01 September 2013

Enjoying the sea and sunshine in
truth on a Sunday in Rethymnon

The waves were shoulder high on the beach in Rethymnon this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

There is a report in many of the local newspapers in Crete about a 53-year-old man who has been charged in Iraklion, the island’s capital, with charges of owing the state over €1.5 million. According to the reports, the man is a Cretan lyra artist.

As I played in my mind with the word associations of lyras and liars, I was wondered whether people in Crete are offended when they hear Saint Paul’s saying:

It was one of them, their very own prophet, who said, “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1: 12).

Saint Paul said this in his letter to Titus, a Greek Christian to whom he had given responsibility for the oversight of the fledgling church on the island of Crete around the year 64.

In writing to Saint Titus in Crete, the Apostle Paul is quoting the Greek philosopher Epimenides who was also from Crete. The saying is well-known in philosophy as a logical paradox, the liars’ paradox or the Epimenides paradox, for it reveals a problem with self-reference in logic.

Simply stated, the paradox is this: Is Epimenides a liar, in which case what he says is untrue and Cretans are truthful? Or, as he is a Cretan too, does he know what he says is truthful, although he allows for no exceptions?

This statement, because it was uttered by a Cretan, is true if and only if it is false.

Epimenides was a contemporary of philosophers like Aristotle and Plato, who also refer to him in their writings.

When Athens suffered a terrible plague, the city elders were at a loss to know how to deal with it. They believed the city was cursed because of their treachery against the followers of Cylon who were slain after they had been promised an amnesty. Turning to the Oracle for wisdom, she said there unknown god had not been unappeased for their treachery, and she advised the elders of Athens to send a ship to Crete to fetch Epimenides who would know how to appease the offended god.

Epimenides challenged the belief that was then popular in Crete that Zeus was dead, and declared that all Cretans were liars.

Saint Paul is playing on the humour that this paradox gives rise to as he tells Saint Titus to exercise caution as he tries to grow the church in Crete, but to adhere to his faith in the Risen Christ.

In Tsouderon Street in Rethymnon, we are surrounded by numerous churches, and were woken by the bells chiming in unison shortly after dawn this morning [Sunday 1 September] long before any of them began celebrating the Divine Liturgy.

However, the nearest Anglican church is quite a distance away. The Church of St Thomas the Apostle one of the few Anglican Churches in Crete, has a chapel in the small rural village of Kefalas in the Apokoronas area of Crete, 30 minutes east of Chania. The nearest town is Vamos, 6 km west of Kefalas.

Without a car, and relying on public transport, we could have gone to one of the local Orthodox Churches. However, instead, we went to church this morning in the one Roman Catholic Church in Rethymnon, the Church of Saint Anthony of Padua, which is run by the Franciscan Capuchins.

This small neoclassical church stands on the corner of Mesolongíou Street and Salamínas Street, behind the old port and close to the Fortezza. It opened in 1890, although there has been a continuous albeit small Roman Catholic presence in the town since the arrival of the Venetians in the early 13th century. An older church in the basement beside the present church was used by the Capuchin Friars from about 1855 and served as a church again briefly in the 1980s while the main church was being refurbished.

The Mass was mainly in German and Lain, although the lessons were also read in Italian and Greek. It seems there is a tiny Greek community of Roman Catholics of long-standing in Rethymnon, but most of the congregation seemed to be German-speaking tourists.

Strolling through the back streets of Rethymnon late on Sunday morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Later, we strolled through the back streets of the old town in Rethymnon, and then spent a few hours on the long sandy beach that stretches as far as the eye can see east of Rethymnon.

You only had to step out a metre or two to find the waves were shoulder-high as they thundered in to crash against the sand. But I still spent some time in the water, enjoying the sun and the sea. The temperatures for the past few days have hovered between 28 and 31, and it was a pleasure to enjoy God’s creation and the sun on a Sunday.

As for the paradox posed by Epimenides, consider this: a liar is one who tells lies, not one who tells lies and only lies. You can say “I am a liar,” and be telling the truth, because a liar is not prohibited from telling the truth. A paradox would be if Epimenides said: “Everything Cretans say is a lie.”

