Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Two days in Valencia,
the third city of Spain
with a Gothic heart

Fresh oranges on sale in the Mercado Central or central market in Valencia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

I am spending two days in Valencia, on the east coast of Spain. This is my seventh time to visit Spain, but like many people I have long overlooked Valencia.

Valencia is Spain’s third city, but for tourists and travellers, it is almost as if Valencia lives in the shadows of Barcelona. Both Valencia and Barcelona are Catalan-speaking cities, and Valencian is the Catalan dialect spoken throughout the ethnically Catalan Valencia region, just south of Catalonia.

The port city of Valencia is on Spain’s south-east Orange Blossom Coast, where the Turia River meets the Mediterranean Sea. Valencia also has several beaches, including some within nearby Albufera park, a wetlands reserve with a lake, walking trails and bird-watching.

Valencia was founded as a Roman colony in 138 BCE. Its historic centre is one of the largest in Spain, covering about 169 hectares.

Valencia has a relatively dry subtropical Mediterranean climate with very mild winters and long warm to hot summers. In recent years, more people are discovering this friendly haven and the sites that make Valencia special and one of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations.

The similarities with Barcelona, which I visited in 2016, are striking. Each Mediterranean port has a massive harbour full of cruise ships, a pretty beachfront promenade, an atmospheric Gothic core, a picturesque central market, and attractive, futuristic glass architecture along the waterfront.

The flag of Valencia shows the city’s and the region’s identity with Catalonia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The heart of Valencia is its Barrio Carmen, a labyrinth of mediaeval lanes full of dusty Art Nouveau pharmacies, crumbling castle walls, Gothic archways, airy plazas full of café tables, and bubbling fountains.

The architectural sites in the heart of the city include La Catedral, the centrepiece of the old town, which claims the original Holy Grail among its treasures; La Lonja, the 15th century Gothic silk and commodities’ exchange; the Mercado Central or central market; and the 100-year-old Estación del Norde, the city’s beautiful Modernista train station.

Valencia’s Museum of Fine Arts specialises in works from Spain’s Golden Age, with pieces by Goya, Velázquez, Sorolla and the Flemish masters.

The Alameda is a green river of lawns and gardens that snakes through the ancient city. Wherever you stroll, a breath of fresh air is nearby, along with shady paths and benches ripe for picnicking.

Barcelona has long had the tourism edge over other cities with Gaudí’s distinctive architecture, cheap flights and a better soccer team. But lately Valencia has come into its own as a destination for things not seen farther north, and as a less suffocating, more tranquil alternative.

I also hope to the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, the City of Arts and Sciences, designed by the Valencian architect, Santiago Calatrava, and Felix Candela who have produced a cultural complex of glittering glass structures that soars above the waterfront, just a short stroll from the Roman walls.

At the height of a property boom in the early 2000s, Valencia decided it wanted to raise its profile through the kind of hyper-ambitious, grandiose architectural project that would attract a new kind of tourism.

Close by is Calatrava’s opera house, which has attracted Plácido Domingo, world-famous conductors, and a dance series with features from flamenco to zarzuela.

I am conscious that back in Ireland there is snow, ice and freezing temperatures. But here, the oranges are ripening on the trees, the skies are blue, and the temperatures are in the high teens, even though this is still January. I arrived on a direct flight with Ryanair from Dublin and I am staying at the Senator Parque Central Hotel, just a short walk from the city centre. Join me over these few days as I walk around the streets of Valencia.

(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

«Καλόν ταξείδιον» … ‘Travel Well’ … greetings in Greek at the Estación del Norde, Valencia’s architecturally beautiful train station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Monday, 27 January 2020

Saint Botolph without
Aldgate, a City church on
the edge of the East End

Saint Botolph without Aldgate, a parish church in the City of London that is also a part of the East End (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The churches I visited in London last week included Saint Botolph without Aldgate, a parish church in the City of London that is also a part of the East End, standing on the edge of Whitechapel.

The parish was united with the Church of Holy Trinity, Minories, in 1899, so that the full name of the church is Saint Botolph without Aldgate and Holy Trinity Minories. But it is sometimes known simply as Aldgate Church.

The church stands at the junction of Houndsditch and Aldgate High Street, about 30 metres east of the former position of Aldgate, a defensive barbican in London’s wall.

This was one of four churches in mediaeval London dedicated to Saint Botolph or Botwulf, a 7th century East Anglian saint, each of which stood by one of the gates to the City. The other three were Saint Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, which I have visited regularly; Saint Botolph’s-without-Aldersgate in the west, which I also visited last week; and Saint Botolph’s, Billingsgate, by the riverside, which was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666 and was never rebuilt.

Before the legend of Saint Christopher gained popularity, Saint Botolph was revered as the patron saint of travellers, which explains why he gave his name to so many churches at the City gates.

An icon of Saint Botolph without Aldgate in the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The parochial foundations may very well date from before 1066, so there has been a church on the site for over 1,000 years. The first Rector, known only as Norman, is recorded in 1108. Soon afterwards, the church was received in 1155 by the prior and canons of Holy Trinity Priory, Aldgate which had recently been founded by Queen Matilda, wife of Henry I.

Geoffrey Chaucer lived in the parish in the 1370s in rooms above Aldgate gatehouse.

Inside Saint Botolph without Aldgate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The original Saxon church was enlarged in 1418 and almost entirely rebuilt in the 16th century with funds received at the dissolution of Holy Trinity Priory in 1532.

The poet Edmund Spenser, author of ‘The Faerie Queene,’ was born in the parish in 1552.

The church was renovated in 1621, and escaped the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Daniel Defoe was married in the church in 1684. In a novel, he gives an horrific account of the Great Plague of 1665 when over 5,000 bodies were buried in a pit in the churchyard.

