13 April 2014

A dower house hidden in the
suburban streets of Terenure

Fortfield Lodge dates from ca 1800 when it was built by Viscount Avonmore as a dower house (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

The cherry blossom is in full bloom throughout Templeogue, Rathfarnham and Churchtown, and soon the suburban streets of south Dublin will be covered in colourful dustings of pink and white.

On Friday afternoon, in the middle of a working day and before along working weekend, I took a break and two of us went for a late lunch in Paparazzi, overlooking the Main Street in Templeogue and across the street to Templeogue Tennis Club.

Later, before returning to work, we drove through Templeogue to look at one of the hidden architectural gems in Terenure. Fortfield Lodge, which came at the market last month, was built ca 1790-1805 by Viscount Avonmore as a dower house for his youngest daughter Maria, Anna Maria Yelverton (28 September 1775 – 27 April 1865), married 1791, John Bingham, 1st Baron Clanmorris of Newbrook. It was later mentioned in Wilmot Harrison’s book, Memorable Dublin Homes.

Fortfield Lodge stands a little way off Fortfield Road, approached by Hyde Park. The house originally stood at the back entrance to the now long-demolished Fortfield House, then Lord Yelverton’s country seat. Another former dower house on the estate still exists near Templeogue village, which gives an idea of the extent of Lord Avonmore’s estate.

Barry Yelverton (1736-1805), 1st Viscount Avonmore, was an Irish judge and politician. Initially he was a strong supporter of Henry Grattan, Henry Flood, the ‘Patriot Opposition’ and the Whigs, hoping Ireland could ‘assume the dignity of a nation, and not continue … an insignificant colony,’ and he voiced his support for the American Revolution. He moved to repeal most of the Penal Laws, saying they were ‘disgraceful to humanity.’ Before becoming Attorney-General of Ireland, he gave his name to Yelverton’s Act (1782), which effectively repealed Poyning’s Law.

He was appointed Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1783, but gravely damaged his reputation for integrity with the execution in 1797 of William Orr for administering the Oath of the United Irishmen to a solider – widely seen as a miscarriage of justice. He later supported the Act of Union, and when he died at Fortfield House in 1805 he was buried in Rathfarnham churchyard.

William Charles Yelverton, 4th Viscount Avonmore (1824-1883), became part of Irish legal history while he was Major William Charles Yelverton and before he succeeded to his family titles. On 15 August 1857, he married his first wife, Maria Theresa Longworth, in Rostrevor, Co Down. They met in Crimea: he was a decorated officer; she had been a nurse at Balaclava, and had become a Rpman Catholic as a consequence of her convent school education in France.

Less than a year later, while Maria was still alive, he married his second wife, Mrs Emily Marianne Forbes (née Ashworth), widow of Professor Edward Forbes, on 26 June 1858, in Trinity Chapel, Edinburgh.

The validity of his first marriage was then tested in the Yelverton case, a 19th century Irish law case that eventually brought about a change in the law on “mixed marriages” in Ireland. Under a Statute of King George II (19 Geo. 2. c. 13), any marriage between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant or a marriage between two Protestants celebrated by a Roman Catholic priest was null and void.

Between 21 February and 4 March 1861, the trial of Thelwall v. Yelverton found that even though Major Yelverton was a Protestant, and Miss Longworth a Roman Catholic, and that they had been married by a Roman Catholic priest, the marriage was valid. Major Yelverton was court-martialled for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman and suspended from military service.

However, on appeal, the decision was reversed on 28 July 1864, when the House of Lords decided that his first marriage was illegal, and therefore his second marriage was valid.

The case brought notoriety and created very mixed feelings. Theresa was alternately vilified and celebrated, portrayed as a victim who had been mercilessly abandoned and accused of being a lascivious seducer. Sometimes she was depicted as innocent and pure, at others as a ruthless social climber. After six years of trials and appeals, she finally lost her case, but in the process had become a minor celebrity. She died on 13 September 1881 in Pietermaritzburg in South Africa, and was buried in the Anglican cemetery.

