26 January 2015

Patristics (2015): 2, The Apostolic Fathers

A colonnade of 14 Corinthian columns on the west side of the Stoa of Smyrna … among the Apostolic Fathers, Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote four of his letters while he was a prisoner in Smyrna, and Saint Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Introduction to Patristics,

Brown Room,

Mondays, 10.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.

11.30 a.m., Monday, 26 January 2015:

2: The Apostolic Fathers


The Apostolic Fathers are a group of early Christian writers who lived and wrote in the second half of the 1st century and the first half of the 2nd century. They are acknowledged as leaders in the early Church, but their writings were not included in the canon of the New Testament. They include Saint Clement of Rome, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, and Saint Polycarp of Smyrna.

The term “Apostolic Fathers” has been used since the 17th century, emphasising that these authors were thought of as the generation that had personal contact with the Apostles. They provide a link between the Apostles who knew Christ and the later generation of Christian apologists, defenders of Orthodox authority and developers of doctrine known as the Church Fathers. Their writings shed light on the emerging traditions and organisation of the infant Church, and provide first-hand accounts of the Early Church.

The Apostolic Fathers and their works

The Apostolic Fathers include Saint Clement of Rome (ca 30 to ca 100), Saint Ignatius of Antioch, and Saint Polycarp of Smyrna. In addition, the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas are usually placed among the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, although their authors are unknown.

The writings of the Apostolic Fathers are in a number of genres. For example, the writings of Clement of Rome are letters or Epistles. Others recall historical events, such as the Martyrdom of Polycarp, while the Didache is a guide for ethical and liturgical practice.

The Apostolic Fathers present a picture of an organised Church made up of different cross-cultural, sister churches sharing one apostolic tradition. Their ecclesiology, Judaic values, and emphasis upon the historical nature of Christ stand in contrast to the ideologies of more paganised Christianities, on the one hand, and Christianities that excluded the Gentiles on the other.

The term “Apostolic Fathers” first appears in 1672 in the title of a work by Jean-Baptiste Cotelier, SS. Patrum qui temporibus apostolicis floruerunt opera (Works of the holy fathers who flourished in the apostolic times). Later editions abbreviated this title to Bibliotheca Patrum Apostolicorum (1699). Since then the term has been universally used, although it can be difficult to make a clear distinction between the Apostolic Fathers and Church Fathers in general.

Missing authors and excluded authors

Today, we only have some of the writings by the Apostolic Fathers. Other writings did not survive and exist only as references, in quotations and excerpts, or as literal fragments of parchment or papyrus. Other writings said to be quotes from the Apostolic Fathers are often stylistically different and sometimes address issues that are not addressed in the New Testament or in the surviving writings of the Apostolic Fathers.

The writings from the early Christian tradition not included with the Apostolic Fathers include the writings of the desposyni, the apocrypha, including apocryphal gospels, much of the pseudepigrapha, and the writings of unorthodox leaders or heretics, including Marcion and Valentinius. The apocryphal gospels and pseudepigrapha are, for the most part, later writings that seem to have less historical accuracy than the canonical scriptures.

Much of what we known about the heretics comes from the Apostolic Fathers and Church Fathers. This information was once thought be highly inaccurate or biased, but the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library validates most of that information.

Relationship to Orthodoxy

Within the tradition, but after the Apostolic Fathers proper, authors including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian are considered Apologists. A small number of other authors, known only in fragments, such as Papias and Hegesippus, are more concerned with the apostolic continuity of the individual churches and their histories.

Although some minor opinions expressed by the Apostolic Fathers are no longer considered entirely orthodox, their writings provide important data regarding a strain of early Christianity which remains largely true to its Jewish roots while including both non-Jewish and Jewish believers as full members of the Church.

The works of the Apostolic Fathers

The writings counted among the works of the Apostolic Fathers include:

● I Clement.
● II Clement (not written by Clement, but still an early writing).
● The Didache.
● The Epistle of Barnabas.
● Seven short Epistles of Ignatius (the longer forms of these Epistles, and those beyond the seven, are widely considered later emendations or forgeries).
● The Epistle of Polycarp.
● The Epistle about Polycarp’s Martyrdom.
● The Shepherd of Hermas.

Some collections also include the Epistle of Diognetus, although this is hard to date and is probably of a later date.

In addition, fragments from the writings of Papias and Hegesippus have survived as quotations by later writers, and one short fragment by Quadratus of Athens. Most of these works were originally written in Greek, and have been published in English translations, including those by JB Lightfoot, MW Holmes and M. Staniforth and Andrew Louth.

Saint Clement of Rome

The view of the Coliseum from the Irish Dominican church at San Clemente (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Clement, who lived at the end of the first century (ca 96 AD), is listed as one of the early successors of the Apostle Peter as Bishop of Rome, or as the fourth Pope. He is usually cited in debates about papal primacy, although there is no evidence for a monarchical style of episcopacy in Rime at such an early date.

Indeed, his early letter to the Church of Corinth is important not because it settles the divisions within that church but more for the wisdom and love he displays. He shows the way to unity is through humility and charity, and that church order is not political but sacramental.

Clement’s Epistle, I Clement, was written ca 96 and was copied and widely read. It is the earliest Christian Epistle outside the New Testament. Although Clement is not identified in the epistle as its author, tradition has held him to be the author. Tradition identifies Clement as the fourth Bishop of Rome, although it is not clear that he was bishop at the time he wrote this letter.

The epistle is addressed from “the Church of God which is transiently sojourning in Rome” to “the Church of God which is transiently sojourning in Corinth” (see Staniforth and Louth, pp 23 and 50 n. 1). Claiming to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, the author quotes extensively from the Scriptures and appeals to the shared apostolic tradition in his call to the Christians of Corinth to maintain harmony and order.

The First Epistle of Clement

I Clement dates from ca 96 and ranks with the Didache, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Seven Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch as one of the earliest – if not the earliest – of the surviving Christian documents outside the canon of the New Testament.

Nowhere in I Clement is Clement named as the author. Rather, the epistle is written with its opening line in the name of “the Church of God which is transiently sojourning in Rome” to “the Church of God which is transiently sojourning in Corinth.” However, scholarly consensus overwhelmingly favours its authenticity.

The traditional date for I Clement is at the end of the reign of Domitian, about 96 AD, because the phrase “our recent series of unexpected misfortunes and set-backs” (1: 1) is taken as a reference to persecutions in Rome under Domitian ca 93 AD. A confirmation of the date is provided by the fact that the church at Rome is called “ancient,” the presbyters installed by the Apostles have died (44: 2), and a second generation of presbyters has also passed away (44: 3).

The letter was prompted by a dispute in Corinth, which led to the removal from office of several presbyters. Since none of the presbyters was charged with moral offences, the Church of Rome charges that their removal is high-handed and unjustifiable.

I Clement is lengthy – twice as long as the Epistle to the Hebrews – and includes several references to the Old Testament, including the Book of Judith. The Epistle demonstrates a familiarity with many books of both the Old and New Testaments. It repeatedly refers to the Old Testament as Scripture and quotes both Christ and the Apostle Paul as sources of the same spiritual authority inspired by the Holy Spirit with which I Clement claims to be inspired.

The survival of I Clement within the living tradition of the persecuted, pre-Constantinian Church and the high esteem in which the book was held reveals how I Clement stands firmly within the tradition of the undivided Church. The epistle was publicly read from time to time in the Church at Corinth, and by the 4th century this usage had spread to other churches.

In the 5th century, I Clement was included in the Codex Alexandrinus along with the Old and New Testaments, implying canonical status. However, this canonical status was lost when more stringent qualifications for scriptural canonicity were applied.

Although known from antiquity, the first complete copy of I Clement was only recovered in 1873, 400 years after the Fall of Constantinople, when the Greek Orthodox scholar Philotheos Bryennios found it in the library of the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the Codex Hierosolymitanus, which had once been in Constantinople and was written in 1056.

This work in Greek was translated into at least three languages in ancient times: a translation from the 2nd or 3rd century was found in an 11th century manuscript in the seminary library of Namur, Belgium, and published in 1894; a Syriac manuscript, now at Cambridge University, was found in 1876 and translated in 1899.

In addition, two incomplete Coptic translations have survived in papyrus copies published in 1908 and 1918. The Namur translation (1894) reveals the early date of that Latin manuscript in several ways. JH Breasted says it is “a modification of the text to suit the later spirit of the Roman church.”

I Clement is primarily about Christian ministry. For the author, this has been established by Christ and handed down from the Apostles, along with the Gospel and Christian teaching (42). In Chapter 42, the ministers are described as “bishops and deacons.” In other places, however, Clement uses the term “presbyters.” The Christian ministry clearly stands in an apostolic succession, but the position of the bishop within this ministry lacks the clarity found in later Christian translations.

Chapter 46 and Chapter 58 include interesting Trinitarian phrases: “Have we not all the same God, and the same Christ? Is not the same Spirit of grace shed upon us all?” And in Chapter 58 we read: “As surely as God lives, as Jesus Christ lives, and the Holy Ghost also …” – this second passage was quoted by Basil the Great in his On the Holy Spirit. Apart from Matthew 27: 19 and II Corinthians 13: 13, such clear Trinitarian language is not found in the New Testament.

This second invocation of the Trinity in I Clement leads quickly to a striking liturgical conclusion that prays for peace, the peace that flows from obedience to God, the peace that brings with it healing of all human afflictions (I Clement 59).

II Clement

II Clement was long believed to have been an epistle to the Church in Corinth written by Clement of Rome in the late 1st century. However, Eusebius says Clement “has left us one recognised epistle” (Ecclesiastical History, 3.16).

The earliest external reference to II Clement is by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History in the early 4th century. “It must not be overlooked that there is a second epistle said to be from Clement’s pen, but I have no reason to suppose that it was well known like the first one, since I am not aware that the Early Fathers made any use of it. A year or two ago other long and wordy treatises were put forward as Clement’s work. They contain alleged dialogues with Peter and Apion, but there is no mention whatever of them by early writers, nor do they preserve in its purity the stamp of apostolic orthodoxy.” (Ecclesiastical History, 3.38).

Most modern scholars now believe II Clement is a sermon written ca 140-160 by an anonymous author who was neither the author of I Clement nor Clement of Rome. Nevertheless, it is still generally referred to as II Clement.

II Clement appears to be a transcript of a sermon preached possibly in Corinth. For example, in Chapter 19 the speaker announces that he will read aloud from scripture. While an epistle would typically begin by introducing the sender and recipient, II Clement starts by addressing “Brethren,” and then goes on directly to the sermon. If it is a sermon, II Clement is the earliest surviving Christian sermon, apart from those in the New Testament.

Instead of trying to convert others to Christianity, II Clement appears to be directed at Christians who had converted from paganism. It seems to refer to a past history of idolatry: “[Previously] we were maimed in our understanding – we were worshipping stones and pieces of wood, and gold and silver and copper – all of them made by humans.”

Despite their pagan background, the speaker and listeners in II Clement appear to consider the Jewish texts to be Scripture – the speaker quotes repeatedly from Isaiah and interprets the text. The speaker also regards the words of Christ as scripture – for example, 2: 4 quotes a saying of Christ that has parallels in Mark 2: 17, and Matthew 9: 13.

In addition to the canonical literature, the author appears to have had access to Christian writings or oral tradition aside from those in the New Testament. Some quotes attributed to Chrust are found only here – for example, 4: 5. In 5: 2-4, the author quotes a saying of Christ that is partially found in the New Testament, but the version in II Clement is substantially longer than the version in the New Testament. In the 20th century, a manuscript fragment was discovered that suggests this saying is a quote from the Gospel of Peter. Similarly, II Clement 12 appears to quote the Gospel of Thomas.

Ignatius of Antioch

A colonnade of 14 Corinthian columns on the west side of the Stoa of Smyrna, the only surviving classical site in Izmir. Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote four of his letters, including one to the Church in Smyrna, while he was a prisoner in Smyrna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Ignatius of Antioch (ca 35-110), along with Clement of Rome and Polycarp of Smyrna, is one of the principal Apostolic Fathers. Ignatius (also known as Theophorus, “God-bearer”) was a student or disciple of Saint John the Divine, the Apostle. Pious tradition also says he was one of the children Christ took in his arms and blessed. He was the third Bishop or Patriarch of Antioch, after Saint Peter and Saint Evodius, who died ca AD 67. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.3.22). Theodoret makes his apostolic succession even more immediate, saying Saint Peter himself appointed Ignatius as Bishop of Antioch (Dial. Immutab., I.4.33a).