The church was described at the beginning of the 18th century as ‘an old church, built of Brick, Rubble and Stone, rendered over, and ... of the Gothick order.’ At the time, the building was 24 metres long and 16 metres wide. There was a tower, about 30 metres high, with six bells.

The organ by Renatus Harris was built in the early 18th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The organ by Renatus Harris was built in the early 18th century, and is said to be the oldest church organ in Britain. It was donated by Thomas Whiting in 1676, and was built between 1702 and 1704. It was enhanced for the new church (the current building) by Harris’s son-in-law, John Byfield, in 1740. It has recently been rebuilt and restored by the organ builders Goetze and Gwynn, who have returned it to its 1744 specification using many of the original components.

The Revd Thomas Bray (1658-1730), the founder of the Anglican mission agencies SPCK (Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge) in 1698 and SPG (now USPG, the United Society Partners in the Gospel) in 1701, was rector from 1706 to 1730.

A carving shows King David playing harp (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint Botolph’s was demolished as unsafe in 1739 and was completely rebuilt between 1741 and 1744, to a design by George Dance the Elder, who also built Mansion House, the official home of the Lord Mayor of London.

The exterior is of brick with projecting stone quoins, stone window casings and a stone cornice. The tower, also of brick, has rusticated quoins, and a stone obelisk spire.

A surviving monument in the church porch (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Inside, the church is divided into a nave and aisles by four widely spaced piers supporting a flat ceiling. There are galleries along three sides. The church is lit by two rows of windows in each side wall, one above and one below the gallery. The monuments from the old building were preserved and reinstalled in the new church.

The interior was redecorated by John Francis Bentley, the architect of Westminster Cathedral, in the late 19th century. He made the carved ceiling and added the decorative plasterwork, created the chancel by adding the side screens, replaced the gallery fronts with a pierced balustrade and replaced the large box pews with the present seating. His work survived the bombs which fell on this part of London during the World War II.

In the late Victorian period, Saint Botolph’s was often referred to as the ‘Church of Prostitutes.’ The church stands on an island surrounded by roadways and it was usual in these times to be suspicious of women standing on street corners. To escape arrest the prostitutes would parade around the island, now occupied by the church and Aldgate tube station.

The interior was redecorated by John Francis Bentley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The parish was united with the parish of Holy Trinity, Minories, when it closed in 1899. From that church, Saint Botolph’s inherited a preserved head, said to be the head of Henry Grey (1517-1554), 1st Duke of Suffolk, who was executed for treason by Queen Mary I in 1554. He was the father of Lady Jane Grey, known as the ‘Nine-Days Queen’ because she held the throne briefly between Edward VI and Mary I in 1553.

The church was severely bombed at intervals during the Blitz in World War II. In 1941 a bomb pierced the roof near the organ but failed to explode. The rector slept among the coffins in the crypt, coming out onto the church roof during air raids to put out incendiary bombs.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950. Following its restoration by Rodney Tatchell, the church was much damaged by an unexplained fire in 1965, and needed further restoration. Saint Botolph’s was rehallowed on 8 November 1966 by the Bishop of London

In the early 1970s, the crypt served as a homeless shelter at night and by day a youth club for Asian boys.

The three reredos panels were designed by Thetis Blacker in 1982 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The three reredos panels, made in a method of batik using dye and wax resist were designed by Thetis Blacker in 1982. Inspired by Saint John’s account of the Holy City (Revelation 21), she has placed the Tree of Life in the centre panel. From the roots of the tree flows the River of Life.

The foundations of the city are coloured according to their stones. In the side panels are angels guarding the gate, holding Alpha and Omega, symbolising the beginning and the end of creation.

The stoneware ceramic pyx holding the Blessed Sacrament was designed and made in the shape of a dove by Juliet Pilkington.

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement was founded at Saint Botolph’s in 1976 and through the 1980s and 1990s the church was a safe space for people who felt excluded from other churches because of their sexuality. The church continues to be a place where LGBT people are welcomed as an integral part of the community.

During an archaeological investigation of the crypt in 1990, the preserved head, reputed to be that of the Duke of Suffolk, was rediscovered and buried in the churchyard.

‘Shalom’ on the doors of the Peace Chapel … the church is long associated with the work of the Revd Ken Leech (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

For me, the church will always be associated with the Revd Dr Kenneth Leech (1939-2015), a priest in the Anglo-Catholic tradition of the ‘slum priests.’

For many years, the crypt at Saint Botolph’s was synonymous with the work for the homeless in the East End. Through the work of the rector at the time, the Revd Malcolm Johnson, and Ken Leech, Saint Botolph’s cared for hundreds of people each day, providing food, medical care and advice. Churches and businesses across the country supported the work. This work came to an end in 2004 but the parish is now looking at ways to use the crypt for community use.

He set up the charity Centrepoint, which became a leader in working with the young homeless people. As Rector of Saint Matthew’s, Bethnal Green (1974-1979), he was active in challenging the National Front. With Rowan Williams, later Archbishop of Canterbury and others, he established the Jubilee Group, a network of Christian socialists, in 1974.

He also worked on race relations with the British Council of Churches and at Church House, Westminster, and was director of the Runnymede Trust. His books include Soul Friend (1977).

In 1990 he moved to Whitechapel as a community theologian attached to Saint Botolph’s Aldgate. After retiring in 2004, he returned to Manchester and died on 12 September 2015.

Saint Botolph’s Aldgate is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 3 pm, although it is closed on Bank Holidays.

Saint Botolph’s Aldgate is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 3 pm (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Remembering Holocaust
Memorial Day 75 years after
the liberation of Auschwitz

Four ‘Stolpersteine’ or ‘Stumbling Stones’ on Rosenthaler strasse in Berlin by Gunther Demnig commemorate the Salinger family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day and also marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops on 27 January 1945.

Throughout Europe, I regularly come across the Stolpersteine or ‘Stumbling Stones’ by the German artist Gunter Demnig.