Meanwhile, William Charles Yelverton and his second wife Emily had four children, three of whom were born before the legality of their marriage was affirmed in the House of Lord, and two of whom succeeded in turn to the family titles: Barry Nugent Yelverton (1859-1885), 5th Viscount Avonmore; William Walter Aglionby Yelverton (1860-1861); Olive Ursula Yelverton (1861-1861); and Algernon William Yelverton (1866-1910), 6th Viscount Avonmore.

Many members of the Yelverton family are commemorated in plaques and memorials in Rathfarnham Parish Church, and some are buried in the old churchyard in Rathfarnham village.

The Yelverton titles became dormant in 1910. Although there are heirs male to the titles living in New Zealand, they have not proven their claims to those titles.

Fortfield Lodge was extended and changed during the Victorian era. Originally it would have been only one room deep and it now has 492 square metres and, in its current layout, more reception rooms than bedrooms. Even in the early 20th century there was parkland in front of the house.

In the 1950s, Fortfield Lodge was owned by the Goff family who ran their bloodstock sales from the house.

A decade later, Fortfield Lodge was bought by the hotelier and property developer, the late PV Doyle. He wanted the house for the land it stood on and built houses on the road, doing little to maintain or improve the lodge, which was not a protected structure.

When the current owners bought the house in 1998, it was in a very dilapidated state. The house had been carved up into a warren of flats for several decades and many of its period features were long gone.

Fortfield Lodge was restored under the supervision of Paul Joyce Architect. Over two years he carried out an extensive restoration project and over two years transformed it into a three-bedroom family home with a two-bedroom self-contained apartment in the basement. The house has classical Georgian and Victorian period details, including intricate ceiling cornices, centre roses and chimney pieces.

The enchanting gardens, designed and landscaped by Dominic Murphy and Suzanne Lyons, include formal planting, flower borders, mature trees, a courtyard garden and a walled patio garden and terrace with a pond and summer house.

Today, Fortfield Lodge stands on about one-third of an acre. This gracious and imposing house, close to Terenure College, is within walking distance of Bushy Park, and Terenure and Templeogue villages.

Fortfield Lodge is for sale with Sherry FitzGerald for €2.25 million.

The Ely Arch on Friday morning ... the former entrance to Rathfarnham Castle was built in 1767 but is now sadly neglected in the midst of busy roadworks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Earlier on Friday morning, after addressing the end-of-term assembly in The High School in Rathagr, I had walked though the school grounds to the banks of the River Dodder on my way back to the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

The river was shining in the sunshine, but the tranquillity of the setting was interrupted by the road works that have been causing traffic chaos at the junction of Braemor Road and Lower Dodder Road for many weeks now.

It seems such a pity that the local council is paying such attention to these roadworks, but allows the Ely Triumphal Arch that sits in the midst of all these works, to continue to deteriorate and to fall into further dilapidation.

This triumphal arch, which originally led to Rathfarnham Castle, was built to mark the recovery of Rathfarnham Castle and estate by the Loftus family in the second half of the 18th century. The gateway was erected in 1767 by Henry Loftus, Earl of Ely, who was also responsible for the classical redesign of Rathfarnham Castle. After the division of the estate in 1913, the arch became the entrance to the Castle Golf Club, but was later abandoned in favour of the more direct entrance from Woodside Drive.

While one part of the history of this part of the south Dublin suburbs has been gently and proudly restored, another part of the history has been abandoned in a traffic island and is being callously neglected.