And, in truth, this, I know, is not true.

‘The Quiet Man’ ... patronising romanticism
or an early vision of genuine ecumenism?

‘The Quiet Man,’ starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, was filmed in Cong in 1951 and released in 1952

Patrick Comerford

While I was in the west of Ireland during the summer for a funeral, I spent an afternoon in the village of Cong on the edge of Connemara and on the borders of Co Galway and Co Mayo.

Cong is best known as the location for The Quiet Man. But Cong is also known for its fishing, for Ashford Castle, for Cong Abbey, the burial place of the last High King of Ireland, and for the Cross of Cong. Sir William Wilde, the father of Oscar Wilde, also had a country home near Cong.

The Quiet Man Museum in Cong (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

We followed the Heritage Trail around the village, visiting Cong Abbey and the parish churches, following the walks through the trees and woods and across the lakes, viewing the ‘Dry Canal,’ and having a delightful lunch in the Happy Monk Café opposite the abbey before going on to visit Ashford Castle.

Reminders of a film

Pat Cohan’s Bar … the location for many of the pub scenes in ‘The Quiet Man’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Throughout the village there are reminders that Cong was the location for John Ford’s Oscar-winning film, The Quiet Man, set in the fictional village of Inisfree: the ‘Quiet Man’ pub, the Quiet Man Museum and Gift Shop, Pat Cohan’s Bar, Danagher’s Hotel, Squire Danagher’s Bar, Michaeleen Oge Flynn’s House and the Isle of Inisfree, offering cruises on Lough Corrib.

The Quiet Man was based on a short story by Maurice Walsh, first published in 1933 in the Saturday Evening Post. Today, The Quiet Man may appear to portray patronising, sentimental images of pre-modern Ireland, with dowries, donnybrooks, cattle fairs – a place where women are treated like chattels. But some critics compare the comic structure of The Quiet Man with the comic patterns in Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale or Cymbeline.

Danagher’s Hotel and Squire Danagher’s Bar … among the many reminders of the characters in ‘The Quiet Man’ throughout the streets of Cong (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The movie, starring John Wayne (Sean Thornton), Maureen O’Hara (Mary-Kate Danagher), Victor McLagen (Squire ‘Red’ Will Danagher) and Barry Fitzgerald (the matchmaker Michaeleen Oge Flynn), was filmed in Cong and in the grounds of Ashford Castle in 1951 and released in 1952. Since then, the town and castle have changed little, and thanks to The Quiet Man Cong has remained a major tourist attraction.

Monastic foundations

The North Doorway into Cong Abbey, which features some of the finest examples of early Irish architecture and masonry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Cong’s importance long predates The Quiet Man, with a story going back to 623 AD, when Saint Feichin founded his monastery. The name Cong comes from the Irish Conga or Cúnga Fheichín, Saint Feichin’s Narrows. The village grew up around the abbey founded by the saint on an island formed by many streams that surround it on all sides and that connect Lough Corrib and Lough Mask.

The cloisters of Cong Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Turlough Mor O’Connor, King of Connacht and High King of Ireland, rebuilt the monastery in 1120, and it later became a house of the Canons Regular of the Order of Saint Augustine.

Cong Abbey is one of the finest examples of early Irish architecture and masonry. The fine craftsmanship can be seen in the Romanesque and Gothic doors, windows, pillars, arches, columns, capitals, carvings and cloisters.

It is said that 3,000 monks once lived within its walls and cloisters. They were scholars in history, poetry and music, they excelled in sculpture and the illumination of manuscripts, and they were skilled craftsmen in metalwork, engraving, inlaying and designing in bronze, gold, enamel and wood.

The early 12th century Cross of Cong is an ornamental procession cross with a reliquary designed to hold a piece of the True Cross. It was made originally for Turlough Mór O’Connor to present to Tuam Cathedral and was later moved to Cong Abbey. It remains one of finest examples of metalwork and decorative art of its period. For many years it was kept in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy and it is now on display in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

The last High King of Ireland, Rory O’Connor, died in Cong and was buried there in 1198, although his body was later moved to Clonmacnoise.

