Saturday, 31 July 2021

Corpus Christi Church,
in the heart of the festival
town of Lisdoonvarna

Corpus Christi Church in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

On the way from Kinvara in Co Galway to Kilfenora in Co Clare, visiting Comerford family homes during this summer’s ‘road trip’, two of us stopped briefly in Lisdoonvarna (Lios Dúin Bhearna), Co Clare.

Lisdoonvarna is a bright and colourful spa town with a population of 739, wide streets, colourfully-decorated pubs and shops, a large number of hotels, and large square in the centre of the town with sculptures of musicians and dancers.

Lisdoonvarna is known for its music and festivals. Although the music festival came to an end in 1983, Lisdoonvarna continues to host a ‘matchmaking’ festival in September.

The matchmaking festival has attracted up to 40,000 people in pre-pandemic times. The music festival is celebrated in Christy Moore’s song Lisdoonvarna.

Inside Corpus Christi Church, Lisdoonvarna, facing west, the liturgical east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Lisdoonvarna is in the Burren, between Ballyvaughan and Ennistymon, and the Aille River flows through the town.

Lisdoonvarna is a comparatively new town by Irish standards, dating mainly from the early 19th century. The spa official opened in 1845, but the town was visited before by people ‘taking the waters.’

But even by the 1880s, there were few facilities in Lisdoonvarna. The wells were privately once owned by the Guthrie family and they were later developed and the baths built by the new owner, Dr WH Stacpoole Westropp, who lived in a house overlooking the spa.

Inside Corpus Christi Church, Lisdoonvarna, facing east, the liturgical west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

In the Roman Catholic Church, Lisdoonvarna is a parish in the Kilfenora Deanery in the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora. The parishes of Lisdoonvarna and Kilshanny were amalgamated in the 1980s. The current parish priest is Father Conor Cunningham.

The Church of Corpus Christi in Lisdoonvarna, the main church in the parish, was built in 1868. This is a gable-fronted, single-bay, double-height Gothic Revival church, with single-bay a four-stage tower and spire to the left, a single-bay single-storey chapel and sacristy to the left and eight-bay side elevations.

The church is oriented on a west-east axis, instead of the traditional, liturgical east-west axis, to allow street access directly from Church Street. The six-bay, single-storey flat-roofed side aisle added ca 1900.

The high altar and sanctuary in Corpus Christi Church, Lisdoonvarna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Corpus Christi Church was remodelled ca 1940 and the polygonal former apse was altered for use as an entrance porch, with a cut-stone doorcase. There are pitched slate roofs with vents at the main ridge, and a spire with pyramidal copper sheeting.

Inside, the church has leaded coloured and stained-glass windows, exposed roof beams, a fluted chancel arch, a marble altar and altar railings with brass gates.

The other three churches in the parish are Saint Augustine’s Church in Kilshanny (1894), the Church of our Lady of Lourdes, Toovaghera (1878), and the Church of the Holy Rosary in Doolin (1821), celebrating its bicentenary this year.

A pair of stained-glass windows depicting Saint Colman of Kilmacduagh and Saint Enda of Aran in Corpus Christi Church, Lisdoonvarna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
63, the Church of Panagia Deksia, Thessaloniki

The Church of Panagia Deksia seen through the narrow streets near the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

This week’s theme is seven churches in Thessaloniki, and to bring this theme to a close my photographs this morning (31 July 2021) are from the Church of Panagia Deksia, near the Arch of Galerius on Egnatia Street.

Inside the Church of Panagia Deksia on a recent Good Friday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thessaloniki is rich in Byzantine treasures, including churches, buildings, towers, walls and arches. Many of these have survived through the Turkish occupation, countless earthquakes and the Great Fire of 1917.

However, the Church of Panagia Deksia is one of the many newer churches in the city, and its relative newness is emphasised by the surrounding area, which is at the heart of the university life in the city.

Although not it is not as historic as the Byzantine churches that attract the attention of visitors and tourists, it has many colourful icons and frescoes, and local traditions and stories say one icon is miraculous.


The Church of Panagia Deksia, about 150 metres south of the Rotunda, was built 65 years ago in 1956 on the site of an older church, Saint Hypatia the Miracle Worker. Although this is a modern church, its style of architecture is mostly Byzantine, with some neo-classical embellishments such as arcades resting on columns and barrel vaults.

The name of the church is believed to come from an icon in the church connected with many myths and legends. The icon depicts the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child on the right side rather than the traditional left, and so is called Deksia, Deksa or Dexiokratousa, right-handed or right side.

The interior of the dome depicts Christ the Pantocrator holding the New Testament in his left hand and blessing with his right hand.

