23 June 2017

Christ Church Cathedral launches
summer icon exhibition

Dean Dermot Dunne, iconographer Adrienne Long and Canon Patrick Comerford at the launch of Christ Church Cathedral’s Icon Exhibition.

Christ Church Cathedral is offering visitors the opportunity to engage with their spirituality on a different level through its Summer Exhibition of Icons. The exhibition, which features the work of iconographer Adrienne Lord, officially opened yesterday evening, June 22, and continues until the end of September. The icons are for sale and the proceeds will be donated to charity.

The exhibition was launched by Canon Patrick Comerford, Precentor of St Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick and Priest in Charge of Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes in Limerick. Canon Comerford has a keen interest in icons.

He said that the word ‘icon’ had been demeaned in recent years – we have icons on our computers and we talk about people, such as film stars, in terms of being icons. However, he said Christ is the icon of God and the first icon is Christ. He pointed out that we do not worship icons but can be drawn into a spiritual experience by an icon.

He said there was a temptation to look at icons as idolatry but this was not the case and neither is sufficient to look at an icon as a work of art without regard for its spiritual dimension.

Canon Comerford paid tribute to Adrienne’s interpretation of the icons, which have mainly been inspired by Greek as well as some Russian icon writers. ‘These icons all give you the idea that we do not have a static relationship with God but rather a dynamic relationship with God … What you are looking at is an interpretation of art, beauty, dynamism and spirituality,’ he said adding that icon writers are among the first and last theologians because they allow us to speak about God but also to enter into a relationship with God.

The cathedral’s Dean, the Very Revd Dermot Dunne, described Adrienne Lord as a prolific icon writer and said that her work had emanated from a spiritual heart of prayer. He commended her for her generosity in donating the proceeds of the sale of her icons, over and above the cost of writing them, to charity.

A Triptych Deesis altarpiece, worth €1,000, will be raffled with the proceeds from the sale of raffle tickets going to SSPD, in Tamil Nadu, India, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation that works to improve the conditions of communities living in poverty in Tamil Nadu. The Dean encouraged everyone to buy tickets which are available at the welcome desk.

‘We are very grateful that you have chosen the cathedral as a space for this exhibition,’ he told Adrienne. ‘One of the cathedral’s biggest tasks is to transform the visitor into a pilgrim, to enable them to experience the transcendent and the divine God. It is noticeable that when visitors to the cathedral saw the exhibition last year, automatically a silence fell and a prayerful mood was created.’

The proceeds of sales made during the exhibition will go to a registered charity nominated by the purchaser. Sales of the icons on the opening night will be donated to one of four charities nominated by the artist.

Throughout the exhibition’s run there will be demonstrations by the iconographer on the last Friday of each month between 11.00 am and 1.00 pm and 2.00 pm and 4.00 pm.

This report was published this evening [23 June 2017] on the website of the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough. To read this report and to view a full photo gallery follow this link.

Unlocking the mysteries of
an old bookcase and
a forgotten hall in Limerick

The Havergal Bookcase in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … what mysteries are locked inside? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

There is a bookcase on the south side of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, close to the reception desk, that looks more like a wardrobe straight out of Narnia movie. I have no idea whether this bookcase contains any books, or what it is used for. But it contains a reminder of a well-known hymn-writer and memories of a long-lost but curious building in the heart of Limerick.

A typed and well-thumbed notice beside the bookcase says it was presented by Maria VG Havergall (sic) in 1894 in memory of her sister, Francis Ridley Havergall (sic).

Maria Vernon Graham Havergal (1821-1887) and her sister Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) were the daughters of Canon William Henry Havergal (1793-1870). Both William and Frances were well-known Victorian hymn-writers and composers, and several of their hymns are included in the Irish Church Hymnal.

Francis Havergal’s best-known hymn is ‘Take my life and let it be,’ which is No 597 in the Irish Church Hymnal.

