30 November 2018

December, Christmas and
Advent in the Rathkeale and
Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes

Asylum Seekers (Carlos A Rodríguez)

Sunday 2 December (Advent 1):

9.30 a.m., Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2).

11.30 a.m., Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Morning Prayer.

Readings: Jeremiah 33: 14-16; Psalm 25: 1-10; I Thessalonians 3: 9-13; Luke 21: 25-36.


652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us (CD 37)
126, Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding (CD 8)
509, Your kingdom come, O God (CD 29)

Saturday 8 December:

8 p.m., Tommy Fleming in concert, Holy Trinity Church Rathkeale, in aid of Rathkeale No 2 National School.

Sunday 9 December (Advent 2):

9.30 a.m., Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2).

11.30 a.m., Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Morning Prayer.

Readings: Baruch 5: 1-9; Canticle Benedictus (Hymn 685, CD 39); Philippians 1: 3-11; Luke 3: 1-6.


119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus (CD 8)
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King (CD 8)
204, When Jesus came to Jordan (CD 13)

Thursday 13 December:

7 p.m.: Tarbert Carol Service, Saint Brendan’s Church,
followed by refreshments in Tarbert Community Centre.

Sunday 16 December (Advent 3):

No morning service in Askeaton.

11.30 a.m., Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2).

Readings: Zephaniah 3: 14-20; Canticle Song of Isaiah (CD 43, No 6), Philippians 4: 4-7; Luke 3: 7-18.


281, Rejoice, the Lord is King! (CD 17)
135, O come, O come, Emmanuel (CD 8)
136, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (CD 8)

3 p.m., Carol Service in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, followed by refreshments in the Rectory.

Friday 21 December:

12 noon: end-of-term School Play and Carol Service, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Sunday 23 December (Advent 4):

11 a.m., United Group Service (Parish Eucharist, Holy Communion 2), Castletown.

Readings: Micah 5: 2-5a; Canticle Magnificat (Hymn 712, CD 40); Hebrews 10: 5-10; Luke 1: 39-45.


158, God rest you merry, gentlemen (CD 9)
174, O little town of Bethlehem (CD 11)
198, The first Nowell the angel did say (CD 12)

Christmas Eve, Monday 24 December:

8 p.m., Kilnaughtin (Christmas Eucharist, Holy Communion 2).

10 p.m., Castletown (Christmas Eucharist, Holy Communion 2).

Readings: Isaiah 9: 2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2: 11-14; Luke 2: 1-14.


174, O little town of Bethlehem (CD 11)
160, Hark! the herald angels sing (CD 9)
182, Silent night, holy night (CD 11)

Christmas Day, Tuesday 25 December:

9.30 a.m., Askeaton (Christmas Eucharist, Holy Communion 2).

11 a.m., Rathkeale (Christmas Eucharist, Holy Communion 2).

Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1: 1-4; John 1: 1-18.


177, Once in royal David’s city (CD 11)
184, Unto us is born a Son (CD 11)
172, O come, all ye faithful (CD 10)

Sunday 30 December (Christmas 1):

11 a.m., United Parish Communion, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert.

Readings: I Samuel 2: 18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Colossians 3: 12-17; Luke 2: 41-52.


166, Joy to the world, the Lord is come! (CD 10)
162, Infant holy, infant lowly (CD 9)
152, Come and join the celebration (CD 9)

Saint Nicholas … a mosaic in the north aisle of Westminster Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saints’ Days in December:

6 December: Saint Nicholas.

26 December: Saint Stephen.

27 December: Saint John the Evangelist.

28 December: The Holy Innocents.

Sunday 6 January 2019 (The Epiphany):

9.30 a.m., Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2).

11.30 a.m., Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2).

Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3: 1-12; Matthew 2: 1-12.


202, What child is this, who laid to rest (CD 13)
201, We three kings of Orient are (CD 13)
189, As with gladness men of old (CD 12)

Danish Christmas cards with an Ethiopian icon of the Visitation of the Magi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Andrew, the call of Christ
and the bitter weather of Advent

Saint Andrew, carved by Edward Smith, crowns the portico of Saint Andrew’s Church in Westland Row, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 19: 1-6; Romans 10: 12-18; Matthew 4: 18-22.

Today is the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle [30 November 2018], the first-called of the disciples. Before he was called, Saint Andrew was a fisherman, an every-day ordinary-day commercial occupation, working on the Lake of Galilee in partnership with his brother Simon Peter. He was a disciple of John the Baptist, and it is said that when Saint John the Baptist began to preach, Saint Andrew became one of his closest disciples. The story goes that Saint John the Baptist then sent two of his own disciples, the future Saint Andrew and Saint John the Evangelist, to Christ, declaring Christ to be the Lamb of God.

The hymn ‘Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult’ (no 584, Irish Church Hymnal), is usually sung to the tune ‘Saint Andrew’ by Edward Henry Thorne. It was written in 1852 by Mrs Cecil Frances (‘Fanny’) Alexander (1818-1895), whose bicentenary is being marked this year. She intended it for use on Saint Andrew’s Day, and in this hymn she takes up many of the questions posed by Saint Andrew’s call, life and mission.

The tune, Saint Andrew, was written by Edward Henry Thorne (1834-1916) for the hymn’s inclusion in the second edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1875).

When he heard Christ’s call by the sea to follow him, Saint Andrew hesitated for a moment, not because he had any doubts about that call, but because he wanted to bring his brother with him. He left his nets behind and went to Peter and, as Saint John’s Gospel recalls, he told him: ‘We have found the Messiah … [and] he brought Simon to Jesus’ (John 1: 41, 42).

Tradition says Saint Andrew was so obstinate and so stubborn at his martyrdom in Patras, in today’s western Greece, that he insisted on being splayed on an X-shaped cross. He said he was unworthy to be crucified on a cross of the same shape as the one on which Christ had been crucified.

Unlike the other disciples named in today’s Gospel reading – Peter and James and John, the sons of Zebedee – Saint Andrew never gave his name to an Epistle, never gave his name to a Gospel. But Saint Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles, truly took up his cross and followed Christ. And he called others to do the same.

His stubborn and obstinate commitment to mission, to travelling for the Gospel, has made him the patron saint of mission work and the patron saint of Constantinople, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Scotland.

That stubborn and obstinate commitment to Christ, to the point of a martyr’s death, makes Saint Andrew an appropriate saint to start off the Church Year at the beginning of Advent on Sunday next. As our recent Sunday Gospel readings have reminded us, Christmas is meaningless without looking forward to the coming of Christ again in glory.

As we prepare for Advent and prepare to wait for the Coming of Christ, are we prepared to leave behind the nets of yesterday and not get caught up in them?