Ignatius was arrested by the authorities and transported to Rome under trying conditions: “I have already been finding myself in conflict with beasts of prey by land and by sea, by night and by day, the whole way from Syria to Rome; chained as I am to half-a-score of savage leopards (in other words, a detachment of soldiers), who only grow more insolent the more gratuities they are given.” – Letter to the Romans, 5.

On his way to Rome and his death, Ignatius encouraged Christians who flocked to meet him. During that journey, he also wrote a series of six letters to the churches in the regions and one to a fellow bishop. These letters, which have been preserved as an example of the theology of the earliest Christians, are written to the churches in Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, Smyrna, and to Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. The first were written at Smyrna and the other three were written at Troas. From there, he travelled by sea to Neapolis in Macedonia, and then to Philippi and on to Rome.

These letters were preserved by Polycarp and became well known in the early Church. By the 5th century, Saint Polycarp’s collection had been enlarged by spurious letters, and the original letters had been changed with interpolations, created to posthumously enlist Ignatius in the theological disputes of the day. A detailed but spurious account of the arrest of Ignatius, his sufferings and his martyrdom in the Martyrium Ignatii is presented as an eyewitness account for the church of Antioch, as if written by companions of Ignatius, Philo of Cilicia, deacon at Tarsus, and Rheus Agathopus, a Syrian.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch ... referred to the Church as a “Eucharistic community” which realises its true nature when it celebrates the Eucharist, and defined the Church as the local community gathered around its bishop, celebrating the Eucharist

Although Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) of Armagh regarded it as genuine, no part of the Martyrium is without questions. The Martyrium presents the confrontation of between Ignatius and Trajan at Antioch and many details of his long voyage to Rome.

Saint Ignatius died as a martyr in the arena. After his martyrdom, his body was taken back to Antioch by his companions. He was first buried outside the city gates, then removed by the Emperor Theodosius II to the Tychaeum, or Temple of Tyche, which was converted into a church dedicated to Ignatius. In 637, his relics were brought to Rome and interred in the Church of San Clemente (Saint Clement).

The letters of Ignatius are an important testimony to the development of theology, since the number of extant writings from this period of church history is very small. They show signs of being written in great haste and without a proper plan. For Archbishop Rowan Williams, the importance of Ignatius lies in his “marking out the ground for a Eucharistic and incarnational devotion which could provide a bulwark against excessive spiritualization or de-historicizing of the gospel.” (Rowan Williams, ‘Ignatius of Antioch,’ in GS Wakefield, The SCM Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (London: SCM Press, 1983/2003), pp 205-206.)

The important topics Ignatius addresses in his letters include ecclesiology, the sacraments and the office and role of bishops. He identifies the local church hierarchy made up of bishop, presbyters, and deacons and claims to have spoken in some of the churches through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He is the second writer after Clement to mention Saint Paul’s epistles.

Ignatius is the first writer to stress loyalty to a single bishop in each city, who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. Earlier writings only mention either bishops or presbyters, and give the impression that there was usually more than one bishop for each congregation. Ignatius, therefore, is the first known Christian writer to put great stress on loyalty to a single bishop in each city, who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. He referred to the Church as a “Eucharistic community” that realises its true nature when it celebrates the Eucharist, and defined the Church as the local community gathered around its bishop, celebrating the Eucharist:

“Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptise or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.” – Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8.

Ignatius stressed the value of the Eucharist, calling it “the medicine of immortality, and the sovereign remedy by which we escape death and live in Jesus Christ for evermore” (Letter to the Ephesians 20: 2). He is the first of the Fathers to refer to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He wrote in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans:

“For let nobody be under any delusion; there is judgment in store even for the hosts of heaven, the very angels in glory, the visible and invisible powers themselves, if they have no faith in the blood of Christ. Let him who can absorb this truth. High position is no excuse for pride; it is faith and love that are everything, and these must come before all else. But look at the men who have those perverted notions about the grace of Jesus Christ which has come down to us, and see how contrary to the mind of God they are … They even abstain themselves from the Eucharist and the public prayers, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same body of our Saviour Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, and which that Father in his goodness afterwards raised up again. Consequently, since they reject God’s good gifts, they are doomed in their disputatiousness.” – Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6: 1–7: 1 (Staniforth and Louth, p. 102).

Ignatius expresses this again in his Letter to the Romans, ca 110 AD:

“I am fain for the Bread of God, even the flesh of Jesus Christ, who is the seed of David; and for my drink I crave that Blood of His which is love imperishable.” – Letter to the Romans, 7 (Staniforth and Louth, p. 87).

“Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup unto union with His Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice – even as also there is but one bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow servitors the deacons. That will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God.” – Letter to the Philadelphians, 4, 1 (Staniforth and Louth, p. 94).

Ignatius is the first known Christian writer to argue in favour of Christianity replacing the Sabbath with the Lord’s Day:

“Never allow yourselves to be led astray by false teachings and antiquated and useless fables. Nothing of any use can be got from them. If we are still living in the practice of Judaism, it is an admission that we have failed to receive the gift of grace ... We have seen how former adherents of ancient customs have since attained to a new hope; so that they have given up keeping the Sabbath, and now order their lives by the Lord’s Day instead (the Day when life first dawned for us, thanks to Him and His death … though some deny it ... how can it be possible for us to give Him no place in our lives? ... To profess Jesus Christ while continuing to follow Jewish customs is an absurdity. The Christian faith does not look to Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity.” – Letter to the Magnesians, 8: 1, 9: 1-2, 10: 3 (Staniforth and Louth, pp 72-73).

He is responsible for the first known use of the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), meaning “universal,” to describe the church, writing: “Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is present, we have the catholic Church. Nor is it permissible to conduct baptisms or love-feasts without the bishop. On the other hand, whatever does have his sanction can be sure of God’s approval too. This is the way to make certain of the soundness and validity of anything you do.” – Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8 (Staniforth and Louth, p. 103).

It is from this word katholikos that the word “catholic” is derived. When Ignatius wrote his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, he used the word “catholic” as if it were already in use to describe the Church, leading many to conclude that the term “Catholic Church” with its ecclesial connotations was in use as early as the last quarter of the first century.

Martyrdom is a theme that is uppermost for Ignatius throughout much of his writings. His expression of his desire for martyrdom may seem very strong and graphic today, but an examination of his soteriology shows he regarded salvation as being free from the fear of death and able to bravely face martyrdom. He begs the Church in Rome not to interfere or intercede on his behalf, so that he may “imitate the Passion of my God” (Letter to the Romans, 6: 3). He refers to Christ more than once elsewhere as Θεος (theos). The enduring of martyrdom is the final conformation to Christ (Letter to the Romans, 5: 1) – and so to the full measure of humanity (Letter to the Romans, 6: 2).

The most famous quote from Ignatius, however, comes from his Letter to the Romans: “I am writing to all the churches and assuring them that I am truly in earnest about dying for God – if only you yourselves put no obstacles in the way. I must implore you to do me no such untimely kindness; pray leave me to be a meal for the beasts, for it is they who can provide my way to God. I am His wheat, ground fine by the teeth of the lions’ teeth to be made purest bread for Christ.” – Letter to the Romans, 4 (Staniforth and Louth, p. 86).

Saint Polycarp of Smyrna

The 42-hectare Kültürpark was laid out on the ruins of the Greek quarter of Smyrna ... Saint Polycarp was Bishop of Smyrna and was martyred there (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Polycarp of Smyrna (ca 69–ca 155) was a 2nd century Bishop of Smyrna (now Izmir in Turkey), one of the Seven Churches of the Book of Revelation. With Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is one of the Apostolic Fathers.

It is recorded that “he had been a disciple of John.” According to Tertullian, Polycarp was appointed Bishop of Smyrna by John the Apostle (De Praescriptione 32). Eusebius insists on Polycarp’s apostolic connection with the author of the Fourth Gospel and the Book of Revelation. He was a companion of Papias, another “hearer of John,” and it was to Polycarp that Ignatius of Antioch addressed one of his letters, as well as mentioning him in both his Letter to the Ephesians and his Letter to the Magnesians.

Polycarp’s famous pupil was Irenaeus, for whom Polycarp was a link to the apostolic past (Staniforth and Louth, p. 116). Irenaeus tells how and when he became a Christian, and in his letter to Florinus says he saw and heard Polycarp personally in lower Asia. In particular, Irenaeus says he heard the account of Polycarp’s discussion with John the Evangelist and with others who had seen Christ. Irenaeus says Polycarp was converted to Christianity by Apostles, was consecrated a bishop and communicated with many who had seen Christ. He repeatedly emphasises the very great age of Polycarp.

Polycarp visited Rome when his fellow Syrian, Anicetus, was Bishop of Rome, in the 150s or 160s. However, he failed to persuade Anicetus and the Church in Rome to celebrate Easter on 14 Nisan, as in the Eastern Church. For his part, Polycarp rejected the counter suggestion that the East should use the Western date for Easter. Irenaeus states (3.3) that during Polycarp’s visit to Rome his testimony converted many of the disciples of Marcion and Valentinus. In the past, Polycarp’s visit to Rome to meet Anicetus has been used to support Papal claims. However, Polycarp did not accept the authority of the Bishops of Rome to change Passover; instead, they agreed to disagree, both believing their practice to be Apostolic (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 5.24.16).

Polycarp died a martyr’s death after the people of Smyrna demanded his execution as a Christian. The story is told that the flames built to kill him refused to burn him and that when he was stabbed to death, so much blood issued from his body that it quenched the flames around him. In the Martyrdom, Polycarp indicates his age on the day of his death: “Eighty and six years have I served Him” (Martyrdom 9, Staniforth and Louth, p. 128). If this means he was then aged 86, his family had accepted Christianity while he was an infant.

His martyrdom is of particular importance in understanding the position of the Church in the Empire at the time. While the persecution is supported by the local proconsul, the author of the account noted the bloodthirstiness of the crowd in their calls for the death of Polycarp. Additionally, the account demonstrates the complex Roman attitude towards Christianity: the Christians are given the opportunity to recant and are not punished immediately as confessed criminals.

The date of Polycarp’s death is disputed. Eusebius places it in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, 161-180 (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 4.15). However, a later addition to the Martyrdom of Polycarp dates his death to Saturday 23 February when Statius Quadratus was proconsul, which was 155 or 156 (Martyrdom 21).

The earlier dates better fit the tradition of his association with Ignatius of Antioch and John the Evangelist. However, the addition to the Martyrdom cannot be considered reliable on its own merits. Other evidence puts Polycarp’s death at the end of the 160s or even later. Archbishop Ussher, for example, calculated it at 169. Lightfoot argued for the earlier date of Polycarp’s death, although other scholars disagree (see Staniforth and Louth, pp 117-118).

Polycarp’s only surviving work is his Letter to the Philippians, a mosaic of references to the Greek Scriptures. The Letter to the Philippians and an account of The Martyrdom of Polycarp, which takes the form of a circular letter from the church of Smyrna to the churches of Pontus, form part of the collection of the Apostolic Fathers. The Martyrdom is one of the earliest genuine accounts of martyrdom, and one of the very few genuine accounts from the age of persecutions.

The chief sources of information about Polycarp are the Epistles of Ignatius, including one to Polycarp; Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians; passages in Irenaeus’ Adversus Haeresis; and the Letter to the Smyrnaeans, recounting the Martyrdom of Polycarp.

The Didache

Some Church Fathers regarded the Didache as part of the New Testament

The Didache (Greek, Διδαχὴ, "Teaching”) is a brief early Christian treatise, dated by most scholars between the year 90 and the early 2nd century. It contains instructions for Christian communities. While the manuscript is commonly referred to as the Didache, this is short for the title used by the Church Fathers, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (Διδαχὴ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων).

A fuller subtitle is found next in the manuscript: The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles (Διδαχὴ κυρίου διὰ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων τοῖς ἔθνεσιν). The text, parts of which may have constituted the first written catechism, has three main sections dealing with Baptism and the Eucharist, and Church organisation.