One fresco depicts three women: Saint Irene, Saint Catherine and Saint Barbara. In icons and frescoes in Greek churches, saints are often found together in traditional groupings, such as the Apostles Peter and Paul, as an icon of Church Unity, Saint Paul and Sant Barnabas, the Cappadocian Fathers and the Three Holy Hierarchs.

But this is an unusual grouping of three women saints. The men in the lives of these three women seem not only to have hated women, but to have hated themselves and to have devalued themselves rather than the three women.

Saint Irene is one of three saints and sisters, Irene, Agape and Chione, who were born in Thessaloniki and who were martyred there for their faith in the year 304 AD. Their feast day is on 3 April.

Saint Catharine of Alexandria was a daughter of Constus, Governor of Alexandria in the reign of the Emperor Maximian (286-305). A vision of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child had convinced her to become a Christian at the age of 14. When the persecutions began in the reign of Maxentius, she rebuked the emperor for his cruelty.

The furious emperor condemned Catherine to death on a spiked breaking wheel, but, at her touch, it shattered. Maxentius ordered her to be beheaded. Catherine herself ordered the execution to commence. A milk-like substance rather than blood flowed from her neck. Angels transported her body to Mount Saint Catherine, next to Mount Sinai, where Saint Catherine’s Monastery was founded by the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century.

Her popularity grew with the reported rediscovery of her body at Mount Sinai around the year 800. Her principal symbol is the spiked wheel, which has become known as the Catherine wheel. Her feast day is on 25 November.

Saint Barbara, whose Feast Day is 4 December, is known in the Orthodox Church as the Great Martyr Barbara. Accounts place her in the third century in the Greek city of Nicomedia in Anatolia, or in Heliopolis of Phoenicia, present-day Baalbek in Lebanon.

Her biographers say Saint Barbara was the daughter of Dioscorus, a rich man who guarded her from the outside world by keeping her locked in a tower. She secretly become a Christian and rejected a forced marriage arranged by her father. When she was condemned to death by beheading, her father carried out the death-sentence. But he was struck by lightning on the way home and his body was consumed by flame. It is said she was martyred on 4 December in the reign of emperor Maximianus and Prefect Marcien (286-305).

Alongside Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Barbara is known as one of the ‘Fourteen Holy Helpers.’ The lightning that killed her father has caused her to be invoked against lightning and fire. She is also the patron of artillery and mining.

To outsiders, the Orthodox Church can sometimes be seen as behind the times in its attitude to women, exemplified in debates about the ordination of women or the exclusion of women from Mount Athos. But the exclusion of women from Mount Athos is more about protecting and honouring the celibacy of the men in the monastic communities, and I am confident that because the debate about the ordination of women is theological rather than misogynistic that it is capable of moving forward in time.

On the other hand, the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent ‘lockdown’ has resulted in a reported rise in domestic violence in Ireland. Irish society today needs to root out misogyny and gender-based violence today, just as it set about rooting out racism and class discrimination and prejudice in the past.

The three women in this fresco – Saint Irene, Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Barbara – emerged as strong figures in their own right. They continued to adhere to their principles and their insistence on the truth when they were betrayed and sexually mistreated by the men in their own family circles. They were brutalised and faced court cases in which their truthfulness and their self-worth were publicly doubted. Their public humiliation finally led to their deaths. Yet it was the men in their lives who were the real perpetrators of injustice, while the women retained their integrity and their own values, no matter what men said about them or projected onto them.

Saint Irene, Saint Catherine and Saint Barbara … three women martyrs in a fresco in the Church of Panagia Deksia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 14: 1-12 (NRSVA):

14 At that time Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; 2 and he said to his servants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ 3 For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been telling him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’ 5 Though Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and she pleased Herod 7 so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.’ 9 The king was grieved, yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he commanded it to be given; 10 he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother. 12 His disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus.

The Annunciation in a double fresco in the Church of Panagia Deksia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (31 July 2021) recalls that today is International Friendship Day and invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for friendship and the many forms it takes. May we remember all of our friends across the world church.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Christ the Pantocrator in the dome in the Church of Panagia Deksia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

The offices of Mount Athos in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Friday, 30 July 2021

What the blind can see
and when to pray with
eyes that are closed

Can physical sight contradict and weaken our inner or spiritual sight?

Patrick Comerford

There is a story about Rabbi Yosef Kahaneman (1886-1969), a prominent Lithuanian rabbi. After the Holocaust, he tried to find Jewish children whose parents had hid them during World War II.

Rabbi Kahaneman would walk through orphanages in Europe, reciting the beginning of the Shema. Instinctively, some of the children would cover their eyes, and cry out, ‘Mama, Mama!’