These Stolpersteine are memorials to the victims of Nazi persecution, including Jews, homosexuals, Romani and the disabled.

‘Stolpersteine’ or ‘Stumbling Stones’ on the pavement on Vassilisis Olgas Avenue in Thessaloniki by Gunther Demnig commemorate Greek Jews deported to Auschwitz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

His project places engraved brass stones in front of the former homes of Holocaust victims who were deported and murdered by Nazi Germany. This project began in Germany and has since spread across Europe.

Demnig’s Stolpersteine are small, cobblestone-sized brass memorials set into the pavement or footpath in front of these apartments or houses, calling attention both to the individual victim and the scope of the Nazi war crimes.

So far, at least 61,000 Stolpersteine have been laid in almost two dozen countries across Europe, making this dispersed project the world’s largest memorial. The cities where I have seen them include Berlin, Bratislava, Prague, Thessaloniki, Venice and Vienna.

Three ‘Stolpersteine’ or ‘Stumbling Stones’ in Prague by Gunther Demnig commemorate members of the Bergmann family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

El Malei Rachamim (‘God full of compassion’) is a prayer for the departed that asks for comfort and everlasting care of the deceased. It is said at Jewish funeral services, but different versions exist for different moments.

The version for the Shoah (Holocaust) is found in the Reform prayer book, Mishkan T’filah:

Fully compassionate God on high:
To our six million brothers and sisters
murdered because they were Jews,
grant clear and certain rest with You
in the lofty heights of the sacred and pure
whose brightness shines like the very glow of heaven.

Source of mercy:
Forever enfold them in the embrace of Your wings;
secure their souls in eternity.
Adonai: they are Yours.
They will rest in peace. Amen.

Four ‘Stolpersteine’ or ‘Stumbling Stones’ in the Ghetto in Venice by Gunther Demnig remember people deported to Auschwitz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Prayers and confession on
Holocaust Memorial Day

‘Never Again’ … the Holocaust Memorial in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

An opening prayer:

God of all people everywhere,

You reveal yourself in myriad ways, speaking through different voices to enlighten our world and enrich our lives.

All are created in your image but, in the face of prejudice and persecution, too often we fail to stand together.

So we gather today in memory:

We remember the lives of those who were murdered in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

We give thanks for those who have courageously shared their stories.

We recommit ourselves to transform the world through your love.

Silence

A Prayer of Confession:

For too long:
We walked different ways.
For too long:
We let what separates us define us.
For too long:
We turned a blind eye.
For far too long.

When it mattered so much, we did not stand with you.

We did not see the sights you saw, hear the sounds you heard, or feel the pain you felt, through persecution and hardship and unprecedented levels of brutal inhumanity.

But now we have listened:

We have come to walk more closely,
And we commit to a new relationship.

We are here to remember.

We recall the longed-for liberation, and now we seek justice and truth.

We did not walk with you into those dark places but we walk together now, we stand together now.

For it matters still.

We will stand together.

A prayer for Holocaust Memorial Day:

God of the past, present, and future, we remember today, 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, the millions of other victims of Nazi persecution, and all those who have been targeted and killed in subsequent genocides.

We remember those who, having survived genocide, share their stories with us:
We give thanks to You for the lessons of human stories, both in their suffering and in their joy.

We remember those who stood up against injustice and saved lives:
We give thanks to You for their example.

Together we acknowledge the sacrifice of those that stood together with those who suffered during the Holocaust and other genocides.
And we affirm that every life is loved by You and sacred.

Yet, during the Holocaust too many failed to stand together with their neighbours. Oppression stains Your world and contradicts Your love.

So we pray that You will inspire us now as we stand together on this day in the love that we know of God in Christ Jesus.

Let us commit to remembering:

And glorify God in our words and actions.

We make these prayers in the name of Christ Jesus who, through His life, death, and resurrection, journeys with us into the eternal hope of Your truth and light.
Amen.

These resources were prepared for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on 27 January 1945, and the Presidents of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) have asked churches to use these prayer on the Sunday closest to Holocaust Memorial Day 2020. They were used at Morning Prayer in Castletown Church, Co Limerick, and the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, on Sunday 26 January 2020

‘The people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light’

‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues’ (Matthew 4: 23) ... inside the Nuova or New Synagogue, the only surviving synagogue in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 26 January 2020

The Third Sunday after Epiphany


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

The Readings: Isaiah 9: 1-4; Psalm 27: 1, 4-12; I Corinthians 1: 10-18; Matthew 4: 12-23.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

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

This morning’s Gospel reading challenges us to look at what it means to follow Christ in a new light. Are we prepared to give up our old ways, to rake the plunge, to risk all for the sake of the kingdom?

Tomorrow [27 January 2020] is Holocaust Memorial Day and also marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau and the beginning of the end of the Holocaust.

To put our Gospel reading into context, we might recall that for the past two weeks we have been thinking about the Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist and what it means for us.

When Christ hears about the arrest of Saint John the Baptist, he withdraws to the Wilderness, where he is tempted by the Devil. However, he refuses to use his divine powers to his own human ends.

In this morning’s reading, Christ moves from Nazareth to Capernaum, to begin his mission. At the start of his public ministry, he calls on people to repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.

He then calls his first four disciples: Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and the brothers James and John, the sons of Zebedee. He invites them to follow him, and to ‘fish for people.’ They give up their trade immediately, leave their nets and their boats, and begin a radically different way of life.

We are then told how Christ continues his ministry, travelling throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, and proclaiming the good news in both word and deed.

It is interesting to see how Andrew and Simon Peter are called together: two brothers, one with a very Jewish name, Simon or Shimon (שִׁמְעוֹן), and one with a very Greek name, Andrew or Andreas (Ἀνδρέας).

