14 June 2023

Kevin Martin: my distant
‘cousin’ and an expert
on Sephardic genealogy

Lunch with my ‘cousin’ Kevin Martin in London recently (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

It was sad to hear earlier today of the death of my ‘cousin’ Kevin Martin (ז״ל‎), We had lunch in London a few months ago in Casa Jardim on Woburn Walk, the house where WB Yeats lived for more than a quarter of a century from 1895 to 1919, and where Maud Gonne also lived for a time.

Over a lengthy lunch and what seemed like endless cups of coffee, Kevin and I discussed family history and Sephardic genealogy, including our shared interest in genealogy and the stories of the Comerford, Mendoza, Martinez and Nunez families.

It was a conversation that took us from London to Cork, Youghal, Lisbon, Porto, Amsterdam, Venice, Jerusalem, Fez, Tangier, Surinam, Curaçao, Peru, Mexico and many places in between and beyond.

We discussed the role of antisemitism in politics in Poland, Russia and Ukraine, and the stories of conversos or ‘secret Jews’ in Belmonte and mountain villages in Portugal, hiding from the Inquisition in Peru and the Mexico, and claims to Sephardic ancestry in New Mexico.

The prospect of Portuguese passports for people who can prove descent from families that fled the Inquisition means we have both been approached by people offering genealogical commissions anxious to prove Sephardic ancestry.

But we also discussed the complexities and intricacies of Sephardic ancestry and identity. For many people who can only divide the Jewish identities into Ashkenazim and Sephardim, there is a vast cultural array to explore. The rich and diverse ‘non-Ashkenazic’ world is multi-layered and includes Romaniotes, Mizrahim, Italkim, Maghrebi, Yemenite and ‘Oriental’ Jews.

There is irony in some of the efforts to conflate these identities. Kevin reminded me how the word Maghreb means ‘western’ and so it is tautological to speak of Oriental Maghrebis.

I recalled a conversation with one Greek Jew, who proudly dismissed the notion that Romaniote Jews had lived in Greece since Byzantine times. ‘There have been Jews in Greece since Alexander the Great was a boy.’ But he quickly, and proudly, corrected himself. ‘There have been Jews in Greece since Moses was a boy.’

Is the phenomenon of increasing claims to Sephardic ancestry in New Mexico a fashion? Could so many Sephardic Jews have crossed the Atlantic escaping the prying eyes of Inquisitors on the Iberian Peninsula and the New World? And could there have been so many needed to generate so many descendants in New Mexico and the American southwest today?

We could have had a full afternoon seminar on James Clifford’s work on ‘ethnographic allegory.’ Certainly, we construct genealogies to comfort our own sense of identity and kinship, belonging in time and space and among people.

Kevin and I are not ‘cousins’ in the strict work of DNA analysts. But we are part of overlapping layers of families that fit more easily into patterns like Venn diagrams rather than limited linear narratives.

Our conversations were linked to our shared search for the Irish family, if any, of the prize-fighter Daniel Mendoza (1764-1836), who was the boxing champion of England in 1792-1795, and was claimed as an ancestor by the comedian and actor the late Peter Sellers (1925-1980).

In his book Jewish Dublin: Portraits of Life by the Liffey (2007), the late Alan Benson cited Louis Hyman in The Jews of Ireland to claim that Daniel Mendoza was ‘descended … from an impoverished Irish Jewish family of ten children, forced by circumstances to emigrate to England.’

The Mendoza family can be traced back, not to Ireland, but to David de Mendoza (1650-1730), a Marrano or a member of a Jewish family who had converted publicly to Christianity at the Inquisition but who continued to practice Judaism privately. David Mendoza and his wife Abigail David de la Penha Castro (1665-1751) moved with their children from Seville to Amsterdam, where they were free to resume the public practice of their Jewish faith and rituals.

Their grandson, Aaron Daniel de Mendoza (1709-1751), and his wife Bienvenida Abraham Tubi (1709-1765), were married in Bevis Marks or the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue in London in 1730. They were the parents of Abigail Nunes Martinez (1744-1810), the grandmother of Sarah (A’Cohen) Asher, who in turn was the grandmother of the sisters Aggie and Rosina Sipple who married the brothers Harry and Bert Comerford.

But Abigail Nunes Martinez was also the sister of Abraham Aaron Mendoza (1732-1805), whose son Daniel Mendoza (1764-1836) was the famous prize-fighter and the boxing champion of England in 1792-1795.

Kevin Martin, who shares a descent from the Mendoza family, pointed out to me how Aaron Mendoza ‘literally disappears’ from Sephardic or Spanish and Portuguese records in England and ‘it has been suggested that he ended up in Ireland.’