Some of the Church Fathers regarded the Didache as part of the New Testament. It was considered by some of the Church Fathers as part of the New Testament but rejected as spurious by others. Eventually, it was not accepted into the canon of the New Testament, except in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Indications of the text being from the 1st century include the simplicity of the baptismal rite, the simplicity of the Eucharist, in comparison with the elaborate Eucharistic prayer in I Clement (I Clement 59-61), the permission to prophets to extemporise their Eucharistic thanksgiving, and the immediate expectation of the second coming of Christ.

The Didache is mentioned by Eusebius as the Teachings of the Apostles following the books recognised as canonical (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.25). Athanasius (367) lists the Didache among the Deuterocanonical books. The Shepherd of Hermas seems to reflect it, and Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria and Origen also seem to use the work, and there are echoes of the Didache in Justin Martyr, Tatian, Theophilus of Antioch, Cyprian and Lactantius.

The ‘Didache’ was once considered lost but was rediscovered in 1883 in the library in Constantinople belonging to the Patriarch of Jerusalem

Once considered lost, the Didache was rediscovered in 1883 in the library in Constantinople belonging to the Patriarch of Jerusalem by Philotheos Bryennios, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop of Nicomedia, in the Greek Codex Hierosolymitanus, written in 1053, from which he had already published the full text of the Epistles of Clement (1875).

Shortly after the initial publication by Bryennios, Otto von Gebhardt identified a Latin manuscript in the Abbey of Melik in Austria as containing a translation of the first part of the Didache. Later scholars now believe that to be an independent witness to the tradition of the Two Ways section. In 1900, J. Schlecht found another Latin translation of chapters 1-5, with the longer title, omitting “twelve,” and with the rubric De doctrina Apostolorum. Coptic and Ethiopian translations have also been discovered since the first publication by Bryennios’ original publication.

The second part (chapters 7-10) begins with an instruction on baptism, which is to be conferred “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” in “living water” (that is, natural flowing water), if it can be had – if not, in cold or even warm water.

Fasts are not to be on Monday and Thursday “with the hypocrites” – presumably a reference to non-Christian Jews – but on Wednesday and Friday (Didache 8). Nor must Christians pray with their Judaic brethren; instead they shall say the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. The text of the prayer is not identical to the version in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, and it is given with the doxology “for thine is the power and the glory for ever,” while all but a few manuscripts of Saint Matthew’s Gospel have this interpolation with “the kingdom and the power,” etc.

The Shepherd of Hermas

The Good Shepherd ... a stained glass window in Saint Mark’s Church, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Shepherd of Hermas (Ποιμὴν τοῦ Ἑρμᾶ) was written in Greek in Rome in the second century. It was popular in the early Church, had great authority in the second and third centuries, and was even considered Scriptural by some early Church Fathers, including Irenaeus and Tertullian. It was bound with the New Testament in the Codex Sinaiticus, and it was listed between the Acts of the Apostles and the Acts of Paul in the stichometrical list of the Codex Claromontanus.

An early Latin translation was once claimed as the work of the original author, though this is disputed this. However, only the Latin version has been preserved in full, and the last one-fifth of the text is missing from the Greek version.

The evidence for the place and date of this work are found in the language and theology of the Shepherd. The reference to Clement I suggests a date between 88 and 97 for at least the first two visions. Since Paul sent greetings to Hermas, a Christian of Rome (Romans 16: 14), Origen suggested that this Hermas was the author of the Shepherd. However, textual criticism, the theology, and the author’s apparent familiarity with Revelation and other Johannine texts, put the date of composition in the 2nd century.

Three ancient witnesses, one of whom claims to be contemporary, described Hermas was the brother of Pius I, who was Bishop of Rome not earlier than 140-155, which corresponds to the date range offered by Lightfoot (1891). The witnesses are the Muratorian Fragment, written ca 170, the Liberian Catalogue of Popes, and a poem written against Marcion in the 3rd or 4th century.

The Shepherd of Hermas comprises five visions granted to Hermas, a former slave. This is followed by 12 mandates or commandments and 10 similitudes or parables. It relies on allegory and pays special attention to the Church, calling the faithful to repent of the sins that have harmed it. Despite its grave subjects, the Shepherd is written in a very optimistic and hopeful tone, like most early Christian works.

The Shepherd of Hermas commences abruptly in the first person: “He who brought me up sold me to a certain Rhoda, who was at Rome. After many years I met her again, and began to love her as a sister.”

As Hermas was on the road to Cumae, he had a vision of Rhoda, who was presumably dead. She told him that she was his accuser in heaven, on account of an unchaste thought the (married) narrator had once had concerning her, though only in passing. He was to pray for forgiveness for himself and all his household. He is consoled by a vision of the Church in the form of an aged woman, weak and helpless from the sins of the faithful, who tells him to do penance and to correct the sins of his children. Subsequently he sees her made younger through penance, yet wrinkled and with white hair; then again, as quite young but still with white hair; and lastly, she shows herself as glorious as a Bride.

This allegorical language continues in the other parts of the Shepherd.

In the second vision, she gives Hermas a book, which she afterwards takes back in order to add to it. The fifth vision, which is represented as taking place 20 days after the fourth, introduces “the Angel of repentance” in the guise of a shepherd, from whom the whole work takes its name. He delivers to Hermas a series of precepts (mandata, entolai), which form an interesting development of early Christian ethics. One point which deserves special mention is the assertion of a husband’s obligation to take back an adulterous wife on her repentance.

The eleventh mandate, on humility, is concerned with false prophets who desire to occupy the first seats (that is to say, among the presbyters). Some have seen here a reference to Marcion, who came to Rome ca 140 and desired to be admitted among the priests.

After the mandates, there are 10 similitudes (parabolai) in the form of visions that are explained by the angel. Similitude 9, the longest of these, is an elaboration of the parable of the building of a tower, which had formed the matter of the third vision. The tower is the Church, and the stones of which it is built are the faithful. But in the third vision it looked as though only the holy are a part of the Church. In Similitude 9, it is pointed out that all of the baptised are included, though they may be cast out for grave sins, and can be readmitted only after penance.


3, 10.30 a.m., 2 February 2015: The Greek Fathers

4, 11.30 a.m., 2 February 2015: The Latin Fathers

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. This lecture on 26 January 2015 was part of the Year I MTh module, Introduction to Patristics.

Patristics (2015): 1, Introducing Patristic studies

Seven Fathers of the Church carved above the south door of Lichfield Cathedral (from left): Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Athanasius and Saint Basil (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Introduction to Patristics,

Brown Room,

Mondays, 10.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.

Outline of Module:

10.30 a.m., 26 January 2015: Introducing Patristics

2, 11.30 a.m., 26 January 2015: The Apostolic Fathers

3, 10.30 a.m., 2 February 2015: The Greek Fathers

4, 11.30 a.m., 2 February 2015: The Latin Fathers

5, 10.30 a.m., 9 February 2015: The Desert Fathers

6, 11.30 a.m., 9 February 2015: The Legacy, especially for Anglicans

Monday, 26 January 2015:

1, 10.30 a.m., 26 January 2015: Introducing Patristics

Early Christian Fathers and Early Christian Writings:

The Church Fathers … in a Greek Orthodox icon

Patristics, Patristic Studies or Patrology is the study of the Early Christian writers who are designated Church Fathers. The names derive from the combined form of Latin pater and Greek πατέρας (father).

The period is generally considered to run from the end of New Testament times or the end of the Apostolic Age (ca AD 100) to either the date of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), or to the Second Council of Nicaea (787).

There are several good reasons why it is important to study Patristics:

● Their theological and scriptural insights are very valuable in their own right.

● The Patristic writers lived much closer to the days of the Apostles and had to crystallise the apostolic teachings in response to heresies and errors.

● Their formulation of Trinitarian and Christological formulas and doctrines is foundational for Christianity.

● Their homilies, apologetics and other writings contain innumerable valuable insights.

● Studying the Patristic writers gives us a clearer understanding of the history of the early Church, the apostles and the churches they founded.

● This field of theology provides a sense of continuity with the Early Church and the Communion of Saints.

● Patristics also offers a bridge between the different traditions of doing theology – Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant – all of which claim continuity with the Church Fathers.

In addition, we may also look at some of the canons of the seven ecumenical councils are also important reading for the Patristic period.

Terminology and time span:

Many theologians and historians today would prefer to refer not to Patristics but to Early Christian Studies.

But Patristics is more than the study of historical figures and historical writers. It is not merely an exploration in antiquity that has the church as its main field of interest. It is the very study in which we come to understand the continuity of the Apostolic and the post-Apostolic Church in prayer life, in spirituality, in sacramental life, in trying to hold together our unity as the Body of Christ, and in which we come to understand the spirituality that found its expression too in our Creedal and Trinitarian formulas.

But please do not be frightened by this topic. On the Liturgy module in Year II, you will become familiar with the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas, anonymous works dating from the same period as the Apostolic Fathers, and perhaps with the Apostolic Constitutions, important texts in understanding the Liturgical practices and beliefs of the Early Church.

And you come across the teachings of the later Church Fathers, in the debates over the Canon of the Bible and the formulation of the Creed of Nicaea and the Creed of Constantinople.

So, the field of Patristics is that of the Early Christian writers known as the Church Fathers and their writings. The name comes from the Greek πατέρας (pateras) and the Latin pater (father). The period is generally considered to run from the end of the New Testament period or the end of the Apostolic Age (ca 100 AD), say after the death of Saint John the Evangelist, the last living apostle, to either the Council of Chalcedon in 451, until about 604, when Gregory the Great died, or even to the Second Council of Nicaea in the eighth century.

The key figures:

An icon of the Church as a boat, including Christ, the Apostles and the Church Fathers

The prominent early Church Fathers whose writings form the basis for Patristics include:

● Polycarp of Smyrna (ca 69-155 or later), a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist, Bishop of Smyrna, and an early martyr;

● Ignatius of Antioch (ca 35-ca107), who insists on the reality of the Humanity and the Divinity of Christ, and has important teachings on the Eucharist and the role of the bishop in the Church;

● Clement of Rome (fl ca 96, died ca 101), a contemporary of the Apostles, author of the earliest surviving Christian sermon;

● Justin Martyr (ca 100-ca 165), who bridges classical philosophy and Christian apologetics;

● Irenaeus of Lyons (ca 130-ca 200), provides a link between East and West, the first great theologian, principal critic of the gnostics;

● Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-ca 215);

● Cyprian of Carthage (died 258), engages in important correspondence about papal authority and claims;

● Eusebius of Caesarea (ca 265-ca 340), the father of Church History;

● Athanasius (ca 296-373), the most articulate opponent of Arianism;

● Gregory of Nazianzus (329/330-389/390), one of the Cappadocian Fathers;

● Basil of Caesarea (ca 330-379), his childhood friend;

● Gregory of Nyssa (ca 330-ca 395), the younger brother of Saint Basil;

● Ambrose of Milan (ca 339-397), one of the four traditional ‘Doctors of the Church’, writer on Arianism, ethics and church-state relations;

● Jerome (ca 345-420), translated the Bible into Latin;

● Augustine of Hippo (354-430), opponent of Pelagius, has immeasurably influenced Western theology;

● Vincent of Lérins (died pre-450), who gives his name to the ‘Vincentian canon’;

● Cyril of Alexandria (died 444), the leading opponent of Nestorius.

Not all of the writers included in Patristic studies were necessarily orthodox in their views. Some of the writers who are regarded as heterodox or even heretical who we are likely to come across in this mini-module include:

● Tertullian (ca 160-ca 225);

● Origen (ca 185-ca 254);

● Arius (ca 260/280-336);

● Pelagius (ca 354-post 418);

● Theodore of Mopsuestia (ca 350-428), Biblical exegete, his teaching on the Incarnation was condemned at two councils;

● Nestorius (died ca 451).

Although they never came to be regarded as Church Fathers, their writings help us to understand what the Church Fathers were countering, and who they were debating with. Indeed Tertullian was the first to say: “The blood of the martyrs is seed of the Church.”

Nor were all the writers men. One of the greatest descriptions of pilgrimage we have at that time is by Egregia, who travelled from Gaul (France), spending three years in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor, describing the churches and the liturgies, and seeking out healing centres such as that of Saint Thecla in Isauria, an inland district in south-central Anatolia.