From the very beginning, the Church, the Body of Christ, brings us together in a new family in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile, in which all discrimination comes to an end.

The Gospel reading reminds us how ‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues’ (Matthew 4: 23). It is a sharp reminder that Jesus was a practicing Jew, worshipping regularly in synagogues, and it is a timely reminder just a day before Holocaust Memorial Day.

I was in London last Monday for the launch in the House of Lords of resources for use by Christians to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 and prepared by the Council of Christians and Jews.

We are using some of these resources at the Eucharist this morning.

Holocaust Memorial Day this year marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a landmark anniversary, and also marks the 25th anniversary of the Genocide in Bosnia.

The National Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration takes place in the Round Room at the Mansion House in Dublin this evening.

The Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration cherishes the memory of all who perished in the Holocaust. It recalls six million Jewish men, women and children and millions of others who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis because of their ethnicity, disability, sexuality, political affiliations or their religious beliefs.

It is a time to remember too the millions of people murdered in more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

This is a day to learn the lessons of the past and recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own – it is a steady process that can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented. To paraphrase the Prophet Isaiah in our first reading and quoted in the Gospel reading, the people who walked in darkness needed to see a great light.

We are fortunate here in Ireland; we are not at immediate risk of genocide. But during my recent visit to Auschwitz, I was chilled by one exhibit that shows how the Nazis’ plan to exterminate 11 million Jews in Europe included 4,000 Jews in Ireland.

Four Irish citizens, Ettie Steinberg and her son Leon, and Ephraim and Lena Sacks from Dublin were murdered in Auschwitz, and Isaac Shishi from Dublin and his family were murdered by the Nazis in Lithuania.

Esther, or Ettie, was one of the seven children of Aaron Hirsh Steinberg and his wife Bertha Roth. She grew up at 28 Raymond Terrace, in ‘Little Jerusalem’ off the South Circular Road in Dublin. Ettie went to school at Saint Catherine’s School, the Church of Ireland parish school on Donore Avenue, and she married Vogtjeck Gluck in the Greenville Hall Synagogue on the South Circular Road, Dublin, in 1937.

She was 22 and he was 24, and they moved to France.

When the Vichy regime began rounding up Jews, Ettie, Vogtjeck and their son Leon were arrested. Back in Dublin, her family secured visas that would allow them to travel to Northern Ireland. But when the visas arrived in Toulouse, it was too late. Ettie, Vogtjeck and Leon had been arrested the day before.

As they were being transported to the death camps, Ettie wrote a final postcard to her family and threw it out a train window. A passer-by found the postcard and it eventually reached Dublin.

The Glucks arrived in Auschwitz on 4 September 1942. It is assumed that they were put to death immediately.

Isaac Shishi, Ephraim Sacks and his sister Lena, were all born in Ireland, but their families moved to Europe when they were children.

Isaac was born in Dublin on 29 January 1891, when his family was living at 36 St Alban’s Road, off the South Circular Road. Isaac, his wife Chana and their daughter Sheine were murdered by the Nazis in Vieksniai in Lithuania in 1941.

Ephraim and Lena Sacks were born in Dublin on 19 April 1915 and 2 February 1918. Ephraim was 27 when he was murdered in Auschwitz on 24 August 1942; Lena was about 24 when she was murdered there in 1942 or 1943.

Olivia Marks-Woldman of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust reminded us last Monday that as well 6 million Jews, the victims of the Nazis during the Holocaust included Gypsies, Gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses, conscientious objectors, people with disabilities, and people who joined the Resistance throughout Europe.

The Holocaust touched every family in Europe. Let’s not think for a moment that there was a family that did not lose cousins, neighbours, friends, work colleagues, school friends. In my own family, a very, very distant family member, Hedwige Marie Renée Lannes de Montebello (1881-1944), was born in Paris but was descended from the Comerford family of Wexford.

She was involved in the French resistance and was captured, and on 7 April 1944. She was sent to the women’s concentration camp in Ravensbrück, where her unique number was 47135. She died in Ravensbrück on 19 November 1944.

Her husband, Louis d’Ax de Vaudricourt (1879-1945), died in the concentration camp in Dachau two months later in January 1945.

They are very distant branches on a very extended family tree. But we have to be willing to cherish the memory of everyone who died in the Holocaust. We must refuse to distance ourselves from them, to classify these victims as ‘them.’

The Holocaust calls us to put an end to all discrimination. Christ’s call of Simon and Andrew together calls us to put an end to all discrimination.

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

Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 4: 12-23 (NRSVA):

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles –
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9: 2) ... lights at a house shrouded in darkness in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: White

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
whose Son revealed in signs and miracles
the wonder of your saving presence:
Renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your mighty power;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Almighty Father,
your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ is the light of the world.
May your people,
illumined by your word and sacraments,
shine with the radiance of his glory,
that he may be known, worshipped,
and obeyed to the ends of the earth;
for he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies (CD 4)
584, Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult (CD 33)
593, O Jesus, I have promised (CD 34)

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

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘Immediately they left the boat … and followed him’ (Matthew 4: 22) … small boats in the small harbour of Gaios on the Greek island of Paxos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

‘For those who sat in the region and
shadow of death light has dawned’

Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 26 January 2020

The Third Sunday after Epiphany


9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick

The Readings: Isaiah 9: 1-4; Psalm 27: 1, 4-12; I Corinthians 1: 10-18; Matthew 4: 12-23.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

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

This morning’s Gospel reading challenges us to look at what it means to follow Christ in a new light. Are we prepared to give up our old ways, to rake the plunge, to risk all for the sake of the kingdom?

Tomorrow [27 January 2020] is Holocaust Memorial Day and also marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau and the beginning of the end of the Holocaust.

To put our Gospel reading into context, we might recall that for the past two weeks we have been thinking about the Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist and what it means for us.

