01 May 2023

Three Howard families in
Lichfield and their links
with Comberford Hall

Dean Henry Howard’s tomb in the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral … the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott and HH Armstead (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

While I was in Lichfield Cathedral last week, I was struck by the number of monuments to members of various Howard families, and wondered whether they were related to the Howard family who owned Comberford Hall in the 19th century. As today (1 May) is also Staffordshire, I thought it might be interesting to try to disentangle the three branches of the three Howard families in and near Lichfield and Tamworth, and to ask whether they were related.

Charles Howard (1707-1771) was a school friend of Dr Samuel Johnson. He was a proctor in the consistory court of Lichfield, and lived at No 19 in the Cathedral Close, now Bistro 19. There he improved the garden behind the house with a grotto of shells and fossils.

Charles Howard and his wife Penelope (née Foley) were the parents of Mary ‘Polly’ Howard who married Erasmus Darwin in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, in 1757. Polly died on 30 June 1770 and her funeral took place in Lichfield Cathedral. Her grandson was the naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882).

Charles Howard’s monument can be seen in the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral.

Charles Howard’s monument in the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Very Revd Henry Edward John Howard (1795-1868) was the Dean of Lichfield from 1833 to 1868. He had a prominent role in the restoration of Lichfield Cathedral by the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) and laid the foundations for Lichfield Theological College.

Dean Howard’s tomb is also in the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral. This tomb includes a white marble recumbent effigy with an ornate Gothic canopy behind. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and is the work of the sculptor HH Armstead (1828-1905) in 1872. A figure at one end of the canopy holds a chalice. On the side of the tomb chest are carved symbols of the Passion, including spears, sponges dipped in vinegar, the crown of thorns, the garment and dice, and the cross and a ladder.
Charles Howard improved the garden behind No 19 in the Cathedral Close in Lichfield with a grotto of shells and fossils (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

I have found it difficult to trace the origins of Charles Howard and his family in Lichfield, tracing his branch back only two or three generations to a George Howard who died in 1734.

On the other hand, Dean Henry Howard was a member of the Howard family who owned Castle Howard for generations. He was descended through his father, Frederick Howard (1748-1825), 5th Earl of Carlisle, from the Dukes of Norfolk. His brother, George William Frederick Howard (1802-1864), 7th Earl of Carlisle, was Chief Secretary of Ireland (1835-1841) and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1855-1858), while another brother, the Revd William George Howard (1808-1889), 8th Earl of Carlisle, was also a priest in the Church of England. George James Howard (1843-1911), 9th Earl of Carlisle, was a Pre-Raphaelite artist, and a trustee of the National Gallery.

Their ancestor, Charles Howard (1629-1683), 1st Earl of Carlisle, was a distant (third cousin) of Craven Howard (1649-1700), of Elford Hall, east of Lichfield and north of Tamworth, who was the direct ancestor of the Howard family who came to own Comberford Hall in the early 19th century.

Elford Hall was owned by the Howard family and their descendants from 1684 until 1935

Craven Howard was descended from a branch of the Howard family who held the titles of Earl of Suffolk and Earl of Berkshire, but his imprudence and litigiousness led him to squander many of his advantages. His first wife, Anne Ogle, was a maid of honour to Queen Catherine of Braganza, but was described as an ‘ancient maid’ of ‘no fortune.’

Craven Howard’s second wife, Mary Bowes, inherited of Elford Hall when her brother Richard Bowes died in 1661. When she married Craven Howard in 1684, he immediately became the Master of Elford Hall, and when he died on 7 June 1700 he was buried at Elford. Elford Hall remained in various branches of his family until 1935.

Craven Howard’s son, Henry Bowes Howard (1687-1757), succeeded as 4th Earl of Berkshire in 1706 and as 11th Earl of Suffolk in 1745. For a brief period, he was the Recorder of Lichfield (1755-1757).

Henry’s son, William Howard (1714-1756), was known as Viscount Wendover, and married Lady Mary Finch. Elford Hall was eventually inherited by their daughter, the Hon Frances Howard, who married Richard Bagot (1733-1819), who changed his name to Richard Howard. He was a son of Sir Walter Wagstaffe Bagot (1702-1768) of Blithfield, and Lady Barbara Legge, daughter of William Legge, 1st Earl of Dartmouth.