We might also ask why Patristic studies do not include within their scope:

● Saint Patrick of Ireland.

Key divisions and categories:

The Church Fathers are sometimes divided into:

● the Ante-Nicene Fathers, who lived and wrote before the First Council of Nicaea in 325,

● the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, who lived and wrote after 325.

Another common classification is:

● the Greek Fathers, who generally lived in the East and wrote in Greek;

● the Latin Fathers, who lived in the West and wrote in Latin.

The Latin Fathers include:

● Cyprian;

● Jerome;

● Ambrose of Milan;

● Gregory the Great;

● Augustine of Hippo.

Some of the most prominent Greek Fathers are:

● Justin Martyr;

● John Chrysostom;

● Cyril of Alexandria;

● Maximus the Confessor.

Even within these groupings, there are important groupings. For example the Greek Fathers include the Cappadocian Fathers:

● Basil the Great (330-379), who was bishop of Caesarea;

● Gregory of Nyssa (ca 332-395), Basil’s younger brother, who was bishop of Nyssa;

● Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389), their close friend, who became Patriarch of Constantinople.

And the Desert Fathers, including:

● Saint Anthony.

● Saint Pachomius.

● Saint John Cassian, who bridges early Egyptian monasticism and Western and Benedictine monasticism.

And Greek and Latin divisions do not happily include writers in Syrian and Coptic, including:

● Ephraim the Syrian (306-373), theologian-poet and the most important writer in Syriac among the Fathers; a hymn in our hymnal, No 446, ‘Strengthen for service, Lord the hands’, is from the Liturgy of Malabar and is attributed to Saint Ephraim the Syrian.

● Isaac the Syrian, briefly Bishop of Nineveh, who wrote several treatises against the Nestorians and Monophysites and a lament on the destruction of Antioch by an earthquake.

● Aphraates the Sage, a Persian bishop who wrote in Syriac.

Key centres:

The major locations of the early Church Fathers are the five traditional patriarchal sees:

● Rome

● Constantinople

● Alexandria

● Antioch

● Jerusalem

But they also include places such as:

● The Western Desert of modern Egypt;

● Many regions of modern-day Turkey, including Cappadocia, Smyrna and Ephesus;

● The area of western north Africa around Carthage;

● Mount Sinai and Saint Catherine’s Monastery;

● Milan and Turin in northern Italy;

● Parts of Gaul (France), which gives us the writings of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, and Vincent of Lérins.

What is included in Patristic studies or theology?

The thinking and writings of the Early Fathers are found in their epistles or letters, apologetics or defences of the developing and unfolding doctrine of the Church, in sermons, in accounts of their saintly lives and their martyrdom – for, as Tertullian said in those days, the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church – in philosophical writings, and in accounts of pilgrimages, particularly to Jerusalem.

Their concerns include the Liturgy, personal and corporate prayer, how to live an ascetic life that remains appropriate, penance, the corpus of scripture, schism and heresy, creation and ethics.

The earliest Christian writers discuss a wide range of topics that are important to the Church in their time, most of which remain important for the Church today. Several major areas of theology developed during the Patristic Period, with the major focuses for these theologians and the debates during the period including:

● Christianity’s relationship with Judaism;

● the establishment of the New Testament Canon;

● the organisation and discipline of the Church, and the role of the bishop;

● the sacramental life of the Church, especially the centrality of the Eucharist in the worship life of the Church;

● agreeing on the date of Easter;

● Apologetics, or the defence or explanation of Christianity;

● doctrinal discussions that sought to achieve consistency of faith;

● sacramental theology;

● the role of tradition;

● formulating the ecumenical creeds;

● understanding the two Natures of Christ;

● the doctrine of the Trinity;

● the doctrine of the Church;

● the centrality of the bishop in the organisation of the Church;

● our understandings of Divine grace.

Traditional Anglican theology and Patristics:

‘The Cambridge Triumvirate’ ... Lightfoot, Westcott and Hort are commemorated side-by-side in the Ante-Chapel in Trinity College Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There was a time when a course in Patristics would have been one of the core First Year modules for ordinands in Anglican theological colleges. Scholars like Bishop Joseph Lightfoot (1828-1899), Bishop Brooke Westcott (1825-1901) and Professor Fenton Hort (1828-1892) – known as the ‘Cambridge Triumvirate’ – placed Patristics at the heart of Anglican theology from the late 19th century on, for many generations.

Anglican theology has traditionally seen its foundations as Scripture, Reason and Tradition, and has sought to be rooted in the writings of the Early Fathers and the Early Church.

John Jewel (1522-1571), who is known as the first Anglican Apologist, appealed regularly to the following sources of authority:

● old Catholic Doctors;

● the Fathers;

● the General Councils;

● the Holy Scriptures of God;

● the example of the Primitive Church.

John Jewel wrote in his Apology: “What, have Christ and his Apostles, and so many Fathers all erred? What, are Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Gelasius and Theodoret Apostates from the Catholick Faith? Was the Consent of so many Bishops and Learned men, nothing but a Conspiracy of Hereticks? or that which was commendable in them, is it now blameable in us?” His implied answer is obvious – he clearly thinks that this would be self-evidently false.

The Elizabethan Canons of the Church of England (1571) stated of the clergy: “But chiefly they shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe, and believe, but that which is agreeable to the doctrine of the old Testament, and the new, and that which the catholic fathers, and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that doctrine … He that doth otherwise, or troubleth the people with contrary doctrine, shall be excommunicated.”

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), who had oversight of the translation of the Authorised Version or King James Version of the Bible, summarised the sources of Anglican theology, saying: “One Canon of Scripture which we refer to God, two Testaments, three Creeds, the first four Councils, five centuries and the succession of the Fathers in these centuries, three centuries before Constantine, two centuries after Constantine, draw the rule of our religion.”

One Canon:

By this we mean one canon of the Scriptures. But even the debate about which books are canonical and which books should be regarded as Apocrypha is a debate that has its roots in Patristic debates.

Two Testaments:

We often think of Scripture being closed with the last full stop being placed at the end of the last verse of the last chapter of the Book of Revelation.

But Saint Athanasius provides us with the first reference to the present canon of the New Testament in his Festal Letter, written as late as 367. Until then, what was meant by Scripture, the Bible and the Old and New Testament? The writings and ebates in Patristuic writings help us to ask these questions.

The Three Creeds:

The Three Creeds are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the “Creed of Saint Athanasius.”

The Four Councils

The “Four Councils” are:

● 1, Nicaea I (325): the Defeat of Arianism
● 2, Constantinople I (381): definitive teaching on the Holy Spirit
● 3, Ephesus (431): the defeat of Nestorianism
● 4, Chalcedon (451): the triumph of orthodox Christology

What about three later ecumenical councils?

● 5, Constantinople II (553): the victory over Monothelitism
● 6, Constantinople III (680-681)
● 7, Nicaea II (787)

Anglican writers usually affirm these as orthodox to the degree that they are consistent with, while adding nothing to, the substance of dogma defined by the first four councils.

The Elizabethan Act of Supremacy of 1559 makes the first four Ecumenical Councils standards for judging heresy, while the Homilies (authorised at a secondary level) and a consensus of later divines reaffirm the universal acceptance of the first six councils.

The rejection of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, Nicaea II (787), was initially based on a Latin translation that actually misrepresented a key teaching of the Council and supported λατρεία (latreía) being given to icons or images, rather than dulia (Greek δουλεία). Did the council mean honour, veneration or worship?

Iconoclasm was never the official Anglican policy either in theory or in practice. Various Caroline Divines used better translations of Nicaea II to defend it as legitimate in itself, although they still decried the way its teaching had been applied or even ignored in the West. So, John Bramhall, Archbishop of Armagh, could say succinctly of the decrees of the Seven Ecumenical Councils: “I know of none we need to fear.”

The Five Centuries

The “Five Centuries” form the Patristic era, with the writings and testimonies of the great Fathers of the first five centuries, from the Apostles to Gregory the Great.

A note on terminology

In the past, some scholars have tried to distinguish between patrologia from patristica.

They defined patrologia as the science that provides all that is needed to use the works of the Fathers, dealing with their authority, the criteria for judging their genuineness, the difficulties to be met within them, and the rules for their use.

On the other hand, patristica was seen as the theological science that collected and sorted all that concerns faith, morals, or discipline in the writings of the Fathers.

These distinctions are not much observed, and they all fall within the ambit of patristic studies as a key part of theology.

Some cultural difficulties

Saint John Chrysostom

Today, there is may be less enthusiasm for Patristics, and Professor Alister McGrath, looking at the obstacles to our understanding of Patristics in the 21st century, identifies four reasons why understanding Patristics can be difficult today:

● Some of the debates appear to have little relevance to the modern world;
● The use of classical philosophy;
● The doctrinal diversity;
● The divisions between East and West, or between Greek and Latin methods of theology, and the extent to which they think in the categories of classical philosophy.

He might have added that some of them think in ways that are totally alien to us today, such as Saint Simeon the Stylite (ca 390-459), who achieved fame as an ascetic because he lived on a small platform on the top of a pillar near Aleppo in Syria for 39 years.

And we also have to face up to the anti-semitic ideas found in the writings of many the Early Fathers. For example, Augustine argued that the Jews should be left alive and suffering as a perpetual reminder of their murder of Christ.

Saint John Chrysostom used Christ’s words in Luke 19: 27 in his Eight Homilies Against the Jews:

“The Jewish people were driven by their drunkenness and plumpness to the ultimate evil; they kicked about, they failed to accept the yoke of Christ, nor did they pull the plough of his teaching. Another prophet hinted at this when he said: ‘Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn heifer.’ … Although such beasts are unfit for work, they are fit for killing. And this is what happened to the Jews: while they were making themselves unfit for work, they grew fit for slaughter. This is why Christ said: ‘But as for these my enemies, who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and slay them’ (Luke 19: 27).”

Saint John Chrysostom’s sermons against Jews gave momentum to the idea that Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Christ.

The Jewish philosopher Professor Steven Katz of Boston University, director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies, goes as far as to say says Saint John Chrysostom’s homilies are “the decisive turn in the history of Christian anti-Judaism, a turn whose ultimate disfiguring consequence was enacted in the political anti-semitism of Adolf Hitler.”

The Revd James Parkes (1896-1981), an Anglican theologian known for his strong writings on anti-semitism, called these writing on Jews “the most horrible and violent denunciations of Judaism to be found in the writings of a Christian theologian.”

So, it may not be all easy-going in this module. We are certainly not going to be unquestioning or going without the opportunity to question or to challenge. We need be afraid to ask questions.

Bibliography, reading and finding the texts:

The Patriarchal Institute of Patristic Studies in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1, Collections of Patristic texts:

Most Patristic texts are available in their original languages in Jacques Paul Migne's two great patrologies, Patrologia Latina and Patrologia Graeca.

For Syriac and other Eastern languages the Patrologia Orientalis is less complete and can be largely supplemented by the Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium.

Noted collections containing re-edited patristic texts (also discoveries and new attributions) are the Corpus Christianorum, Sources Chrétiennes, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, Oxford Early Christian Texts and Fontes Christiani (also Etudes Augustiniennes).

2, English translations of Patristic texts and collections:

A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark).
The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the Twenty-First Century (New York: New City Press).
The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press).
Ancient Christian Writers (New York: Paulist Press).
The Early Church Fathers (London/New York: Routledge).
The Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press).

3, Relevant journals:

Augustinian Studies, published by the Philosophy Documentation Center, in co-operation with the Augustinian Institute at Villanova University.

Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture (published by the American Society of Church History, and edited by Amanda Porterfield and John Corrigan, the Religion Department, Florida State University.

The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, published by Cambridge University Press and edited by Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of Church History, Oxford, and James Carleton Paget of Peterhouse, University of Cambridge).

The Journal of Early Christian Studies, the official publication of the North American Patristics Society and published by the Johns Hopkins University Press.

Studia patristica, published by the Oxford International Conference on Patristic Studies and edited by Allen Brent and Markus Vinzent of King’s College London.

Vigiliae Christianae, a review of Early Christian Life and Language edited by J den Boeft (Free University of Amsterdam) and J van Oort (Nijmegen/Pretoria).

