02 January 2022

The masks of Venice, in a time of quarantine
and pandemic, exploring the old and new

Sitting by the Grand Canal on a balcony in the Hotel San Cassiano in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The city of Venice has been celebrating the 1600th anniversary of its founding. The celebrations began on 25 March 2021, and continue until at least 25 March 2022, highlighting the history, the culture and the qualities that have made Venice the unique place it is.

Tradition claims the first stone of the Church of San Giacomo di Rialto (also known as San Giacométo), was laid on 25 March 421, making it the oldest church in Venice. Historians, of course, do not agree on an exact date. But, from an early date, people were moving in and out of the Lagoon, and these first settlers were joined by people fleeing the Italian mainland and the attacks of the Barbarians.

I was back in Venice at the end of the year, celebrating some anniversaries and family milestones. Venice is celebrated for its elaborate and exotic masks during Carnival, in the weeks before Lent. But in those weeks immediately before Advent, everyone was wearing a facebmask, on the waterbuses, in the squares and narrow alley ways, in shops and even on gondolas.


Northern Italy was one of the first parts in Europe to suffer the dire consequences of letting the pandemic go unchecked. Venice is also the city that gives us the word ‘quarantine’ at a time of plague. The word quarantena in the Venetian dialect means ‘forty days.’ Between 1348 and 1359, the Black Death wiped out about 30% of the population of Europe. To prevent the spread of plague-related diseases, ships and people arriving in Venice spent 40 days in isolation to prevent the spread of plague-related diseases.

This was probably my sixth or seventh time to return to Venice. In mid-November, the tourists seem to be few in number, and it almost seemed we had the canals and the lagoon to ourselves. This time, I was staying in the Hotel San Cassiano, housed in the Ca’ Favretto, home of the 19th-century painter Giacomo Favretto.

The hotel is in the Santa Croce district, just a few minutes’ walk from the Rialto Bridge and market. Each morning and each evening, we sat on the balcony enjoying our own intimate views of the Grand Canal.

We visited Saint Mark’s once again, dined near Rialto Bridge, and spent a lengthy afternoon in the Ghetto. But in a city as old as this, no matter how familiar anyone may be with its sites, it is always good to visit somewhere new, and so we used our tickets on vaporetti to do some island hopping in the Lagoon.

A winter stroll on the beach on the Lido of Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Lunch on the Lido
with Byron and Goethe

One morning, we caught a vaporetto from Zattere, near Saint Mark’s Square, to the Lido, a long and narrow island, a thin strip of land, 11 km long and hardly 1 km wide, sheltering the city from the Adriatic Sea. Its beauty is celebrated in the poetry of Byron and Goethe, yet it is often missed by tourists.

The Lido is home to about 20,400 people and the Venice Film Festival takes place there in August and September. It developed in the 19th century as a tourist resort, with many 19th century villas in the Liberty style – the Italian version of Art Nouveau – and many grand hotels.

Arriving on the Lido, the first landmark seen by most visitors is the large green copper dome of Tempio Votivo, a war memorial built in 1925-1935 and designed by the architect Giuseppe Torres. This is the last major religious building in the lagoon, built to give thanks that Venice escaped World War I without major damage, especially during the bombing on 27 February 1918.

The graves in the new Jewish cemetery on Lido include the family of Adolfo Ottolenghi, Chief Rabbi of Venice, who was murdered in Auschwitz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


During our morning on the Lido, we walked along the beach and visited the churches and the cemeteries. The old Jewish cemetery is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe and is a jewel of medieval art. It dates from 1386, when the Republic of Venice granted the Jewish community a small plot of uncultivated land.

The graves include those of the poet Sarah Coppio Sullam and leading figures in the cultural life of the ghetto in the 16th and 17th centuries. Elaborate sarcophagi from the 18th century, are more ornate in their decoration, decorated with rampant lions or crowned eagles, the seven-branched menorah, the Lion of Judah, Jacob’s ladder, ram’s horns and palm trees.

The graves in the new Jewish cemetery, which opened nearby at the end of the 18th century, include the family of Adolfo Ottolenghi (1885-1944), Chief Rabbi of Venice (1919-1944), who was murdered in Auschwitz, and Michelangelo Jesurum (1843-1909), the founder of lace manufacturing in Venice and Burano.