In recent years, I have taken the opportunity provided by working visits to London to visit the surviving churches built by Christopher Wren. One of these churches, Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe on Queen Victoria Street, is two blocks south of Saint Paul’s Cathedral and close to Blackfriars station, and is the last of Wren’s city churches.

The church was destroyed by German bombs during the London blitz in World War II, and only the tower and the walls survived. The church, which was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950, was rebuilt and rededicated in 1961.

The plain design of Wren’s last city church attracts very little attention, despite its simple grace. With its rectangular body and unembellished tower, Saint Andrew’s presents a no-nonsense image to the outside world. Its warmth is all on the inside, where a wealth of woodwork carved in traditional style adds a wonderfully restful feel.

Saint Andrew’s stands on a terrace overlooking Queen Victoria Street, its plain red-brick exterior contrasting with the stone buildings on either side. It is a complete reconstruction nestling within Wren’s walls.

As the bitter weather of winter begins to close on, I am reminded of this prayer, appropriate for Advent and this winter weather, which I found at Saint Andrew’s and which the church offers for people who have no shelter on the streets:

God of compassion,
your love for humanity was revealed in Jesus,
whose earthly life began in the poverty of a stable
and ended in the pain and isolation of the cross:
we hold before you those who are homeless and cold
especially in this bitter weather.
Draw near and comfort them in spirit
and bless those who work to provide them
with shelter, food and friendship.
We ask this in Jesus’ name.

Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe is the last of Wren’s city churches (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)


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

Post Communion Prayer:

may the gifts we have received at your table
keep us alert for your call
that we may always be ready to answer,
and, following the example of Saint Andrew,
always be ready to bear our witness
to our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The cloister-like colonnade on the north side of the former Saint Andrew’s Church in Suffolk Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

29 November 2018

Two rabbis in Venice:
2, Simeon Luzzatto

Simeon Luzzatto argued it was acceptable to travel by gondola on Shabbat (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Advent begins next Sunday [2 December 2018], but so too does the Jewish Festival of Hanukkah. Both are times to think of how the light of God is kept alive in the darkness of the world.

Today, as I think about these themes and finish working on my Sunday sermons, I find myself thinking again of the lives of two rabbis in Venice, both of whom I heard about when I visited Venice and the Ghetto earlier this month.

Simeon (Simcha) ben Isaac Luzzatto (1583-1663) and Leon of Modena (1571-1648) were contemporaries in Venice in the late 16th and 17th centuries.

Simeon (Simcha) Luzzatto (שמחה לוצאטו‎) was a prominent rabbi in the ghetto in Venice, where he shared the rabbinate with Leon de Modena, and their work prefigured the Enlightenment in Europe.

The Luzzatto family of Italian scholars can be traced to the late 15th century or earlier. According to family tradition, the family is descended from a German Jew from the province of Lausitz who migrated to Italy, where he was named after his native place (Lausatia, Lausiatus, Luzzatto). The German rite is said to have been observed in the family synagogue in Venice, the Scuola Luzzatto.

The earliest recorded member of the family is Abraham Luzzatto, who lived at Safed in the late 15th and early 16th century.

His great-great-grandson, Simeon Luzzatto, was born in Venice ca 1580-1583. He was educated by some of the outstanding rabbis of the day, as well as receiving a secular and classical education.

By the age of 20 or 22, many of his works were being published and discussed throughout the Jewish community, and was still a young man when he acquired renown as a rabbi and scholar.

He is styled rabbi at the head of a long responsum, Mish’an Mayim (1606), which he wrote in response to the miḳweh of Rovigo. This responsum shows him to have been an authority in rabbinics and is quoted by many rabbinical authorities.

He shared the rabbinate of Venice with Leon of Modena, who held him in great esteem, and together they wrote a work on the Karaites.

His Discorso circa il stato degli Hebrei et in particolar dimoranti nell’inclita città di Venetia (‘Discourse Concerning the Condition of the Jews, and in particular those living in the Fair City of Venice’), published in 1638, was written in Italian and addressed to the Doge and the leaders of the Venetian Republic.

His Discorso is a treatise on the position of the Jews, particularly those in Venice. It is an apology for the Jews in 18 arguments, each forming a chapter.

For instance, one chapter defends the Jews of Venice and their usefulness in commerce. Another explains the causes of decreases in certain state revenues and shows that encouraging the activities of the Jews would tend to increase those revenues. He points out that the Jews are especially fitted for commerce, that they loyally observe the laws of the state, and that the Venetian Republic reaped great advantages from its relations with them.

The chief merit of this book is its impartiality, for while Luzzatto depicts the better characteristics of the Jews he does not ignore their faults. He shows remarkable knowledge of the commerce of his time and of the political influences that affected it.

According to Luzzatto, the common people felt little antipathy toward the Jews, and depended on them to some extent for their living. He argued that the fanatical religious zealots were found among the patricians who, out of envy, advocated restrictions and even banishment.

The last three chapters include an examination of Hebrew literature and of the various classes of Jewish scholars, an account of the directions in which the Jews were permitted freedom, and of their sufferings, and a survey of the Jews in non-Italian countries.

This discourse was successful in convincing the Doge to rule against an edict to expel the Jewish population from Venice.

Another important work in Italian, Socrates, written in his youth, argues that human reason cannot attain its goals if unaided by divine revelation. This is written in the form of a Platonic dialogue and seeks to prove how useless human reason is without revelation.

In his Socrates, Luzzatto tries to prove the impotence of human reason when unaided by divine revelation. It is in the form of a parable, in which he puts his thoughts into the mouth of Socrates.

Reason, being imprisoned by Orthodox authority, appealed for liberation to the Academy of Delphi, which had been founded to rectify the errors of the human intellect. The academy granted her petition notwithstanding the remonstrance of Pythagoras and Aristotle, who argued that Reason, when free, would spread abroad most frightful errors. Liberated Reason caused great mischief, and the academicians did not know what to do, when Socrates advised combining Reason with Revelation.

Luzzatto dedicated this book to the Doge and Senate of Venice, and stated his ancestors had settled in Venice two centuries earlier. In this book, he also quotes an earlier work he had published, Trattato dell’ Opinioni e Dogmi degl’ Hebrei e dei Riti Loro Piu Principali.

From 1648, he headed the Venetian rabbinate of Venice.

Luzzatto was well acquainted with ancient literature and philosophy and with contemporary literature, and he is praised by Joseph Delmedigo as a distinguished mathematician.

Luzzatto was a thinker and a believer as well. He did not share Manasseh bin Israel’s dream that the lost 10 tribes still exist together in some part of the world.