Richard Howard (1733-1819) became the proprietor of Comberford Hall in 1808 (Staffordshire County Buildings Picture Collection)

Richard Bagot or Richard Howard (1733-1819), trained as a lawyer, but in 1761-63 went on a diplomatic mission to Italy with his friend the Earl of Northampton, to go to Italy, and they took with him the 16-year-old aspiring architect James Wyatt, whose family came from Weeford near Lichfield. Richard was 50 in 1783 when he married the heiress Frances Howard in 1783. Her vast inheritance Elford Hall, near Lichfield and Tamworth, as well as Ashtead Park, Surrey, Levens Hall, and Castle Rising, Norfolk.

Richard Howard and in 1808 he added to this portfolio in 1808 when he acquired the Fisherwick estate in Staffordshire, which adjoined Elford.

But, how did Richard Howard come to acquire Comberford Hall?

Richard Howard acquired Comberford Hall in 1808-1809

Viscount Weymouth – who was soon to become the 1st Marquis of Bath – and his son, the Hon Thomas Thynne, sold the Manors of Comberford and Wigginton, including lands in Hopwas and Coton, to Arthur Chichester (1739-1799), 5th Earl of Donegall and later 1st Marquess of Donegall, on 1 August 1789.

Within a year, Lord Donegall had raised £20,000 from the banker Henry Hoare, using the Manors and Lands of Comberford and Wigginton as collateral security. Lord Donegall is said to have rebuilt Comberford Hall. Eventually, however, the Chichester family, crippled by the gambling debts of a profligate son, found it impossible to pay off this loan, and was forced to sell Comberford Hall and the manorial rights and lands that went with it.

When Lord Donegall died in 1799, Comberford Hall and his other heavily mortgaged estates in Staffordshire, including Fisherwick, passed to a younger son, Lord Spencer Stanley Chichester, who also inherited Dunbrody Abbey, Co Wexford, along with a townhouse in Saint James’s Square, London, 20,000 acres on the Inishowen Peninsula in Co Donegal, lands in Belfast, and the family’s Gainsborough portraits.

But Lord Spencer Stanley Chichester was a heavily-indebted gambler. On 28 September 1808, John Forster, trustee for Lord Spencer Chichester, assigned two mortgages secured on his property in Comberford and Wigginton to William Bagot, 1st Lord Bagot, trustee for his brother Richard Howard (1733-1819).

The Chichester or Donegall family had owned Comberford Hall for less than 20 years, from 1789 to 1808. Richard Howard became the next proprietor of Comberford Hall, along with land, cloth and corn mills at Comberford, and fishing rights in the River Tame. The witnesses to this assignment in 1808 included Peter Gybon, bailiff of Burton. A year later, in 1809, the mortgages on Comberford Hall and the other Staffordshire estates acquired by the Chichester family were foreclosed by Sir Robert Peel, and the estates of Comberford and Wigginton were sold to Richard Howard.

Richard Howard may have been living at Comberford Hall when he died on 18 February 1819. His vast estates descended to his only daughter, Mary Howard (1785-1877), whose inheritance totalled almost 15,000 acres. She married Colonel Fulk Greville Upton (1773-1846), who also changed his surname to Howard.

Fulke Greville Howard was born in Geneva, the younger son of Clotworthy Upton (1721-1785), 1st Baron Templetown, an Irish peer and former MP for Co Antrim. As a career army officer, he fought in the Anglo-Russian invasion of Holland during the French Revolutionary Wars in 1799, and he lost the sight of one eye in the Helder Expedition. When he retired, he was MP for Castle Rising, Norfolk (1808-1832), a constituency long controlled by the Howard family.

Mary and Fulke Howard held the titles to the Manors of Comberford and Wigginton and one-third of the Manor of Packington between 1808 and 1844. They lived most of their lives at Elford Hall.

Colonel Fulke Howard died on 4 March 1846, but Mary Howard lived on for over 30 years. In 1873, as Lady of the Manor of Comberford, Mary Howard appointed Daniel Sell of Fisherwick as the gamekeeper of her manors. A court roll for the Manor of Comberford survives from December 1873.

Mary Howard died at the age of 92 on 19 October 1877. Mary and Fulke Howard had no children and before she died Mary Howard divided her estates among different cousins. Comberford Hall passed from the trustees of the Hon Mary Greville Howard to her distant cousin, Howard Francis Paget (1858-1935) of Elford Hall, son of the Revd Francis Edward Paget (1806-1882), Rector of Elford.