Perhaps there are more people of Sephardic descent in Ireland than in New Mexico, I thought with amusement.

We shared stories of some of the most interesting Sephardic families of Seville, Livorno, Venice, Amsterdam and the East End of London – a reminder how we are all inter-related and how identity is so often something that we select in a ‘pick-and-mix’ manner from the variety of identities available to many families on these islands.

But then, I suppose, we are all related by no more than six degrees of separation. We can all rejoice in the diversity we share, thanks to a time when borders were open and refugees fleeing religious persecution were welcomed with open arms on these islands.

I had missed the opportunity to celebrate Hanukkah and his birthday with him in Golder’s Green in December. But we kept in touch week-by-week and we had hoped to meet again soon.

Kevin was a Sephardic researcher and historian with many years experience in genealogy, and he was a supporter of both SynagogueScribes and CemeteryScribes for many years. His extensive work in Sephardic genealogy included photographing and indexing the Novo Cemetery and its gravestones, compiling a list of Jewish ‘Aliens’ recorded in the Bevis Marks records in 1803, covering the period 1716-1806, and indexing the ketubot written by Hakham Aylion at Bevis Marks from 5450 (1689) to 5461 (1700).

He had tireless commitments to Jewish historical research and to campaigning against antisemitism. He was a husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather ('grangrad') , brother, ‘cousin’ and much more to so many people. He shall be missed by his wife, daughters, Jen Martin and Kate Nissen, grandchildren, family and friends. I shall miss his wisdom and knowledge, his generosity in sharing his research and findings, and his sense of fun and extended family.

May his memory be a blessing, זיכרונו לברכה

Casa Jardim … the venue for my lunch with Kevin Martin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (17) 14 June 2023

Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford … more formally, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The First Sunday after Trinity was celebrated on Sunday (11 June 2023). The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today remembers Richard Baxter (died 1691), Puritan Divine.

Later today, I hope to take part in a meeting of local clergy from the Milton Keynes area. But, before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Inside the cathedral designed by John Roberts and built in 1773-1779 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Christ Church Cathedral (Holy Trinity), Waterford:

Waterford is unique as an Irish city, not in having two cathedrals, but in having two cathedrals, one Anglican and one Roman Catholic, with the same formal dedication and designed by the same architect.

Both the Church of Ireland cathedral on Cathedral Square – Christ Church Cathedral, or more formally, the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, and the Roman Catholic cathedral on Barronstrand Street – Holy Trinity Cathedral, which I was discussing yesterday (13 June 2023), were designed in the neoclassical style by John Roberts (1712-1796), whose imagination gave shape to much of Georgian Waterford.

The Vikings first settled in Waterford in the early 10th century, probably by 914, and their first church, Saint Olaf’s, was built in the late tenth century. A church dedicated to Holy Trinity was built on the site of Christ Church Cathedral in 1050 by Reginald, son of Sigtryg (Sitric), who also gave his name to Reginald’s Tower on the quays.

Although the cathedral’s official name remains the ‘Cathedral of the Holy and Undivided Trinity,’ it has been known throughout its history as Christ Church, a Scandinavian designation for the principal church in a town or city.

Waterford became a diocese in 1096, when Malchus (Mael Ísu Ua hAinmere), a Benedictine monk from Winchester Abbey, was consecrated Bishop of Waterford in Canterbury by Saint Anselm (1033-1109), Archbishop of Canterbury (1093-1109). Christ Church became the cathedral of the new city diocese.

Malchus attended the Synod of Rath Breasail as Archbishop of Cashel in 1111, when the links with Canterbury was dissolved and Waterford was incorporated as a diocese into the structures of the Irish Church. Malchus appears to have resigned from Cashel later and returned to Waterford, where he died as Bishop of Waterford in 1135.

Less than 100 years after the Viking cathedral was built, it was the venue in 1170 of the marriage of Strongbow, Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, and Aoife, daughter of Diarmaid Mac Murchada (Dermot MacMurrough), the deposed King of Leinster. This political alliance guaranteed Aoife’s father the support of Anglo-Norman forces in his bid to reclaim his throne, and allowed Strongbow to lay claim to the kingdom when Dermot MacMurrough died.

The Anglo-Normans were in control of Waterford by 1210 and built a new Gothic cathedral in the Early English style. This cathedral stood for over 500 years, until 1773. It consisted of a nave and chancel (added in 1220), separated by a screen, and with side aisles but no transepts.

The cathedral was more than 40 metres long, and the nave was 14 metres wide. The nave was separated from the aisles by an arcade of eight pointed arches on each side, supported on clustered columns, surmounted by a clerestory. There was a large Lady Chapel behind the High Altar.

The base of one of the original support pillars of this Norman Cathedral has been excavated, offering a glimpse of what the interior of the mediaeval cathedral looked like.

