08 December 2018

A Romanian centenary and
a reminder of cultural riches

An icon corner from a Romanian home, recreated in the ‘Experience Romania,’ exhibition in Limerick this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

On my way back from Dublin yesterday [7 December 2018], I stopped in Limerick to visit ‘Experience Romania,’ an exhibition in the Hunt Museum celebrating the centenary of the ‘Great Union’ that marked the unification of Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina with Romania on 1 December 1918.

This exhibition, organised by Eiro, the Irish Romanian Cultural and Business Association, is a celebration of Romanian culture and tradition through taste, sound, touch, scent and the visual, with moments of Romanian traditional music.

I have joyful family links with Romania, and have travelled throughout the country, working in Bucharest, Brasov and other parts of the country, to celebrate family connections, but also reporting on the general election in 1996 for The Irish Times, working on church projects with the Orthodox Church in Bucharest and Brașov, and also preaching in the Anglican Church of the Resurrection in Bucharest.

Those visits brought me to many parts of Wallachia, Moldova and Transylvania, and always included visits to monasteries, museums, art galleries and historic sites, from the Museums in the centre of Bucharest to Bran Castle and Sinaia Monastery, the Monastery of Stavropoleos and Cretulescu Church in Bucharest, and Holy Trinity Church in Brașov, known as the Greek Church.

However, it is some years since I was back in Romania, and this exhibition brought back many happy memories, as well as reminding me of places I must return to visit, particularly the ‘Painted Monasteries of Bucovina.’

Voroneț Monastery, one of the ‘Painted Monasteries’ of Bucovina … a photograph in the exhibition (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Bukovina is on the slopes of the Carpathian mountains, and was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire from 1774 until 1918, when it was united with Romania. The northern half of Bukovina was seized by the Soviet Union and is now part of Ukraine.

Voroneț Monastery is one of the many famous ‘Painted Monasteries’ of southern Bucovina, in Suceava County. The monastery was built by Stephen the Great in 1488 over a period of three months and three weeks to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Vaslui. Often known as the ‘Sistine Chapel of the East,’ the frescoes at Voroneț feature an intense shade of blue known as ‘Voroneț Blue.’

One side room is set up to look like a traditional country house, with the corner settle bed, the icon corner, and kitchen ware. There are photographs, textiles, pottery, icons, traditional clothes and furniture, and a small selection of books.

Easter eggs with traditional Romanian dyes and colours (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

There are reminders too of the Romanian tradition of dying Easter eggs in different colours. This is done by boiling the egg in natural substances, such as onion peel for brown, oak, alder bark or walnut nutshell for black, beet juice for pink.

On Easter Day, young children, family members or friends would face each other, declaring ‘Christ is Risen,’ ‘He is Risen indeed,’ and hitting each other’s eggs. The person whose egg did not crack or break believed they had received a special blessing for the year that followed.

The centre of Brașov … a photograph in the exhibition in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Brașov was once known as Kronstadt, and in the brief interlude of post-war madness it was given the blood-chilling name of Stalingrad (Orasul Stalin). Today, it is the most visited city of Romania, with its charm and popularity leading one guidebook to describe it as ‘the Prague of Romania, the Krakow of Transylvania.’

With its cobbled streets, castellated towers and ornate churches and townhouses, it is no wonder the legend grew up that when the Pied Piper charmed the children away from Hamelin, they emerged from the Carpathian Mountains in the town square of Brașov in 1284.

Bran Castle, 28 km south of Brașov, has prospered by convincing tourists that Bran Castle is Dracula’s Castle.

A traditional Roman glass icon in the exhibition in the Hunt Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Other photographs in the exhibition include the Romanian Athenaeum, the national concert hall and a landmark building in the centre of Bucharest. The ornate, domed circular building opened in 1888 and is a symbol of Romanian culture.

There are reminders throughout of the rich cultural heritage of Romania, where Iași, the Moldavian capital and the country’s second city, is known as the cultural capital of Romania, and Timișoara, the country’s third city, has been selected as European of Culture for 2021.

The exhibition in Limerick closed this afternoon, but at a time when borders are going up again throughout Europe, exhibitions and cultural exchanges like this are important reminders of variety and diversity in our shared European cultural heritage.

A cosy corner in a Romanian home … recreated in this week’s exhibition in the Hunt Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Praying in Advent with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(8): 8 December 2018

The shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, is in the style of the Italian ceramicist Lucca della Robbia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Today, the Church Calendar remembers the Conception of the Virgin Mary [8 December] or, in the Roman Catholic tradition, the Immaculate Conception. Throughout the season of Advent this year, I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 being used in Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current USPG prayer diary (7 October 2018 to 16 February 2019), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

We are in the middle of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, and the USPG Prayer Diary begins this week with an extract from a speech given at this year’s USPG Conference, ‘All Things Are Possible,’ in High Leigh by Jessica Richards, co-ordinator for Campaigns and Advocacy in the Church of South India.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Saturday 8 December 2018:

Pray for understanding among men and women so that we might see each other as created by God and deserving of a full life.

The Virgin Mary in the Annunciation icons by the Bethlehem Icon School in the nave of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

Lichfield Cathedral’s Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 suggests you light your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray. It suggests setting aside five to 15 minutes each day.

Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar. Each week there is a suggestion to ‘eat simply’ – try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough. There is a suggestion to donate to a charity working with the homeless. There is encouragement to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

The calendar is for not only for those who use the Cathedral website and for the Cathedral community. It is also for anyone who wants to share in the daily devotional exercise. The calendar suggests lighting your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today, the Church Calendar in Common Worship celebrates the Conception of the Virgin Mary. Today’s suggested reading is Luke 1: 26-38.

The reflection for today suggests:

As you write Christmas cards and messages, think about Mary received good news from God. Give thanks for all who’ve brought good news into our lives.

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland):

Isaiah 30: 19-21, 23-26; Psalm 146: 4-9; Matthew 9: 35 to 10: 1, 6-8.


Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our deliverer,
Awaken our hearts
to prepare the way for the advent of your Son,
that, with minds purified by the grace of his coming,
we may serve you faithfully all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.