The Revd Francis Edward Paget was an early follower of the Oxford Movement, and was known as a writer of Tractarian fiction. In 1894, Mary Howard’s trustees and Howard Francis Paget appointed Augustus Frederick Coe, solicitor, as Steward of the Manors of Comberford, Wigginton, Coton and Hopwas and Elford and Oakley, and Coe in turn appointed Arthur Williams of Hopwas as Bailiff of the Manor.

The Paget family sold Comberford Weir to the Mayor, Aldermen, Burgesses and Rural District Council of Tamworth in 1906, and the Paget family proposed selling the Manor of Comberford and Wigginton in 1906-1907.

Howard Francis Paget donated land for building the Church of Saint Mary and Saint George in Comberford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Howard Francis Paget donated land to the Lichfield Diocesan Trust in 1914 for building a mission church in Comberford. The first stone was laid at a special ceremony in 1914 and the building was completed in 1915. Sadly, the small, picturesque Church of Saint Mary and Saint George closed ten years ago after the last service on 13 October 2013.

The tenants of the Howard and Paget families at Comberford Hall included Thomas Bradley Paget (1758-1817), a Tamworth banker, his daughter Sara Elizabeth (1789-1811), who was buried in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, and her husband Henry Alford.

William Tongue was Howard’s tenant at Comberford Hall ca 1818-1849. His first daughter, Sydney Tongue (1825-1866), married John Dudley Oliver (1809-1870), son of the Revd John Oliver (1763-1832), of Cherrymount, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, and Rector of Swepstone, Leicestershire. William Tongue’s second daughter, Elizabeth Tongue of Comberford Hall, married into the Allsopp brewing family of Burton-on-Trent.

Mary Howard’s later tenants at Comberford Hall included Richard Haines in 1860, and Edward Farmer (ca 1797-1871), who lived there in 1867-1871. He was succeeded as Comberford by his nephew, Charles Haywood, later Charles Haywood-Farmer (1829-1885), who lived at Comberford Hall until 1874 or 1875.

Sydney Fisher (1857-1927), a Tamworth paper manufacturer, was living at Comberford Hall in 1888-1896. He married Annie Louise Van Notten-Pole, a sister of Sir Cecil Pery van Notten-Pole (1863-1948). Frederick Arthur Morris was living at Comberford Hall in 1896, and was followed by William Felton Peel, who was living there when James Comerford visited Comberford Hall, and later by Algernon Francis Ardwick Mawson.

When Howard Francis Paget died in 1935, his son handed over the Elford estate to Birmingham City Council, along with many of the papers associated with the ownership of Comberford Hall. Later, Comberford Hall passed to the Arden, Pickin and Coltman families.

Elford Hall was demolished in 1965. But the Howard or Paget family interest in the area continued for generations. Howard Paget’s daughter, Charlotte Gabrielle Howard Paget, married Joseph Harold Hodgetts, and died in Lichfield in 1979. Their son, the late Harold Patrick Hodgetts, lived nearby at Model Farm in Elford, and Pat Hodgetts was proud that his grandparents had given the church to Comberford village.

Dean Henry Howard depicted on his tomb in the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Two songs and poems
from Greece for May Day 2023

The harbour at Rethymnon … I first got to know the writings of Andreas Papandreou on a holiday in the 1980s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The May Bank holiday rarely falls on May Day itself, so this year it is appropriate to make a real celebration of May Day.

I am now living in Stony Stratford, on the northern fringes of Milton Keynes. But, in the past, I have found myself, sometimes by accident, in a variety of places on May Day – including Achill Island in Co Mayo, Askeaton in Co Limerick, Bucharest in Romania, Dublin, London, Madrid in Spain, Portmeirion in Wales, and Rethymnon in Crete.

I have written at times about the May Day protests in Thessaloniki that inspired the great epic poem Epitaphios by the poet of the Greek left, Yiannis Ritsos.

After I had completed two of my degrees and stepped down from active roles in the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the 1980s, I found myself on an unexpected late summer holiday in Rethymnon, and I remember still how I found books by Andreas Papandreou in a wonderful second-hand bookshop in Souliou Street.

This was before Papandreou had fallen from grace, and I was moved by his account of his resistance to the colonels and their junta. Despite his sad later days, he remained an inspiration, and when he died in 1996 I contributed his obituary in The Irish Times.