He maintained that Daniel’s revelation refers not to a future Messiah, but to past historical events. This view of Luzzatto was either misunderstood or deliberately perverted by the convert Samuel Nahmias (Giulio Morosini), who, in his Via della Fide, makes Luzzatto say that Daniel’s revelation may perhaps point to Jesus as the Messiah.

Jacob Aboab asserts that he saw in Venice a collection of Luzzatto’s sermons, speeches and responsa, which included one that argued it was acceptable to travel by gondola on Shabbat.

Simeon (Simcha) ben Isaac Luzzatto died in Venice on 6 January 1663.

Synagogues surround the main square in the Ghetto in Venice … from 1648, Simeon Luzzatto headed the rabbinate of Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This morning: Leon de Modena

Two rabbis in Venice:
1, Leon of Modena

Inside the Schola Spagnola or Sepahrdic synagogue in the Ghetto in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

Advent begins next Sunday [2 December 2018], but so too does the Jewish Festival of Hanukkah. Both are times to think of how the light of God is kept alive in the darkness of the world.

Today, as I think about these themes and finish working on my Sunday sermons, I find myself thinking again of the lives of two rabbis in Venice, both of whom I heard about when I visited Venice and the Ghetto earlier this month.

Leon of Modena (1571-1648) and Simeon (Simcha) Luzzatto (1583-1663) were contemporaries in Venice in the late 16th and 17th centuries, and their work prefigured the Enlightenment in Europe.

Leon of Modena, or Leon Yehudah Aryeh Mi-Modena, or Leon Judah Aryeh of Modena, was a born in Venice on 23 April 1571 into a Sephardic family whose ancestors had migrated to Italy after an expulsion of Jews from Spain.

His parents were Isaac of Modena and Diana Rachel. His grandfather Mordecai, a distinguished physician and philanthropist, was made a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece raised by the Emperor Charles V.

His father ensured Leon had a complete education that included even singing and dancing. At the age of 12, he translated into Hebrew verse the first canto of Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso.

About a year and a half later, he wrote his dialogue against gambling, which saw 10 editions and was translated into Latin, French, German, and Judæo-German. Even at this early age he was not only well versed in Hebrew and rabbinical literature, but was conversant with the classics and had a knowledge of mathematics, philosophy and natural history.

This once precocious child grew up to be a respected rabbi in Venice. However, his reputation within traditional Judaism has suffered for many reasons, including his criticism of emerging sects within Judaism, his addiction to gambling, and his unstable personality.

Although he had fulminated against gambling in his youth, as an adult all his resources were swallowed up in gambling, reducing him to penury and accounting for his misfortunes in life.

Yet, as Heinrich Graetz points out: ‘He pursued all sorts of occupations to support himself … those of preacher, teacher of Jews and Christians, reader of prayers, interpreter, writer, proof-reader, bookseller, broker, merchant, rabbi, musician, matchmaker and manufacturer of amulets.’

In 1590, at the age of 19, after the death of his fiancée, his cousin Esther Simḥah, Modena married her sister Rachel. He wished to embark on a rabbinic career, so in 1592 he returned to Venice, but the Jewish lay leaders raised the age of ordination to 35 and then 40. Modena was forced to find his own opportunities to earn a living and for recognition until he was ordained in 1609.

His sermons in Italian in the synagogues in Venice attracted large numbers, including priests and members of the Venetian nobility. His success as an orator and a poet earned respect among Christian scholars, and gained him admission to the circles in Venetian life.

His pupils included Louis Eselin, a noble French courtier, the Archbishop of Lodève, John Plantanit, Jacob Gaffarelli and Giulio Morosini. Leon de Modena and his student Azaria Piccio later became intellectually close.

wo of his children died in infancy, and two of his adult children who died in his own lifetime: Mordecai, who was endowed with great ability, died at the age of 26 by inhaling fumes during alchemy experiments, while Zebulon was killed in a brawl. A third son Isaac led a dissolute life, emigrated to Brazil, and returned to Venice only after his father’s death.

Of his two daughters, one died in his lifetime, while the second was widowed and she and her family became dependent on Leon for support. His wife became insane in 1641 and remained so until she died.

Although he failed to rise to real distinction, Leon of Modena is best known as the interpreter of Judaism to the Christian world.

He has earned a place in Jewish learning in part for his criticism of the mystical approach to Judaism. One of his most effective works is his attack on the Kabbala, Ari Nohem, in which he tries to show that the ‘Bible of the Kabbalists,’ the Zohar, is a modern composition. He argued that the name Chachmas HaKabbalah, ‘The Wisdom of Kabbalah,’ is misleading, since it is neither ‘wisdom’ nor a Kabbalah or tradition going back to Moses, but a mere fabrication.

His autobiographical Chayye Yehuda (‘The Life of Judah’) is a candid and emotional work, and in it he admits to being a compulsive gambler. His Magen va-hereb (מגן וחרב ‘Shield and Sword’) is a polemical attack on Christian dogmas. In this work, he takes to task Christians for their interpretations of Hebrew scriptures and refutes Christian claims.

At the request of John Donne’s friend, Sir Henry Wotton, the English Ambassador to the Serene Republic, Leon wrote an account of Jewish customs and rituals, Historia de gli riti Hebraici (1637). Wooton’s secretary in Venice was William Bedell (1571-1642), later Bishop of Kilmore, and the original intention was to for present this book to King James I.

This was the first Jewish text addressed to non-Jewish readers since the days of Josephus and Philo. It was widely read by Christians and was translated into many languages, including French, Dutch, German, Latin and – paradoxically – even Hebrew.

A posthumous translation into English by Edmund Chilmead (1650) was published at a the time when the return of Jews to Britain was being debated, and Leon of Modena’s book did much to stimulate popular interest.

He served as cantor in a synagogue in Venice for more than 40 years. Earlier, he is believed to have introduced some sort of polyphony in the synagogue at Ferrara, and wrote two essays on music justifying polyphonic practice in services and celebrations.

His gambling led to a dispute with the leaders of the Jewish community in Venice. In 1631, they decided to excommunicate anyone who played cards or took part in games of hazard, within the period of six years. But Leon wrote a treatise in which he demonstrated that the leaders had acted against the Law, and the order for excommunication was revoked.

His wife Rachel died on 7 March 1648, and he died in Venice two weeks later on 24 March 1648.

Modena’s life is an example of the struggles of early, modern rabbinic authority. His candid and extensive writings provide details about the social and economic conditions of Jewish beliefs and daily life in 17th century Venice and Jewish-Christian relations.