4, Recommended reading:

Mike Aquilinia, Companion Guide to Pope Benedict’s The Fathers (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2008).
Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans RS Pine-Coffin (London: Penguin, 1061 &c).
Lewis Ayers, Nicaea and its Legacy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, pbk ed, 2006).
Angelo Di Berardino (ed), Patrology: The Eastern Fathers from the Council of Chalcedon (451) to John of Damascus (+750) (2nd ed, London: James Clark, 2008).
John Chryssavgis, Light through Darkness: the Orthodox Tradition (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2004, Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series).
Mary Cunningham, Faith in the Byzantine World (Oxford: Lion, 2002).
MB Cunningham, E Theokritoff (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
Charles Freeman, A new history of Early Christianity (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011).
SA Harvey, DG Hunter (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008/2010).
Derek Krueger (ed), Byzantine Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006, A People’s History of Christianity, vol 3).
JB Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers (London: MacMillan, 1891, 1907).
Andrew Louth (ed), Early Christian Writings (London: Penguin, 1987).
John A McGuckin, The SCM Press A-Z of Patristic Theology (London: SCM Press, 2005 ed, the SCM Press A-Z of Christian Theology Series).
John Anthony McGuckin, Standing in God’s Holy Fire: the Byzantine Tradition (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2001, Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series).
Cyril Richardson (ed), Early Christian Fathers (London: SCM Press, 1953).
JWC Wand, The Greek Doctors (London: Faith Press, 1950).
Benedicta Ward, The Desert Fathers: sayings of the Early Christian Monks (London: Penguin, 2003).


Patristics 2,
11.30 a.m., 26 January 2015: The Apostolic Fathers.

Westcott House, Cambridge … the theological college is named in honour of the great Anglican patristic scholar, Bishop Brooke Westcott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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. This lecture on 26 January 2015 was part of the Year I MTh module, Introduction to Patristics.

‘No Man is an Island,’ says John Donne ...
but what about 63 islands, one for each year?

John Donne … ‘No man is an island entire of itself … any man’s death diminishes me, / because I am involved in mankind’

Patrick Comerford

“No Man is an Island” – or so said John Donne when he wrote:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

The original version of ‘Meditation XVII’ in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions reads:

No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

Of course, there are some islands that make me think that no couple are an island.

The Isle of Ewe, a small island (309 ha) on the west coast of Scotland, is privately owned by JIH Macdonald-Buchanan, and the seven members of the Grant family are the one and only family on the island. They have lived at the Main House in the south of the island since the mid-19th century.

Because the name of the island sounds like “I love you,” it is a romantic venue for couples who take boat trips around the island. It has also given rise to jokes about the fact that there are no sheep on the Isle of Ewe.

This humour about the island’s name inspired an episode in The Goon Show, ‘Lurgi Strikes Britain,’ on 9 November 1954, with Spike Milligan (Moriarty) and Eric Sykes (Neddy Seagoon):

Moriarty: My name is Count Moriarty. Have you ever heard of Lurgi?

Seagoon: There’s no one of that name here.

Moriarty: Sacristi Bombet! Listen to me while I tell you a tale. In 1296 on the Isle of Ewe ...

Seagoon: Where?

Moriarty: Isle of Ewe.

Seagoon: I love you, too. Shall we dance?

Moriarty: I don’t wish to know that. On the Isle of Ewe the dreaded Lurgi struck. In six weeks, in cinq weeks mark you, Lurgi had destroyed [audience laugh] Silence please! Lurgi had destroyed the entire population!

Seagoon: What a splendid story.

Over the last 63 years, I have, of course, realised that I have never been nor could be an island. But to mark those 63 years today, I thought it would be interesting to celebrate 63 islands I have visited … or have tried to visit.


During a recent return visit to Wexford, I acquired a new book on the islands. But it only provides information on the islands on the west coast and on Rathlin Island, and misses the many islands off the south and east coasts.

Co Dublin:

1, Bull Island:

Long stretches of sand and sunshine during an afternoon walk on Bull Island, looking across to Sutton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bull Island – more properly North Bull Island – in Dublin Bay is 5 km long and 800 m wide, lying roughly parallel to the shore off Clontarf, Dollymount, Raheny and Kilbarrack, and facing Sutton and Howth Head. The island, with the sandy beach of Dollymount Strand running its entire length, is a relatively new island, formed as an unintended consequence of human intervention in the bay in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was once said that everyone in north Dublin learned to drive on Dollymount Strand, but today Bull Island is better known as a location for kite flying.

2, Ireland’s Eye:

Ireland’s Eye is just a mile off the coast from Howth, but feels like a seldom-visited island in the Mediterranean (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I first visited this small uninhabited island north of Howth Harbour last summer [2014]. Today, the only signs of former human life on the island are the ruins of a Martello tower and an 8th-century church, the Church of the Three Sons of Nessan. Local lore says the church was once the parish church for Howth. The island was also the scene of a famous murder case in the 1850s. Today, there are no facilities, bars or cafés on the island, but it has beautiful beaches, and despite it s proximity to Howth it feels remote and isolated.

3, Red Island:

Remembering the victims of the sea at Red island in Skerries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Despite its name, Red Island is no longer an island but a rocky headland connected to the mainland by a roadway or isthmus that forms part of the quay wall of the harbour in Skerries. The most noticeable landmark is the Martello Tower on Red Island.

The Skerries Seapole Memorial at Red Island was unveiled recently by President Michael D Higgins. This memorial is fashioned from the old ‘Pole’ used by lifeboat crews and the Coast Guard as a viewing platform to watch for sailors in difficulty. It has been incorporated into a newly designed plinth with over 270 individual plates with the names of ships and people who have drowned at sea in the area.

4-6, Skerries Islands:

A view from Ardgillan demesne across Skerries Harbour and the islands of Skerries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Skerries Islands form a group of three small uninhabited islands between 0.5 km and 1.5 km off the coast at Skerries. The islands are protected of their ornithological importance for breeding seabirds and wintering waterfowl.

A winter moon above Colt Island, Saint Patrick’s Island and the South Beach in Skerries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

4, Colt Island, a small island off Red Island, is the closest and smallest of these three low-lying, uninhabited islands. It is important for breeding seabirds and wintering water fowl.

The monastic ruins on Saint Patrick’s Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

5, Saint Patrick’s Island is said to have been the site of a monastery founded by Saint Patrick. It flourished until the Viking raids. In 1220, the Archbishop of Dublin moved the monastery to the mainland because the island was in too inaccessible a location. This is the most distant of the three low-lying uninhabited islets off the headland of Skerries. The island has low cliffs and lies about 1.5 km from the mainland, and the vegetation consists of grasses, brambles and hogweed. It is the most important of the three islands for breeding seabirds, including Cormorant, Shag and Herring Gull.

At times it is tempting to think of walking out to Shenick Island from the beach at Skerries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

6, Shenick Island is the most southerly of the Skerries Islands. It has a Martello tower that provides a visible link between the Martello towers on Red Island and Drumanagh. Since 1987 the island has become a wildlife reserve. It is populated only by seals and a few different species of seabirds. It can be reached by boat but at low tide it is possible to walk across a sand bank from Skerries to the island.

7, Lambay Island:

Looking out at Lambay Island from The Quay, Portrane, on a summer afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I have often looked out at Lambay Island from what was my grandmother’s childhood home in Portrane, and I once tried but failed to reach it on a small boat from Skerries. Lambay is 4 km offshore from Portrane. It is the easternmost point of the state and is the largest island off the east coast of Ireland, about 2.5 sq km in size. The Greek writers Pliny and Ptolemy knew about the island and referred to it as Limnus or Limni.

Sitric, the Viking King of Dublin, granted Lambay to Christ Church Cathedral, and in 1181 Prince John granted it to the Archbishops of Dublin. This was reconfirmed by King Edward in 1337 and by King Richard in 1394. A later archbishop gave the rents of the island to the nuns of Grace Dieu, along with the tithes of the Lambay rabbits to and the rabbit taxes, worth 100 shillings a year.

In 1805, the leasehold of Lambay was inherited by Sir William Wolseley, and in 1814 it was acquired by the Talbot family of Malahide. In 1860 the existing farmers were removed and replaced with English and Scottish tenants.

Count James Consedine sold Portrane House and bought Lambay in 1888, developing the island for hunting. The Baring family of banking fame bought Lambay Island in 1904 for £9,000, and Cecil Baring, 3rd Lord Revelstoke, commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens to renovate and restore the island castle. The island is still privately owned by the Baring family trust, and the castle is the only Lutyens-designed home still lived in by the family that commissioned it.

8, Islandbridge:

A single sculler on the River Liffey on a winter afternoon at Islandbridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Islandbridge between the Phoenix Park and Kilmainham takes its name an island formed by the creation of a mill race towards the right bank of the River Liffey, while the main current of the river flows to the left. The War Memorial Gardens are dedicated to the memory of 49,400 Irish soldiers who died World War I, with their names inscribed in the beautifully illustrated Harry Clarke manuscripts in the granite bookrooms.

These gardens are also of architectural interest and beauty, and are one of four gardens Ireland designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens – the others are Lambay Island, Howth Castle and Heywood Gardens.

9, Dalkey Island

Dalkey Island was first inhabited over 6,000 years ago … but it has no residents today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Dalkey Island (9 ha) is just 300 metres offshore from the village of Dalkey, although I arrived there for the first time last year [2014] on a 3 km boat trip from Dún Laoghaire Harbour. The island is uninhabited, but you can still see the ruins of houses, a church and a Martello Tower.

10, The Muglins:

The Muglins are attractive to scuba divers but a danger to shipping (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The tiny islets to the east of Dalkey Island are known as "The Muglins" and are a different group or chain. Because they are a danger to shipping they have been fitted with a distinctive beacon.

Co Fermanagh

11, Island of Enniskillen:

Enniskillen Castle ... the castle and the twon are built on an island between Upper Lough Erne and Lower Lough Erne (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Enniskillen is the cathedral town of the Diocese of Clogher and the county town of Fermanagh. It takes its name from Irish Inis Ceithleann, meaning “Ceithlenn’s island,” and the heart of the town is in an island in the centre of the county between the Upper and Lower sections of Lough Erne.

Co Mayo:

12, Achill Island:

Dugort beach ... Achill on a summer’s day is like an Aegean island in the sun (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Achill Island has been one of my favourite boltholes for many years. I often retreated there, promising myself I was going to use the time to write and to be creative. In winter, without a dial telephone on the island, I was inaccessible. In summer, as the island basked in sunshine and I looked at the whitewashed cottages, the golden beaches, the blue skies and the blue seas, I could imagine I was on an Aegean island in Greece.

I have been a regular visitor to Achill since I first visited it 1974, and in recent years I have been privileged to be invited to speak at the Heinrich Böll Summer School on Achill Island in 2013 and 2014.

13, Inishbiggle:

Looking across to Inishbiggle from Bullsmouth on Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

We can say that Inishbiggle, off the east coast of Achill Island, is an island off an island, but we could also call it a new island, for it has been inhabited continuously for less than two centuries.

As an island, Inishbiggle is unique in Ireland. While other islands, such as Valentia in Co Kerry, may have both Catholic and Church of Ireland churches, Inishbiggle is the only island with only a Church of Ireland church. In addition, Holy Trinity Church, on the eastern side of this island, is the oldest and probably the only truly historical building on the island, and perhaps also its most beautiful building.

14, Clare Island:

Clare Island (Photograph: Brendan Conway. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I visited Clare Island once while I was staying on Achill Island. Clare Island, catching a ferry from Roonagh Pier, near Louisburgh. This is a mountainous island at the entrance to Clew Bay in Co Mayo. It was once the home of the “pirate queen,” Grace O’Malley, but today has a population of only 145 people.

I was there to visit the small 12th century Cistercian Abbey during a major conservation project in the 1990s. This is where Grace O’Malley is buried, but the abbey church is worth visiting for rare mediaeval roof paintings, depicting mythical, human and animal figures including dragons, a cockerel, stags, men on foot and on horseback, a harper, birds and trees.