To mark May Day this year, once again I am offering two poems that have been transformed into rousing songs of the Left in Greece, both set to music by the composer Mikis Theodorakis: Ένα Το Χελιδόνι (‘A solitary swallow’), from Axion Esti by Odysseas Elytis, and Μικρά κι ανήλιαγα στενά (‘In gloomy narrow backstreets,’ or ‘Rain falls on the slums’), by Tasos Livaditis.

Ένα Το Χελιδόνι

Ένα το χελιδόνι κι η άνοιξη ακριβή
για να γυρίσει ο ήλιος θέλει δουλειά πολλή
Θέλει νεκροί χιλιάδες να `ναι στους τροχούς
Θέλει κι οι ζωντανοί να δίνουν το αίμα τους.

Θε μου Πρωτομάστορα μ’ έχτισες μέσα στα βουνά
Θε μου Πρωτομάστορα μ’ έκλεισες μες στη θάλασσα!

Πάρθηκεν από μάγους το σώμα του Μαγιού
Το `χουνε θάψει σ’ ένα μνήμα του πέλαγου
σ’ ένα βαθύ πηγάδι το `χουνε κλειστό
μύρισε το σκοτάδι κι όλη η άβυσσος

Θε μου Πρωτομάστορα μέσα στις πασχαλιές και Συ
Θε μου Πρωτομάστορα μύρισες την Ανάσταση

A solitary swallow and a costly spring,
For the sun to turn it takes a job of work,
It takes a thousand dead sweating at the Wheels,
It takes the living also giving up their blood.

God my Master Builder, you built me into the mountains,
God my Master Builder, you enclose me in the sea!

Magicians carried off the body of May,
They buried the body in a tomb of the sea,
They sealed it up in a deep well,
Its scent fills the darkness and all the Abyss.

God my Master Builder, you too among the Easter lilacs,
God my Master Builder, you felt the scent of Resurrection!

Wriggling like sperm in a dark womb,
The terrible insect of memory breaks through the earth
And bites the light like a hungry spider,
Making the shores glow and the sea radiant.

God my Master Builder, you girded me with seashores,
God my Master Builder, you founded me on mountains.

This first song, ‘Ena to Helidoni,’ was composed by Mikis Theodorakis, using lyrics by Odysseus Elytis, one of the two Greek poets to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Odysseus Elytis was born in Iraklion, the capital of Crete, in 1911, and his poems have been translated into a dozen languages, including English-language translations by Edmund Keeley and George Savidis.

The lyrics are part of his longer poem ‘Axion Esti,’ a major work of 20th century literature. The ‘Axion Esti; reflects humanity’s struggle against the powers of darkness as the poet gives to an imaginary Christian liturgy a context that is revolutionary because of its combination of religious, social, aesthetic and philosophical ideas.

Although this poem can be interpreted as a spiritual autobiography that dramatises the national and philosophical hopes of a highly personal sensibility, it is also read as an expression of the revolutionary spirit in Greece. It was made popular by settings of portions of the poem in the 1960s by Mikis Theodorakis. Because of its lyrics and meaning, this song by Theodorakis became a song protest against the colonels’ junta in Greece in 1967-1974.

This portion of the poem, ‘Ena to Helidoni,’ was inspired by events in the Greek Civil War. The swallow is a metaphor for Greece trying to gain its freedom. But this freedom, the turning of the sun in the poem, takes a lot of work and blood.

This recording was made at a concert in 1977, during the transition of Greece to democracy. This concert brough together three major figures in Greek culture: the composer Mikis Theodorakis, the poet Odysseus Elytis and the singer Grigoris Bithikotsis:

My second choice of a poem and song for this May Day is Μικρά κι ανήλιαγα στενά (‘In gloomy narrow back streets’ or ‘Rain falls on the slums’) by the poet Tasos Leivaditis, set to music by Mikis Theodorakis, and sung here by the Greek singer Giorgos Dalaras:

Μικρά κι ανήλιαγα στενά

Μικρά κι ανήλιαγα στενά
και σπίτια χαμηλά μου
βρέχει στη φτωχογειτονιά
βρέχει και στην καρδιά μου

Αχ ψεύτη κι άδικε ντουνιά
π’ άναψες τον καημό μου
είσαι μικρός και δε χωράς
τον αναστεναγμό μου

Οι συμφορές αμέτρητες,
δεν έχει ο κόσμος άλλες
φεύγουν οι μέρες μου βαριά
σαν της βροχής τις στάλες

In gloomy narrow backstreets
and the houses below me,
it’s raining in these slums,
and it’s raining in my heart, too.