As the new cathedral was being built, the early 13th century was marked by a territorial dispute between the Diocese of Lismore and the Diocese of Waterford, each representing a different cultural and ethnic presence in the area and with one diocese seeking to annex the territory of the other.

Bishop Robert I of Waterford was excommunicated by Pope Innocent III in 1203, and his successor, Bishop David, was murdered in 1209. Pope Innocent III issued a ruling in favour of the Diocese of Lismore in 1211, but Bishop Robert II of Waterford took Bishop Malachias of Lismore as his prisoner and placed him in shackles. For this, Bishop Robert II was also excommunicated by Pope Innocent III, who once again ruled in favour of Lismore in 1215, and this decision was confirmed by Pope Honorius III in 1219.

But a Norman bishop, Robert of Bedford, was consecrated for Lismore that year, and the two dioceses lived in harmony with each other until they were united formally by Pope Urban V in 1363. Despite this amalgamation, separated cathedrals continued their existence in Waterford and Lismore.

The Anglo-Normans and their successors, the ‘Old English’ mercantile and political families, prospered in mediaeval Waterford. The cathedral was ornamented and expanded as the years passed, benefitting from the patronage of these families.

These families added side chapels, including one built by James Rice, who was Mayor of Waterford 11 times in the 15th century, between 1468 and 1489. Rice’s Chapel was dedicated in 1482 to Saint James and Saint Catherine, and was provided for the tomb of James Rice and his wife Katherine Broun.

Rice wanted his tomb to be a reminder of how brief our lives on earth are, and of the transient nature of fame, wealth and power. To emphasise this, the tomb displays a badly decaying corpse crawling with worms, with a frog crawling in and out of the dead man’s ribs. A surviving section of the Latin inscription reads, ‘I am what you will be; I was what you are now.’ Figures of the apostles and saints adorn the panels at the side of the tomb.

This tomb was removed from the mediaeval cathedral when it was being demolished in the 18th century, and stood in the burial ground opposite the west door until 1880, when it was moved to its present place on the north side of the cathedral.

On the south side of the cathedral, a surviving early 16th century tomb depicts a man in full armour. It is known as the ‘Warrior’s Tomb,’ and probably belongs to a member of the Butler family of Ormonde.

After the Reformation, the Lady Chapel behind the High Altar was converted for use as a parish church for the new Trinity Parish.

For a period in the 1640s, before the Cromwellian siege of Waterford in 1649-1650, the cathedral was used by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Waterford, when Patrick Comerford (1586-1652) was Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1629-1652).

The copes, chasuble, dalmatic and other vestments that Patrick Comerford had used in Waterford were never been returned, and a later Roman Catholic bishop, John Brenan, claimed the ecclesiastical ornaments of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore had been taken away to France by Comerford in 1650. The church finery had disappeared for generations.

In the 18th century, Waterford’s progressive City Corporation came to regard the Anglo-Norman cathedral as old-fashioned and recommended building a new cathedral. William Halfpenny from Bristol was commissioned to design a new cathedral in 1739, but his plans were never developed.

At first, Richard Chenevix, Bishop of Waterford (1746-1779), resisted the next set of proposals to build a new cathedral. But it is said a ruse was devised to change his mind: as he was walking through the cathedral, some rubble was strategically dropped in his path, close enough to shock the bishop, who was soon favoured building a new cathedral.

The Norman Gothic cathedral was torn down in 1773, or blown down – it was built so strongly that gunpowder was used for its demolition. The chapels demolished along with it included the Lady Chapel, and those dedicated to Saint Saviour, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Nicholas, Saint Katherine and Saint Anne.

During the demolition work, the mediaeval vestments missing since Patrick Comerford left for France in 1651, were found in the crypt. In a gesture of ecumenical goodwill centuries before ecumenism became standard practice, they were presented by Bishop Chenevix to his Roman Catholic counterpart, Bishop Peter Creagh, and they are now kept in the Museum of Treasures in Waterford and the National Museum in Dublin.

The architect of the new cathedral was John Roberts, who was responsible for much of Georgian Waterford, including the Bishop’s Palace. Once of his great-grandsons was Field-Marshal Earl Roberts (1832-1914).

Work started on building a new cathedral in 1773 and it was completed in 1779, at a total cost of £5,397.

Roberts also designed the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Barronstrand Street, giving Waterford the unique distinction as a city where the Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals were designed by the one architect.

By 1780 – the date Christ Church Cathedral was completed – Irish Protestants were rejecting the Penal Laws as bigoted and unjust. By 1796 – the date of the foundation of the Roman Catholic Cathedral – most of the important Penal Laws had been repealed in an important step leading to Catholic Emancipation. In that year, Waterford got its first bridge, which bore a plaque marking the end of religious division.