The Ely Arch earlier this weekend ... a sadly neglected part of Rathfarnham’s history and heritage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

For other postings on the architectural heritage of South Dublin see:

Berwick Hall.
The Bottle Tower, Churchtown.
Brookvale House, Rathfarnham.
Camberley House, Churchtown.
Dartry House, Orwell Park, Rathfarnham.
Ely Arch, Rathfarnham.
Ely House, Nutgrove Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Fernhurst, 14 Orwell Road, Rathgar.
Fortfield House, Hyde Park, Terenure.
No 201 Harold’s Cross Road, the birthplace of Richard Allen.
Homestead, Sandyford Road, Dundrum.
Kilvare House, also known as Cheeverstown House, Templeogue Road.
Knocklyon Castle.
Laurelmere Lodge, Marlay Park.
Marlay Park.
Mountain View House, Beaumont Avenue, Churchtown.
Newbrook House, Taylor’s Lane, Rathfarnham.
Old Bawn House, Tallaght.
Rathfarnham Castle.
Sally Park, Fihouse.
Scholarstown House, Knocklyon.
Silveracre House, off Sarah Curran Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Synge House, Newtwon Villas, Churchtown, and No 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar.
Templeogue House.
Washington House, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Westbourne House, off Rathfarnham Road.

‘Who are these like stars appearing?’
… introducing Spirituality and Cinema

Noah … a new epic movie … but is it true to the Biblical account?

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

Sunday 13 April 2014

Opening Hymn (475):

Who are these like stars appearing ...?

Opening Reading:

Matthew 21: 33-46

Opening Prayer:

God of all power,
Ruler of the Universe,
you are worthy of glory and praise.

Glory to you for ever and ever.

At your command
all things came to be:
the vast expanse of the interstellar space,
galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,
and this fragile earth, our island home.

By your will they were created and have their being.

From the primal elements
you brought forth the human race,
and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill.
You made us the rulers of creation.
But we turned against you,
and betrayed your trust;
and we turned against one another.

Have mercy, Lord, for we are sinners in your sight.

Again and again, you called us to return.
Through prophets and sages
You revealed your righteous Law.
And in the fullness of time you sent your only Son,
born of a woman,
to fulfil your Law,
to open for us the way of freedom and peace.

By his blood, he reconciled us.
By his wounds, we are healed.

– Eucharistic Prayer C, The Book of Common Prayer (TEC, 1977), p. 370.


Well, after that hymn, referring to the saints as stars, that dramatic Gospel Reading in the Revised Common Lectionary for a second service today [Palm Sunday, 13 April 2014], about those who want to be prima donnas and reject the real star of the show, and that prayer, referring to interstellar spaces and galaxies, we are going to turn to the Stars … the Stars of Hollywood and the movies.

Like tenants in the vineyard, not all who seek the limelight are role models, nor should we forget those who are kept out of the limelight.

But there is a lot of deep spirituality, some deep spiritual messages, in many movies. They provide interesting opportunities to raise spiritual and pastoral concerns within the context of popular, secular culture, and they also teach us a lot about how to convey truth, values and messages in successive generations.

I knew someone who said he had a great familiarity with the Bible. I asked him how? Had he read the Bible thoroughly, from beginning to end? Was he a daily Bible reader? I knew he had never studied theology.

“No,” he told me. “Everything I know I learned from movies.”

Which movies, I asked.

“Oh, The Ten Commandments, The Robe, The Greatest Story ever Told, Ben Hur, and Spartacus.”

How many of you have seen Noah, the new American epic biblically-inspired film directed by Darren Aronofsky, written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel, and based – or supposedly based – on the story of Noah and the Ark. The film stars Russell Crowe as Noah along with Jennifer Connelly (as Noah’s wife, Naamah), Ray Winstone (Tubal Cain, Noah’s nemesis), Emma Watson (Ila, Noah’s daughter-in-law and Shem’s wife), Logan Lerman (Ham, Noah’s son), Anthony Hopkins (Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather), and Douglas Booth (Shem, Noah’s son).

One reviewer has called the flood scenes in this movie “a bit too Cecil B Demented for me” and wondered at the sophistication of antediluvian orthodontists given there are so many white-toothed characters. I find it very peculiar that production was put on hold late in October 2012 while Hurricane Sandy hit New York with heavy rain and flooding, and I find it frightening to think that Hannibal Lector may live as long as Methuselah.