When Christ hears about the arrest of Saint John the Baptist, he withdraws to the Wilderness, where he is tempted by the Devil. However, he refuses to use his divine powers to his own human ends.

In this morning’s reading, Christ moves from Nazareth to Capernaum, to begin his mission. At the start of his public ministry, he calls on people to repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.

He then calls his first four disciples: Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and the brothers James and John, the sons of Zebedee. He invites them to follow him, and to ‘fish for people.’ They give up their trade immediately, leave their nets and their boats, and begin a radically different way of life.

We are then told how Christ continues his ministry, travelling throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, and proclaiming the good news in both word and deed.

It is interesting to see how Andrew and Simon Peter are called together: two brothers, one with a very Jewish name, Simon or Shimon (שִׁמְעוֹן), and one with a very Greek name, Andrew or Andreas (Ἀνδρέας).

From the very beginning, the Church, the Body of Christ, brings us together in a new family in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile, in which all discrimination comes to an end.

The Gospel reading reminds us how ‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues’ (Matthew 4: 23). It is a sharp reminder that Jesus was a practicing Jew, worshipping regularly in synagogues, and it is a timely reminder just a day before Holocaust Memorial Day.

I was in London last Monday for the launch in the House of Lords of resources for use by Christians to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2020 and prepared by the Council of Christians and Jews.

We are using some of these resources at Morning Prayer / at the Eucharist this morning.

Holocaust Memorial Day this year marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a landmark anniversary, and also marks the 25th anniversary of the Genocide in Bosnia.

The National Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration takes place in the Round Room at the Mansion House in Dublin this evening.

The Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration cherishes the memory of all who perished in the Holocaust. It recalls six million Jewish men, women and children and millions of others who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazis because of their ethnicity, disability, sexuality, political affiliations or their religious beliefs.

It is a time to remember too the millions of people murdered in more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

This is a day to learn the lessons of the past and recognise that genocide does not just take place on its own – it is a steady process that can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented. To paraphrase the Prophet Isaiah in our first reading and quoted in the Gospel reading, the people who walked in darkness needed to see a great light.

We are fortunate here in Ireland; we are not at immediate risk of genocide. But during my recent visit to Auschwitz, I was chilled by one exhibit that shows how the Nazis plan to exterminate 11 million Jews in Europe included 4,000 Jews in Ireland.

Four Irish citizens, Ettie Steinberg and her son Leon, and Ephraim and Lena Sacks from Dublin were murdered in Auschwitz, and Isaac Shishi from Dublin and his family were murdered by the Nazis in Lithuania.

Esther, or Ettie, was one of the seven children of Aaron Hirsh Steinberg and his wife Bertha Roth. She grew up at 28 Raymond Terrace, in ‘Little Jerusalem’ off the South Circular Road in Dublin. Ettie went to school at Saint Catherine’s School, the Church of Ireland parish school on Donore Avenue, and she married Vogtjeck Gluck in the Greenville Hall Synagogue on the South Circular Road, Dublin, in 1937.

She was 22 and he was 24, and they moved to France.

When the Vichy regime began rounding up Jews, Ettie, Vogtjeck and their son Leon were arrested. Back in Dublin, her family secured visas that would allow them to travel to Northern Ireland. But when the visas arrived in Toulouse, it was too late. Ettie, Vogtjeck and Leon had been arrested the day before.

As they were being transported to the death camps, Ettie wrote a final postcard to her family and threw it out a train window. A passer-by found the postcard and it eventually reached Dublin.

The Glucks arrived in Auschwitz on 4 September 1942. It is assumed that they were put to death immediately.

Isaac Shishi, Ephraim Saks and his sister Lena, were all born in Ireland, but their families moved to Europe when they were children.

Isaac was born in Dublin on 29 January 1891, when his family was living at 36 St Alban’s Road, off the South Circular Road. Isaac, his wife Chana and their daughter Sheine were murdered by the Nazis in Vieksniai in Lithuania in 1941.

Ephraim and Lena Sacks were born in Dublin on 19 April 1915 and 2 February 1918. Ephraim was 27 when he was murdered in Auschwitz on 24 August 1942; Lena was about 24 when she was murdered there in 1942 or 1943.

Olivia Marks-Woldman of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust reminded us last Monday that as well 6 million Jews, the victims of the Nazis during the Holocaust included Gypsies, Gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses, conscientious objectors, people with disabilities, and people who joined the Resistance throughout Europe.

The Holocaust touched every family in Europe. Let’s not think for a moment that there was a family that did not lose cousins, neighbours, friends, work colleagues, school friends. In my own family, a very, very distant family member, Hedwige Marie Renée Lannes de Montebello (1881-1944), was born in Paris but was descended from the Comerford family of Wexford.

She was involved in the French resistance and was captured, and on 7 April 1944. She was sent to the women’s concentration camp in Ravensbrück, where her unique number was 47135. She died in Ravensbrück on 19 November 1944.

Her husband, Louis d’Ax de Vaudricourt (1879-1945), died in the concentration camp in Dachau two months later in January 1945.

They are very distant branches on a very extended family tree. But we have to be willing to cherish the memory of everyone who died in the Holocaust. We must refuse to distance ourselves from them, to classify these victims as ‘them.’

The Holocaust calls us to put an end to all discrimination. Christ’s call of Simon and Andrew together calls us to put an end to all discrimination.

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

‘Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues’ (Matthew 4: 23) ... inside the Nuova or New Synagogue, the only surviving synagogue in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Matthew 4: 12-23 (NRSVA):

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 ‘Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles –
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.’

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’ (Isaiah 9: 2) ... lights at a house shrouded in darkness in Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: White

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
whose Son revealed in signs and miracles
the wonder of your saving presence:
Renew your people with your heavenly grace,
and in all our weakness
sustain us by your mighty power;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Word:

Lord God,
your loving kindness always
goes before us and follows us.
Summons us into your light,
and direct our steps in the ways of goodness
that come through the cross of your Son,
Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.