15, Cong:

The cloisters of Cong Abbey, where Rory O'Connor, the last High King of Ireland, spent his last years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The village of Cong, on the borders of Co Galway and Co Mayo and the edges of Connemara, stands on an island formed between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask by a number of streams that surround it on all sides.

Cong was the home of Sir William Wilde, father of Oscar Wilde, but is also known for Ashford Castle, built by the Guinness family and now a luxury hotel, and as the location for the 1950s film The Quiet Man. In that movie, the village is named Inisfree, and today a boat known as ‘The Isle of Inisfree’ offers cruises on Lough Corrib.

16, The Monk’s Fishing Island:

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)

The grounds of Cong Abbey contain an island off this island. The monks’ fishing house, probably dating from the 15th or 16th century, is 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.


17, Nun’s Island

Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and Saint Nicholas, Galway (Photograph: Wikipedia)

I have yet to visit the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. But I have visited Nun’s Island in the centre of Galway. This island is formed by the River Corrib and a number of streams leading from the river into Galway Bay. In the 19th century, Nun’s Island was at the heart of industrial Galway.

Galway’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, built in the 1960s, stands on the island, and was dedicated on 15 August 1965.

Co Clare:

18, The Island of Ennis:

Dawn breaking over the town of Ennis last week (Photograph: Martin Molloy/Drumcliffe Parish)

Ennis is the county town of Co Clare and was first built on an island in the River Fergus just north of where it enters the Shannon Estuary. The Irish name for the town is short for Inis Cluain Ramh Fhada, or Island of the Long Rowing Meadow.

The island was formed between two courses of the River Fergus on which the Franciscan Abbey was built.


19, Islands in the Shannon Estuary, including King’s Island

Tiny islands in the River Shannon at Limerick this evening (Potograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

As a travelled through Co Clare, from Bunratty to Limerick, late last summer, I was taken by the number of islands in the estuary of the River Shannon. Of course, I had already visiting King’s Island in Limerick and preached once in Saint Mary’s Cathedral when Maurice Sirr was the Dean of Limerick.

King’s Island in the centre of Limerick is often known simply as The Island and consists of two distinct areas, Englishtown and Saint Mary’s Park. Englishtown, the historical city of Limerick, is on the southern end and Saint Mary’s Park is on the northern end of the island.

The island is formed from a distributary of the River Shannon. The Abbey River diverts from the Shannon before meeting it again at a confluence near the Potato Market. The island probably takes its name from King John’s Castle, built in the 13th century. However, a map by Ptolemy and dating from 150 AD shows a place called Regia at the same site.

King’s Island in Limerick is the best known island in the River Shannon, and includes Saint Mary’s Cathedral as well as King John’s Castle. But there are many tiny islands in the River Shannon between Bunratty and the mouth of the river.

Co Kerry:

20, Valentia Island:

Bray Head on Valentia Island, looking west with Skellig Islands in the distance (Photograph: Elkringo under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

I spent part of the summer of 1966 as a teenager in Ballinskelligs in the Kerry Gaeltacht. But the most memorable part of that summer has more to do with watching the World Cup Final than learning anything in the Irish language.

We never got to visit the Skellig Islands, but we were brought on a day trip to Valentia Island, one of Ireland’s most westerly points. It is about 11 km long and almost 3 km wide.

Co Wexford:

21-22, The Saltee Islands, the Great Saltee and the Little Saltee:

Looking out at the Saltee Islands from Kilmore Quay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Although I have lived in Wexford and return there regularly, I have never been to either Our Lady’s Island in south of the county, or to the Saltee Islands of the south coast of Wexford, although I have often looked longingly at the Saltees from the coast at Kilmore.

The Saltee Islands are two small islands 5 km off the coast of Co Wexford: the Great Saltee is 89 ha in size, and the Little Saltee is 37 ha.

In 1798 two leaders of the United Irishmen, John Henry Colclough and Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey, took refuge in a cave on the Saltee Islands, hoping to escape to France. They were betrayed, arrested and brought to Wexford town, where they were hanged on the bridge on 28 June 1798.

The Great Saltee was extensively farmed in the 19th century, but farming ceased in 1900-1939, and came to an end in 1943, when the Saltees were bought privately by the Michael Neale, who styled himself Prince Michael I and had himself crowned on the island as Prince of the Saltees. He died in 1998 the islands are now owned by his five sons Michael, John, Manfred, Paul and Richard and his daughter Anne.

23, Ballast Island, Wexford Harbour:

The Ballast Island, Wexford ... Billy Roche calls it ‘Useless Island’ in his first novel, ‘Tumbling Down’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Ballast Island is an interesting human construction in Wexford and a daily sight for every resident of the town. This unusual artificial island, opposite the Talbot Hotel, was built in 1937 as a ballast bank where ships entering or leaving Wexford Harbour could take on or off-load their ballast of sand or stones that they needed to remain stable at sea while travelling without cargo.

The island was formed with the remains of rock armour and masoned rock walls. But the Ballast Bank is now redundant in the middle of the harbour and was named ‘Useless Island’ in Billy Roche’s first novel, Tumbling Down. Some years ago, the Wexford People said that while the island sits snugly in the middle of the Harbour, it would not be so useless if was made into a visual attraction, lit at night, with a sculpture? It suggested: “A little Mermaid for Wexford? Why not?”

24, Begerin:

Looking across Wexford Harbour towards the island of Begerin from Wexford Opera House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The island of Begerin, meaning “Little Ireland,” is one of the earliest Christian sites in Co Wexford, and is now part of Wexford Slobs. Begerin is one of several small islands of glacial drift that protruded above the mud flats of Wexford Harbour. In the fifth century, the early Christian missionary, Saint Ibar, established a monastery there.

Local legend says Saint Ibar gave the island its name. It is said he was reluctant to accept the jurisdiction of Saint Patrick, regarding him as a foreigner. To this, Saint Patrick retorted: “You shall not be in Ireland.” But Saint Ibar replied: “Ireland is the place where I shall be,” and so he named his island Beg Erin or “Little Ireland.”

Saint Ibar may have died ca 500 and was buried on the island. His monastery lasted for several centuries after his death, despite being sacked by the Vikings many times in the 9th century, and seems to have had close links with the Isle of Man, Cornwall and Scotland.

The monastery may have closed in 1160. In 1171, the inhabitants of Wexford town imprisoned the Norman leader, Robert FitzStephen on Beg Erin. Ten years later, the Roche family gave it to the Benedictine monks of Saint Nicholas at Exeter. They built a church on the island in the 13th century, but in 1400 the island passed to the Augustinian canons of Selskar Abbey in Wexford town.

Ibar is still widely used as a Christian name in Wexford, where the Church of Ireland parish church is named after him, Saint Iberius.

25, Island on the River Slaney at Scarawalsh:

An islet in the River Slaney below the bridge at Scarawalsh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The River Slaney rises on the western slopes of Lugnaquilla Mountain in Co Wicklow, and flows south through Baltinglass, Rathvilly, Tullow and Bunclody before discharging into a narrow 12 mile long estuary just south of Enniscorthy, and finally into Wexford harbour.

The name of Enniscorthy is derived from the Irish Inis Córthaidh, meaning perhaps the “Island of Corthaidh” or the “Island of Rocks.” Island Road is on the west bank of the Slaney on the north side of the town, but I have never found the original location of this island. However, the name indicates that the river once had many islands. Last autumn, on the road between Enniscorthy and Bunclody, I came across this small island in the river when I stopped to look at Scarawalsh Bridge. The bridge is a well-known landmark on the river, with six arches spanning the river and built in the late 18th century by the Oriel Brothers of Hampshire.

Co Cavan

26, The Islands on Lough Ramor:

There are 30 to 40 islands on Lough Ramor at Virginia, Co Cavan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I first stayed by Lough Ramor, in Virginia, Co Cavan, when I was a 15-year-old, and spent a holiday as a teenager in the Park Hotel. Last year, I spent a weekend with friends at the Lakeside Manor Hotel on the shores of Lough Ramor, on the outskirts of Virginia. Lough Ramor is five miles long and two miles wide, and has a surface area of 800 hectares.

In 1826, Thomas Taylor, 1st Marquess of Headfort and 2nd Earl of Bective, claimed the rights and royalties of the lake, the islands and its water. The Taylour or Headfort family built a shooting lodge in Virginia which is now the Park Hotel, and I have fond memories of staying there in 1967 and learning to row on the lake. The lake has 30 to 40 islands, some of them inhabited in the past. The islands have interesting names such as Great Island, Crane Island, Scabby Island, Sloo Island Woodward or Tighe’s Island, George’s Islands, Corronagh Islands, Porter’s Islands, Crossafehin Islands and Stoney Islands.

Co Cork:

27, Great Island (Cobh):

Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh (Photograph: Rabanus Flavus, licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Great Island in Cork Harbour is just outside Cork City, at the mouth of the River Lee. The town of Cóbh is situated on the island, which is connected by bridge to Fota Island to the north, which in turn is connected by a causeway to the mainland. In Irish, the name of the island means “Great island of the Barry,” referring to the great Anglo-Norman family who once owned most of the area.

Cobh, on the south side of Great Island, was known from 1850 until the late 1920s as Queenstown. It is an important harbour and shipping port, and was the last stopping place for the Titanic in 1912. Facing the town are the two smaller islands of Spike Island and Haulbowline Island. But I find the most interesting focal point at Cobh is Saint Colman’s Cathedral. Standing on a high point in the town, this Gothic Revival cathedral was designed by EW Pugin, George Ashlin and Thomas Coleman and is one of the tallest buildings in Ireland.

28, Cork City island:

A Sunday morning by the banks of the River Lee in Cork ... the river divides to form an island on which the city is built (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Cork City, the second city in Ireland, is built on the River Lee which divides into two channels at the western end of the city so that the city centre stands on the island created by the channels. At the eastern end of the city centre where the channels re-converge, the quays and the docks along the river banks lead to Lough Mahon and Cork Harbour.

The Isle of Man:

29, The Isle of Man:

Onchan Harbour, north of Douglas on the Isle of Man (Photograph: Geograph.org.uk)

I have visited the Isle of Man only once, back in 1965, taking the ferry from Dublin to Douglas and staying in Onchan. The Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom but is an internally self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea, between Ireland and Britain. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, but there her title is Lord of Mann.

The island is one of the six so-called Celtic nations and Manx is one of the Gaelic languages. Although the island is not part of England, the Diocese of Sodor and Man is part of the Church of England. In 1266, the island became part of Scotland, and came under the feudal lordship of the English Crown in 1399, without becoming part of the English Kingdom.

The Isle of Man is in the Irish Sea, almost equidistant from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It is 52 km long and 22 km wide, with an area of around 572 sq km. The political unit of the Isle of Man includes nearby small islands, including the Calf of Man, Chicken Rock which has a lighthouse, Saint Patrick’s Isle and Saint Michael’s Isle.


30, Anglesey:

The longest place name in the United Kingom (Photograph: ТимофейЛееСуда, licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Like most people who have travelled regularly between Ireland and England, I became familiar with Anglesey long before Ryan Air made travel by air cheap and accessible and I had to travel by ferry and rail. Anglesey (Ynys Mônoff in Welsh) is an island off the north-west of Wales, and two bridges span the Menai Strait, connecting it to the mainland: the Menai Suspension Bridge designed by Thomas Telford in 1826 and the Britannia Bridge.

Anglesey, with an area of 714 sq km, is the largest Welsh island and the largest island in the Irish Sea. There are several small towns around the island, including Holyhead and Beaumaris and the village with the longest official place name in the United Kingdom: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

31, Holy Island (Holyhead):

Ferries in Holyhead Port (Photograph: © Crown copyright, Visit Wales, 2013)

Holy Island (Ynys Gybi) is an island on the western side of the larger Isle of Anglesey, and the two are separated by a narrow, winding channel, crossed by two road links and the main railway line to Chester and London.

The island has an area of almost 40 sq km and a population of 13,659. The main town is the port of Holyhead, with ferries to Dún Laoghaire and Dublin, so this is the Welsh island most visited by Irish people, although few probably find it memorable.


I have never been to Channel Islands, and there are many islands in England I have still not managed to visit, including the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Dogs, the Isle of Sheppey or Lindisfarne.