After a walk on the beach, we strolled back along the main street of Lido, Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, known to everyone as Gran Viale. The street crosses the whole island, from the vaporetto stop to the sea. It is a mere 1 km in width, and is lined with hotels, shops and restaurants, and we had lunch on a quiet, but sun-kissed winter afternoon.

Ballet poms on the grave of the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev on Cimitero, the cemetery island of San Michele (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Among the living and
the dead on Cimitero

If the two Jewish cemeteries on the Lido are known to few tourists or visitors to Venice, I am sure too that few stop off at Cimitero, the cemetery island of San Michele, despite its proximity to the glass-making island of Murano.

If San Michele is not crowded by living tourists, it is certainly crowded by dead Venetians. Cimitero has been Venice’s cemetery since the early 1800s, when the occupying Napoleonic forces told the Venetians to start taking their dead across the water instead of burying them in Venice itself. There was a growing shortage of burial places in Venice, but it was also in the name of hygiene, and because of fear of the return of modern plagues.

Cimitero, with a large number of cypress trees and enclosed within high terracotta walls, was originally the two islets of San Michele and San Cristoforo della Pace, and the Monastery of Saint Michael (San Michele di Murano) was a centre of learning and printing. The monks there included the famous cartographer, Fra Mauro, who drew maps for European explorers.

The large church on the island, the Chiesa di San Michele in Isola, built in 1469, was the first Renaissance church in Venice and the first to be faced in white Istrian stone. But the monastery was suppressed under Napoleon, the monks were expelled in 1814, the two small islands became Venice’s major cemetery.

At one time, coffins were carried to the island on special funeral gondolas. The cemetery is wide and calm, with a series of large gardens, studded with cypress trees and cluttered with hundreds of thousands of tombs and graves. Some are lavishly monumental, with domes and sculptures and wrought-iron gates; many more are stacked high in modern terraces, like filing cabinets.

The graves of the writer Ezra Pound (right) and the violinist Olga Rudge (left), side-by-side (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


There are two smaller, separate graveyards for other Christians. In contrast to the formal, tended graves and gardens of graves in other parts of the cemetery, the Greci and Protestant sections have an atmosphere of rustic decay. Some tombstones are covered in moss, a few are leaning over, and some are collapsing.

The graves in the Greci or Greek Orthodox cemetery include the composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and the Russian ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929). Venice has always had a sizeable Greek population, and here too are the graves of bishops, merchants and refugees who fled Smyrna in the 1920s.

In the Evangelisti or Protestant graveyard, we found the graves of the American poet, critic and fascist collaborator, Ezra Pound (1885-1972), who influenced the work of TS Eliot, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. Buried beside Pound is his mistress, the violinist Olga Rudge (1895-1996).

Here too are the graves of the Russian and American poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996), and the German painter August Wolf (1842-1915). Another gravestone is of Edward Douglas Guinness (1893-1983), a member of the banking branch of the family and a partner in Guinness Mahon.

Dusk turning to darkness on Giudecca, often described as ‘the real Venice’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Dusk on Giudecca,
‘the real Venice’

As dusk turned to darkness one evening, we strolled through the island of Giudecca, described by some travel writers as ‘the real Venice,’ and visited the landmark church of Il Redentore, designed by the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580).

Il Redentore is one of the pinnacles of Palladio’s career, and inside there is a rich collection of paintings, including works by Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese and Francesco Bassano.

The church was built in thanksgiving for the deliverance of Venice from a major outbreak of the plague in 1575-1576, when 46,000 people, or 25% to 30% of the population) died.

Canaletto painted the church many times, and every year the doge and senators walked across a specially built pontoon bridge from the Zattere to Giudecca to attend Mass in the church. The Festa del Redentore remains a major festival in Venice.

Venice is 1,600 years old, but it never goes out of date, and there is always something old and something new to uncover or discover.

Reflections on a vaporetto on the Grand Canal (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This two-page feature as first published in the Church Review (Dublin and Glenadlough) in January 2022

Sunday intercessions, 2 January 2022,
Christmas II, the Naming of Christ

‘Will you strive for justice and peace … and respect the dignity of every human being’ … a reminder of the Baptismal questions and promises during a recent protest in the US
Let us pray:

Let us join together in the Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

A prayer in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for this morning:

Loving Father,
help us to weather earthly rejection,
and accept that we are
accepted by you.
Strengthen our convictions,
inspire hope in us.