A restored abbey

A doorway flanked by two fine windows on either side belongs to the chapter house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The surviving church at Cong Abbey and possibly the cloister include fragments dating from the rebuilding of the abbey in the early 13th century. The north doorway of the church, and the elaborate doorways that open onto the cloister from the east range of the monastery, may predate an attack by William de Burgo in 1203. The doorway, with two fine windows on either side, belongs to the chapter house, while the sculpture in the abbey, which is among the finest in Ireland, suggests links to French styles of the period.

The monks’ fishing house was built in on a platform on an island in the River Cong with a trapdoor in the floor for fresh fish (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The grounds of the abbey also contain a monks’ fishing house, probably dating from the 15th or 16th century, on an island in the River Cong leading to Lough Corrib. The house is built on a platform of stones over a small arch that allows the river to flow underneath. A trapdoor in the floor opens to a place where fresh fish were once kept.

A carved head, said to represent Rory O’Connor, the last High King of Ireland, in the grounds of Cong Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The abbey was suppressed at the Reformation and later fell into ruins. It was restored 300 years later in the 1850s at the expense of Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness, who had recently bought Ashford Castle from the Encumbered Estates’ Court.

A rector’s daughter

The ruins of the old Church of Ireland parish church are across a narrow street from the ruins of Cong Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Across a narrow street from Cong Abbey stand the ruins of an early 18th century Church of Ireland parish church. An early vestry minute book shows that the roof was tiled in 1759 and the floor was flagged in 1775. A new church was built in the 1810s, incorporating the 18th century building, and surviving church silver from this period is inscribed “Cong Church 1815.”

The present parish church, Saint Mary’s, was built on a new site close to the avenue from Ashford Castle, which had been bought by Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness. The church was consecrated in 1855, and Guinness paid for a bell tower and stained glass windows.

The house that served as the Rev Cyril Playfair’s Rectory in ‘The Quiet Man’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Canon Robert Young Lynn, Rector of Cong 1886-1923, was the father of Dr Kathleen Lynn (1874-1975), one of Ireland’s pioneering women doctors. She was educated at Alexandra College, Dublin, and became one of the first women in Ireland to graduate in medicine. Through her work in the slums of Dublin, she was drawn into the Irish Citizens’ Army during the 1913 Lock-Out, organising ambulance and first aid training in Liberty Hall. During the Easter Rising in 1916, she was a captain and Chief Medical Officer of the ICA, and surrendered City Hall.

Cecil Eustace Dockeray, a son of the previous rector, the Revd John William Dockeray, was killed on 29 April 1916 during the Easter Rising.

With Madeline ffrench-Mullen, Kathleen Lynn founded Saint Ultan’s children’s hospital in Charlemont Street, Dublin. She was elected to the Dail as a Sinn Fein TD in 1923, but refused to take her seat, although she continued an active member of Rathmines Town Council. She lived for most of her life at 9 Belgrave Road, Rathmines, and was a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church, Rathmines. When a state-of-the-art health facility opened in Cong in 1989, it was named the Lynn Medical Centre in her honour.

Today, Saint Mary’s Church in Cong is part of the Tuam Union of parishes, and the Dean of Tuam is also the Rector of Cong.

A castle and a fantasy

Ashford Castle … a Victorian gothic fantasy built by the Guinness family ... the stars stayed here in 1951 while filming ‘The Quiet Man’

Meanwhile, many parishioners in Cong worked for the Guinness family, who continued to support the church until they left Ashford Castle in 1939.

Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness laid out many of the tree-lined and forest walks in Cong, and planned the three-mile Cong Canal in the 1850s. However, the ‘Dry Canal’ was one of his true failures. He planned to link Lough Corrib and Lough Mask, creating a safe link from Sligo to Galway and avoiding the need to ship goods along the dangerous west coast. But the canal was dug into porous limestone and could not hold water, and today the water level varies from nothing to 12 feet, depending on the rain and the seasons.