32, Broad Meadow, Tamworth, Staffordshire:

Broad Meadow is a 61-acre island in the River Tame behind the Moat House, the former Comberford family mansion on Lichfield Street, Tamworth

Although there is no island in Lichfield, apart from traffic islands, there is a large island in the River Tame, behind the Moat House, the former Comberford family mansion on Lichfield Street, Tamworth. Councillor Stephen Doyle, Cabinet member for Communities and Public Health in Tamworth, said last week: “Broad Meadow is often called the jewel in the crown of Tamworth’s natural open spaces.”

In the Tudor era, the River Tame allowed the Comberford family to move easily between Tamworth, Comberford and Wednesbury. Broad Meadow is a 61-acre island between the two channels of the River Tame. It was transferred to Tamworth Borough Council from the developers of the former Smurfit site as part of planning agreement for the development of homes.

This island is recognised as a Site of Biological Importance and is a prime example of lowland meadow – a floodplain grassland habitat that is becoming increasingly rare in Staffordshire and across Britain. For example, Broad Meadow is also one of only two sites in Staffordshire where the rare Snake’s Head Fritillary can be found growing wild.

It was approved for designation as a local nature reserve by Natural England last October [2014]. It is now in the process of officially becoming Tamworth’s sixth Local Nature Reserve. Broad Meadow will be run and managed under the Wild About Tamworth project – a partnership between Tamworth Borough Council and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.

33, Isle of Ely:

Ely Cathedral and its towers rise above the landscape of the Isle of Ely and it has long been known as the “Ship of the Fens” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Isle of Ely is an area around the cathedral city of Ely. It is now in Cambridgeshire but was once a county in its own right. Its name is said to mean “island of eels” and it was first noted by the mediaeval historian, the Venerable Bede. But is the Isle of Ely an island?

Until the 17th century, the area was an island surrounded by a large area of fenland, but the Fens were drained in 1626-1637 with a network of canals.

From 1107 until 1837 the Isle of Ely was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Ely, who appointed a Chief Justice of Ely and exercised temporal powers within the Liberty of Ely. Henry I established Ely created the Isle of Ely as a county palatine under the bishop. An Act of Parliament in 1535/1536 ended the palatine status of the Isle, but the bishop kept exclusive jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters and was custos rotulorum.

When the Liberty of Ely Act 1837 ended the bishop’s secular powers, the Isle of Ely became part of Cambridgeshire. It became a separate county again in 1889, and survived as such until 1965, when most of the area was merged to form Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely, although the Thorney Rural District became part of Huntingdon and Peterborough.

34-37: Four islands in the River Cam, Cambridge:

Nicholas Chrimes describes Cambridge as the “Treasure Island in the Fens” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In his delightful book on the hidden secrets of Cambridge, Nicholas Chrimes, Chief interpolator of Fitzwilliam Museum, describes Cambridge as the “Treasure Island in the Fens” (Nicholas Chrimes Cambridge: Treasure Island in the Fens, 2009, 2nd ed Cambridge, 2012). But if Cambridge is an island in the Fens, then, as the map on the cover of his book shows, there is a number of islands in Cambridge, at least one of them a true treasure island, created by the channels branching off from the River Cam.

34, Crusoe Island, Cambridge:

Robinson Crusoe Island is a tiny islet where the River Cam splits between Coe Fen and Sheep’s Green (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Robinson Crusoe Island or Isla Robinson Crusoe in the South Pacific known is the second largest of the Juan Fernández Islands, and lies 670 km west of Chile. A neighbouring island is known as Alejandro Selkirk Island. Robinson Crusoe Island was once known as Más a Tierra (Closer to Land). It was the island that became home to the Scottish castaway Alexander Selkirk from 1704 to 1709, and is said to have inspired Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe (1719). To reflect the literary associations of Más a Tierra – but more especially to attract tourists – the Chilean government renamed the place Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966.

I was on Robinson Crusoe Island last year [9 September 2014] when I was on study leave in Cambridge – but not in the South Pacific. Instead, the Robinson Crusoe Island I visited is a tiny islet in the River Cam, between Coe Fen to the east and Sheep’s Green to the west, on a point on the river south of the weir where Scurdamore’s Punts are moored at Silver Street Bridge and immediately north of the Fen Causeway.

Robinson Crusoe Island was once known as Swan’s Nest, but the present name has been in use for more than a century. The land is deceptive in places here, and many apparently dry channels running through the grass are filled with marshy water, often filled with reeds and damp growth. These channels date back to the time when this area had many mills grinding corn for Cambridge.

35, Sheep’s Green, Cambridge:

Sheep may safely graze ... and cows too, on Sheep’s Greene, beside Coe Fen in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sheep’s Fen or Sheep’s Green is the common between the two branches of the River Cam, crossed by Fen Causeway. At one time, sheep were grazed on Sheep’s Green. Today, cattle are grazed here instead, and the hazards for walkers include the cowpats and channels running through the grass.

36, Laundress Green, Cambridge:

Laundress Green ... an island on the Cam enclosed by the river and the old mill race (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Laundress Green is an area south of Silver Street Bridge and opposite Darwin College. This small island on the River Cam is enclosed by the river and the old mill race. It gets its name from the college washerwomen who once used the green for washing and drying.

37, The former island at Garret Hostel Green

Garret Hostel Lane ... Trinity College acquired an island here in 1613

There was once an island at Garret Hostel Green. In 1613, after 66 years of negotiations, Trinity College and the town did a deal, creating Parker’s Piece as common pasture. In return, Trinity gained an island in the River Granta called Garret Hostel Green, north of the modern Garret Hostel Lane, and now occupied by the Wren Library and lawns. Garret Hostel had been incorporated into Trinity College and the Lane was created to allow the people of Cambridge continued access to the river.

38, Thorney Island, Westminster:

The Dean’s Yard at Westminster Abbey ... the abbey, the school and the Houses of Parliament were built on Thorney Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thorney Island was once an eyot or small island on the River Thames, where Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster or Houses of Parliament were built. The island was formed by rivulets of the River Tyburn, which entered the Thames near the lowest point where it could be forded from the north bank at low tide.

The boundaries were once described as the Chelsea Waterworks, the Grosvenor Canal and the ornamental water in Saint James’s Park. Thorney Island is said to be the place where of King Canute showed that he could not command the tides.

Today, the majority of the inhabitants of Thorney Island are the schoolboys of Westminster School. It is said the Abbey’s College Garden is 1,000 years old and the oldest garden in England. But in the meantime the rivulets have been built over, the Thames has been embanked, and there is now no sign of Thorney Island. The only legacy of this secret, little-know island survives in the name of Thorney Street, at the back of the MI5 building.

39, Osney Island, Oxford:

Osney Island (Photograph: Omassey, Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Osney or Osney Island is a riverside community on the west of Oxford, also known as Osney Town. This island off the Botley Road, just west of the main railway station, is surrounded by the River Thames, Osney Ditch and another backwater connecting the Thames to Osney Ditch. Osney is part of the city council ward of Jericho and Osney.

However, until the early 20th century, the name was applied to another island, between Castle Mill Stream and the main stream of the Thames. There Osney Abbey was founded on the south of the island in 1129, Rewley Abbey was built on the north side of the island in 1280, and Osney Mill was later built on the west side of the island. The island is mentioned in ‘The Miller’s Tale’ in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. The abbeys, their lands and the island passed to Christ Church at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538.

Osney Town was laid out in 1851 on an island west of Osney leased from Christ Church, and today the name Osney is today usually applied to Osney Town, with 200 or so households in 19th century terraced cottages, and the name Osney is no longer applied to the island that bore the name in history.


40-42, Three islands in Paris:

Île-de-France (“Island of France”), with 12 million inhabitants, is the wealthiest and most populated regions in of France. It was created as the District of the Paris Region in 1961, and was renamed after the historic province of Île-de-France in 1976.

Despite the name change, Île-de-France is still popularly known among French people as the Région Parisienne or Franciliens. It is made up of eight administrative departments: Paris, Essonne, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis, Seine-et-Marne, Val-de-Marne, Val-d’Oise and Yvelines.

Although Île-de-France is not truly an island, I am familiar with three islands in the River Seine in Paris.

40, Île de la Cité:

Île de la Cité shortly before sunrise, West View (Photograph: Daniel Vorndran / DXR. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

The Île de la Cité is one of two remaining natural islands in the Seine within the city of Paris – the other is the Île Saint-Louis. This is the centre of Paris and it is here the mediaeval city was refounded.

Most visitors to Paris know the island because Notre Dame Cathedral stands at the eastern end of the Île de la Cité Oher sites here include the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, a memorial to the 200,000 people deported from Vichy France to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

41, Île Saint-Louis:

Eglise Saint Louis en l’Ile (Photograph: Fabienkhan, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons)

The Île Saint-Louis is the second of two remaining natural islands in the Seine within the city of Paris. The island is connected to the rest of Paris by four bridges to both banks of the river, and to the Île de la Cité by the Pont Saint-Louis. It is named after King Louis IX (1226-1270).

This island was formerly used for grazing market cattle and stocking wood. Today, it is a peaceful oasis of calm in the centre of Paris, with its narrow one-way streets but no metro station and only two bus stops. Most of the island is residential, but there are several restaurants, hotels, shops, cafés and ice cream parlours at street level, as well as one large church, Saint-Louis-en-l’Île (Saint Louis on the Island).

42, Île aux Cygnes

Île aux Cygnes (“Isle of the Swans”) is a small artificial island in the Seine, located in the 15th and 16th arrondissement. The island was created artificially in 1827 to protect the port of Grenelle. It is 850 metres long and 11 metres wide, with a tree-lined path, l'Allée des Cygnes, running the length of the island.

The island is known to tourists for is replica of the Statue of Liberty which was given to the city of Paris by the American community of Paris, commemorating the centennial of the French Revolution. At first the statue faced east, towards the Eiffel Tower, but it was turned west in 1937, supposedly facing New York and the larger original Statue of Liberty.

The Netherlands:

43, The Islands of Amsterdam:

Amsterdam is often nicknamed the "Venice of the North," due to its division into approximately 90 islands, which are linked by more than 1,200 bridges. 43, The 90 Islands of Amsterdam

Amsterdam has over 90 islands and 1,200 bridges

Amsterdam is often nicknamed the “Venice of the North,” due to its division into approximately 90 islands, which are linked by more than 1,200 bridges. Amsterdam began as a fishing village in the late 12th century, and its name derives from Amstelredamme, meaning the dam on the river Amstel.

I have often passed through Amsterdam briefly, on my way to toher parts of the world. But I spent a weekend there a few years ago, enjoying the museums, the canals and the gardens.


44, The 117 Islands of Venice:

Gondolas waiting for tourists in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Venice is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful cities in the world, known for its setting, its architecture and its art. The entire city and the lagoon are listed as a World Heritage Site, and stands on a collection of 117 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges, the best known including the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs.

No visitor could ever possibly visit each of the 117 islands, although I have been delighted during various visits to Venice to visit Murano, Burano, Torcello, Giudecca, San Lazzaro degli Armeni, San Giorgio Maggiore, Lido and San Michele.

45, Capri:

Small boats and a tiny stretch of beach at Marina Grande, the main port of Capri (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

During a recent holiday in the Naples area, I spent a day on Capri [8 July 2013] off the coast of Sorrento and on the south side of the Gulf of Naples. Tourism has been part of daily life since the days of the Roman Empire, when the Emperor Tiberius threw his enemies off the cliff-top into the sea.

Capri became a popular resort for European artists, writers and other celebrities in the second half of the 19th century. Today, however, few tourists can afford to stay overnight on Capri, particularly in the summer months of July and August, when they jostle with each other to see the Blue Grotto and the Villa San Michele.

46, I Farglioni, off Capri

The rocks of I Farglioni off the coast Capri (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The islets of I Farglioni are three towering rock stacks off the coast of Capri that jut out from the Mediterranean and soar to a height of almost 110 metres, with a 60 metre long tunnel in the middle arch, the Faraglione di Mezzo.


Depending on which estimates you read, Greece has between 1,200 and 6,000 islands. I suppose it all depends on how big and how populated a place is – for example, there are numerous islands, islets and rocks off the coast of Crete. But even when it comes to counting populated islands, the numbers range from 166 to 227. At the rate I am managing to visit them, I suppose I shall never get around to visiting all. But I have many favourites.

