Lord Shrewsbury in Tamworth.

When Kirk extended the church in Lichfield in the 1830s and the 1840s, there were about 60 communicants and a small number of children. Numbers increased slightly with the arrival of French prisoners of war, but even when the core congregation increased to 75 or 80 in the early 1840s, the few Irish people – apart from Lady Fitzgerald and her family – may have been people stopping off on the road between Liverpool and London, bringing the number of churchgoers to about 90.

The Irish population in Lichfield in the mid-19th century was living mainly in the Sandford Street area (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

However, the composition or makeup of his parish changed as a large number of Irish people moved into the Sandford Street area of Lichfield by the middle of the century. At the same time, new Catholic churches were built in Bilston and Burton-upon-Trent in response to the arrival of new Irish workers attracted by expanding local industries in the 1840s.

The Rugeley mission was described in 1847 as ‘paralysed with poverty.’ At Walsall, the priest said an early mass on Sunday mornings in 1851 ‘for poor people who from want of proper clothes do not like to appear out of doors at a later period of the day.’

The people who arrived in Staffordshire in a new ‘influx of Irish’ in the early 1850s were described by one priest as ‘mostly very destitute.’ Mother Margaret Hallahan, a Dominican nun who established a convent at the Foley in Fenton in 1851 before moving to Stone in 1853, described the area as ‘a complete range of dust hills. The people say it is the fag-end of the Potteries; I think it is the fag-end of the world.’

By the mid-19th century, the old recusant families had become a minority among the Catholic population of Staffordshire, and the immigrant Irish families were fast becoming the majority.

Today, the Catholic population of Staffordshire is much more diverse, and descendants of those poor Irish immigrants of over a century and a half ago are completely integrated into English life.

The arms of the Talbot family, Earls of Shrewsbury, represented on the doors of Saint Giles’s Church, Cheadle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Sunday intercessions on
28 June 2020 (Trinity III)

‘Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death’ (Psalm 13: 3), ‘present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life’ (Romans 6: 13) … a funeral stele in Kerameikos Cemetery in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These intercessions were prepared for the Third Sunday after Trinity, 28 June 2020, in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. However, the churches have been closed temporarily because of the Covid-19 pandemic:

Let us pray:

Let us present ourselves to God,
for we have been brought from death to life (Romans 6: 13)

Heavenly Father,
Look upon us and answer us, O Lord our God (see Psalm 13: 3).

Comfort us in all our troubles and anxieties,
challenge us when we become too comfortable,
give us hope for all that is wonderful.

Comfort those who are isolated, alone and living in fear;
sustain and protect frontline workers;

Give hope to schools and places of education,
guide all who make difficult decisions,
help us to protect our communities and ourselves.

Give wisdom to the Taoiseach and the new government,
give wisdom to all people
crying for justice and seeking peace.

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

Lord Jesus Christ:
you call on us to welcome others as we would welcome you (Matthew 10: 40-42)

As our churches prepare to reopen throughout this diocese
next Sunday,
we pray for the Church,
that we may be prepared to be open and welcoming.

We pray for churches that are closed this morning,
that the hearts of the people may remain open
to the love of God, and to the love of others.

In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer, we pray this week
for the United Church of North India,
and Most Revd Dr Prem Chand Singh, Moderator, and Bishop of Jabalpur.

In the Church of Ireland, we pray this month for
the Diocese of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh,
and for Bishop Ferran Glenfield.

We pray for our Bishop Kenneth;

In the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer,
we pray for Youth work in our dioceses,
and the work of Boys’ Brigade,
the Girls’ Friendly Society,
the Tuam, Killala and Achonry Children and Youth,
and the United Diocesan Youth Council, Limerick and Killaloe.

Christ have mercy,
Christ have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
may we put our trust in God’s steadfast love (Psalm 13: 5):

We pray for ourselves and for our needs,
for healing, restoration and health,
in body, mind and spirit.

We pray for one another,
for those who are alone and lonely …
for those who are sick, at home or in hospital …
Alan and Margaret … Ajay … Charles …
Maria … Niall … Linda … Simon …

We give thanks for Lorraine’s successful treatment.

We pray for those who have broken hearts …
for those who live with disappointment …
We pray for all who are to be baptised …
We pray for all preparing to be married …
We pray for those who are about to die …

We pray for those who mourn and grieve…
we remember those who have died recently …
remembering this morning Tom Barrett and his family …
may their memories be a blessing …

We pray for those who have asked for our prayers …
and for those we have offered to pray for …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

A reflection on the Third Sunday after Trinity
in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG,
United Society Partners in the Gospel:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23: 1-2).

Merciful Father, …