It is a universal Jewish custom to cover the eyes with the right hand when saying the first six words of the Shema. It is said that in doing this, the person who is praying is enabled to concentrate properly without visual distractions.

It is also said it is even more important to have the proper intention when reciting the first verse of the Shema than when reciting other parts of prayer. As the words are said, the focus is not just on the meaning of the words, but also on accepting the yoke of heaven.

The person saying the Shema is expected to concentrate on the idea that God is the one and only true reality. This intention is so important that one who recites the words of this verse but does not think about its meaning is expected to recite it again.

In my reflections on this Friday evening, I am reminded that this custom of covering the eyes is traced back to the times of the Mishnah, when Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (Judah the Prince) covered his eyes while reciting the first verse of the Shema.

Some early commentators, however, explain that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi covered his eyes while reciting the Shema because some other people had the custom of looking in all directions in order to accept God’s sovereignty throughout the world. Rabbi Yehuda covered his eyes, wishing to conceal his precise eye movements while reciting the Shema.

The kabbalists, especially Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as the Arizal, say that one is meant to use the right hand to close one’s eyes while reciting the first verse of the Shema. He connected this with an enigmatic riddle found in the Zohar.

The Zohar tells of an old man who appeared as a donkey driver met Rabbi Yossi during his travels and asked several questions. Rabbi Yossi failed to appreciate the true significance of the old man’s question.

However, his colleague Rabbi Chiya sensed that there was more to the questions than met the eye. After some reflection, they realised the old man was in fact teaching them deep mystical secrets.

The riddle that gave them the hardest time in understanding asked:

‘Who is the beautiful maiden without eyes, whose body is concealed and revealed, who comes out in the morning and disappears during the day, who is adorned with ornaments that never were?’

The Arizal offers an explanation that relates to the reading of the Shema. The ‘Maiden’ refers to the divine attribute of malchut (‘kingship’), sometimes referred to as the Shechinah, the feminine aspect of the divine. In this context, it is also referred to as ‘Rachel.’

There are four spiritual worlds in the kabbalistic formulation of the cosmos, and the world of Atzilut (‘Emanation’) is the highest of the four. In this realm, nothing has physical form or colour, and sight is non-existent.

The Kabbalists say that whoever recites the Shema is elevating the Mayin Nukvin (‘Feminine Waters’) to the world of Atzilut, setting the stage for the unification of the feminine and masculine, or the unification of the soul and the Shechinah. Since the Mayin Nukvin are entering Atzilut, a world that is higher than sight, the eyes must be closed during the first line of the Shema.

The right hand is used to do this, even when someone is left-handed. This is said to symbolise the attribute of chessed or kindness, as well as the Mayin Dechurin (‘Male Waters’), also connected to this riddle.

Have you ever noticed that when you are trying really hard to concentrate, you sometimes close your eyes to help you to focus?

Throughout the Talmud, the blind are called sagi nahor – ‘enough of light’ or ‘full of light.’ It is said this is so because one’s physical sight, which gazes out at the mundane and materialistic world, often contradicts and weakens one’s inner or spiritual sight.

Our physical senses often seem to contradict the idea of God’s oneness, that God is the only true reality. We see, smell, taste and feel the world around us, while God can remain an abstract and spiritual reality.

Therefore, when the Shema is said and the oneness of God is proclaimed, this becomes an affirmation that true reality is neither what the eye sees nor what is experienced naturally and intuitively. By covering the eyes when praying, a person indicated the desire to disconnect from the physical and connect to the spiritual.

It is said that when a person recites the Shema and accepts the yoke of heaven, the Shechinah or Divine Presence rests upon his/her face. The face is covered out of respect for the Divine Presence, for, as God told Moses: ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen’ (Exodus 33: 21-23, NRSVA).

The first verse of the Shema proclaims that ‘the Lord is our God; the Lord is one.’ This statement affirms belief that both God’s attribute of strength and judgment and God’s attribute of mercy are really one. Covering the eyes, symbolises acceptance that is seen with physical eyes as negative is, in truth, positive.

Shabbat Shalom

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
62, the Church of the Saviour, Thessaloniki

The Church of the Saviour or the Church of the Transfiguration … suffocated by the surrounding apartment blocks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme this week is seven churches in Thessaloniki, and my photographs this morning (30 July 2021) are from the 14th century Church of the Metamorphosis tou Sotíros (the Transfiguration of the Saviour), also known as the Church of the Saviour.

The small sanctuary area in the niche is not screened off by an iconostasis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thessaloniki is a city rich in Byzantine treasures, including churches, buildings, towers, walls and arches. Many of these have survived through the Turkish occupation, countless earthquakes and the Great Fire of 1917

Although many of the churches were converted into mosques in the Ottoman period, those that survived returned to their original use as churches in the 1910s and 1920s, and they often dominate the streetscape.