An inscription on the right door of the bookcase refers to the Havergal Memorial Hall, a building that once stood on the corner of Glentworth Street and Baker Place in Limerick, between the former Limerick Protestant Orphan Society Hall and the former Trustee Savings Bank, close to the Tait Memorial Clock.

The Havergal Hall was later torn down and the Lyric Cinema was built on the site. The cinema in turn was razed and the site became a car park. Although there are still fading memories of the Havergal Hall, this once a prominent landmark building in Limerick.

Its story goes back to 1840, when a public meeting resolved to form the Limerick Philosophical and Literary Society, which would organise lectures and discussions and begin a public library and museum.

However, the society had problems finding suitable premises, and a meeting in May 1842 decided to raise funds for a new building.

The former Havergal Hall in the centre of Limerick

Frances Ridley Havergal, who gives her name to the bookcase in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, was born on 14 December 1836, at Astley, near Bewdley, where her father, Canon William Henry Havergal (1793-1870), had been the rector. In 1842, he became Rector of Saint Nicholas’s Parish in Worcester, and a canon of Worcester Cathedral. In August 1850, she entered Mrs Teed’s school, where her teacher’s influence was life-lasting. In the following year, at the age of 14, she says, ‘I committed my soul to the Saviour, and earth and heaven seemed brighter from that moment.’

A short stay in Germany followed, and on her return to England she was confirmed in Worcester Cathedral on 17 July 1853. In 1860, she left Worcester when her father resigned as Rector of Saint Nicholas, and became Perpetual Curate (Vicar) of Saint Mary and Saint Luke, Shareshill, a small south Staffordshire village in the Diocese of Lichfield, five or six miles south-west of Cannock, seven or eight miles south of Penkridge and six miles north of Wolverhampton. Shareshill’s Church of England primary school is called Havergal. Her hymn ‘Take my life and let it be’ has been adopted as the village school’s special hymn.

Later, she lived in Leamington, where her father died in 1870, and at Caswall Bay, Swansea, with visits to Switzerland, Scotland, and North Wales. She died at Caswall Bay, Swansea, on 3 June 1879.

Frances Havergal was a scholarly writer, with a knowledge of French, German, Italian, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. She devoted her life to hymn-writing, and while her poetry has limited qualities, much it survives because she speaks so simply and so directly of the love of God and the promise of salvation.

But she is direct too in expressing her narrow Calvinistic theological views. She had an intense dislike of Hymns Ancient and Modern, which she regarded as ‘the thin edge of Popery,’ she was strongly opposed to Roman Catholicism and she supported strident evangelical missions, including the Irish Church Missions.

Despite Havergal’s views of Hymns Ancient and Modern, her hymn ‘From glory unto glory!’ was included by William Henry Monk (1823-1899) and Charles Steggall (1826-1905) in the 1889 edition (No 485).

Her sister, Maria Vernon Graham Havergal, was 15 when Frances was born. Maria was devoted to Frances, served and encouraged her while she lived, and after she died, Maria was the diligent editor and publisher of her completed works and part of her uncompleted works, gathering, codifying, preserving Frances’s written treasure for future generations.

Writing in her autobiography about a time when she visited Ireland and walked long distances in rural areas, Maria said: ‘It became an increasing delight to me to visit the cottages, my swift walking taking me to many a lonely corner. I marvel now at my activities, and believe they sprang from love to God, and much delightful communing did I hold with the Lord Jesus on the wayside. He was more and more to me, and when my early retirement at night was smiled at, they little knew the delight of being alone with Jesus my Lord.’

As a family, the Havergals regularly visited Limerick, which William described as ‘really a handsome and spirited place. Was pleased with the cathedral. As good shops in some streets as are to be seen in England.’ He left interesting descriptions in his diary of travelling by steamer from Limerick down the Shannon – ‘a fine river, truly, far beyond the Thames or Severn’ – to Kilrush, ‘which is the Margate of the Limerick people.’

But he found the hotel where he stayed in Kilrush was ‘miserable.’ I wonder whether the hotel room had a wardrobe as splendid as the Havergal bookcase in Saint Mary’s Cathedral?