But, joking apart, the movie has had mixed receptions since its release in the US last month (28 March 2014) and in Britain and Ireland just over a week ago (4 April 2014).

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has called Noah “interesting and thought-provoking” and “impressive” after Russell Crowe visited him at Lambeth Palace after the movie’s British premiere for discussions on “faith and spirituality.” (Church Times, 4 April 2014.)

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a leading Jewish Orthodox Jewish rabbi, described Noah as “a valuable film, especially for our times.” Indeed, Darren Aronofsky said he had worked in “the tradition of Jewish Midrash” in order to create “a story that tries to explicate Noah’s relationship with God and God’s relationship with the world as it has become.” For example, the name of Noah’s wife is Naamah. Her name does not appear in the Bible but Aronofsky derives it not from the collapse of the Irish property market (NAMA), but from the traditions of the Midrash.

Yet this new movie makes no specific mention of God.

In the past week, the official Vatican newspaper, L’Avennire, has labelled Noah a “missed opportunity” that ignores God. The report in the Guardian on Friday pointed out that this is the first official indication of the Vatican’s views on the film, but pointed out that it had stopped short of calling for a boycott of this Biblical epic.

The movie has been the subject of criticism by conservative religious groups in the US and has been banned in a number of Muslim countries. However, the director of the Damaris Trust, Nick Pollard, has described it as “wonderful gift for the Church,” and Tom Price of the Oxford Centre for Apologetics, says Noah asks perceptive questions: “Is there a God? Has God spoken? What is with human nature – are we good deep down, or is there something broken about us?”

Tom Price made a very valid observation about movies in a comment quoted in the Church Times last week: “Ten years ago, most Christians’ reaction to cinema was generally much more negative and cynical. They were either asking for censorship, or judging the film project for having too much sex. Now I’m seeing audiences all over the UK wanting to engage with the stories, the characters, and the question.”

Another new movie this month is Calvary (April 2014), an Irish-made black comedy drama starring Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, and Isaach de Bankolé.

Brendan Gleeson plays Father James Lavelle, a priest who is the flip side to Sergeant Gerry Boyle in The Guard. A good man intent on making the world a better place, he is continually shocked and saddened by the spiteful and confrontational inhabitants of his small country town. One day, his life is threatened during confession, and the forces of darkness begin to close in around him.

Last year’s movie Gravity (2013), starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney was a story about two astronauts involved in the mid-orbit destruction of a space shuttle and their attempt to return to Earth.

Some commentators have noted religious themes in this movie. Without destroying the storyline for those of you still want to see Gravity, the film uses motifs from shipwreck and wilderness survival stories about psychological change and resilience in the aftermath of catastrophe. They signal that there is a dimension of reality that lies beyond what technology can master or access, the reality of God.”

The storyline deals with themes such as clarity of mind, persistence, training, and improvisation in the face of isolation and the mortal consequences of a relentless ‘Murphy’s Law.’ The film incorporates spiritual or existential themes, in the facts of accidental and meaningless death of Dr Stone’s daughter, and in the necessity of summoning the will to survive in the face of overwhelming odds, without future certainties, and with the impossibility of rescue from personal dissolution without finding the necessary willpower.

‘The Passion of the Christ’ … released during Lent ten years ago and became the highest-grossing non-English language film ever

Ten years ago, I brought my two sons to see The Passion of the Christ (2004), Mel Gibson’s movie that dramatises his interpretation and synthesis of the passion narrative in the Four Gospels.

The Passion of the Christ is an appropriate movie to consider as we enter Holy Week. It largely tells the story of the last 12 hours of Christ’s life, from the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane to (briefly, albeit very briefly) his Resurrection, with flashbacks to his childhood, the Sermon on the Mount, the saving of the women about to be stoned, and the Last Supper, with a constructed dialogue entirely in Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew.