However, one church that never became a mosque and that is easy to pass unnoticed because of its location is the 14th century Church of the Metamorphosis tou Sotíros (Μεταμορφώσεως του Σωτήρος, the Transfiguration of the Saviour), also known locally as the Church of the Saviour (Ναός του Σωτήρος).

This 14th century Byzantine church is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the ancient Christian and Byzantine monuments in Thessaloniki. It stands across the street from the Arch of Galerius, at the junction of Egnatia Street and Palaion Patron Street, between the church of Panagia Gorgoepikoos and the Church of Ipapantis.

Yet this charming little Byzantine church, despite its tall cupola and its unique and rare architectural features, is often missed by passers-by because it is half-hidden below the current street level of Egnatia Street and is suffocated by the apartment blocks that tower above it and all around it.

A coin found mounted in the dome of the church indicates it was built around 1340-1350. Some tombs found under the floor of the north and south arch, under the narthex, and in the area around the building, lead archaeologists to conclude that the church was originally as a sepulchral chapel for a Byzantine monastery.

A small reliquary marking the consecration of the church after it was built and two other inscriptions show that the church was first named in honour of the Panaghia, the Virgin Mary.

In its original form, this was a square church with a dome, but an earlier, though not Byzantine, narthex at the west end of the church was demolished in 1936 to add the later narthex.

The church has a a square floor plan, with four semi-circular niches, one of which forms the arch into the Sanctuary area, and there is no icon screen to mark this division as in other Greek churches.

The church has a large and high octagonal dome that is decorated with successive arches and brick semi-columns. The walls are made of raw clay stones at the base and bricks in the upper section.

The walls inside were decorated in 1350-1370, and this decorative work is part of the Palaeologan tradition. The frescoes in the dome have been dated to the same period, between 1350 and 1370.

The frescoes in the dome are unusual for their depiction of the of the earthly Divine Liturgy as it evolves in the church. The Ascension of Christ is at the top of the dome, and in the levels below are the Virgin Mary (the Panaghia) with the Apostles, accompanied by depictions of the sun, moon and winds. Eight prophets can be seen between the windows of the dome, while at the base there is a depiction of the Divine Liturgy with bishops, deacons, cantors, and lay people.

The church was never transformed into a mosque during the Turkish presence in Thessaloniki. Perhaps it was too small for use as a mosque, perhaps it was saved because it stood in yard of a house in the Christian district of Panagouda.

The church survived the great fire that raged through Thessaloniki in 1917. But 43 years ago, the great earthquake in 1978 caused significant damage to the church, and the tower with its cupola still seems to lean to one side even after extensive repairs.

Despite its half-hidden place below street level on Egnatia Street, this small church is worth seeking out.

The dome depicts the Ascension of Christ and the Divine Liturgy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 13: 36-43 (NRSVA):

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ 37 He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!

The church tower and cupola seem to be leaning to one side (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (30 July 2021) recalls William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano and Thomas Clarkson, and invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the lives and works of William Wilberforce, Olaudah Equiano and Thomas Clarkson. May we remember their efforts to abolish the slave trade and renew our commitment to ending modern slavery.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

A small roadside shrine on Egnatia Street in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Icons on a stall in the streets of Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thursday, 29 July 2021

August 2021 in the Rathkeale and
Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes

‘I am the Bread of Life’ (John 6: 35) … many of our Gospel readings in August emphasise Christ’s words: ‘I am the Bread of Life’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1 August 2021 (Trinity IX):

9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

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

Readings: II Samuel 11: 26 to 12: 13a; Psalm 51: 1-13; John 6: 24-35

Hymns:

403, Bread of the world in mercy broken (Askeaton), CD 24
425, Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts (Tarbert), CD 25
418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face (CD 25)

8 August 2021 (Trinity X):

9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist, Castletown Church.

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Readings: II Samuel 18: 5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; John 6: 35, 41-51

Hymns:

425, Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts (CD 25)
422, In the quiet consecration (Castletown), CD 25
431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour (CD 26)

15 August 2021 (Trinity XI):

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

11.30 a.m.: Parish Eucharist, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert).

Readings: I Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14; Psalm 111; John 6: 51-58

Hymns:

581, I, the Lord of sea and sky (CD 49)
420, ‘I am the bread of life’ (CD 49)

22 August 2021 (Trinity XII):

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Castletown Church.