When his writings were rediscovered in the 19th century, they were seen as attacks on traditional Judaism. The early proponents of Reform Judaism looked to him as a precursor, while those who wished to undermine Reform Judaism denigrated him a gambler, a heretic, a hypocrite, and a person filled with complexities and contradictions.

Some portray Modena as a Renaissance Jew or the ‘first modern rabbi.’ But, in fact, the Renaissance in Italy was ending by then and in much of his writings he defends traditional mediaeval rabbinic authority. Perhaps it may be more appropriate to see Modena as one of the last mediaeval rabbis and the period in which he lived as the beginning of modern Jewish thinking.

The Schola Grande Tedesca or great Ashkenazic synagogue in the Ghetto in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Next: Simeon (Simcha) Luzzatto (1583-1663)

28 November 2018

Victoria Palace and the
legacy of Frank Matcham,
a prolific theatre architect

Victoria Palace … designed by the prolific theatre architect Frank Matcham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Victoria Palace is close to Victoria Station, Westminster Cathedral and Buckingham Palace, but it is neither Victorian nor a palace. This is a West End theatre known for its many long-running stage productions, but also with an interesting architectural history that links it with theatres throughout these islands, including theatres in Dublin and Belfast.

The Victoria Palace Theatre began life as a small concert room above the stables of the Royal Standard Hotel, a small hotel and tavern built in 1832 on the site. By 1850 it was known as Moy’s Music Hall, and in 1863 it became the Royal Standard Music Hall.

Victoria Station and the new Grosvenor Hotel transformed the area into a major transport hub, and the theatre was rebuilt along more ambitious lines in 1886, keeping the name of the Royal Standard Music Hall.

The Royal Standard was demolished in 1910, and in its place the Victoria Palace was built as a new theatre at a cost of £12,000. The Victoria Palace was designed by the prolific theatre architect Frank Matcham (1854-1920) for the variety magnate Alfred Butt, and opened on 6 November 1911.

Sir Alfred Butt (1878-1962) was one of the great variety magnates of the early 20th century. He made the Cambridge Circus, Shoreditch, one of the most successful theatres of its time, introducing novel and lavish entertainments and foreign performers, including Anna Pavlova. He was also involved in several West End theatres, including the Globe and the Adelphi, and built two theatres, the Glasgow Alhambra (1907) and the Victoria Palace, London.

There was a massive boom in theatre building in these islands between 1880 and 1914 with the rise in popularity of variety theatres. They continued the music hall tradition after many of the older music halls had been closed down or demolished. They provided family entertainment in comfortable, fully-seated accommodation, they were opulently decorated, and there was no drinking in the auditorium.

But the boom came to an end in the 1920s in the face of competition from movies and cinemas, and in the interwar period, many of the theatres designed in Matcham’s practice became cinemas.

The Victoria Palace belongs to the very end of this boom period, and was London’s last great variety house. The theatre opened on 6 November 1911 with a variety bill, and all the famous music-hall names of the period appeared here.

Because of its past links with music halls, the early plays staged at the Victoria Palace were not taken seriously. For example, in 1934, the theatre presented Young England, a patriotic play by the Revd Walter Reynolds, who was then 83. It received such amusingly bad reviews that it became a cult hit and played to full houses. It was regarded as an uproarious comedy, and audiences learned the key lines and joined the choicest moments. The scout-mistress rarely said the line ‘I must go and attend to my girls’ water’ without at least 50 voices in good-humoured support.

The first big success was Me and My Girl. Songs from this show formed the first live broadcast of a performance by the BBC in 1939, and listeners could sing along to The Lambeth Walk. From 1947 to 1962, Jack Hylton produced The Crazy Gang series of comedy revues, and the long-running Black and White Minstrel Show played through the 1960s until 1972.

Other long-running shows at the Victoria Palace included Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story from 1989, and Billy Elliot the Musical from 2005 to 2016. The Broadway musical Hamilton has been playing since December 2017.

The Victoria Palace, designed in the baroque style, has a deep frontage block three bays wide and three bays deep, four storeys high, with a basement and concealed attic. The bay at the very centre of the block was originally three storeys, with a lantern and lightwell above, but these are now floored over.

Interesting features include an open loggia with Ionic columns on the third floor and flanking pilasters with cartouches. The parapet has two over-life-size female figures and urns on each corner.

A crowning octagonal Ionic cupola in the style of Christopher Wren had a gilded figure of the Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova (1899-1931). This was taken down in 1940 for safe keeping but was lost during World War II, and has since been replaced with a replica.

The deep frontage gave Matcham scope for larger foyer spaces than were usual, and the Victoria Palace resembles at least two other contemporary theatres, Matcham’s London Palladium (1910) and Massey and Young’s Wimbledon Theatre, (1910), with a planned suite of public rooms rather than a single first-floor bar. At no other theatre was there such an array of public spaces, each designed in a different style, encompassing the Baroque, Adamesque neo-classicism, neo-Tudor, with touches of Art Nouveau.

The boom in theatres produced a number of specialist theatre architects, among whom Frank Matcham was outstanding and the most prolific. During his 40-year career, he designed or remodelled at least 120 theatres, and undertook alterations and improvements to many others.

The Victoria Palace was his last major commission and one of his finest later works. He is best known for his work in London, under Moss Empires, including the Hippodrome (1900), Hackney Empire (1901), London Coliseum (1903), London Palladium (1910) and the Victoria Palace (1911). Indeed, the English playwright Alan Bennett says there was a Matcham theatre in every corner of the UK.

Matcham was born in Newton Abbot, Devon, in 1854 and was apprenticed at the age of 14 to the architect George Sondon Bridgeman. He moved to London when he was 21, and joined the architectural practice of JT Robinson, who was later to become his father-in-law. Under Robinson, Matcham completed his first solo design, the Elephant and Castle theatre, which opened in June 1879. He took over Robinson’s business when he died and continued the designs of provincial theatres.

Matcham formed his own practice, Matcham & Co in the 1880s and used skilled craftsman in all of his projects. His first major association came in the 1880s when he was employed to design and refurbish theatres belonging to the Revill family who owned many of the Victorian theatres throughout these islands.

The date Matcham & Co was established is unclear, but it probably dates from the time when Matcham established an office in Belfast in 1884 after the success of the Paragon Theatre in Mile End.

He is associated with three theatres in Ireland too. In 1883, he designed the parterre and grand circle bars in an extension to the Gaiety Theatre in South King Street, Dublin. In 1894, the designed the Grand Opera House in Great Victoria Street, Belfast, for JF Warden, and in 1896-1897, he designed the conversion of the Leinster Hall in Hawkins Street, Dublin, into the Theatre Royal for Fred Mouillot and H Morrel. The Theatre Royal opened in Dublin on 13 December 1897.