The Bishop’s Bridge at Ashford Castle … here the bishop viewed the fistfight through his binoculars in ‘The Quiet Man’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Much of The Quiet Man was filmed in the grounds of Ashford Castle, which dates back to 1228, when the de Burgo or Burke family built the first castle on the site. The castle fell to Sir Richard Bingham in 1589, and in the 1670s it passed to the Browne family of Ornamore, who built a hunting lodge in the style of a French chateau.

Ashford Castle was bought by Sir Benjamin Lee Guinness while he was to buying up estates throughout Connacht in the 1850s. After buying Ashford Castle in 1852, he added two large Victorian extensions, extended the estate to 26,000 acres, built new roads, planted thousands of trees, built a new Church of Ireland parish church and restored Cong Abbey.

In 1880, his son, Arthur Guinness (1840-1915), was given the title of Baron Ardilaun, derived from one of the islands on Lough Corrib. He expanded Ashford Castle as a Victorian fantasy in the neo-gothic style, added battlements and rebuilt the entire west wing to designs by JF Fuller and George Ashlin. He also subsidised several steamboats running between the villages on Upper Lough Corrib and Galway City.

The Guinness family sold Ashford Castle to the Government in 1939, and the castle later became a five-star luxury hotel. In 1970, Ashford Castle was bought by John Mulcahy, who oversaw its restoration and expansion. The castle was sold by investors in 2007 for €50 million. The hotel was sold again for €20 million last May.

A film before its time

The Isle of Inisfree … recalling the fictitious village name in ‘The Quiet Man’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The Isle of Insifree, which offers lake tours from the hotel on Lough Corrib, is a reminder that Inisfree is the name of the fictional village in The Quiet Man.

In many ways, The Quiet Man was a film before its time, for it presents an idealised Irish society in which there are no social divisions based on class or religion. The benign Church of Ireland Rector of Inisfree, the Revd Cyril ‘Snuffy’ Playfair, is played by Arthur Shields, and Philip Stainton has a cameo role as the unnamed Church of Ireland bishop.

The Rector, the Revd Cyril Playfair, and the Parish Priest, Father Peter Lonergan (Ward Bond), have a friendship so warm that one helps boost the other’s Sunday church attendance figures so the parish can hold on to its own church and rector.

The Church of Ireland parish church in Cong, where Sean Thornton played ‘patty-fingers’ in the font from the Roman Catholic parish church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Bishop John Crozier was said to have been upset by the way the movie combines the two parish churches in Cong to make one, using the stained glass window and the font of the Roman Catholic Saint Mary’s and the exterior of the Church of Ireland Saint Mary’s.

The bishop demanded a remake but was rebuffed, according to the late Lord Killanin. But the movie should be valued for presenting an idealised ecumenism immediately before the Fethard-on-Sea boycott and a decade before Vatican II. It is an ecumenism that remains an ideal to this day.

The Harry Clarke stained-glass window in the Roman Catholic Church … the interior of the church was used with the exterior of the Church of Ireland Parish Church to make one church in ‘The Quiet Man’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. This essay was first published in the September editions of the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory).

A street name in Rethymnon
honours a revolutionary abbot

Abbot Melchisedek Street in the old town honours the revolutionary Abbot of Preveli who was born in Rethymnon Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

After writing yesterday [Saturday 31 August 2013] about Emmanuel Tsouderos, the former Greek Prime Minister who was born in Rethymnon and who gave his name to Tsouderon Street, I came across the story of another local hero from the same family, Melchisedek Tsouderos, the revolutionary Abbot of Preveli who was born in Rethymnon and who gave his name to another street in the old town, Abbot Melchisedek Street.

Abbot Melchisedek Tsouderos (Μελχισεδέκ Τσουδερός), the legendary Abbot of Preveli (1803-1823), was a leading figure in the first two years of the Revolution in Crete, when Crete took part in the Greek War of Independence.

Many people outside Crete are familiar with the story of Arkadi Monastery, 23 km south-east of Rethymnon, and the role of the monastery and its abbot, Gabriel Marinakis, in the revolt of 1866 in Crete’s struggle for liberation.