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Readings: I Kings 8: (1, 6, 10-11,) 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; John 6: 56-69

Hymns:

398, Alleluia! sing to Jesus (CD 24)
581, I, the Lord of sea and sky (Castetown), CD 49
403, Bread of the world in mercy broken (Rathkeale), CD 24

29 August 2021 (Trinity XIII):

11 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist, Askeaton

Readings: Song of Solomon 2: 8-13; Psalm 45: 1-2, 6-9; Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Hymns:

597, Take my life, and let it be (CD 34)
630, Blessed are the pure in heart (CD 36)

Note: This is planned as a Joint Parish Eucharist at the Rectory, Askeaton, followed by the Parish BBQ (subject to Government and Diocesan Covid guidelines, and the weather).

Festivals and Feast Days in August:

6 August: The Transfiguration
24 August: Saint Bartholomew

‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven’ (John 6: 51) … a warm welcome and warm bread in an hotel in Rethymnon

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
61, Church of Panaghía Chalkéon, Thessaloniki

The Church of Panaghía Chalkéon in Thessaloniki was built in 1028 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

This week’s theme is seven churches in Thessaloniki, and my photographs this morning (29 July 2021) are from the Church of Panaghía Chalkéon in Thessaloniki.

Inside the Church of Panaghía Chalkéon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of Panaghía Chalkéon (the Virgin of the Coppersmiths) was built in 1028 by Christophoros, a Byzantine official named in an inscription on the marble lintel at the main west entrance.

After the Ottoman Turks took Thessaloniki in 1430, the church was turned into a mosque, serving the guild of coppersmiths in the city.

When it became a church once again in 1912, the Turkish plaster was removed and the earlier wall paintings were cleaned.

The church was damaged by the earthquake in 1932 and was subsequently restored; and parts of it were rebuilt. Similar work was also carried out after the earthquake of 1978. There are fragmentary frescoes in the cupola and some icons.

There are fragmentary Byzantine frescoes in the cupola (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 13: 47-53 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 47 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ 52 And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’ 53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.’

The bells at the Church of Panaghía Chalkéon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (29 July 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for those working to end human trafficking. May we add our voices to their calls for justice.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The church was restored after the earthquakes in 1932 and 1978 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Votive candles in the Church of Panaghía Chalkéon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

A church in Ennistymon
that continues to impress
after almost 70 years

The Church of Our Lady and Saint Michael in Ennistymon, Co Clare, designed by Liam McCormick and Frank Corr (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

After last weekend’s ‘road trip’ visit to Comerford houses and sites in Ennistymon, Co Clare, including the former Comerford shop on Main Street and the remains of the West Clare Railway, two of us visited the Church of Our Lady and Saint Michael, one of the interesting pre-Vatican II modern churches in Ireland.

In the Roman Catholic Church, Ennistymon parish is part of the Kilfenora Deanery in the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora. The parish includes the two neighbouring towns of Ennistymon and Lahinch. The present parish priest is Father William Cummins and the curate is Father Des Forde.

The Church of Our Lady and Saint Michael in Ennistymon is the main church in the parish and was built in 1954 by Father John Jennings to replace an earlier, nearby church, built in the early 19th century.

Inside the Church of Our Lady and Saint Michael in Ennistymon, facing the liturgical east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Church of Our Lady and Saint Michael was designed by the Derry-born architects, William Henry Dunlevy McCormick (1916-1996) and Francis Michael (Frank) Corr. They successfully won the competition to design a new church for Ennistymon, Co Clare, in 1947. At the time, Liam McCormick was convalescing from tuberculosis in Greencastle, Co Donegal.

McCormick was one of founders of modern Irish architectural movement and also one of the most important church architects in Northern Ireland. He was responsible for designing 27 church buildings and many commercial and state buildings, including the iconic Met Éireann building in Glasnevin.

McCormick was educated at Saint Columb’s College, Derry, but later studied architecture in Liverpool, where he graduated in 1943. On his return to Northern Ireland, he began working for Derry Corporation and later for Ballymena Urban District Council.

Inside the Church of Our Lady and Saint Michael in Ennistymon, facing the liturgical west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

McCormick and Corr formed an architectural studio, Corr and McCormick, in 1948, and they designed the new church in Ennistymon to seat 1,000 people. The church was built in 1952-1954, the contractors were Farmer Bros of Dublin, and the church was opened on 8 December 1954.

The church is considered one of the first modern churches designed in Ireland. This is a gable-fronted, double-height church, with a stepped central breakfront, a single-bay, four-stage, bell tower, and a single-bay, single-storey, bow-ended baptistery. It is oriented on a west-east axis, rather than the liturgically traditional east-west axis.

There are eight-bay nave elevations and an eight-bay, single-storey, side aisle on the north (liturgical south) or right side.

The single-storey, side aisle on the north (liturgical south) side of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The church has roughcast rendered walls, and full-height timber windows at the glazed entrance bay, with concrete mullion and transoms forming a large cross. The timber, multiple-paned clerestory windows, are separated by rendered columns.