When the movie was released on Ash Wednesday (25 February) 2004, it stirred considerable controversy, with allegations of anti-Semitism, the amount of graphic, if not exacerbated or gratuitous, violence, particularly during the scourging and crucifixion scenes, and serious questions about its interpretation of the Biblical text, narrative and message.

On the other hand, there were many claims of miraculous savings, forgiveness, new-found faith, and even one report of a man who confessed to murdering his girlfriend although police had decided previously she had died by suicide.

The Passion of the Christ was a box-office success – it grossed more than $370 million in the US, and became the highest-grossing non-English language film ever.

As we left the cinema, my then-teenage sons were not so much shocked as stunned. They noticed too how everyone left the cinema in silence.

The success and attention of the movie, apart from the media controversies, raises many questions for us:

● How do we convey and proclaim the message of Christ?

● Are we using means that are out-dated, not speaking to people, who are truly willing to listen and to learn?

● Where did we get the idea that no-one would come to church after confirmation age?

● Where did we get the idea that no-one would come to church and sit in the dark in uncomfortable chairs?

● Where did we get the idea that no-one would hear the Gospel story and still come out wanting to tell others and to share the experience?

Sometimes when movies ridicule the Church, I wonder: do we deserve it?

How many of you have bad experiences of weakly-thought out ideas at school assembly?

The Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies are probably important for conveying spiritual truths to many we never reach because they tell us:

● The importance of protecting the innocence of children.

● That those who possess power and authority (including parent-figures and religious leaders) are not always right, and don’t always possess a monopoly on truth and wisdom.

● That religious power and authority can be misused.

● That beauty and goodness are not always to be equated.

● That ugly are not bad because we see them as ugly.

● That simple people can be wise.

● That life is a journey, and a pilgrimage.

● That we must continue to hope and believe that, in the end, good will triumph over evil.

The Mission was the No 1 movie on the Church Times Top 50 Religious Films list

The Mission (1986), starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons, was chosen as the No 1 movie on the Church Times Top 50 Religious Films list. This movie provides us with:

● Challenging images of the church,

● Questions about the role of the Church in political issues,

● different models of the Church,

● a variety of models of ministry,

● different models of mission,

● a way of discussing the Church’s engagement with social justice issues,

● an introduction to the relevance of liberation theology today.

Some other movies you could use in your ministry include:

Amadeus (1984):

This movie gives an important background to the life of an important composer for Church music (Mozart’s Requiem, Coronation Mass, &c.). It can be used to discuss:

● Why is jealousy a sin?

● Why does God bestow genius on apparent fools?

● What happens when art becomes competition?

● How do we make peace with the gifts we are given instead of letting envy of others destroy our souls?

● What happens when we reduce prayer to bargaining with God, as in Salieri’s case?

● How do we cope when it appears God does not answer our prayers?

● The dangers of binge drinking among young people.

● Parental discipline.

Scripture passages that can help in the discussion group:

● Acts 7: 9-10, The Patriarchs are jealous of Joseph;

● James 4: 1-3, Jealousy and raving lead to conflict;

● I Corinthians 2: 12, Different gifts;

● I Corinthians 7: 7, God’s gifts vary;

● Luke 13: 30, Jesus warns the disciples about competition.

American Beauty (1999):

This could hardly be described as an overtly religious film. Yet it resonates with deep questions about the human condition:

● Who am I?

● Why am I here?

● Where am I going?

● What is the meaning of beauty?

● What is the meaning of work?

The Awakening (1990):

This movie is about a doctor working in the Bronx in the 1960s working with people with chronic mental illness. We can use to discuss:

● Great moments of awakening.

● When did you glimpse the transcendent and experience fullness of life?

Bladerunner (1982):

This is based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), and set in the year 2019.

It is a story of the alienated and the marginalised, the androids, with a limited lifespan, who seek to know the meaning of life, who question their place in society, want to have life and have it to the full, and question their ‘maker’, Dr Eldon Tyrell.

● Is it a grim story?

● Is it is a story of life and death, self-sacrifice, and of giving, emptying love?

● What is the meaning of life?