The fence at Auschwitz-Birkenau (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies (CD 4)
584, Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult (CD 33)
593, O Jesus, I have promised (CD 34)

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

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘Immediately they left the boat … and followed him’ (Matthew 4: 22) … small boats in the small harbour of Gaios on the Greek island of Paxos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Saint Martin within Ludgate,
a Wren church claiming
links with London legends

Saint Martin within Ludgate, a Guild Church and a Wren Church just a few steps west of Saint Paul’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The churches I visited in London this week included Saint Martin within Ludgate, a Guild Church and a Wren Church on Ludgate Hill, just a few steps west of Saint Paul’s Cathedral and almost opposite City Thameslink station (Ludgate Hill exit).

After the Great Fire of London, the church was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1677-1684.

The church takes its name from Saint Martin of Tours, a patron saint of travellers. Churches dedicated to him often stand within city gates. Ludgate was the westernmost gate in London Wall. The name survives in Ludgate Hill, an eastward continuation of Fleet Street, Ludgate Circus and Ludgate Square.

The name Ludgate probably means ‘Flood Gate’ or ‘Fleet Gate,’ and the Lud Gate was part of the fortifications of London. Like most of the other City gates, it was demolished in 1760.

Inside Saint Martin within Ludgate … rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Some legends connect the church with legendary King Cadwallo, or Cadwallon ap Cadfan, father of Cadwaladr. One story says ‘Cadwallo King of the Britons is said to have been buried here in 677.’ However, historians today place his death ca 682.

Legend says King Cadwallo’s image was placed on Ludgate to frighten away the Saxons. However, Middlesex and the London area were controlled by the Anglo-Saxons at that time and there is no evidence of British or any other occupation of the area within the walls of the abandoned Roman city of Londinium since the late fourth century. In 1669 A Roman tombstone was found on the church site in 1669, and is now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

The early historian of England, the Venerable Bede, says the West Saxon king Caedwalla was buried in Rome.

But the first, historical, written reference to the church is to a mediaeval church on the site in 1174. A Blackfriars or Dominican monastery was built nearby in 1278. The parish books start from 1410. The church was rebuilt in 1437 and the tower was struck by lightning in 1561.

Before the Reformation, the church was under the control of Westminster Abbey, and afterwards under Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

Until the Reformation, the patronage of the church belonged to the Abbot and Chapter of Westminster Abbey until 1540, then until 1554 to the Bishop of Westminster, when it passed to the Bishop of London and then to the Chapter of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, where it remains. These patrons are represented in the stained-glass windows in the north wall.

The Revd Samuel Purchas, a travel writer, became the rector of Saint Martin’s in 1614. The mediaeval church was repaired in 1623.

William Penn, who was married in the church in 1643, was the father of William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania.

The altar and reredos in Saint Martin within Ludgate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Great Fire of London engulfed Saint Martin’s on 4 September 1666. Rebuilding was not immediate, was largely completed by 1680, but not finally until 1703. At the same time the church was set back from the old site, as Ludgate Hill was widened.

Saint Martin’s is one of Wren’s later rebuildings and its slender lead spire was most carefully considered in relation to the dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The view eastward from Ludgate Circus towards Saint Paul’s is one of the most memorable in London.

From the lower part of Fleet Street, the steeple of Saint Martin’s stands between the viewer and the dome of Saint Paul’s. Wren’s steeple at Saint Martin’s has a sharp obelisk steeple that has been described as ‘somewhat like an exclamation mark!’

The church is topped by a lead-covered octagonal cupola supporting a balcony and tapered spire rising to a height of 48 metres. The centre of the church is in the shape of a Greek cross, with four large columns.

The 17th century baptismal font has a Greek palindrome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

An interesting feature is the 17th century baptismal font has a Greek palindrome: Νιψον Ανομηματα Μη Μοναν Οψιν (Nipson anomemata me monan opsin, ‘Cleanse my sin and not my face only’).

The 17th-century carved oak double churchwarden’s chair is the only one of its kind known to exist. The organ is a Bernard Schmidt design dating from 1684. The contemporary carvings are by Grinling Gibbons, and other carvings in the church are attributed to three joiners, Athew, Draper and Poulden, and to the carvers Cooper and William Newman.

The chandelier dates from about 1777 and is from the West Indies.

Saint Mary Magdalen, Saint Martin and Saint Gregory … recalling the names of three united parishes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The three parishes of Saint Martin’s, Saint Mary Magdalen Old Fish Street – which had been burnt down in 1888 and not rebuilt – and Saint Gregory by Saint Paul’s, destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666, were united in 1890.

The church underwent major rebuilding and alteration in 1893-1894, when the floor level was raised at the east end, creating the chancel area. Many bodies were taken from the churchyard and reburied at Brookwood Cemetery.

During the London Blitz, a German incendiary bomb damaged the roof, in 1941 but Saint Martin’s received relatively little damage during World War II.

Saint Martin’s became a Guild Church in 1954 and was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950.

A major renewal of the fabric, spire and roofs were completed in 1990. Redecoration, renovation of lighting and heating followed, and Saint Martin’s reopened on Saint Martin’s Day, 11 November 1992.

The organ is a Bernard Schmidt design dating from 1684 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

As a Guild Church, Saint Martin’s is linked to the Stationers’ Company, and has no parish or parishioners. There is a monthly service on the second Thursday of the month, and special services include baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

The church also offers pastoral support and counselling, including bereavement counselling. There are organ recitals every other Monday, and chamber music every Wednesday and Friday.

The church is open at irregular times. The website has not been updated, but it indicates that the opening hours in July and August 2019 were on Fridays from 11 to 3 pm and from September to December 2019 on Mondays 12 pm to 2 pm during weekly recitals and on Thursdays and Fridays from 11 am to 3 pm.

