18 October 2021

A place of sanctuary
and spiritual rest in
Saint John’s, Lichfield

Welcome to my place of spiritual sanctuary and spiritual rest in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

For 50 years now, I have found spiritual sanctuary and spiritual rest in Lichfield in the Chapel of the Hospital of Saint John Baptist without the Barrs. Fifty years ago, by happenchance, I walked into this chapel late on a summer afternoon, and felt filled with the light and love of God.

I was only 19, it was 1971, and it was a foundational moment in my life, changing my values and priorities, challenging my social, political and personal values, offering me a new focus and new directions in life, and eventually leading me along the path to ordination.

Ever since, I have made efforts to return each year to the Chapel in Saint John’s Hospital, to give thanks for the gift of the light and love of God’s in my life. Despite the pandemic restrictions this year and last that interrupted these regular visits, I have returned to this chapel two or three times a year, and it was a special privilege to be invited to preach at the Festal Eucharist on Saint John’s Day, 24 June 2015.

It was natural, then, that the chapel in Saint John’s was the first, and the last, place I visited during last week’s visit to Lichfield.

The chapel in Saint John’s is the first, and the last, place I visit when I return to Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

I was interviewed in the chapel some years ago by local historian David Moore for a series of five short YouTube films, talking about my life, my connections with Lichfield, and the links between Lichfield and the Comberford family. Inspired by this, I recorded a short video clip for a school assembly in a few weeks’ time – I recorded two others outside Lichfield Cathedral and inside the ruins of Coventry Cathedral.

However, last week’s visits, first and last, were about prayer, thankfulness and gratitude.

It is interesting to see, as the years roll by, the changes that take place in Saint John’s. John Piper’s East Window, ‘Christ in Majesty,’ was installed in 1984. It was probably inspired by Graham Sutherland’s large tapestry in Coventry Cathedral, and since its installation it has become an integral part of my own spirituality and prayer life.

Simon Manby’s sculpture of ‘Noah and the Dove’ was commissioned by the trustees in 2006 and stands in the quadrangle. Saint John’s was extended extensively in recent years, and the new almshouses were opened by the Duke of Gloucester on 25 July 2017.

The new almshouses in Saint John’s were opened on 25 July 2017 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The chapel in Saint John’s has been my place of spiritual sanctuary and spiritual rest in Lichfield for the past half century. But inside the porch of the chapel it was a joy last week to see that this chapel is actively supporting ‘Lichfield City of Sanctuary.’

Lichfield City of Sanctuary says it is ‘Welcoming Everyone to Lichfield with Respect and Kindness’ and states:

‘We believe Lichfield is an open-hearted place where all are welcome and treated with respect and understanding. We work to support local people and organisations to make Lichfield a welcoming and supportive city that provides sanctuary and support to all who need it, especially vulnerable people.’

City of Sanctuary is a national movement working to make the United Kingdom a welcoming place of safety for all. Cities throughout the United Kingdom, including Lichfield, are working to support a culture of welcome and hospitality to all.

The first City of Sanctuary was founded in Sheffield in 2005. City of Sanctuary has become a national movement, and is still growing: 110 communities in cities, towns and villages have been recognised as cities of sanctuary, committed to nurturing a culture of welcome and hospitality, celebrating and promoting the contribution of people seeking sanctuary in the country. It is the story of a hundred thousand welcomes.

A small group of Lichfield residents came together in 2019 at a meeting chaired by the Revd Warren Bardsley of the Methodist Church and committed to working towards the recognition of Lichfield as a City of Sanctuary.

Lichfield City of Sanctuary says:

‘We support people in Lichfield, especially newcomers, who face discrimination or exclusion due to displacement, immigration, racism, sexuality, poverty, disability, abuse, violence.

‘We come alongside individuals and organisations throughout the district of Lichfield to coordinate welcome and support for those who need it.

‘We challenge visions of Lichfield that exclude any individuals and groups that live and work here.

‘We hold events, exhibitions, campaigns and meetings to engage and inform about the issues that concern us all.’

People who become a Lichfield City of Sanctuary Partner are invited to join the groups, to help shape the future, to support the vision and principles, to take part in events and campaigns, and to provide practical support for marginalised and excluded people and groups.

Lichfield City of Sanctuary website is at: http://lichfield.cityofsanctuary.org You can follow on Twitter: @LichfieldCos

Lichfield City of Sanctuary … part of a poster in the porch of the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
142, Buttevant Friary, Co Cork

The ruins of the Franciscan Friary beside Saint Mary’s Church, on the Main Street, Buttevant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist (18 October). The annual clergy conference for priests of the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe and the Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry begins later today in Adare, Co Limerick.

This year’s conference comes just two weeks before the two dioceses are merged into one following the retirement of both Bishop Kenneth Kearon and Bishop Patrick Rooke.

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting 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 for these few weeks is churches in the Franciscan (and Capuchin) tradition. My photographs this morning (18 October 2021) are of the ruins of the Franciscan Friary in Buttevant, Co Cork.

