30 November 2023

The countdown to
Christmas begins
with a book launch
in Dublin this evening

The Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street, Dublin … the venue for this evening’s launch of ‘Christmas and the Irish’ edited by Professor Salvador Ryan

Patrick Comerford

I was supposed to be in Dublin this evening for the launch of a new book, Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany, edited by my friend and colleague, Professor Salvador Ryan of Maynooth. I was at Luton Airport this morning when I realised I had left my passport back in Stony Stratford, and it was too late to return in time to retrieve it.

I am missing the launch of this new book in the Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street, this evening (30 November 2023) by the Wexford folklorist Michael Fortune.

This collection, follows the success of his three-volume series, Birth, Marriage and Death and the Irish (2016-2021), and it has been a privilege to have been invited to contribute to all four volumes in this collection.

There are only 25 days to go to Christmas, so is worth adding this new book to your list of Christmas presents this year.

This book examines the celebration of Christmas among the Irish, from the seventh century to the present day. The 75 chapters or articles range from the serious to the light-hearted, The writers are drawn from a range of academic disciplines and professions, including anthropology, Celtic studies, education, folklore, healthcare, history, journalism, literature, media and broadcasting, pastoral ministry, philosophy and theology.

In our papers, we reflect on what Christmas has meant to Irish people through the ages, whether living at home or abroad.

The topics include: the theme of light in early Irish texts; festive feasting and fighting in the Middle Ages; the Kilmore carols of Co Wexford; the history of Irish Christmas food through the centuries; crimes of Christmas past; Christmas on the Blasket Islands; the claim that ‘Santa’s Grave’ is in County Kilkenny; why Irish missionaries in Zimbabwe regularly missed out on their Christmas dinner; the origins and early life of the ‘Late Late Toy Show’; a Christmas surprise among Irish peacekeepers in the Lebanon; Christmas customs among the Travelling Community; Christmas and the Irish Jewish community; the Wren Boys; ‘Women’s Christmas’; Irish links to popular Christmas carols; Christmas and James Joyce; the curious custom of reciting 4,000 ‘Hail Marys’ in the lead up to Christmas; and why it became an established tradition for the Viceroy to send a woodcock to the British monarch every Christmas.

This anthology is a fascinating read for all who are interested in the social, cultural, and religious history of Ireland, and undoubtedly it will delight everyone who loves Christmas.

Many of the contributors are my friends and colleagues. In her essay, another Wexford historian, Dr Ida Milne of Carlow College, recalls her mother being the organist at the Christmas carol services in Ferns Cathedral.

Other contributors include Ian d’Alton of TCD, Seamus Dooley of the NUJ, the Limerick historian Seán Gannon, Crawford Gribben and Laurence Kirkpatrick, both of QUB, the singer-songwriter Max McCoubrey, Miriam Moffitt, John-Paul Sheridan of Maynooth, and Clodagh Tait of Limerick.

For the past few weeks, we have been rehearsing the ‘Wexford Carol’ in the choir in Saint Mary and Sint Giles Church in Stony Stratford for this year’s carol services. So, this adds to my pleasure that the ‘Wexford Carol’ is the subject of one of my three papers in the new book:

• The ‘Wexford Carol’ and the mystery surrounding some old and popular Christmas carols;

• ‘We Three Kings of Orient are’: an Epiphany carol with Irish links;

• Molly Bloom’s Christmas card: where Joycean fiction meets a real-life family.

Salvador Ryan is also planning some regional ‘launches’ of sorts over the next two weeks:

• National Museum of Ireland (Country Life), Castlebar, Co Mayo, Saturday (2 December) at 3 pm. There, Salvador Ryan will talk about Christmas traditions and their origins, followed by a small launch of the book afterwards.

• Cavan County Museum, Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, Wednesday (6 December) at 7pm. Once again, he will deliver a presentation in song and story on the origins of Christmas.