O lying and unfair world,
you’ve set my heart on fire,
you’re small and have no space
for my tormented sigh.

My misfortunes are countless
no more left in this world,
my days pass by heavily,
just like those drops of rain.

The poem was written by Anastasios-Pandeleïmon ‘Tassos’ Leivaditis (1922-1988), who was born in Athens on Easter Saturday, 15 April 1922. His family came from Kontovazaina in the Peloponnese, and he grow up in Metaxourgeio.

When Nazi Germany occupied Greece in 1941, he abandoned his law studies at the University of Athens and joined the Resistance and the National Liberation Front’s youth organisation EPON.

After the liberation of Greece in 1944, he continued to be politically active on the Left and was arrested. He was released in February 1945, and in 1946, he married Maria Stoupa and published his first poem, Tο τραγούδι του Xατζηδημήτρη (‘Hadjidimitris’ Song’) in the Free Letters, a literary magazine. In 1947, he became involved in publishing the literary magazine Themelio (Foundation).

During the Greek Civil War, he was arrested again in 1948 and exiled to the island of Lemnos. He remained in prison after the Civil War, and was held on Makronisos island, in prison on Agios Efstratios and then in the Hadjicostas prison. He first met Theodorakis in exile and in prison, and he continued to write poetry, including ‘Winds at the World’s Crossroads.’

He was released in 1951 and became a literary critic with the newspaper Avgi (Dawn) until 1967. He was arrested again in 1955 and was charged with incitement to rebellion. The Court of Appeals found him not guilty. The poem that landed him in court, ‘Winds at the World’s Crossroads,’ received the First Prize for Poetry at the World Youth Festival in Warsaw that year.

With the colonels’ coup in 1967, Leivaditis was forced out of work. He started writing in 1969 under pen names for popular magazines despite the political risks this posed for editors.

Leivaditis’ poetry remained largely unknown outside Greece until 1983, when his collection The Blind Man with the Lamp was published in Greece and in English.

Critics say his poetry deals with metaphysical subjects in a way that goes beyond materialism. Recently, Fraser Steel of the BBC, writing in Anglican weekly, the Church Times, in 2016, said his poetry was ‘closer to St John of the Cross’s paradoxical profundities,’ and he wrote of the poet’s ‘experience of God with a directness saved from portentousness by a vein of levity.’

Leivaditis and Kostas Kotzias co-wrote the script for the 1961 movie Synoikia To Oneiro (Neighbourhood of Dreams), directed by and starring Alekos Alexandrakis (1961). The film, with its powerful social message, is set in the impoverished Athenian neighbourhood of Asyrmatos, whose people are trying to escape poverty and deprivation.

The censors delayed the premiere because of its ‘suspicious social content,’ and because the soundtrack was composed by Theodorakis. Yet, despite the censors’ many cuts, the film became a milestone in the history of Greek cinema. Theodorakis wrote the music for the film, and the songs were sung by Grigoris Bithikotsis.

Leivaditis and Theodorakis first met as political prisoners and exile in the 1940s, and continued to work together in song-writing, with the composer putting many of the poems to music, and Leivaditis often accompanying Theodorakis in his many tours, reciting poetry as part of the concert. Leivaditis died in Athens on 30 October 1988.

Giorgos Dalaras is married to his manager Anna Roulas, who was a member of George Papandreou’s Pasok government in 2009-2011. This version was sung by Dalaras at a tribute concert for Theodorakis in the Herod Atticus theatre below the Acropolis in 1995. Two Greek bouzouki players were joined by the Dutch Metropole Orchestra conducted by Dick Bakker, and the clip includes the short dance sequence in the 1961 film. The man at the table is the director and leading actor Alekos Alexandrakis.

This posting includes material in a blog posting on May Day 1 May 2020

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (23) 1 May 2023

The High Synagogue (left) faces onto Red Lane (Červená ulice), between Maiselova Street and Paris Street in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Today is May Day and a public holiday (1 May 2023), and today is also marked as Staffordshire Day. We are still in the season of Easter, and this is the Fourth Week of Easter. Today, the Church Calendar also celebrates the apostles Saint Philip and Saint James.

Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection. Following our visit to Prague earlier this month, I am reflecting each morning this week in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a synagogue in Prague;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

A restaurant in part of the remodelled buildings housing the High Synagogue in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The High Synagogue, Prague:

During our visit to Prague earlier this month, I visited the seven surviving, working synagogues in Prague, including the six remaining synagogues in Josefov, the Jewish Quarter in the Old Town in the Czech capital.