Matcham worked extensively for Moss Empires from 1892 to 1912, and his designs in this period included the Tower Ballroom at Blackpool Tower, the Grand Theatre in Blackpool (both 1894), and the County Arcade, Leeds (1900).

When Matcham retired after building the Victoria Palace, he moved from the family home, Rathgar, in Dollis Avenue, Finchley, to Southend-on-Sea in Essex. He died there on 18 May 1920. His funeral took place in Saint Paul’s Church, Finchley, and he was buried in the family vault in Highgate Cemetery. Sir Alfred Butt, writing in The Era, said: ‘Frank Matcham lived for his work, and unquestionably was preeminent as a theatrical and music hall architect.’

Matcham’s Theatre Royal in Dublin was rebuilt in 1934-1935, and finally closed its doors in 1962. The building was later demolished and replaced by a 12-storey office block, Hawkins House, that became the headquarters of the Department of Health but is now vacant.

Four Christmas cards
have arrived from
Denmark and Ethiopia

‘The Visit of the Magi’ … my photograph of an Ethiopian icon on Danish Christmas cards (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

My first Christmas cards for 2018 arrived this week at the Rectory in Askeaton. The four cards from Promissio, an evangelical Lutheran mission agency in Denmark, are illustrated with my photograph of an Ethiopian icon depicting the Visit of the Three Magi to the Christ Child in Bethlehem.

I took this photograph many years ago of a present brought from Ethiopia in the Christmas 2011-2012 by a neighbour who had bought the small icon on a street in Addis Ababa. I first used this image to illustrate a posting on TS Eliot’s poem, ‘The Journey of the Magi.’

Since then, this image has been used in New Zealand on the Christmas card of the magazine Tui Motu InterIslands Magazine in 2015, on the cover of a Presbyterian church magazine in Virginia, Peaks Postings, in January 2016, on an Epiphany card sent out by Bishop Jeffrey Lee in 2016 to the Diocese of Chicago in the Episcopal Church, and as a projected image during the Epiphany Eucharist and celebrations in the chapel at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia in January 2017.

When Marius Weber got in touch with me, I was very happy to agree to Promissio using my photograph on its Christmas card this year.

Promissio declares that ‘With heart, mouth and hands, we will be God’s tools for people to have a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ!’

The agency co-operates with Lutheran Churches and Christian organisations in Ethiopia and Liberia. It says the goal of Promissio is to take part in the mission to which Jesus Christ has called his Church with the promise that he is with us until the end of the world.

Promissio began with a small group of Danes who wanted to work in Ethiopia. They founded a new mission agency in 1948 and named it the Danish Abessinier Mission, because Ethiopia was then called Abyssinia. Later that year, they sent Johan Lindblom and his wife Ingrid to Ethiopia as missionaries.

The mission has changed names several times since. In 1950, it became the Danish Ethiopier Mission, in 1969 it became the Danish Ethiopian Mission, and in 2014 the name was changed to Promissio.

For many years, Promissio’s work in Ethiopia in 1948 was concentrated in the Bale region of south Ethiopia, based at Lincho in Dodola. The Mekane Yesus Church was formed in 1959 by the association of Evangelical Lutheran congregations in Ethiopia, and its autonomy was recognised by the Ethiopian state in 1969.

This church has been Promissio’s primary partner in Ethiopia since 1959. Promissio also collaborates with the Ethiopian organisation Win Souls for God.

The church is known in English as the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus – Mekane Yesus means ‘the place where Jesus lives.’ It is one of the fastest-growing churches in the world and probably the world’s largest Lutheran church.

The Mekane Yesus Church has 8,564 congregations, 3,892 church locations, 3,976 priests, 7,620 evangelists, over 500,000 volunteers, and 8,310,129 members, of whom 4,593,645 are communicant members and about 65 per cent of the members are children and adolescents.

Promissio has worked in particular with the Wabe Batu Synod, with headquarters in Dodola, the Addis Ababa Synod, and with the church at the national level from Addis Ababa.

Many new churches are being built, and the Church is committed to education, health care, relief and development work. The church has its own mission agency, Mekane Yesus International Mission Society, which sends Ethiopian missionaries to other countries.

Promissio began working with the Lutheran Church in Liberia began in 1980, when it sent missionaries to Liberia. Promissio signed a new partnership agreement with the Liberian Church in 2013.

Promissio signed a co-operation agreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Botswana in 1984, and is looking at new possibilities for continued co-operation.

Although Promissio has no formal co-operation agreement with the Lutheran Church in Guinea, since 2008 it has supported some of its projects through the Lutheran Church in neighbouring Liberia.

The Adoration by the Magi ... an Ethiopian artist’s impression (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

27 November 2018

The Crucifixion icon
completes a triptych
of Bethlehem icons
in Lichfield Cathedral

The icon of ‘Christ Crucified, Risen and Lord of All’ hanging above the nave altar in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

While I was in Lichfield Cathedral last week [23 November 2018], I took time to look at the wonderful new icon of ‘Christ Crucified, Risen and Lord of All.’

The icon hangs at the east end of the nave, suspended from the roof above the nave altar, and was dedicated by Bishop Michael Ipgrave of Lichfield two months ago on the Feast of the Holy Cross [14 September 2018].

In his pastoral letter last month [October 2018], Bishop Ipgrave writes, ‘I was particularly interested to learn about the arrangements for securing it in the ceiling, as I was the first person to stand under it as I presided at the Eucharist; I need have had no fears!’

Palestinian icon writers and students from Bethlehem worked on this icon, which completes a triptych of icons in the cathedral. This third icon was planned as the cathedral’s lasting memorial to the centenary of the end of World War I and an invitation for all to appreciate the path through sin, violence and destructiveness that Christ has taken to redeem our evil and win us the everlasting peace and life of God’s Kingdom.

The icon measures 3 metres x 2.55 metres and takes its inspiration from the shape of the Saint Chad Cross. The only adaptation is the lengthening and broadening of the central panels.

The cross depicts the dying and rising of Christ, the paschal mystery, with two faces. On the west-facing panel, we see Christ nailed to a cross. The cross is blossoming, symbolising the new beginning Christ’s death wins for the world. From his side, water and blood flow, streams of new life. We think of the water of re-birth in baptism and the blood of his body brought to us by the wine of the Eucharist.

The east-facing panel depicts the Risen Christ, his face serene, one hand raised in blessing, the other holding the Gospels, the good news he sends out into the world through the Holy Spirit.

Work on the icon began in July. A special studio compound was set up in the south transept of the cathedral. Ian Knowles, Principal of the Bethlehem Icon School, brought with him a group of students from Palestine and two of the school’s tutors.