• Source Library and Arts Centre, Thurles, Co Tipperary, Tuesday 12 December at 8pm. This will be a launch of the volume by the local poet Larry Doherty.

Salvador Ryan is Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Saint Patrick’s Pontifical University, Maynooth. He writes on religious and cultural history from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. His other published titles include Death and the Irish, Marriage and the Irish, and Birth and the Irish (Dublin: Wordwell Books, 2016-2021); We Remember Maynooth: a College across Four Centuries (Dublin: Messenger Publications, 2020); Northern European Reformations: Transnational Perspectives (Palgrave, 2020); Material Cultures of Devotion in the Age of Reformations (Peeters, 2022), and Reforming the Church: Global Perspectives (Liturgical Press, 2023).

Copies of Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany are available to buy at each launch event, and it is also available to order in time for Christmas through local bookshops.

This was supposed to be a quick overnight visit to Dublin, and I had booked a flight back later tomorrow. Evem if I had travelled, I would have missed to miss the launch of the latest 2023 edition of the Old Limerick Journal in Dooradoyle Branch Library, Limerick, at 7 p.m. tomorrow evening (Friday 1 December 2023). It is being launched by Councillor Dan McSweeney, Deputy Mayor of Limerick City and County.

The Old Limerick Journal is edited by Tom Donovan and published by Limerick Museum. My paper in this latest edition looks at the Sephardic and Limerick ancestry of one of the most eminent Irish scientists of the 20th century. My six-page paper, ‘The Sephardic family roots and heritage of John Desmond Bernal, Limerick scientist’, is illustrated with nine of my photographs from Córdoba, Limerick, London and Venice.

Meanwhile, I heard yesterday that another history book in which I have a chapter has also been publsiehd this week and is due in the bookshops in time for Christmas. My seven-page paper, ‘Church-goers in Limerick During War and Revolution’, is Chapter 6 in Histories of Protestant Limerick, 1912-1923, and is accompanied by three of my photographs.

The book is edited Seán William Gannon, who is also a contributor to the Christmas book being launched this evening, along with Brian Hughes and is published by Limerick City & County Council.

Earlier this year, I co-wrote a book on the Philhellenes in Greek history, looking at the role of Irish Philhellenes in the Greek War of Independence in the 19th century. My research was published as <<Ο Sir Richard Church και οι Ιρλανδοι Φιλελληνες στον Πολεμο των Ελληνων για την Ανεξαρτησια>> in Πανος Καραγιώργος και Patrick Comerford, Ο Φιλελληνισμος και η Ελληνικη Επανασταση του 1821, published in Thessaloniki by Εκδοτικος Οικος Κ κ Σταμουλη.

I also edited and wrote the introduction to Who is Our Neighbour?, a six-session study course for Lent 2023 published in London by the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

In addition, my photographs have appeared in books three, including one published in Washington DC: National Geographic, and the cover photograph on Tim Vivian’s latest collection of poetry, A Doorway into Thanks: Further Reflections on Scripture.

But, I hope to share more in the coming weeks about my latest contributions to these books on Christmas and the civil war in Limerick and my paper on JD Bernal’s interesting ancestry.

Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany, ed Salvador Ryan (Dublin: Wordwell Books), €25, ISBN: 978-1-913934-93-4. This new book can be ordered HERE.

The 2023 edition of the Old Limerick Journal is being launched in Dooradoyle Branch Library, Limerick, tomorrow evening

Daily prayers in the Kingdom Season
with USPG: (26) 30 November 2023

The Christ the King or Cooper Window in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted is inspired by the canticle ‘Te Deum’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

In this time between All Saints’ Day and Advent Sunday, we are in the Kingdom Season in the Calendar of the Church of England. This week began with the Feast of Christ the King and the Sunday next before Advent (26 November 2023).

The Church Calendar today celebrates the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle (30 November).