The pulpit in Saint Martin within Ludgate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint Paul in a stained glass window … the church is in the patronage of the Chapter of Saint Paul’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint Botolph without
Aldersgate, a church
with a 1,000-year history

Inside Saint Botolph-without-Aldersgate … on the site of one of four in medieval London dedicated to Saint Botolph (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The churches I visited in London this week included Saint Botolph-without-Aldersgate, a Church of England Guild Church in the City. As a Guild Church it does not have its own parish, and like many guild churches in London there are no Sunday services.

The church sees its ministry as working with the midweek working population in this area of the City of London. The main Tuesday talks and associated ministry are known as the Aldersgate Talks. Aldersgate Talks helped start Moorgate Talks in 2010, and there are strong links between the two ministries. The church is in partnership with similar ministries across central London.

Saint Botolph-without-Aldersgate, on Aldersgate Street in the City of London, is also known as Saint Botolph’s, Aldersgate, and is dedicated to Saint Botolph.

The church was one of four churches in mediaeval London dedicated to Saint Botolph or Botwulf, a seventh-century East Anglian saint, each of which stood by one of the gates to the City.

There are other three churches with confusingly similar names dedicated to Saint Botolph: Saint Botolph’s, Billingsgate, which was destroyed by the Great Fire and not rebuilt; Saint Botolph-without-Aldgate, which I also visited this week; and Saint Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, which I have visited regularly.

Saint Botolph-without-Aldersgate … a church may have stood on the site for almost 1,000 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Before the legend of Saint Christopher became popular, Saint Botolph was venerated as the patron saint of travellers, which explains why churches at the City gates have this dedication.

A church may have stood on the site of Saint Botolph-without-Aldersgate for almost 1,000 years. The first building was erected ca 1050.

The second church was built in the mid-14th century and survived the Great Fire of London in 1666 with only minor damage. However, it fell into disrepair in the mid-18th century.

The Wesley Flame outside the Museum of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

John and Charles Wesley had spiritual awakenings in 1738 near Saint Botolph’s, probably in a house in Little Britain. Nearby, the Wesley Flame outside the Museum of London reproduces John Wesley’s famous description of his awakening.

The church was completely rebuilt, apart from its east wall, between 1789 and 1791 under the direction of Nathaniel Wright, surveyor to the north district of the City of London, who redesigned the exterior, and Nathaniel Evans, who redesigned the interior.

The new church was built of brick, with a low square bell tower at the west end built on the remains of its stone predecessor.

The plain exterior is in contrast to what John Betjeman called an ‘exalting’ succession of features inside. The interior has wooden galleries supported on square panelled columns, a semi-circular apse with a half dome and a highly decorated plasterwork ceiling.

The east window, painted by James Pearson in 1788, depicts Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The church is renowned for its beautiful interior and the organ in the gallery at the west end, which is by Samuel Green and dates from 1788.

The east window is the only surviving painting on glass in a church in the City of London. It was painted by James Pearson in 1788, and depicts Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before the crucifixion.

The two smaller windows on either side were originally by the same artist, but they were destroyed in World War II and replaced by modern windows depicting the apostles Saint John and Saint Paul.

Most of the other stained glass in the church is late Victorian, except for the four windows in the lower south aisle, which show incidents in the history of the area, including John Wesley preaching in Moorfields.

Some monuments were preserved from the old church, including the tomb of Anne Packington, who died in 1563.

The east front was demolished in 1831 and the church was shortened to widen Aldersgate Street. This east façade is a screen wall dating from this work in 1831. It is executed in Roman cement, with a pediment and four attached Ionic columns standing on a high plinth, with a Venetian window between them.

The organ is by Samuel Green and dates from 1788 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The church underwent several restorations in the 19th and 20th centuries, and many of the furnishings are from the late 19th century.

Saint Botolph’s churchyard was combined with those of Saint Leonard, Foster Lane, and Christchurch, Newgate Street, into Postman’s Park in 1880. It now contains the Watts Memorial to Historic Self-Sacrifice, commemorating civilian Londoners who died heroic deaths.

The church was designated a Grade I listed building on 4 January 1950. From the mid-1980s, it was restored by Caroe & Partners. Work on the east front was completed in 2008.

The church is used on Sundays by the London City Presbyterian Church, a congregation of the Free Church of Scotland. During the week, it is used for lunchtime services under the auspices of Saint Helen’s Bishopsgate. It is also the rehearsal venue of the Amati Orchestra.

The church is open weekly from 1 pm for Tuesday lunchtime talks, and from 11 am to 3 pm courtesy of the Friends of the City Churches. Christian Heritage London also runs walking tours in this area of the City, which includes a visit to the building.

Most of the other stained glass in the church is late Victorian (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Friday, 24 January 2020

Elsyng Spital and the sites
of two mediaeval churches
in the City of London

The ruins of Elsyng Spital and two mediaeval churches stand on in island surrounded by modern developments (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Salters’ Hall in London earlier this week, I was surprised not only to learn about its role in doctrinal divisions among the 18th century heirs of the Puritans and that Salters’ Hall was once used as a Presbyterian chapel, but I was surprised too to find that the ruins of two mediaeval churches stand close by in the pedestrianised area beside the Salters’ Garden.

The ruins of a mediaeval church and its tower are labelled in a public notice on the site as ‘The Tower of St Elsyng Spital.’

But who was Saint Elsyng that she gave her name to a mediaeval hospital or almshouse?

Indeed, there never was a Saint Elsyng. The tower and the ruins are the surviving remains of the tower and church that were part of the mediaeval hospital known as Elsyng Spital.