The ten largest Greek islands by area are Crete, Euboea, Lesbos, Rhodes, Chios, Kephallonia, Corfu, Lemnos, Samos and Naxos, followed by Zakynthos.

47, Crete:

The old harbour in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I have been visiting Crete for almost thirty years, and have almost lost count of how many times I have been there. I have travelled the island from north to south and from east to west, staying mainly in Rethymnon or in the mountain villages above Hersonnisos.

Crete (Κρήτη) is the both largest and most populous of Greek island, and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean. The latest statistics show Crete has a population of 623,065, and the largest city is Iraklion. The island is 260 km from east to west, and 60 km at its widest point but 12 km at its narrowest point. It covers an area of 8,336 sq km, with a coastline of 1,046 km.

48-49, Two islands off Crete, Dia and Spinalonga:

The success of Victoria Hislop’s ‘The Island’ has increased the popularity of day trips to Spinalónga (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Crete has at least 50 offshore islands and islands. They include: Gramvousa, the pirate island opposite the Balo lagoon; Elafonisi, which commemorates a shipwreck and an Ottoman massacre; Chrysi, which has the largest natural Lebanon cedar forest in Europe; Paximadia, where it is said Apollo and Artemis were born; Spinalonga, the Venetian fort and leper colony near Elounda and Aghios Nikolaos; and Gavdos, 48 km south of Hora Sfakion and the southernmost point of Europe.

I have spent days on both Dia (Δία or Ντία), immediately north of Iraklion and with a registered population of two, and on Spinalonga (Σπιναλόγκα), officially known as Kalydon (Καλυδών).

This island in the Gulf of Elounda in north-east Crete, was not an island originally, but part of the island of Crete. During Venetian occupation, the island was carved out of the coast for military purposes and a fort was built on the newly formed island. Until 1957, the island was used as a leper colony, which has been the subject of novels, television series and a short film.

50, Santorini:

Blue skies and blue seas … flying over Santorini and the Aegean last summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I still recall with inner pleasure a late sunny Sunday afternoon on the Cycladic island of Santorini in the late 1980s. I had arrived from Crete the previous day, and had spent some time visiting the villages, churches, monasteries and beaches on the island.

Late that afternoon, I was sitting on a terrace in Fira on the steep volcanic cliffs, trying to write a little and sipping a glass of white wine. Behind me, on another terrace above, someone was playing Mozart in the background. Below me, the horseshoe-shaped volcanic cliffs fell down to the blue Aegean sea, and out to the west the sun was about to set.

It was one of those moments in time that provided a glimpse of eternity. Late that night, I flew on to Athens. When my holiday in Crete came to end last August [2014], and I was flying from Iraklion to Frankfurt, the plane flew over Santorini, and in my mind’s eye I recalled all the sounds, sights, tastes, smells and thoughts of that sunny afternoon.

51, Rhodes:

The harbour in Rhodes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I first visited Rhodes at the height of the Greek-Turkish crisis over the rocky islets of Imia (Limnia) in 1996. I later returned for family holidays, and have also visited Rhodes while I was on holidays in Turkey. One year, when I was taking part in a conference on the small, off-shore island of Chalki, I brought a number of other academics and journalists back to Rhodes to meet some Muslim families in the old town, who spoke informatively about life as Muslims in Greece. The group aptly called themselves the “Rhodes Scholars.”

I have also visited the old Jewish quarter in Rhodes, and written about the horrific experiences of the Jews of Rhodes during World War II. I hope my sons will remember that they have been welcomed to pray in a synagogue by an old woman who survived Auschwitz. I am conscious that tomorrow [27 January 2015] is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

52, Halki:

Halki, the smallest inhabited island in the Dodecanese … the venue for an international seminar organised each year by Eliamep

Halki (Χάλκη) is just 6 km off the west coast of Rhodes. In size, it is 28 sq km, and it has a population 478, of making it the smallest inhabited island in the Dodecanese. There are two villages, Chorio (Χωριό) and Emporio (Εμποριό).

I stayed on Halki in September 2002 when I co–chaired Working Group III, ‘Mediterranean Crossroads: Culture, Religion and Security,’ at the Halki International Seminar, organised by the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (Eliamep). These seminars have been held annually since 1990, bringing together more than 800 scientists, researchers, journalists, politicians, and diplomats from over 50 countries.

53, Symi:

The island of Symi, north-west of Rhodes

During holidays in Rhodes, I have often visited Symi (Σύμη), about 40 km north-west of Rhodes. The island once had a population of 22,500, but today only has 2,500 residents.

Some of my favourite places on Symi include the Monastery of the Archangel Michael Panormitis on the south-west coast; the Kastro overlooking the island’s main town of Ano Symi; the town of Ano Symi, with 13 major churches and dozens of chapels, some dating back to the Byzantine era; and the municipal clock tower built in the 1880s.

54, Kos:

The Asklepieion … a panoramic view (Photograph: Briantist, licensed under CC by 3.0 via Wikipedia)

I first visited Kos (Κως) briefly during the Imia crisis in 1996, and later returned for family holidays. This island in the Dodecanese is just 4 km off Bodrum on the coast of Turkey. It is 40 km long and 8 wide and has a population of 33,388.Kos is one of the parts of Greece with an interesting Turkish-speaking Muslim minority.

Hippocrates is said to have been born on Kos, and during that holiday I visited the ruins of the Asklepieion, where Herodicus taught Hippocrates medicine.

55-57: Three islands near Kos:

From Kos, I visited three neighbouring islands, Kalymnos, Pserimos and Patmos.

55, Kalymnos:

Natural sponges on Kalymnos (Photograph by Tom Oates, licensed under CC by-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Kalymnos (Κάλυμνος) lies between Kos and Leros. With a population of 16,001, it is the third most populous island of the Dodecanese, after Kos and Rhodes.

Kalymnos is known as the “Sponge-divers’ island” so it was a must to buy some large, golden sponges during that visit. At the time, I did not realise that they had been imported because a disease hit the eastern Mediterranean in the mid-1980s, destroying a great number of sponges and damaging the sponge-fishing industry. Still, an annual Sponge Week is celebrated each year a week after Easter.

56, Pserimos:

Pserimos on a busy day (Photograph licensed for use CC by-SA 3.0 vía Wikimedia Commons)

There are a number of inhabited islands off Kalymnos, including Pserimos (80 residents), Telendos (94), Kalolimnos (2), and Pláti (2), as well as several uninhabited islets.

Pserimos (Ψέριμος) is a small island of 15 sq km between Kalymnos and Kos, close to the coast of Turkey and with a population of 80. The island’s economy relies almost entirely on tourism, and there are several beaches and a number of tavernas.

Pserimos is served by a daily ferry from Pothia, on Kalymnos, but despite the beautiful beaches few people stay for more than a few hours.

57, Patmos:

Chora on Patmos and the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian (Photograph: Valeria Casali, licensed under CC by-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

From Kos, I also caught a ferry to Patmos (Πάτμος), one of the most northerly islands in the Dodecanese. It has a population of about 3,000 and an area of 34 sq km. In 2009, Forbes declared Patmos as Europe’s “Most Idyllic Place to live” because it “has evolved over the centuries but has not lost its air of quiet tranquillity.”

I travelled alone as a solitary pilgrim, and from the harbour at Skala, I climbed up to the old town of Chora to visit the Monastery of Saint John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse, where Saint John had the visions that inspired him to write the Book of Revelation.

58, Samos:

Fishermen taking care of their nets in the fishing harbour at Pythagoreio on the island of Samos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I have visited Samos (Σάμος) about four or five times, taking the 1.6 km crossing on the daily ferry from Kusadasi on the western coast of Anatolia, and visiting both Vathy and Pythagoreio.

Samos is north of Patmos and in ancient times was a rich and powerful city state. This is the island of Pythagoras, the philosopher and mathematician who gave us the concept of the cosmos.

59, Zakynthos:

Shipwreck Bay on Zakynthos (Photograph: Alexignatiou, Licensed under CC by-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Zakynthos (Ζάκυνθος), known to the Venetians as Zante, is the third largest of the Ionian Islands, at 410 sq km. I stayed here once, spending two weeks at the Philoxenia Hotel in Tsilivi in 2002. The island has a coastline of 123 km, which includes Shipwreck Bay or Navagio beach on the south-west shore, isolated by high cliffs and accessible only by boat. The island also has many “Blue Caves.”

The island is the birthplace of two national poets, Dionysios Solomos, Greece’s national poet, and Ugo Foscolo, a national poet of Italy.

60, Kephalonia:

The Melissani Lake on Kephalonia

I first visited Kephalonia (Κεφαλονιά or Κεφαλλονιά) when I was staying on Zakynthos, and visited the Melissani Lake, the Drogarati caves, the Koutavos Lagoon in Argostoli and Cape Aghios Georgios. I returned for a holiday in Argostoli the following year.

This is is the largest of the Ionian Islands and “Captain Corelli’s Island.” But Irish visitors should also know that an Irishman, Charles James Napier (1782–1853) from Celbridge, Co Kildare, a first cousin of Lord Edward FitzGerald, was once the Governor of Kephalonia. His guests there included the Philhellene poet Lord Byron, who wrote: “Colonel Napier and myself are as decided for the cause of Greece as any.”

61, Ithaka:

Penelope waiting for Odysseus on Ithaka ... Μαριάννα Βαλλιάνου, Η επιστροφή, Mariánna Valliánou, ‘The Return’

From Kephalonia, I caught a ferry to Ithaka (Ιθάκη) which has an area of 120 sq km and about 3,000 inhabitants. The capital, Vathy or Ithaki, has one of the largest natural harbours in the world.

Ithaka is identified with Homer’s Ithaca, the home of Odysseus. But many people also associate it with CP Cavafy’s poem Ithaka:

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery …

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now …

62, Corfu:

Late evening on the seafront in Kerkyra, the capital of Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Some years ago I was a visiting lecturer at the Durrell of School of Corfu, lecturing on key Irish people who were involved in the Greek War of Independence. Corfu (Κέρκυρα) is the second largest of the Ionian Islands and sits on the north-west edge of Greece. The principal city of the island is Corfu, with a population of over 32,000. I stayed in the Konstantinoupolis Hotel, a traditional hotel in the centre of the old town of Corfu.

I tried but failed to catch a boat to Lazaretto Island, once known as Aghios Dimitrios, off the coast of Corfu, but because Corfu lies off the coast of Albania, I was able to visit Sarandë and Butrint, and to meet members of the Greek community in Northern Epiros in Albania.

63, Pontikonisi

The small white-washed convent of Vlahérna on the tiny islet of Pontikonisi off the coast of Corfu (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When I had finished that week’s work in Corfu, I visited the small white-washed convent of Vlahérna on the tiny islet of Pontikonisi (Mouse Island) and the Monastery of Vlahérna, 2 km south of Corfu town and beneath the hilltops of Kanoni. This small island is joined to the island of Corfu by a narrow causeway.

This is one of the most photographed places in Greece and features in almost every guide book. When I visited it, I was surprised it was so small despite having so many visitors.from the hilltops of Kanoni

64, Kastellorizo:

The small island of Kastellorizo is one of the most remote parts of Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Having reached 63, I am entering my 64th year. Perhaps I am entitled to indulge myself with another, 64th island. Kastellorizo (Καστελλόριζο) is the most remote island in Greece I have visited. It lies about 2 km off the south coast of Turkey, and I visited the island while I was staying in Fethiye in south-west Turkey. But it is 570 km south-east of Athens and 125 km east of Rhodes. It is another 280 km to Cyprus. So it is closer to Cyprus and Turkey than to any part of Greece, and part from Cyprus this is the most easterly point of the European Union.

But there were so many other islands to choose from in Greece, Cyprus, Denmark, Sweden or Turkey, including the islands off Kusadasi or Fethiye, or the islands in the Bosporus near Istanbul … or perhaps further afield including Lantau and Hong Kong, or in Japan, such as Honshu and Hokkaido.

I am not island, to paraphrase John Donne. But neither am I short of islands to visit or to be reminded of.

Next year should I contemplate 64 favourite beaches, poems, river-side walks, churches and cathedrals, hymns, pieces of music ... ?