The east window in the Franciscan friary church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The ruins of the Franciscan Friary are in the centre of Buttevant, beside Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church on the Main Street. The friary was also dedicated to Saint Thomas à Becket of Canterbury and housed a thriving community from the mid-13th to mid-16th century. It still possesses some of the earliest examples of Franciscan architecture in Ireland.

The first friary of the Observant Franciscans in Ireland was founded at Youghal, Co Cork, by Maurice FitzGerald in 1224. The friary in Buttevant was founded from Youghal and was the only Franciscan house in North Cork.

The Annals of the Four Masters record it was founded and endowed in 1251 by David Óg de Barry. The townland of Lagfrancis was assigned as the glebe for its mensa.

At first, the Franciscan friary had a rectangular church. A transept was added later, with a triumphal arch that faced south, towards the Barry family’s castle. The Bell Tower was added in the final phase and was placed equidistant from both gables of the friary.

The Franciscans were mendicant friars who lived by preaching and on charity. But their patrons in Buttevant, the Barry family, financed several major redevelopments of the friary. Over the centuries, these expansions showed the growing wealth and power of the Barrys.

By 1324, Buttevant friary consisted of a community of Irish and Anglo-Norman friars and was important enough to maintain its own stadium or house of studies.

However, the community was divided by tensions between the Anglo-Norman and Irish friars. A Papal commission investigated a decision to transfer a Gaelic friar from Buttevant to one of the Gaelic friaries, and the Friary in the 1320s, at the time when the friary in Buttevant had been transferred to a new jurisdiction, separating it from other Irish friaries and linking it to Anglo-Norman friaries.

The Cloyne diocesan records from the 1400s show that the law courts in Buttevant operated at the door of the friary church. In mediaeval Buttevant, the friary porch was the place to make legal agreements, renew or grant leases on Lady Day and Michaelmas, to swear fealty, to do homage and to marriages. These records also record the same legal functions at the front door of the parish church of Saint Bridget, the site later of Saint John’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Buttevant.

When of the monastic houses were dissolved during the Tudor reformation in the 1540s, the Franciscan friary in Buttevant included the friary church, the conventual buildings, a garden, a cemetery, and a watermill.

James de Barry (1520-1581), 4th Viscount Buttevant, obtained a 21-year lease of the friary in 1571. At the outbreak of the Desmond Rebellions, he joined the rebels and when his estates were confiscated, the friary in Buttevant passed to Edmund Spenser in the Plantation of Munster. However, by 1615 or earlier, the friary had reverted to his son, David de Barry (1550-1617), 5th Viscount Buttevant.

Evidence shows the Franciscan friars continued to live at the friary in late Elizabethan and Jacobean Buttevant. Reports in 1615 and 1629 show the large friary church was still roofed and held many of the tombs of the local nobility, and the friary buildings ‘were spacious and numerous.’

At the Irish Rebellion in 1641, the Franciscan community in Buttevant welcomed the Confederate army of Lord Mountgarret, and the guardian, Father Boetius Egan, attended the Confederate Parliament in Kilkenny in 1642. But Murrough O’Brien, Earl of Inchiquin, assembled the Parliamentarian army in Buttevant and burned the friary church.

The friars returned to Buttevant at the Restoration. Two friars continued to live in Buttevant in the 18th century, and the friary was still being used by friars in 1731, according to a report presented to the House of Lords.

By 1800, only one old friar was left in Buttevant, and he died soon afterwards. The great Bell Tower, which had been silent for centuries but continued to dominate the friary ruins, collapsed in 1814, and greatly damaged an already fragile, crumbling building. By 1820, the Franciscan presence in Buttevant had come to end after almost 600 years.

Canon Cornelius Buckley, who built Saint Mary’s Church in the 1830s, removed the rubble inside the friary nave and chancel , and collected the architectural remnants that were inserted in the north wall, as a ‘sort of mediaeval museum for the curious,’ as the antiquarian, Richard Brash described it.

A large quantity of human remains and bones was collected at this stage. For some years, they were of ghoulish interest to visitors, but were later reburied in the crypt under the friary.

Samuel Lewis noted in his Topographical Dictionary in 1837, that the tomb of the founder, David de Barry, ‘is supposed to be in the centre of the chancel, but is marked only by some broken stones which appear to have formed an enclosure.’ Other families buried in the nave and chancel included the Barrys, Fitzgeralds, Lombards, and others.

The remains of the friary today include a church with a piscina and a number of elaborate carvings. The church and transept are complete, many stones belonging to the cloister arcade are stored in the upper vault under the choir, while there are good carved stones in the lower vault, and some windows in the church have been rebuilt.

Inside the church of the Franciscan friary in Buttevant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 10: 1-9 (NRSVA):

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you”.’

The Franciscan friars continued to live in Buttevant until the early 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (18 October 2021, Saint Luke the Evangelist) invites us to pray:

Let us give thanks for the life and works of Saint Luke. May we be a healing presence in the world.

Architectural remains and portions of graves were inserted in the north wall of the friary church in the 1830s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Portion of a carved mediaeval crucifixion, inserted in a wall in the south transept (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