Elsyng Spital was founded on the site was a priory church belonging to a Benedictine nunnery, Saint Mary-within-Cripplegate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The first church on this site was a priory church belonging to a Benedictine nunnery, Saint Mary-within-Cripplegate. It may have been founded before 1000, but by 1329 the community had fallen into decay. The land was acquired by William Elsing, a London merchant who founded a hospital or almshouse on the site, Elsyng Spital, in 1331.

Elsyng Spital stood on the street known as London Wall, and William Elsing intended it to provide shelter and spiritual and physical care for homeless, blind people, paralysed priests, people who could not look after their own needs, and wandering beggars.

The complex included the church, tower, cloisters, hospital or almshouse buildings with a long hall or common dining room, and a cemetery. It stood close to the city wall built in Roman times. A part of the Roman walls of London survives as the boundary between the hospital grounds and the Salters’ Garden.

Elsyng Spital included a church, tower, cloisters, hospital or almshouse buildings with a long hall or common dining room, and a cemetery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

At first, the almshouse housed 32 residents, but this soon rose to 60 and then to 100. However, Elsing was worried about the secular priests who served the almshouse wandering about the City. In 1337, he petitioned to have them replaced by Augustinian Canons. Three years later, the Augustinian Canons and a prior were elected in 1340 with the assent of the Dean and Chapter of Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

Elsing died during the Black Death in 1349 and was buried in the church.

Elsing’s hospital, the chapel and the Augustinian priory survived until the dissolution of the monastic houses at the Tudor Reformation in 1536.

Most of the hospital buildings were turned into a private house, and within five years this belonged to Sir John Williams, the Master of the King’s Jewels, in 1541. A year later, on Christmas Eve 1542, the building burnt down.

The parishioners of Saint Alphage’s Church bought the former church of Elsyng’s Spital to serve as their parish church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

When Saint Alphage’s Church on the neighbouring site became derelict, the parishioners bought the former church of Elsyng’s Spital to serve as their parish church.

The original 11th century church dedicated to Saint Alphage commemorated an Archbishop of Canterbury who was killed by the Danes in 1012. The church is said that to have been built before 1068, although the earliest mention of this church dates from ca 1108-1125.

Saint Alphege or Saint Alphage London Wall was built directly on London Wall, and was also known as Saint Alphege Cripplegate, because of its proximity to Cripplegate. The churchyard lay to the north of the wall.

The church was closed by Act of Parliament at the end of the 16th century and its ruins were demolished when the Priory Chapel attached to Elsyng Spital was taken over by the parish church.

Part of the property was sold on, and used for the foundation of Sion College in 1630. The church was repaired in 1624, and the upper part of the steeple rebuilt in 1649. It was damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 but not destroyed.

The churchyard to the north of the London Wall was still open in 1677, but was built over later, and the site of the earlier church became a carpenter’s yard.

Further repairs were made to the parish church in 1684 and 1701. The parishioners applied to the Commission for Building Fifty New Churches in 1711 for funds to enlarge the building, and in 1718 petitioned Parliament for funds. But neither initiative was successful. The steeple was in such a condition by 1747 that the bells could not be rung, and four of the six bells were sold.

The church was found to be unfit for use in 1774, and a committee was set up to arrange its rebuilding. This was done at a cost of £1,350, retaining the tower, and the new church opened on 24 July 1777.

The original site of Saint Alphege or Saint Alphage London Wall, also known as Saint Alphege Cripplegate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The rebuilt church had two fronts; an eastern one in Aldermanbury, and one to the north facing London Wall. George Godwin described them as ‘both equally remarkable for want of taste in the arrangement, and of beauty in the effect.’

The east front had a Venetian window between two pilasters, elevated on a basement; this arrangement was flanked by two doorways. The door and window surrounds and pilasters were stone, the rest brick. The façade to London Wall had two Doric columns, flattened against the wall, supporting an entablature and pediment. Between the columns was a doorway, its lobby leading into the mediaeval tower.

The interior of the church was described by Godwin as ‘merely a plain room with a flat ceiling, crossed from north to south by one large band at the east end.’ The pulpit was, unconventionally, placed against the west wall, so that the congregation faced away from the altar.

The outline of the mediaeval church is marked out in Saint Alphage Gardens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The tower and porch were again in a poor state by 1900, and the north entrance was rebuilt with a neo-Gothic façade in 1913.

The church was damaged in an air raid in World War I. The parish was amalgamated with the parish of Saint Mary Aldermanbury in 1917. The church was rebuilt in 1919, but was then scheduled for demolition that year. The bells went to Saint Peter’s Acton, the nave was demolished in 1923, leaving the tower and the porch.

Until World War II, the tower was maintained with an altar and chairs as a place for prayer. The remains of the church were designated a Grade II listed structure in 1950. The surviving remnants consist of the ruin of a central tower, built of flint and rubble masonry, with arches on three sides; the south wall is missing. The amalgamated parish was united with Saint Giles-without-Cripplegate in 1954

The area along London Wall suffered damage from German bombing during World War II, Parts of the 11th century church were exposed when the surrounding buildings were destroyed, and now forms Saint Alphage Gardens.

A plaque from the former churchyard in Saint Alphage Gardens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Today only the church tower remains from the original 14th century buildings of Elsyng Spital. Fore Street and other streets in the area were realigned in the post-war rebuilding of the City. The development of London Wall Place and the Barbican complex provided for a newly created garden area laid out around the ancient walls.

New high walks were built on new walkways planned as a ‘new pedestrian experience’ in the 1960s, with shops along the walkways 40 ft above ground level. However, few people ever used the walkways and none of the shops ever opened. They remained empty from the day they were built until after the turn of the millennium.

With the development of two large office blocks – 1 London Wall Place and 2 London Wall Place – the stone walkways were demolished and everything for the pedestrian now operates once again at street level, and new narrower and functional walkways give this area an open and spacious feeling.

A plaque on the Roman Wall survives from the churchyard’s conversion to a public garden in 1872 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)