The careful painting, gilding and lettering took 10 weeks to complete and the icon was consecrated on 14 September, the feast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber, has said: ‘I want this new icon to be a message, a message of hope and creativity, a message that says here at Lichfield Cathedral you can explore deep things in life, you are welcome, irrespective of your background or beliefs.’

The Dean first fell in love with the sacred art or icon writing during a sabbatical in the Holy Land in 2012. There he was struck by the sight of nuns regularly saying Friday prayers in front of the icon called Our Lady Who Brings Down Walls painted on the Israeli-built wall that divides Jerusalem from Bethlehem. His questions led him to the Bethlehem Icon School and it quickly became been a passion of his to bring the school to Lichfield to create something new for the city and beyond.

Dean Adrian has explained: ‘I want this new icon to be a message: a message of hope and creativity: a message that says here at Lichfield Cathedral, you can explore deep things in life, and you are always welcome, irrespective of your background or beliefs.’

The icon of Archangel Gabriel is based on the Lichfield Angel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Two years ago [2016], students from the Bethlehem Icon School came to Lichfield to complete the Lichfield Annunciation, two icons of the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. The three Palestinians – Nicola Juha, Noura Sleibi and Loris Matar – worked with the director of the school, Ian Knowles, to produce a pair of icons 270 cm x 72 cm depicting the scene of the Annunciation.

The icon of Archangel Gabriel is based on the Lichfield Angel, a limestone carving discovered during excavation work under the Cathedral floor in 2003.

In the paired icon, the Virgin Mary is seated on an elevated throne weaving a cloth that would become the veil of the Holy of the Holies in the Temple. A red curtain stands behind her in the doorway of her house, evoking the veil of the Temple. In this icon, the curtain is drawn back to indicate that the Lord is entering in, making the womb of the Virgin Mary his dwelling place, making her the Mother of God.

The icon includes patterns that are indigenous to Palestinian culture. The colourful rug on which the feet of Virgin Mary rest is decorated with Palestinian motifs that are particular to the Bethlehem area.

After seven intensive weeks of preparing the boards and writing the icons, they were installed in Lichfield Cathedral, with the Dean presiding at the Eucharist and giving his blessing.

The Virgin Mary is depicted seated on an elevated throne weaving a cloth that would become the veil of the Holy of the Holies in the Temple (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The location of these icons in the cathedral nave has been chosen to enhance the dignity of the altar, to be visible to worshippers during celebrations of the Eucharist and other services, and to be clearly visible to visitors.

For the Lichfield Annunciation, two boards were made of tulip wood – 230 cm x 72 cm, and 36 mm thick – with European oak braces. On these, a layer of cotton cloth was attached using animal skin glue, to which was then applied multiple thin layers of a gesso solution made of chalk dust and animal skin glue. This was sanded and then polished, before the design was transferred from sketches made in the studio in Bethlehem.

After Armenian bole, a very smooth clay, had been applied to where the image was to be gilded, 23.5 carat gold leaf was applied using a technique called ‘water gilding’. This required working from 9 am until past midnight, for the finest results to be achieved. This was burnished in various ways to give a variety of textures and finishes, all of which reflect light.

Gold is used in the icons not to suggest wealth but because it has unique qualities that show a radiant darkness, as though the light is captured and then thrown out again. In an icon this symbolises the presence of God, who is both known – the brightness of reflected light, and unknown – the darkness that gold holds in dark browns and greens. The halos were then embossed, the angel’s with rays and the Virgin’s with delicate, radiant patterns. These were created using a rounded stylus and moulded stamps, with sharp taps made by a hammer, that play with the light to create an added beauty. All this follows the techniques of late mediaeval icon writers.

The students themselves made the paint. They used egg tempera, the yolk of free-range eggs extracted, diluted slightly with water and a little vodka added as a preservative and to help make mixing with the mineral pigments easier. They used a limited palette of colours, all made from natural sources. Natural pigments are more mellow than synthetic ones, and the location of the icons in a vast edifice of rich coloured sandstone and stained glass would have clashed with more garish synthetic hues.

To create a visual harmony and balance, while enabling the colours to ‘sing,’ they kept the palette simple and took particular note of the colours found in the stained-glass windows – in particular the rich yellows from the windows in the Lady Chapel and the greens from the windows in the Nave that nicely complement the red sandstone of the nave walls.

The Bethlehem Icon School was founded in 2010, with a mission to create an environment where Palestinian Christians could meet and reconnect with their centuries-old Christian art. In a city where high unemployment and restricted movement to neighbouring holy sites had become the norm, BIC is working to instil collaborative work ethics, renew spirituality and produce skilled iconographers.

The model for the new Crucifixion Icon, seen on the Nave Altar earlier this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Chapel of Saint John’s
Hospital, a place of prayer
and pilgrimage in Lichfield

The Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital facing onto Saint John Street in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Each time I return to Lichfield, I spend some time in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital. These are times for prayer, times of pilgrimage and times for giving thanks.

Saint John’s has remained my spiritual home since my experiences there one summer afternoon in 1971. Going on from there to Choral Evensong in Lichfield Cathedral was a combined experience that marks the beginning of my adult faith and a pilgrimage that would lead eventually to my ordination and priesthood.

I first arrived in Lichfield in my teens, and I began my career in journalism as a freelance contributor to the local newspaper, the Lichfield Mercury. I continue to be grateful for the encouragement and opportunities provided by the Lichfield Mercury and its then editor, Neil Beddows, in the early 1970s.

I came to Lichfield following in the footsteps of my great-grandfather, James Comerford (1817-1902), about 70 years earlier. Like him, I was seeking the story of origins of the Comberford family, which was intimately linked with Lichfield for many generations, spanning centuries of the history of the family.

Canon Roger Williams when he was the Master of Saint John’s, invited me to preach at the mid-week Eucharist in the chapel on 12 August 2009, the day Jeremy Taylor is remembered in the calendar of the Church of England.

In January 2015, Dave Moore, a local historian who makes films on local people and their memories of local history, filmed five interviews with me in this chapel, asking me about faith and ministrt, my family connections with Lichfield, my move from journalism to the ordained priesthood, my grandfather’s part in World War I, and my views on war and nationalism.

Later that year, on the feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist [24 June 2015], I was invited by the 49th Master, Canon Andrew Gorham, to preach at the Festal Eucharist in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital.

Inside the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

On Friday last [23 November 2018], I attended Morning Prayer in Lichfield Cathedral before breakfast, and then, before leaving Lichfield for a meeting of USPG volunteers in Saint Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham, I spent a little time in prayer in the Chapel of Saint John’s.