Despite World War II, most of the significant historical Jewish buildings in Prague were saved from destruction, and they form the best-preserved complex of historical Jewish monuments in the whole of Europe.

The Jewish Quarter has six synagogues, as well as the Jewish Ceremonial Hall and the Old Jewish Cemetery, the most remarkable of its kind in Europe.

The High Synagogue, beside the Old-New Synagogue, dates from the 16th century. It was financed by Mordechai Maisel, and was finished in 1568, the same year as the Jewish Town Hall. It was probably named the High Synagogue because the house of prayer was located on the first floor rather than the ground floor of the building.

This synagogue was probably modelled after the High Synagogue in Kraków, which was built in 1556. The house was designed in the Renaissance style by the architect Pancratius Roder, and the supervising builder was a master named Rada.

It was designed as a preaching place for the councillors of Jewish Town Hall. Originally, it was accessible only from the first floor of the Jewish town hall and served for assemblies of the senior members of the ghetto, the religious community and perhaps sittings of the rabbinical courts.

The bimah in the centre was surrounded by seats, the stucco ceiling had Gothic ribbed vaulting and Mordechai Maisel donated Torah scrolls and silver tools to the synagogue.

However, the original synagogue was destroyed in the great fire of Prague in 1689. It was rebuilt in 1690 to designs by the architect Pavel Ignác Bayer, who also designed the women’s gallery. The Aron haKodesh or holy ark, where the Torah scrolls are kept, was adapted in 1691 in the style of contemporary Baroque altars.

The burned roof trusses were repaired after another fire in 1754.

The synagogue was rebuilt by JM Wertmüller in 1883, when the façade was simplified and given a modern appearance.

When the streets of the Old Jewish Town were being cleared and rebuilt in the early 20th century, the eastern front of the High Synagogue was covered up, a new entrance was made from Red Lane (Červená ulice), and the whole synagogue was overshadowed by the large corner house with towers between Maiselova Street and Paris Street. Only the north front of the synagogue, facing Červená Lane remained open. This house was designed by the architects Richard Klenka of Vlastimil and Frantisek Weyr, and it is often seen as part of the High Synagogue.

Other adaptations of the High Synagogue were made in the 1960s and the 1970s. A permanent exhibition of synagogue textiles from the Jewish Museum collection was installed there in 1982.

The High Synagogue was returned to the Prague Jewish Community in 1994, and it was restored and refurnished as a house of prayer in 1995. Today, the ground floor serves as a ticket office and a gift shop.

The Jewish Town Hall was built beside the Old New Synagogue on the corner of Maiselova Street and Červená Ulice, and was the main meeting house of the local Jewish community.

The first references to the Jewish town hall date from 1541. After a fire it was rebuilt in 1577-1586 in the Renaissance style, with funding from the Mayor of the Jewish town, Mordechai Maisel. It acquired its rococo façade in the 18th century.

The building is best known for its two clocks, one on a tower with Roman numeral markings, the other, lower clock has Hebrew numerals in the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, beginning with aleph and continuing counter-clockwise around the clock dial.

Today, this building is the centre of the Jewish Community of Prague and the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, and the seat of the Chief Rabbinate of Prague and the Czech Republic. However, the building is closed to the public.

Fret work above the entrance to the High Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 14: 1-14 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 1 ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ 5 Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6 Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

8 Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ 9 Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.’

Figurines on sale in the Judaica Shop on the ground floor of the High Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘The Work of Bollobhpur Mission Hospital.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by USPG’s Regional Manager for Asia and the Middle East, Davidson Solanki, who reflected on the work of Bollobhpur Mission Hospital, Bangladesh, for International Midwives’ Day this week.

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Monday 1 May 2023, Saint Philip and Saint James):

Let us pray for all who seek to be disciples of Christ. May we, like Philip and James, pay attention to our Lord, hear his voice, and seek to follow his call on our lives.


Almighty Father,
whom truly to know is eternal life:
teach us to know your Son Jesus Christ
as the way, the truth, and the life;
that we may follow the steps
of your holy apostles Philip and James,
and walk steadfastly in the way that leads to your glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Jewish Town Hall on the corner of Maiselova Street and Červená Ulice, beside the High Synagogue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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 clock with Hebrew numerals in the letters of the Hebrew alphabet on the Jewish Town Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)