● How do we plan for the future?

Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001):

● Look at her desire for lasting relationship.

● Her search for her identity and self-worth.

Dead Man Walking (1995):

● Discuss the role of chaplains (prisons, and schools, hospitals &c.)

● Discuss the death penalty.

● The role of the church and pastoral figures in influencing public policy and morality.

● The value of individual life.

● Ethics in crime and punishment.

● Could be used to introduce a group to more serious, “high art” literature, such as Dostoevsky’s ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ in The Brothers Karamazov.

ET (1982):

● The incarnation,

● God’s intervention in our lives,

● Self-giving (see also Schindler’s List).

The Exorcist (1973):

There was strong criticism of The Exorcist at the time it was first released in 1973 from conservative Christians, and cinemas were picketed. Some scenes are shocking, even today, almost 40 years later. But the author and the director were Roman Catholics seeking to open people’s eyes to the reality of God and to highlight the awful nature of evil that distorts God’s creation. This movie could be used to discuss:

● The reality of evil, and the objectivity of God.

● Coping with psychiatric cases presented during pastoral work.

● Bad images in movies of the “other”: e.g., the opening scene conveys the impression that Islam inhabits a world of evil; there are similar portrayals of Islam as evil in Aladdin (Disney) at the introduction of Jaffar.

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994):

● The relevance of the church and ministry (the character of Rowan Atkinson).

● The funeral scene in terms of coping with death, grief and funerals in the course of pastoral ministry.

● Talking about sexuality and church membership, or the pastoral responses to HIV/AIDS.

● Talking about faithfulness in marriage and relationships.

Gladiator (2000):

● A strong theme of belief in the afterlife.

Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies:

● The importance of protecting the innocence of children.

● That those who possess power and authority (including parent-figures and religious leaders) are not always right, and don’t always possess a monopoly on truth and wisdom.

● That religious power and authority can be misused.

● That beauty and goodness are not always to be equated.

● That ugly are not bad because we see them as ugly.

● That simple people can be wise.

● That life is a journey, and a pilgrimage.

● That we must continue to hope and believe that, in the end, good will triumph over evil.

The Mission (1986):

● Images of the church,

● The role of the Church in political issues,

● models of the church,

● models of ministry,

● models of mission,

● The Church’s engagement with social justice issues,

● The relevance of liberation theology today.

Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (1979):

Be careful of who you choose to use it with, if you use it, and their sense of humour. But this movie may be used with some groups to discuss:

● Making the Gospel relative rather than relevant.

● Hermeneutics and Biblical literalism: ‘Blessed are the cheese makers’.

● What difference does the incarnation/cross make?

● What role has the church in criticising political life?

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) or Bend it Like Beckham (2002):

● The place of ethnic minorities within our community.

● Inter-church and inter-faith marriages.

● Love as the basic ingredient of long-term commitment and relationship.

A River Runs Through It (1992):

● Can we love without completely understanding?

● How do we cope with others rejecting our offers of help/friendship/love?

● How is faith passed on in families?

● How will you convey faith to your own children?

● How can painful memories be healed? Can we come to terms with them?

● How does remembering the past weaken/strengthen relationships with God?

● Do all things lead to God?

● This movie can be used too in ministerial formation and preaching programmes.

Saving Private Ryan (1998) and The Thin Red Line (1998):

● The horrors of war.

● Sacrifice and what we owe each other

● Compare Private Ryan with the story of the Good Shepherd and the Lost Sheep.

● Pastoral responsibility for the weak and the lost

Scream (1996):

This cult movie is about a teenage murderer in Paris in April 2000 dressed in the cape and mask that was the hallmark of this movie.

● Discuss the role of movies and the media in upholding or destroying societal values.

Shadowlands (1987):

● A good one because it is relatively short (89 minutes).

● There is the obvious Christian interest in the writings of CS Lewis.

● A story of love and death and of Christian hope.

● Suffering and how we understand pain.