The church has a pitched copper sheeted roof on the nave, and there are flat roofs on the tower, aisle and baptistry. The tower belfry has concrete louvres to tower belfry.

Inside, the church retains many of its original features, including built-in confessionals in the side aisle, marble altars, altar rails, a gallery at the rear and the artistically interesting Stations of the Cross.

The Stations of the Cross form one continuous fresco along the south (liturgical north) wall of the church. They were completed in 1955 by the Cork-born Dominican friar and artist, Father Aengus Buckley (1913-1978) of Limerick. They were presented by James Shaloo of Chicago, formerly on Carhuclough, Ennistymon, who died in 1965.

The Stations of the Cross painted by Father Aengus Buckley form one continuous fresco (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The McCormick and Corr studio continued until 1968, when Liam McCormick then formed McCormick Tracey Mullarkey. McCormick continued to design churches until he retired in 1982, and he later completed a number of private commissions, including John Hume’s house.

McCormick’s offices were firebombed in the 1970s, with the total destruction of his professional records. He was also an accomplished sailor and member of the Irish Cruising Club, where he was flag officer.

McCormick died on 28 August 1996. His best-known work may be Saint Aengus’s Church in Burt, Co Donegal. It was voted Ireland’s ‘Building of the 20th century’ in 1999 in a readers’ poll organised by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and the Sunday Tribune.

Most of Frank Corr’s work dates from after the 1940s. He later formed a partnership with Oonagh Madden.

The former high altar and sanctuary area (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The second church in the parish is the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Lahinch. This too was built in 1954, and also replaced an older church.

The third church in the parish, the Church of Saint Columba in Clouna, was built in 1846.

The single-storey, bow-ended baptistery in the (liturgical) south-west corner of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
60, the Church of the Panagia Acheiropoietos, Thessaloniki

The Church of the Panaghia Acheiropoietos in Thessaloniki is one of the most important Byzantine churches in Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

This week’s theme is seven churches in Thessaloniki, and my photographs this morning (28 July 2021) are from the Church of the Panagia Acheiropoietos in Thessaloniki, one of the most important Byzantine churches in Greece.

Inside the Church of the Panaghia Acheiropoietos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of the Panaghia Acheiropoietos is an old Byzantine church, dating from the mid-fifth century. The church was built in on the site of a Roman bath, and was dedicated to the Virgin ‘not made by human hands’ (Acheiropoietos), a reference to an icon rather than an inference of any miraculous role in its building.

Inside the church, a few fragments of mosaics from the fifth century have survived in the soffits of the arches of the colonnades. Several parts of the wall paintings date from the 13th century, are also preserved in the south aisle.

This is a three-aisled basilica with a narthex on the west side and a second entrance with a monumental propylon in the middle of the south wall. A building attached to the east of the propylon may have been a baptistery or a diakonikon. A small parekklesion (chapel) is formed at the east end of the north aisle.

This was the first church in Thessaloniki to be converted into a mosque after the conquest of the city by the Turks in 1430. The Turks hammered down practically all the figurative decorations in the church, including the mosaics and frescoes.

The building was returned to use as a church in 1930, and remains a beautiful example og Byzantine church architecture.

The fifth century capitals and columns are from a workshop in Constantinople (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 13: 44-46 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 44 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.’

Some of the remaining mosaics that once depicted the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (28 July 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Church in the Province of West Africa, which comprises 17 dioceses across Cameroon, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The south porch of the Church of the Panagia Acheiropoietos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

A rusting railway bridge in
Ennistymon links an old song
and the Comerford family

A rusting bridge in Ennistymon is a reminder of the West Clare Railway … and of Harry Comerford, the first station master (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

This year’s summer ‘road trip’ has taken me to a number of Comerford houses in Co Galway and Co Clare, including Comerford Lodge, now known as Clare Cottage, in Spanish Point, Co Clare, Delamaine Lodge in Kinvara, Co Galway, and Ballykeel House in Kilfenora, Co Clare.

I have also known for many years of Comerford family connections with Ennistymon, Co Clare, so two of us decided to return to Ennistymon last weekend in search of a Comerford shop, and also found a Comerford link with the West Clare Railway, made famous in the Percy French ballad, ‘Are you right there, Michael?’

Ennistymon is less than 4 km east of Lahinch, and 26 km west of Ennis, and is on the edges of the Burren. Just as people in Lahinch resent road signs that spell the name ‘Lehinch,’ people in Ennistymon have difficulties with the official spelling ‘Ennistimon.’

The town is colourful and picturesque, with brightly painted, attractive shop fronts, plenty of coffee shops, and a variety of shops that include bookshops, music shops and good food shops.