Strolling through the churchyard
beside the old church in Nantenan

Saint James’s Church, Nantenan … closed in 1972 but still standing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

On my journeys around these parishes, I sometimes stop to visit churches that were once open in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of parishes.

Last Sunday afternoon, on my way from Tarbert to Rathkeale, I stopped to visit the ruined church in Shangolden and the surrounding churchyard. Half-way between Askeaton and Rathkeale, Saint James’s Church in Nantenan still stands out in the landscape as an elegant building, although it has been closed since 1972.

Like the church in Shanagolden, Saint James’s Church in Nantenan was also linked with the Precentors of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, so it seems appropriate that this church is within my parochial boundaries.

Nantenan is about 5 km south of Askeaton on the road to Rathkeale, on the east bank of the River Deel. There was an old mediaeval church on this site, and its dedication to Saint James probably indicates that this church may have been a late Anglo-Norman church associated with an old pilgrim route.

At one time, there was a spacious green near the church, and fairs were held on the green on 10 July, 5 August and 12 November. Near the Green a well dedicated to Saint James was enclosed by ancient massive stone walls.

According to the historian of this area, Westropp, there was a church here in 1500. According to another local historian Harry Gillard, there were three different church buildings on the present site.

Very little is known of the first church. The church that was standing in 1500 is said to have been small with a thatched roof. Local people used to say that it was destroyed by fire and that part of its foundation wall can still be seen.

Saint James’s Church, Nantenan, was rebuilt in 1817-1821 and in 1852 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

It was another two centuries before the next church was built at Nantenan. The present church was built early in 1817-1821, and a tablet on the wall in the porch reads ‘Enter into the courts of the Lord, Anno Domine 1821.’

The Board of First Fruits granted a loan of £800 towards building a new parish church, which was built or rebuilt the Early English style on the site of an earlier church. The architect’s name is unknown. In 1852, the interior was remodelled, with Joseph Welland, giving it is present appearance, while retaining the west tower.

Peering inside Saint James’s Church, Nantenan … closed in 1972 but still standing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The church is built in the Early English style, and many of the original features and materials survive, including the slate roof and the limestone copings. The church includes a four-bay nave, a chancel at the east end, a vestry to the north and a three-stage, square, embattled tower to the west, surmounted by an octagonal spire, and there is a lean-to at the north side. The tower is enhanced by the finely carved, decorative pinnacles and crenellations.

There are pointed arch openings throughout the building, tripartite Y-tracery quarry glazed windows and lancet openings to the nave, west elevation and tower.

The detailed features of the church illustrate high quality craftsmanship. This can be seen particularly in the ornate timber windows, the stone dressings and the carved entrance piers.

Heraldic details on a gravestone in the churchyard at Nantenan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

There was once a parochial school with about 30 children, and it supported mainly by Lord Southwell and the rector.

The sexton’s house to the south, the carved headstones in the surrounding churchyard, many with heraldic details, and the barrel-vaulted tombs contribute to making this an interesting site.

The graves include those of Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic families in the parish, as well as some of the original Palatine families. Headstones of note include one in memory of the Revd Thomas Royce of Nantenan House, who died in 1747, aged 43, and a headstone dating from 10 July 1777, in memory of John Welesh, aged 22 years.

Nantenan was a rectory and perpetual curacy in the Diocese of Limerick. The rectory was united from an early date with the rectories and vicarages of Kilfenny and Loughill, the rectories of Shanagolden, Knocknegaul, and Dromdeely, and the vicarage of Morgans. They formed the corps of the Precentorship of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

Because the Precentors of Limerick were the Rectors of Nantenan until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, the church in Nantenan was served by curates and perpetual curates or vicars until 1873, when the Revd John Armour Haydn was appointed Rector of Nantenan.

In 1918, Nantenan was united with Rathkeale parish, and they were both united with Ballingarry and Rathronan in 1958. The church was in use until it closed in 1972.

Until disestablishment, the Precentors of Limerick were also the Rectors of Nantenan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)