Later today, I am travelling to Dublin for the launch of Christmas and the Irish, a new book edited by my friend and colleague Professor Salvador Ryan of Maynooth, and which includes three essays by me on the Christmas theme. But, before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

Throughout this week, I am reflecting on Christ the King, as seen in churches and cathedrals I know or I have visited. My reflections are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on Christ the King;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The pet swan of Saint Hugh of Lincoln is an amusing detail in the Christ the King or Cooper Window in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Cooper Window, Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted:

I attended the funeral of a friend in Lichfield Cathedral yesterday, and earlier in the day I reflected on images of Christ the King in Lichfield Cathedral and other churches in Lichfield, including the reredos donated by the Cooper family to the former Saint Mary’s Church.

The Cooper family is also associated Cooper Window in the south aisle of Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted, which depicts Christ the King at the centre of images inspired by the canticle Te Deum.

The window in Berkhamsted was made in 1885 by Nathaniel Hubert Westlake (1833-1921), a leading designer in the Gothic Revival movement who was also inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites. His work includes the East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, and many windows in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, and windows and ceilings in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Westlake worked under William Burges for a while before joining the stained-glass firm of Lavers and Barraud in 1868. He later became a partner and finally the sole proprietor of Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, established in 1855 by Nathaniel Wood Lavers (1828-1911). The firm changed its name several and was later known as Lavers, Westlake and Co, and then NHJ Westlake, London, before closing in the 1920s.

The perpendicular stone tracery in the Cooper window in Berkhamsted probably dates from the 15th century. The Victorian glass was installed in the late 19th century in memory of the sheep dip manufacturer William Cooper (1813-1885).

William Cooper should not be confused with the 18th-century poet and hymn-writer William Cowper (1731-1800), who was born in Berkhamsted and who is also commemorated in windows in Saint Peter’s. William Cooper set up a factory in 1852 on the east side of Berkhamsted that became famous worldwide for the production of sheep dip.

Westlake’s work in the Cooper window is a fine example of Victorian stained glass. The images and text are all based on the ancient canticle Te Deum, celebrating God’s great glory.

The three-light window depicts Christ enthroned surrounded by angels, saints and martyrs, including Saint Edward the Confessor, with ewelled 3D-like robes, and Saint Hugh of Lincoln, the 13th century bishop, accompanied by his pet swan.

In the window lights, images of angels and saints are shown surrounding Christ. The saints’ names are written faintly in their haloes. Several bear mottoes on scrolls of paper, a sort of mediaeval equivalent of cartoon speech bubbles, with Latin quotations from Te Deum:

Prophets and angels in the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

1, Top section: The small lights in the top contain figures of prophets and angels bearing the mottoes: ‘Tibi omnes Angeli (proclemant)’ – ‘To thee all Angels cry aloud’, and ‘Te Prophetarum laudabilis numerus’ – ‘The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee.’

Saint John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary in the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

2, Left light upper, two kneeling figures: Saint John the Evangelist, motto: ‘Te gloriósus Apostolorum chorus’ – ‘The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee’. The Virgin Mary, motto: ‘Te per orbem terrárum sancta confitetur Ecclesia’ – ‘The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee’.

Christ enthroned in majesty in the centre of the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

3, Central light middle, the central figure: Christ enthroned in majesty. Christ is shown sitting on a throne in heaven after the Resurrection, his right hand raised in blessing. Christ’s hands and feet bear the scars of the Crucifixion, and above his head the hand of God the Father points down in blessing.

Saint Joseph and Saint John the Baptist in the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

4, Right light upper, two kneeling figures: Saint Joseph holding a wooden staff with lilies blooming from the top, a symbol from the mediaeval ‘Golden Legend,’ and the motto: ‘Te ergo quæsumus, tuis famulis subveni, quos pretioso sanguine redemísti’ – ‘We therefore pray thee, help thy servants whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.’ Saint John the Baptist, motto: ‘Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus’ – ‘The noble army of martyrs praise thee.’