The Cascades and the Falls made Ennistymon a tourist attraction (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Ennistymon grew from just three small houses in 1775 to 120 houses in 1810. Tourism developed in the 19th century with the attraction of the ‘Cascades’ on the River Cullenagh or Inagh, and the opening of the Falls Hotel on the site of the former Ennistymon House.

The West Clare Railway was built in the 1880s to connect Ennis and the coastal villages, towns and resorts of West Clare. A later extension reached Kilrush and Kilkee. It was narrow gauge line and was served by steam and later by diesel locomotives. It drew freight, cattle and passengers and carried the post on a 70-mile stretch for over seven decades.

The West Clare Railway was beloved by the people of Co Clare, who treated it like a local bus service. It is said the friendly engine drivers would even drop off passengers outside their door.

When building work began on the line, the first sod at Miltown Malbay was cut by Charles Stewart Parnell on 26 January 1885.

When Ennistymon railway station opened on 2 July 1887, it was yet another boost to the economy of the town and of West Clare. Postal services quickened, newspapers from Dublin became available on the day, Kilkee became known as the ‘Brighton of the West,’ and the Lahinch golf course was laid out.

A train arriving at the old railway station in Ennistymon … the photograph was taken by a later station master, Roger Joanes

The company was often criticised for its poor timekeeping and lack of punctuality. This reputation was compounded by the por quality coal and turf used to run the locomotives, which rarely allowed the boiler to reach full capacity. This reputation was celebrated – or ridiculed – by Percy French in his ballad written in 1902.

Percy French wrote the song after successfully suing the railway company for loss of earnings, when a late running train in 1896 prevented him from arriving on time for a performance in Kilkee. It is said the train was late because river water was being used to fill the water tank at Ennistymon, and the boiler filled with weeds.

The company, in turn, appealed the ruling, but French was over an hour late for the court hearing in Ennis. He told the judge he was late was because ‘I took the West Clare Railway here, your honour.’

The railway company was unsuccessful in its appeal.

For many of the early years of the line, Harry Comerford was the station master in Ennistymon, and his family remained in the Ennistymon for many generations.

The former Comerford shop and home at 14 Main Street, Ennistymon … now the Spar supermarket (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Harry Comerford was born Henry Comerford in Co Clare ca 1869, a son of George Comerford, a farmer, and the naming pattern in his family – including names such as Henry, George and Isaac – indicate this family was closely related to the Comerford families of Spanish Point, Doonbeg, Galway, Kinvara and Kilfenora, whose houses I have been visiting in recent weeks.

Harry’s father, George Comerford, may be George Comerford who was originally from Spanish Point, Co Clare, and who moved to Doonbeg, Co Clare, in 1839.

Harry Comerford was the Station Master in Ennistymon when he married on 7 November 1899, in Saint Alphonsus Church, Limerick. His wife, Margaret Lysaght, was a daughter of Daniel Lysaght, shopkeeper, of 14 Main Street, Ennistymon, and the witnesses at their wedding were George Comerford and Marianne Tuohy. This George Comerford may be George Comerford

George Comerford, who was the best man at this wedding, may be George Comerford (ca 1852-1925), shopkeeper of Doonbeg, Co Clare, making him Harry’s eldest brother.

While Harry Comerford continued to work as the station master in Ennistymon, Harry and Margaret Comerford ran a thriving china shop and a bar and boarding house. Henry died in Ennistymon on 23 June 1930, aged 65; Margaret died on 8 June 1952, aged 82. They were the parents of eight children.

Their eldest surviving daughter Mary married Joseph Maloney, who ran a drapery shop at 10 Main Street, Ennistymon (witnesses: Thomas Gallery, Lucy Comerford). A son, Henry Joseph Comerford (1907-1985), later lived at Terenure Park in Dublin. Another son, Isaac Francis Comerford, was a teacher. The youngest daughter, Lucy Comerford (1908-1972), carried on the family business at 14 Main Street, Ennistymon, until she died on 29 July 1972.

The former Comerford home and business at 14 Main Street, Ennistymon, later became Paul Haugh’s butcher shop, and is now the Spar Supermarket in Ennistymon.

Meanwhile, the government decided in the early 1960s, to close many railway lines in the west of Ireland, arguing they were not profitable, without taking account of the public service they provided. The West Clare Railway closed on 31 January 1961, and its closure had an adverse effect on the economies of Ennistymon and the other market towns along the route. It was the last operating narrow gauge passenger system in Ireland.

Much of the line, its rails and sleepers were sold off. However, one engine was restored in 2009, and now runs on a short stretch of the line at Moyasta Junction near Kilrush. Part of the old West Clare railway bridge, including the parapets and steel beams, can still be seen in Ennistymon, south of the bridge at the Falls. The Station House B&B marks the site of the old station building.