Merciful Father …

‘You have … crowned them with glory and honour’ (Psalm 8: 7) … a crown above a priest’s hands raised in blessing on a gravestone in the Jewish cemetery in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘Will you acknowledge Christ’s
authority … by defending the weak,
and by seeking peace and justice?’

The Naming and Circumcision of Jesus … a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 2 January 2022 the Second Sunday of Christmas (Christmas 2):

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

11.30: Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert

The Readings: Numbers 6: 22-27; Psalm 8; Galatians 4: 4-7; Luke 2: 15-21.

A priest’s hands raised in blessing on a Holocaust memorial in Berlin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

New Year’s Day in the calendar of the Church is known as ‘the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus.’ It is a celebration or festival that marks three events: firstly, the naming of the infant; secondly, the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham ‘and his children for ever,’ seen in Christ keeping the Law; and thirdly, traditionally the first shedding of the Christ’s blood.

The most significant of these events in the Gospels is the name itself, which means ‘Yahweh saves’ and so is linked to the question asked by Moses of God: ‘What is your name?’ ‘I am who I am,’ was the reply, thus the significance of Christ’s words: ‘Before Abraham was, I am,’ or the ‘I AM’ sayings in the Fourth Gospel.

In this morning’s Gospel reading (Luke 2: 15-21), Saint Luke recalls the Circumcision and Naming of Christ in a short, terse summary account in one, single verse: ‘After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb’ (Luke 2: 21).

Saint Luke has told us of Joseph and Mary’s visit to Bethlehem, and of the birth of Jesus. This reading recalls the visit of the Shepherds, who are the first visitors to the new-born child, symbolising that Christ is our shepherd.

Before Christ was conceived, an angel has said ‘you will name him Jesus’ (Luke 1: 31). His name means God saves. The Hebrew and Aramaic forms of Jesus are similar to the words meaning ‘he will save.’

This feast is a reminder that the Christ Child is born into a family of faith. He is truly God and truly human, and in his humanity he is also born a Jew, into a faithful and observant Jewish family.

In a prayer that has been used at circumcisions since at least the 14th century, God is asked to ‘sustain this child, and let him be known in the house of Israel as … As he has entered into the Covenant of Abraham, so may he enter into the study of Torah, the blessing of marriage, and the practice of goodness.’

The prayer continues: ‘May he who blessed our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, bless this child who has been circumcised, and grant him a perfect healing. May his parents rear him to have a heart receptive to Torah, to learn and to teach, to keep and to observe your laws.’

The service concludes with the priestly blessing we heard as part of our first reading (Numbers 6: 23-26):

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

The festival of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus provides a much-needed opportunity to challenge anti-Semitism in the world today, remembering that Christ was born into a practicing, pious Jewish family, and that this month (January 2022) also marks the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Birkenau.

The beginning of a New Year is a good time to look back and to look forward with eyes of faith in company with one another and with God. The beginning of redemption, the beginning of the New Covenant, the beginning of the New Year … as TS Eliot opens and closes ‘East Coker’:

In my beginning is my end
… In my end is my beginning

At the beginning of the New Year, it is good to be reminded of the promises at our baptism, and that we have been incorporated into the Body of Christ, which is the Church. A good example of how this is done at the beginning of the year is the Methodist Covenant Service and the Methodist Covenant Prayer, which we are using as part our intercessions this morning.

So, let us renew our Baptismal vows and promises this morning. We turn to page 399 in the Book of Common Prayer:

Do you renew and affirm the promises made when you were baptised?
I do.

Do you turn in faith to Christ?
I do.

Do you then renounce all evil?
I do, by God’s help.

Will you obey and serve Christ?
I will, by God’s help.

Do you believe and trust in God the Father, creator of heaven and earth?
I believe and trust in him.

Do you believe and trust in his Son Jesus Christ, who redeemed the world?
I believe and trust in him.

Do you believe and trust in the Holy Spirit who gives life to the people of God?
I believe and trust in him.

This is the faith of the Church.
This is our faith.
We believe and trust in one God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Those who are baptised are called to worship and serve God.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbour as yourself?
With the help of God, I will.

Will you acknowledge Christ’s authority over human society, by prayer for the world and its leaders, by defending the weak, and by seeking peace and justice?
With the help of God, I will.

Let us pray.