The story of the Hospital of Saint John Baptist Without the Barrs of the City of Lichfield – its formal title – is the story of the important place Lichfield had as a centre of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.

Saint Chad is credited with converting the Kingdom of Mercia in the English Midlands to Christianity. After he died in 672, people claimed miracles at his tomb in Lichfield. He was declared a saint in 700, and when his body was moved to the new cathedral in Lichfield, his shrine became a popular place of pilgrimage.

The mediaeval cathedral stood inside a fortified close, protected by a defensive ditch, rampart and expanse of water. The city was enclosed and the four gates or ‘barrs’ were closed at night and did not open again until the morning.

Entering Saint John’s Hospital from Saint John Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Pilgrims who arrived late in the day found their entry was barred, and they were left outside for the night without shelter. To meet their needs, Roger de Clinton, Bishop of Lichfield (1129-1148), built an Augustinian priory just outside the Culstrubbe Gate, where the road from London arrived at the south side of Lichfield.

The priory was completed in 1135 and the house became known as the Hospital of Saint John Baptist without the Barrs. The Augustinian canons or friars were expected to provide food and shelter for travellers arriving late at night.

The hospital chapel, as well as serving the hospital community, was a place of public worship from at least the earlier 13th century. Elaborate precautions, however, were taken to protect the rights of Saint Michael’s Church, in whose parish the hospital stood. By an agreement made in Bishop Stavensby’s time (1224-1238) with the Prebendary of Freeford, the prior and brethren of the hospital and their chaplains promised to maintain the rights of the prebend, to which Saint Michael's was appropriated. In return for these promises, the Prebendary of Freeford allowed the establishment of a chantry in the hospital chapel.

November colours in the grounds of Saint John’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In the 13th century, the Augustinian community at Saint John’s consisted of a prior, brothers and sisters, with a chapel and community buildings. Travellers and pilgrims ate and slept in a long mediaeval hall, with an undercroft below.

For 300 years or more, Saint John’s provided hospitality for travellers and pilgrims, while local people used the chapel as a place of worship. These neighbours were served by a chaplain, and in turn they endowed the hospital and built a chantry chapel. These benefactors included William de Juvenis, still remembered each year with a red rose on the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John Baptist (24 June).

By the mid-15th century, the ditch and ramparts around Lichfield had fallen into disuse and the gates remained open at night for late arriving pilgrims. Times were changing, and when William Smyth became Bishop of Lichfield in 1492, he put Saint John’s to new uses, re-founding the priory in 1495 as a hospital for aged men and as a free grammar school.

New statutes provided for a Master who was a priest appointed by the Bishop of Lichfield. The hospital was to house ‘13 honest poor men upon whom the inconveniences of old age and poverty, without any fault of their own, had fallen.’ They were to receive seven pence a week, they were to be honest and devout, and they were to attend prayers every day.

The mediaeval hall was enlarged to provide a house for the Master of Saint John’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The canons’ and pilgrims’ hall was enlarged to provide a house for the master and a new wing was added to the old building. This new ‘almshouse,’ with its row of eight chimneys, provided each almsman or resident with his own room and fireplace.

When the dissolution of the monasteries began 40 years later in 1536, the changes made by Bishop William Smyth a generation earlier ensured the survival of Saint John’s as a hospital or almshouse and as a school.

The grammar school was separated from the hospital in 1692, but the school continued to use the chapel, and the schoolboys included local worthies such as Joseph Addison, Elias Ashmole, Samuel Johnson and David Garrick. Edward Maynard rebuilt the Master’s Hall once again in 1720 to keep up with modern Georgian architectural tastes, and the stone tablet above the doorway dates from this period.

The noticeboard at Saint John’s, at the east end of the chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

By the early 19th century, Saint John’s must have had the character and the problems described by Anthony Trollope in his novels, including The Warden and Barchester Towers. A north aisle was added to the chapel in 1829, and a new three-bay arcade was built.

In another major restoration in 1870-1871, the Master of Saint John’s, Philip Hayman Dod (1810-1883), repaired and renovated the chapel, raising the walls of the nave, building a new roof, and adding buttresses outside and a stone bell-cote and bell.

The door into the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Rev Denham Rowe Norman was the last master to govern the hospital and administer its estates under the statutes of 1495. When he tendered his resignation to the Bishop of Lichfield in 1925, he had been in orders for 70 years and was one of the oldest clergymen in England.

The almsmen’s rooms at Saint John’s were rearranged in 1929 to overlook the court or quadrangle, giving them more light and modern heating and sanitation. The Master’s House was renovated in 1958, new flats were added in the mid-1960s, and the inner quadrangle was completed with a new building. In the 1960s too, for the first time, married couples were allowed to take residence in the hospital.

When Lichfield Theological College in the Cathedral Close closed in 1976, new accommodation was provided in what became the Hospital of Saint John’s within the Close.

The Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, and the Tudor East Façade of Saint John’s Hospital facing onto Saint John Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Chapel has a single-vessel nave and sanctuary, with a north aisle that was added in 1829. At the east end there is a coped gable with kneelers and offset angle buttresses to the right. There is a segmental-pointed window of five double-cusped lights, a small window with a pointed arch above, and an enriched 19th century rainwater head to the left. The blind return has a cornice.

The exterior of the north aisle has a coped west gable with kneelers, a gabled bell cote, and angle buttresses. The three-light west window has intersecting tracery. The north return has similar windows flanking the buttress and stack.

The south elevation of Saint John’s Chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The south elevation of the chapel has offset buttresses, and a double-chamfered pointed entrance to left end; a two-light plate tracery window, a lancet, a three-light window and a two-light square-headed window, both with Perpendicular tracery, and a traceried lancet at the right end.

The High Altar, Sanctuary and East Window in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Inside, the chapel roof has cusped arch braces to the collars and queen struts. The sanctuary has a blocked thee-light square-headed window on the northside.

The main body of the chapel seen from the north aisle and through the three-bay arcade (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The three-bay arcade at the north aisle has octagonal piers and head stops to the hoods. The north aisle has a kingpost roof.

The sanctuary has bolection-moulded fielded panelling, a fluted frieze and cornice, a large central panel with a frieze with grapes and wheat, a piscina on the south with an arch over the restored bowl, a gabled tabernacle and encaustic tiles.

Looking towards the west end of the chapel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The west end has a vestibule with re-used panelling, and there are monuments to members of the Simpson family at the west end.

Charles Eamer Kempe’s window depicting Saint John the Baptist and Saint George (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Entering the chapel at the west end, there are two facing windows of similar style by the Victorian stained-glass designer and manufacturer Charles Eamer Kempe (1837-1907). Kempe was best known in the late Victorian period for his stained-glass windows, some of which can also be seen in Lichfield Cathedral. The Cambridge Church Historian Owen Chadwick, who died in 2015, once said Kempe’s work represents ‘the Victorian zenith’ of church decoration and stained glass windows.