The parapets and the rusting beams of the former railway bridge in Ennistymon … a reminder of Harry Comerford and of Percy French (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Are ye right there Michael, by Percy French (1902)

You may talk of Columbus’s sailing
Across the Atlantical Sea
But he never tried to go railing
From Ennis as far as Kilkee.
You run for the train in the morning
The excursion train starting at eight
You’re there when the clock gives the warnin’
And there for an hour you’ll wait.
And as you’re waiting in the train
You’ll hear the guard sing this refrain:

Are ye right there, Michael, are ye right?
Do you think that we'll be there before the night?
Ye’ve been so long in startin’
That ye couldn’t say for certain
Still ye might now, Michael,
So ye might!

They find out where the engine’s been hiding
And it drags you to sweet Corofin.
Says the guard: ‘Back her down on the siding
There’s a goods from Kilrush coming in.’
Perhaps it comes in two hours,
Perhaps it breaks down on the way.
‘If it does,’ says the guard, ‘by the powers
We’re here for the rest of the day!’
And while you sit and curse your luck
The train backs down into a truck.

Are ye right there, Michael, are ye right?
Have ye got the parcel there for Mrs White?
Ye haven’t, oh begorra,
Say it’s comin’ down tomorra
And well it might now, Michael,
So it might.

At Lahinch the sea shines like a jewel,
With joy you are ready to shout,
When the stoker cries out: ‘There’s no fuel
And the fire’s tee-totally out!
But hand up that bit of a log there
I’ll soon have ye out of the fix
There’s a fine clamp of turf in the bog there
And the rest go a-gatherin’ sticks.’
And while you’re breakin’ bits of trees
You hear some wise remarks like these:

‘Are ye right there, Michael? Are ye right?
Do ye think that you can get the fire to light?
Oh, an hour you’ll require
For the turf it might be drier
Well it might now, Michael,
So it might.’

The former Comerford home and shop on Main Street, Ennistymon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Ennistymon is named in a popular version of the song by Brendan O’Dowda, who added lyrics that may not have been part of the original:

Kilkee! Oh you never get near it!
You’re in luck if the train brings you back
For the permanent way is so queer
It spends most of its time off the track.
Uphill the old engine is climbin’
While the passengers push with a will
You’re in luck when you reach Ennistymon
For all the way home is downhill.
And as you’re wobblin’ through the dark
you hear the guard make this remark:

‘Are you right there, Michael, are ye right?
Do you think that you'll be home before it’s light?’
‘Tis all dependin’ whether
The old engine holds together —
And it might now, Michael, so it might! (so it might),
And it might, now, Michael, so it might.’

Ennistymon is a colourful town with brightly-painted shopfronts (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
59, Church of Aghios Dimitrios, Thessaloniki

The Church of Aghios Dimitrios often serves as the de facto cathedral of Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

This week’s theme is seven churches in Thessaloniki, and my photographs this morning (27 July 2021) are from the Church of Aghios Dimitrios in Thessaloniki.

Inside the Church of Aghios Dimitrios … rebuilt after the catastrophic fire in 1917 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of Aghios Dimitrios is the best-known church in Thessaloniki. It is named after the martyred Roman soldier who is the city’s patron saint and whose feast day is on 26 October. The church was first built as a small oratory shortly after the year 313 on the ruins of a Roman bath and on the site of the saint’s martyrdom ten years earlier on the orders of the Emperor Galerius.

A new church was built on the same site in the fifth century. This was a large, three-aisled basilica, but was burnt down in 634. Soon after, the present five-aisled basilica was built on the site, and it remains the largest church in Greece.

The church became a mosque in 1493, but was restored to Christian worship in 1912. It was destroyed by fire again in 1917, but restoration work began immediately after the catastrophe of 1917. Very few fragments of sculptures, mosaics or frescoes survived the fire of 1917, but those that have survived are representative of the successive phases of the church’s history.

Today, the church often functions as the de facto cathedral of Thessaloniki.

The crypt under the sanctuary and the transept is said to be the place where the saint was martyred, and has been an archaeological site since it was discovered in 1918.

The remains of Saint Dimitrios were returned from Italy in 1980 and are part of the exhibition open to the public, with items that survived the 1917 fire and others that came to light during recent excavations.

The church was restored to Christian worship in 1912 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 13: 36-43 (NRSVA):

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ 37 He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!’

The Church of Aghios Dimitrios in Thessaloniki is the largest church in Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (27 July 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the victims of human trafficking. May we remember that we are all made in God’s image.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Saint Dimitrios of Thessaloniki … a new icon by Alexandra Kaouki of Rethymnon

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