Almighty God,
you have given us the will to do all these things:
Give us the courage and strength to achieve them
to the honour and glory of your name,
and the good of your Church and people;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith,
that you may be rooted and grounded in love
and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit. Amen.

The Nativity scene and the adoration of the shepherds on the triptych in Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford / Lichfield Gazette)

Luke 2: 15-21 (NRSVA):

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

A priest’s hands raised in blessing on a gravestone in the Jewish Cemetery in the Lido of Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Liturgical colour: White

The Penitential Kyries (Christmas):

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
whose blessed Son was circumcised
in obedience to the law for our sake
and given the Name that declares your saving love:
Give us grace faithfully to bear his Name,
to worship him in the freedom of the Spirit,
and to proclaim him as the Saviour of the world;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)


You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:

The Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
whose incarnate Son was given the name of Saviour:
grant that we who have shared in this sacrament of our salvation
may live out our years
in the power of the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.


The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace:

The railway tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau … January 2022 marks the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, and the Circumcision and Naming of Christ is a moment to challenge antisemitism (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


166, Joy to the world, the Lord is come! (CD 10)
133, Long ago, prophets knew (CD 8)
152, Come and join the celebration (CD 9)

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.

With the Saints through Christmas (8):
2 January 2022, Bishop Samuel Azariah

Bishop Samuel Azariah holding Dornakal Cathedral in one of the windows in the USPG chapel in Trinity Street, Southwark (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is a season that continues for 40 days until the Feast of the Presentation or Candlemas (2 February).

Today is the Second Sunday of Christmas, and later this morning I am presiding and preaching at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick, and preaching at Morning Prayer in Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, Co Kerry.

But, before this day gets busy, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

I have been continuing my Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during Christmas;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

This morning, the calendar of USPG and the church calendar in many parts of the Anglican Communion commemorate Bishop Samuel Azariah.

When the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) moved into new offices in Trinity Street, Southwark, in 2019, USPG’s unique stained-glass windows of four pioneering missionary bishops were put in place in the USPG chapel after a year in storage.

The chapel space was part of an office building in the past, and the windows, kept in storage for a year, now bring the chapel to life, with their bright colours and their sense of history.

They depict: Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther (1809-1891), Bishop Vedanayakam Samuel Azariah (1874-1945), Bishop Tsae-seng Sing (1861-1940) of Chekiang (Zhejiang), and Bishop Joseph Sakunoshin Motoda (1862-1928), the first Japanese-born Anglican Bishop of Tokyo.

Bishop Samuel Azariah was an Indian evangelist and the first Indian bishop in the Anglican Communion, serving as the first Bishop of Dornakal. He was also a pioneer of Christian ecumenism in India.

His father, the Revd Thomas Vedanayagam, was an Anglican priest from a traditional Hindu family who converted to Christianity in 1839 while he was at a CMS-run school.

Bishop Azariah was an evangelist with the YMCA before he was ordained an Anglican priest at the age of 35 in 1909, and became a missionary in Dornakal. He spoke at the World Missionary Conference at Edinburgh in 1910.

On 29 December 1912, three years after his ordination as priest, he was consecrated the first Bishop of Dornakal. He was consecrated in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Calcutta, with 11 bishops of the taking part.

Cambridge University awarded Bishop Azariah an honorary degree in 1920. In 1936, he built Epiphany Cathedral in Dornakal, which is depicted in his window in the stained-glass in the USPG chapel.

He died in Dornakal on 1 January 1945. At the time, the Diocese of Dornakal had 200,000 members. Two years after his death, the united Church of South India was formed, bring together the Anglican, Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches.

Bishop Samuel Azariah is commemorated in the Calendar of USPG and in the calendar of Common Worship in the Church of England on 2 January.

Four missionary bishops on four windows in the USPG chapel in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020; click on images for full-screen view)

John 1: [1-9] 10-18 (NRSVA):

[1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.]

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me”.’ 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

The prayer in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) invites us to pray this morning (2 January 2022, Christmas II, Samuel Azariah):

Loving Father,
help us to weather earthly rejection,
and accept that we are
accepted by you.
Strengthen our convictions,
inspire hope in us.

Yesterday: The Naming of Jesus

Tomorrow: Saint Fintan of Doone

The windows in the USPG chapel date from the 250th anniversary of SPG in 1951, and were blessed again last year (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