King Edward the Confessor and Saint Hugh of Lincoln in the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

5, Left light lower, two English saints: King Edward the Confessor was one of the last Saxon Kings of England before the Norman Conquest, He appears to be wearing exquisitely jewelled three-dimensional robes in this window. Saint Hugh of Lincoln is with the swan with whom he had a lasting friendship and who followed him everywhere. He was the Bishop of Lincoln from 1186 until he died in 1200, and he was canonised in 1220. It is sometimes said Saint Hugh of Lincoln installed the first Rector of Saint Peter’s in 1222, but by then he had been dead for 22 years, and the Bishop of Lincoln at the time was Hugh of Wells.

Saint Clement and Saint Catherine of Alexandria in the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

6, Central light lower, two saints: Saint Clement (Pope Clement I), a first century pope, is said to have been consecrated by Saint Peter himself. He is shown wearing the papal tiara and vestments and holding a papal cross. Saint Catherine of Alexandria, with the wheel of her martyrdom, the Catherine wheel, is carrying a palm branch, a symbol of martyrdom. The east chapel beside the south transept in Saint Peter’s Church is dedicated to Saint Catherine.

Saint Leonard and Saint Thomas Beckett in the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

7, Right light lower, two martyrs: Saint Leonard, according to legend, freed prisoners from their chains, and he is traditionally depicted holding broken manacles. Many churches in Sussex and the Midlands are dedicated to him. Saint Thomas Beckett was at one time in charge of Berkhamsted Castle, and was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral, on the orders of Henry II. He is depicted here with a sword piercing his bishop’s mitre.

The artist’s hidden initials ‘NHW’ are etched in the stained glass in two places, one at the end of Saint Joseph’s robes, above the pavement in the bottom left corner, the other on the end of Saint Clements’s robes, to the right of his papal staff.

William Cooper’s nephew, Sir Richard Powell Cooper (1847-1913), eventually became the sole proprietor of the business, and was given the title of baronet in 1911, associated with Shenstone Court, near Lichfield. Sir Richard’s son, Sir Richard Ashmole Cooper (1874-1946), inherited the family business and title, and donated the reredos depicting Christ the King to Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, and the Friary site to the City of Lichfield.

Coopers was bought by the Wellcome pharmaceutical giant in 1973. The Berkhamsted works eventually closed and most of the buildings have since been demolished.

Images of Christ the King can be seen in two other windows in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted.

The east window (1872) by Clayton and Bell is a memorial to the poet William Cowper. It depicts the Christ the King flanked by the women and disciples going to the empty tomb at the first Easter. The inscription at Christ’s feet is taken from Cowper’s hymn, ‘The Saviour, what a noble flame’: ‘Salvation to the dying man, And to the rising God.’ The original Chancel is now the vestry, and the window is not available to public viewing.

The south transept window (1873), also by Clayton and Bell, depicts the Resurrection of the Dead described in the Book of Revelation. It is a detailed, picturesque window, crowned by an image of Christ the King in the top section.

Christ the King is depicted in the William Cowper window, the East Window in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 4: 18-22 (NRSVA):

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Christ the King (detail) in the South Transept window in in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Thursday 30 November 2023):

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 ‘Preventing Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (30 November 2023, Saint Andrew) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for a greater awareness of the prejudices we carry. May we be open to one another and change our way of seeing.

Christ the King crowns the South Transept window in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who gave such grace to your apostle Saint Andrew
that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ
and brought his brother with him:
call us by your holy word,
and give us grace to follow you without delay
and to tell the good news of your kingdom;
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.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

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.

Additional Collect

God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.

Yesterday’s Reflection (Images of Christ the King in Lichfield Cathedral)

Continued Tomorrow (Church of Christ the Saviour, Ealing Broadway)

Saint Andrew (centre) among an array in the reredos in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted … today is Saint Andrew’s Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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

Christ the King in the reredos donated by Sir Richard Cooper to Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)