The massacre in Arkadi in 1866 is recalled in the name of Arkadiou Street, around the corner from Tsouderon Street. But Tsouderon Street honours the memory of the abbot who organised and armed the first military force in the Greek Revolution in Crete in the village of Rodakino on 24 May 1821. In retaliation, the Ottomans ransacked Preveli Monastery. Tsouderos, who died fighting two years later in 1823, and remains a hero in this part of Crete.

The monastery of Preveli (Πρέβελη) is 37 km south of Rethymnon, in a beautiful natural setting on the western slopes of Megalos Potamos, close to the Kourtaliotiko Gorge and the famous palm groves of Preveli on Crete’s south coast.

The monastery may date from the tenth century. Tradition says it takes its name from a murderer who fled his home in Preveliana village and sought refuge there in the 16th century. However, the monastery probably takes its name from Akakios Prevelis, who renovated the monastery in 1670.

Melchisedek Tsouderos ... revolutionary abbot remembered in Abbot Melchisedek Street in Rethymnon

In 1821, the Abbot of Preveli, Melchisedek Tsouderos – whose family was from Rethymnon and who were said to be descended from the Byzantine imperial family – became a member of the secret revolutionary organisation, the Philiki Etairia (the Society of Friends).

On 25 May 1821, the abbot and a group of rebels hoisted the Greek flag on the hills overlooking the village of Rodakino, and he soon became the leading figure in the revolutionary events of 1821 in Crete.

The abbot organised, equipped and financed the first rebel units against the Turkish forces. He managed to rescue the monks before the Turks destroyed the monastery of Preveli in a reprisal.

Abbot Melchisedek’s force, made up of monks and civilians, went on to fight in many battles in western Crete. He was fatally injured in a battle near the village of Polemarchi in the Kissamos area on 5 February 1823. He died while his companions were trying to move him to the village of Platania, where he was buried.

The monastery in Preveli was active again in organising the rebellions against the Turks in 1866 and 1878 that helped to secure Crete’s eventual autonomy, followed by political union with Greece 100 years ago in 1913.

During the German occupation of Crete in World War II, 5,000 Greek, Australian, New Zealand and British troops who had fought in the Battle of Crete in 1941, were given shelter in the monastery by the Abbot Agathangelos Lagouvardos, who helped secure their escape on submarines to Egypt. In a revenge attack on 25 August 1941, the Germans plundered the monastery and many of the monks were sent to prison in Chania prison.

Preveli is officially the Holy Stavropegic and Patriarchal Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, a title that means it is under the direct protection of the Patriarch of Constantinople rather than a local bishop.

The monastery is actually two separate monasteries, which are located 1.7 km away from each other, the Kato or Lower Monastery of Agios Ioannis Prodomos (Saint John the Forerunner, or Saint John Baptist) and the Piso or Upper Monastery of Theologos (Saint John the Theologian or Saint John the Evangelist).

There are two daily buses from Rethymno to Preveli (10 a.m. and 4.30 p.m.) and two daily return buses (11.30 a.m. and 5.30 p.m.).

The first monastery complex the visitor meets is the ruined Kato Monastery, near the Megalos Potamos river. The monastery has laid in ruins since it was destroyed by the Germans in their revenge attack in 1941.The church of Saint John the Baptist is surrounded by monastic buildings that once included the dining room, the cooking room, the abbot’s room, the cells, an olive oil press and, warehouses. The monastery was looted several times during Turkish rule, and eventually destroyed by the Germans in their revenge attack in 1941.

The Piso Monastery of Saint John the Theologian continues to operate as a living monastery. It is built on the rocky cliffs of Mount Mesokorfi, at a height of 170 metres, with views down to the sea below.

The monastery complex is built in the shape of the letter Π, with the two-aisled church at its centre. The temple has an icon screen and the two aisles are dedicated to Saint John the Theologian (8 May) and the Annunciation (25 March). The monastery the buildings include the abbot’s room, the dining room, the baking room, the library, a creamery, a wax workshop, and the monks’ cells.

Many of the monastery’s sacred vessels, vestments, Gospels and icons from the 16th to 20th century are on display in a small museum.

Perhaps I should visit the monastery later this week.