To kill a mockingbird (1962):

This is an obvious movie to use with mid-teens because it is on the reading list for the Junior Certificate. It can be used to discuss Christian values applied to:

● Compassion;

● Compassion for outcasts;

● The value of truth;

● The misuse of power;

● Understanding human weakness;

● Racism;

● Truth;

● Innocence and childhood;

● Ethics and crime and punishment.

Trainspotting (1995) and Traffic (2000):

A useful way with a youth group to discuss the dangers of drug misuse and the consequences of the narcotics trade.

The Passion of the Christ (2004):

● How do we convey and proclaim the message of Christ?

● Are we using means that are out-dated, not speaking to people, who are truly willing to listen and to learn?

● Where did we get the idea that no-one would come to church after confirmation age?
● Where did we get the idea that no-one would come to church and sit in the dark in uncomfortable chairs?

● Where did we get the idea that no-one would hear the Gospel story and still come out wanting to tell others and to share the experience?


If you find yourself using movies in pastoral, parochial, youth or spiritually-focussed groups, do not leave your humour outside the Church door. Reinhold Neibuhr once observed, ‘Humour is a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer.’

Or, Conrad Hynes says in The Comic Vision and the Christian Faith: “If humour without faith is in danger of dissolving into cynicism and despair, faith without humour is in danger of dissolving into arrogance and intolerance.’ And Psalm 2: 4 notes: “Who sits in the heavens laughs.”

Closing Prayer (Collect of the Day):

Almighty and everlasting God,
who, in your tender love towards the human race,
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
Grant that we may follow the example
of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Some reading and resources:

Corley, Kathleen E., and Webb, Robert L., Jesus and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (London/New York: Continuum, 2004).
Denizen, Norman K., Images of Postmodern Society: Social theory and contemporary cinema (London: SAGE Publications, 1991).
Dickerson, Matthew, Following Gandalf: Epic Battles and Moral Victory in the Lord of the Rings (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2003).
Egan, Joe, Brave Heart of Jesus: Mel Gibson’s Postmodern Way of the Cross (Dublin: Columba, 2004).
Johnston, Robert K., Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000).
Leonard, Richard, Movies that Matter: Reading Film through the Lens of Faith (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2006).
Maher, Ian, Faith and Film: Close Encounters of an Evangelistic Kind (Cambridge: Grove Books, 2002, Grove Evangelism Series Ev 59).
Marsh, Clive, and Ortiz, Gary (eds), Explorations in Theology and Film (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997).
McLaren, Brian D., The Church on the Other Side: Doing ministry in the Postmodern Matrix (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000 ed).
McMillan, Barry, in Michael Breen, ‘The Future Is Now: The Matrix as Cultural Mirror’, in Eamonn Conway and Barry McMillan (eds), Technology and Transcendence (Dublin: Columba, 2003, pp 22-35).
Mraz, Barbara, Finding Faith at the Movies (Harrisburg: Continuum/Morehouse, 2004).
Neal, Connie, The Gospel According to Harry Potter, spirituality in the stories of the world’s most famous seeker (Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002).
Pecklers, Keith (ed.), Liturgy in a Postmodern World (London and New York: Continuum, 2003).
Wright, Alex, Why bother with theology? (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2002).

Regular film reviews in the Church Times, &c.

Web resources:

www.hollywoodjesus.com – “Visual movies, reviews, with explorations into the deeper more profound meaning behind film, music and pop culture.”
www.damaris.org.uk – “Helps people relate Christian faith and contemporary culture.”
www.word-on-the-web.co.uk – Includes monthly film reviews.


For reflection:

● What would your three favourite films of all time be, and why?

● If you could be one character from a film, who would it be and why?

● Which film has had the most powerful impact upon you, and why?

● Can you recall a film that has challenged, disturbed, or strengthened your faith in God in any way?

● If you have seen any film portrayals of Christ, how realistic do you think they were?

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. These notes and handouts were used in a presentation in the series of Sunday morning reflections on Spirituality with part-time MTh students on 13 April 2014.