One Kempe window, portraying Saint John the Baptist and Saint George the Martyr is memory of Captain Peter Charles Gillies Webster (1836-1877), Adjutant of the Staffordshire Yeomanry.

Saint Philip the Apostle, representing Philip Hayman Dod, and Bishop William Smyth in a window that may be the work of CE Kempe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The facing window, portraying Saint Philip the Apostle and Bishop William Smyth, commemorates Philip Wayman Dod (1810-1883), who was the Master of Saint John’s (1842-1883) and undertook the repair and arrangement of the chapel in 1871.

Above Saint Philip is the coat-of-arms of the Bishops of Lichfield; above Bishop Smyth is his coat-of-arms as Bishop of Lichfield. Around Saint Philip’s head, a scroll reads: ‘We have found Jesus of Nazareth’ (see John 1: 45).

Bishop Smyth is holding a crozier with his left hand and in his right hand he holds an illustration of the chapel. Above him, the words on a scroll read: ‘Except the Lord build the house’ (Psalm 127: 1).

The window depicting Christ with the children commemorates Catherine Browne of The Friary, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A two-light window, ‘Suffer the Little Children’ is in memory of Catherine Browne (1813-1880) of The Friary, Lichfield, a local doctor’s wife. The Biblical text in the lower window reads: ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of God’ (see Matthew 19: 14; Luke 18: 16; Mark 10; 14).

The dedication reads: ‘To the glory of God and in memory of Catherine, the wife of William Browne MD of the Friary, born 12th July 1813, died 6th December 1880.’

The large window depicting Christ the Healer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The large window on the south wall is the earliest stained-glass in the chapel and dates from ca 1855. It depicts Christ healing the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5: 1-16).

This window has no dedication, but the choice of this image from Saint John’s Gospel alludes to Saint John’s title as a ‘hospital.’

John Piper’s striking East Window in Saint John’s, ‘Christ in Majesty’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John Piper’s magnificent stained-glass window depicting ‘Christ in Majesty’, executed by Patrick Reyntiens, was placed in the east window of the chapel in 1984.

This is a work of great solemnity and power in strong colours, and is John Piper’s last major undertaking. It shows Christ in Majesty, with the Mercian cross offset, and surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists: Saint Matthew (man), Saint Mark (winged lion), Saint Luke (bull) and Saint John (eagle).

The design was influenced by Piper’s drawings of Romanesque sculptures in the Dordogne and Saintonge areas in western France in 1955-1975.

The shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the style of the Italian ceramicist Lucca della Robbia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In the north aisle, the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary is in the style of the Italian ceramicist Lucca della Robbia.

Station 14 of the 14 Stations of the Cross along the north wall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

There are 14 Stations of the Cross along the north wall.

The Triptych (1999) of the Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist on the east wall of the north aisle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A Triptych of wooden plaques (1999) depicting the Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist is on the east wall of the north aisle. This is the work of a nun.

The octagonal Baptism font is also placed in the north aisle.

The organ (1972) is by Hill, Norman and Beard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

At the west end of the north aisle, the organ (1972) is by Hill, Norman and Beard. Beside the organ is a framed list of the Priors, Master or Wardens of Saint John’s from 1257.

‘Come Holy Spirit’ … The holy water stoup in the vestibule (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Since the Tractarian Revival, the Chapel of Saint John’s has stood in the Catholic tradition of the Church of England. The chapel continues to provide daily and weekly services, and regularly draws a congregation of residents and visitors, offering a daily and weekly round of services from Common Worship, under the direction of the Master, the Revd Helen Maria Barton.

There is a Said Eucharist every Sunday (8.30) and Wednesday (9.15), the Eucharist with hymns on Sundays at 10 a.m., a Solemn Eucharist on the First Sunday of the Month (10 a.m.), Founders’ Prayers at 9 a.m. from Monday to Friday, as well as baptisms, weddings, and funerals.

The Tudor East Façade of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, on the corner of Saint John Street and Birmingham Road … its eight chimney stacks are a landmark in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on image for full-screen view)

At the beginning of this century, the original 1495 east wing of Saint John’s was renovated, enlarged and updated. The hospital façade of this east wing faces Saint John Street has eight large projecting stacks with offsets, and an offset buttress to right end.

The entrance, between the sixth and seventh stacks has a Tudor head in an architrave, with a label mould battened door with strap hinges. The oval plaque above, erected in 1720, records the re-founding of the hospital in 1495, and a cartouche above bears the heraldic arms of Bishop William Smyth.

The plaque from 1720 records the re-founding of the hospital in 1495, and a cartouche above bears the heraldic arms of Bishop Smyth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Most of the windows on this façade are small, with brick sills, chamfered jambs and ashlar lintels, and leaded glazing. There is a larger window to the left of the cartouche, the windows to the right of entrance are larger, where the window on the ground floor has a brick label, while that on the first floor has a two-light casement with small-paned glazing.

The right end has two small windows on the ground floor and a later gabled oriel above, with a 1:3:1-light single-chamfered-mullioned window. The right return next to the chapel has a blocked elliptical-headed window and leaded light. The left end has 1929 additions forming a canted angle and wing to the rear, additions from 1966 of a single-storey return wing and a two-storey rear wing.

Words of wisdom from William Penn at the entrance to Saint John’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The rear elevation has a four-centred entrance to a cross-passage with a brick arch and niche above with a 19th century statue of Saint John the Baptist. There are two-light, three-light and single-light windows to the left; to the right are six two-storey canted bays of 1929 with 1:2:1-light windows.

In recent years, 18 new apartments have been built at Saint John’s without the Barrs. The project was delayed when 50 mediaeval skeletal remains – adults and children alike – were found in shallow graves. Their remains may help archaeologists learn more about the lives, times and habits of mediaeval pilgrims.

‘Noah and the Dove,’ a sculpture by Simon Manby, was commissioned in 2006 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A sculpture of ‘Noah and the Dove’ by Simon Manby was commissioned by the trustees in 2006 and stands in the quadrangle. Manby created this statue in his studio in the Weaver Hills in north Staffordshire. It shows the dove returning to Noah with a fresh olive branch at the end of the flood.

With its distinctive row of eight Tudor chimneys fronting Saint John Street, Saint John’s Hospital remains a living landmark in Lichfield, and the grounds remain an oasis of peace and calm in the heart of the cathedral city.

The grounds of Saint John’s remain an oasis of peace and calm in the heart of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)