Roberts designed Christ Church Cathedral as an aisled rectangle, 51.8 metres long, 17.6 metres wide, and 12.1 metres high, with a shallow chancel and seating for 1,100 people. It was built in the neo-classical style that was fashionable in the Georgian period, and may have been inspired by Christopher Wren’s churches built in London a century earlier.

The exterior is notable for its tower and spire with its classical detailing. Inside, the cathedral has a fine Georgian interior. Christ Church is a detached, nine-bay, double-height neo-classical cathedral, built in 1773-1779. It has an eight-bay, double-height nave with a single-bay, double-height chancel at the east end, and a single-bay, four-stage entrance tower at the west end.

The entrance or west front displays high quality local stone masonry, particularly in the carved detailing in the portico. This west front and entrance are designed on a square plan with a pedimented tetrastyle portico at the first stage, a polygonal spire over this, and two single-bay, double-height, flanking end bays.

Inside, the cathedral is well preserved, and includes stucco plasterwork of artistic importance, vaulted ceilings, a diagonal-tiled marble floor, carved timber pews, arcades at the side aisles with Corinthian columns on polished pink marble pedestals, a coved ceiling with decorative plasterwork, timber panelled wainscoting and groin vaulted ceilings in the side aisles with foliate plasterwork, and a classical-style reredos in the chancel.

One of the surviving monuments from the last days of the old cathedral was erected to Nicholas Fitzgerald in 1770. It shows Piety sitting on a sarcophagus of Kilkenny marble, with a medallion showing Nicholas Fitzgerald depicted as a Roman patrician, and Father Time holding a scythe in one hand and an hour glass in the other.

A fire in the organ gallery on 25 October 1815 devastated the organ and much of the surrounding woodwork. The cathedral was closed for three years for repairs and rebuilding, Thomas Elliott was commissioned to build a new organ, and the cathedral reopened on 10 May 1818.

A ring of eight bells was installed in the tower in 1872; the spire was demolished two years later, and a new spire was erected in 1880. Further changes were made in 1885-1891 by the Belfast-born architect Sir Thomas Drew (1838-1910), whose other works included Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, Rathmines Town Hall, the Graduates’ Memorial Building in Trinity College Dublin, and the former Ulster Bank in College Green, Dublin.

In Drew’s restoration, the square pews and galleries were removed and the ground floor windows were blocked up. A new case was built for the organ and it was taken down from its gallery and squeezed into the left-hand corner of the cathedral.

The oak altar was presented by the Goff family in 1924. There is no east window, and instead the east wall is decorated in plaster: three panels below a pediment are framed by egg-and-dart moulding; at the centre of the reredos, a sunburst enshrines the Hebrew letters for the name of God.

A two-light window by AE Child (1875-1939) in the south wall dates from 1929-1930 and is considered his finest work. AE Child was the manager of An Túr Gloine and tutored a generation of Irish stained-glass artists, including Harry Clarke, Ethel Rhind, Catherine O’Brien, Michael Healy and Evie Hone. This window, depicting ‘Sorrow and Joy,’ was commissioned by the Denny family. The inscription reads, ‘Sorrow may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’ (Psalm 30: 5).

The organ was restored by Kenneth Jones in 2003 and a new gallery was built to house it in its original position.

The architectural historian Mark Girouard says Christ Church is the finest 18th century church building in Ireland. A chapter of the Irish Georgian Society was formed by the Very Revd Maria Jansson, then Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, and the Very Revd Paul Waldron, Administrator of Holy Trinity Cathedral, to promote Waterford’s unique twin cathedrals. The chapter was launched on 26 January 2014, marking the tercentenary of the birth of John Roberts.

• The Very Revd Bruce Hayes has been Dean of Waterford since last year (2022). The Sunday Eucharist is celebrated at 10 am, there is Choral Evensong at 3:30 pm on the Fifth Sunday of the month, and the mid-week Eucharist is celebrated at 10:30 am on Wednesdays.

The reredos and oak High Altar in the chancel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 5: 17-19 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.’

The tomb of James Rice is an important example of a cadaver monument (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Opening the World for Children through Learning.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (14 June 2023) invites us to pray:

We pray for programmes across the world that seek to educate and support children so that they can stay in school instead of having to work.

‘Sorrow and Joy’ … a window from the Túr Gloine school by AE Child (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


O God,
the strength of all those who put their trust in you,
mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you,
grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you both in will and deed;
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:

Eternal Father,
we thank you for nourishing us
with these heavenly gifts:
may our communion strengthen us in faith,
build us up in hope,
and make us grow in love;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The monument to Bishop Joseph Stock (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The cathedral organ was built by Thomas Elliott (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