Art for Lent (40): ‘Entry into the City’
(2012), by John August Swanson

‘Entry into the City’ (2012), by John August Swanson

Patrick Comerford

We move into Holy Week with our celebrations of Palm Sunday today [13 April 2014]. At the end of a residential weekend for part-time and distance learning MTh students, I am presiding at the Community Eucharist in the Chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute this morning.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for the Liturgy of the Palms are: Matthew 21: 1-11 and Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29. The readings for the Liturgy of the Passion are: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 31: 9-16; Philippians 2: 5-11; and Matthew 26: 14 to 27: 66, or Matthew 27: 11-54.

My choice of a work of Art for Lent this morning is ‘Entry into the City’ (2012), by John August Swanson. This painting is based on one of his largest paintings, ‘Entry into the City’ (1990), and featured in Life magazine in December 1994 when it illustrated a feature, “Who was Jesus?”

That painting was bought for the Centre of Continuing Education at the University of Notre Dame.

This 2012 multi-media version measures 3 ft x 4 ft. It is a re-imagining of the 1990 acrylic, but features additional figures and details, and brighter, more vibrant, colour. The new painting was begun in August 2011 and was completed in January 2012. It is now in the collection of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.

In this painting, thousands march, watch, wave banners, and hold their palm branches in hope. They focus their attention on Christ. The people lay their cloaks and rugs before him. With love and dignity, Christ rides a donkey through the crowds, as the sky shines with a golden glow, while storm clouds look down with anger, foreshadowing, the Passion.

Speaking about this painting, John August Swanson said: “I wanted to convey my feelings from being in marches for peace and justice. This scene has been repeated countless times in the lives of heroic and selfless leaders who have fought for love, peace, and social justice. It is relived in the lives of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Romero, and Cesar Chavez.”

John August Swanson lives in Los Angeles, California, where he was born in 1938. He paints in oil, watercolour, acrylic and mixed media, and is an independent printmaker of limited edition serigraphs, lithographs and etchings.

His art reflects the strong heritage of story-telling he inherited from his Mexican mother and Swedish father.

He addresses human values, cultural roots, and his quest for self-discovery through visual images. These include Bible stories and social celebrations such as going to the circus, a concert or the opera, or everyday life, including city and country walks, visits to the library, the train station or the schoolroom. All his parables optimistically embrace life and speak of spiritual transformation.

His style is influenced by the imagery of Islamic and mediaeval miniatures, Russian iconography, the colour of Latin American folk art, and the tradition of Mexican mural artists.

His art is detailed complex, and elaborate. His limited-edition screen prints have from 40 to 89 colours, and are printed using transparent and opaque inks creating rich and detailed imagery.

In 1995 Orbis Books published There is a Season which featured Swanson’s painting, ‘Ecclesiastes.’ It is a series of meditations in art and words on passages from Ecclesiastes. The Benedictine theologian and writer, Sister Joan Chittister OSB, wrote the text, and the book received the Catholic Press Association’s first-place award in spirituality in 1996.

His works can be seen in many museums, including three museums of the Smithsonian Institution: the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of American Art and the National Air and Space Museum. Other works by him can be seen in the print collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, Harvard University’s Fogg Museum, the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

His painting ‘The Procession’ is one of the relatively few works by contemporary artists to be selected for the Vatican Museums’ Collection of Modern Religious Art.

In 2008, the Candler School of Theology at Emory University bought an extensive collection of his works to hang on the walls of its new 76,349 sq ft building. He was awarded The Dean’s Medal for his art’s transformative effect on the campus.

Today [13 April 2014], to mark Palm Sunday, the artist is attending an exhibition of his works in First United Methodist Church, Santa Monica, and will give a public lecture in connection with the exhibition at 1 p.m.


Almighty and everlasting God,
who, in your tender love towards the human race,
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
Grant that we may follow the example
of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father.

Tomorrow:Mary anointing Jesus’ feet’ (1998), by Dinah Roe Kendall.