Saturday, 16 February 2019

A note in ‘The Irish Times’ today
on Killaloe Cathedral tomorrow

Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The ‘Church of Ireland notes’ on p 22 in The Irish Times today [16 February 2019] includes the following news report:

As part of a programme of exchanges between deans and canons in Limerick and Killaloe, Canon Patrick Comerford will be in St Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, tomorrow (Sunday) and the Dean of Killaloe, the Very Revd Gary Paulsen, will visit the Rathkeale group of parishes. Last year, St Mary’s Cathedral celebrated its 850th anniversary and during the year a Community Awards Scheme was launched. This scheme was created to highlight the “unsung heroes” of Limerick. A special service will be held tomorrow (Sunday) evening at 7 pm to present the winners of the Community Award – the recipients are Sr Delia O’Connor, Mr Paul Carey, Mr Philip Doran, Mr Tom Naughton, Ms Maura O’Neill, and the Bedford Row Project.

Reuter’s statue in London
is a reminder of the need
for journalistic freedoms

The statue of Paul Julius Reuter (1816-1899) at the Royal Exchange in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Tucked away in a small corner in the City of London, close to the statue of George Peabody at Royal Exchange, a fine granite sculpture by the Oxford-based sculptor Michael Black commemorates Paul Julius Reuter, the 19th century pioneer in communications and news delivery.

I stopped to visit this monument earlier this week as I was walking back to Liverpool Street Station from a meeting of trustees of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Paul Julius Baron von Reuter (1816-1899) was a German-born, British entrepreneur who was a pioneer in telegraphy and news reporting, a reporter and media owner, and the founder of Reuters News Agency.

Reuter was born as Israel Beer Josaphat in Kassel on 21 July 1816. His father, Samuel Levi Josaphat, was a rabbi; his mother was Betty Sanders. While he was working in a bank as a young man in Göttingen, he became friends with a local physicist Carl Friedrich Gauss, who was experimenting with the transmission of electrical signals by wire.

Reuter moved to London on 29 October 1845, calling himself Julius Josaphat. In a ceremony in Saint George’s German Lutheran Chapel in London, he converted to Christianity on 16 November 1845, and changed his name to Paul Julius Reuter. A week later, in the same chapel, he married Ida Maria Elizabeth Clementine Magnus from Berlin, the daughter of a German banker.

Back in Germany in 1847, the former bank clerk became a partner in Reuter and Stargardt, a Berlin book-publishing firm. Reuter later became involved in the Revolutions of 1848, challenging the authority of the German Confederation with protests demanding freedom of the press and a national assembly. The distribution of radical pamphlets by the firm at the beginning of the 1848 Revolution may have brought official scrutiny to Reuter.

When the movement was suppressed later that year, Reuter left for Paris and worked in Charles-Louis Havas’s news agency, Agence Havas, now known as Agence France Presse.

In Aachen, Reuter set up an organisation that used carrier pigeons to send messages between Brussels and Aachen. This was before telegram became available, and Reuter had found the missing link to connect Berlin and Paris. The carrier pigeons were much faster than the post train, giving Reuter faster access to news from the Paris stock exchange.

As telegraphy evolved, Reuter founded his own news agency in Aachen, transferring messages between Brussels and Aachen using carrier pigeons and so linking Berlin and Paris. The pigeons were speedier than the post train and gave Reuter faster access to financial news from the Paris stock exchange. Eventually, pigeons were replaced by a direct telegraph link.

A telegraph line was between Britain and Europe was being set up, and so Reuter moved to London, rented an office near the Stock Exchange, and founded the international news organisation that bears his name in No 1 Royal Exchange in the City of London on 19 October 1851.

The Reuters News Agency, which he founded, originally used carrier pigeons to send dispatches. But later, combining journalism with the telegraph, it became a ‘news-wire service,’ using the telegraph to send news stories to subscribing newspapers. Over the following decades, his agency became the leading source for breaking news across Europe, with wire connections to Asia and North and South America.

On Saint Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1857, Reuter became a naturalised British subject. But the Irish connection is more interesting than this. In 1863, he privately erected a telegraph link to Crookhaven, Co Cork, the farthest south-west point in Ireland. When ships from America approached Crookhaven, they threw canisters containing news into the sea. These were retrieved by Reuters and telegraphed directly to London, arriving long before the ships reached Cork.

On 7 September 1871, Ernest II, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and elder brother of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, gave Reuter the German title of freiherr (baron). Two decades later, in November 1891, Queen Victoria gave Reuter and his male heirs the right to use that German title in Britain as Baron von Reuter.

Reuter died on 25 February 1899 at Villa Reuter in Nice. He was buried in West Norwood Cemetery in south London.

This bust of Paul Julius Reuter near the Royal Exchange in London is next to the Royal Exchange where he founded his Reuters news service. This granite monument set there by Reuters to mark the 125th anniversary of the Reuters Foundation and was unveiled by Edmund L de Rothschild on 18 October 1976.

The words on the front of the sculpture read:

Paul Julius Reuter

Born 1816 Kassel, Germany. Died 1899 Nice, France. Founded the world news organisation that bears his name in No. 1 Royal Exchange Buildings in the City of London, near this site, on 14 October 1851.

On the back of the sculpture, the words read:

The supply of information to the world’s traders in securities, commodities and currencies was then and is now the mainspring of Reuters activities & the guarantee of the founder’s aims of accuracy, rapidity and reliability. News services based on those principles now go to newspapers, radio & television networks & governments throughout the world. Reuters has faithfully continued the work begun here. To attest this & to honour Paul Julius Reuter this memorial was set here by Reuters to mark the 125th anniversary of Reuters Foundation & inaugurated by Edmund L de Rothschild, TD, 18.10.76.

The Reuters News Agency Reuters News Agency has been part of the Thomson Reuters conglomerate since 2008.

At a time when journalistic freedoms are under assault from President Trump and other world leaders, and when ‘Brexit’ is coming to typify isolationism and nationalism, Reuter’s statue was a good reminder this week of one of the key founding figures in modern journalism.

Reuter should be remembered not only for his innovations but as voice that spoke out for civil liberties, human rights and religious freedom, and who understand the need for different voices to speak to one another internationally.

Saint Stephen Walbrook,
a Wren church in the heart
of the City of London

Saint Stephen Walbrook is the heart of the City of London and is listed by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as one of the 10 most important buildings in England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During the past few years, I have tried to visit Saint Stephen Walbrook, beside the Mansion House in London. The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner lists it as one of the 10 most important buildings in England.

This is the parish church of the Lord Mayor of London, but it is best-known for its dome by Sir Christopher Wren, the once-controversial altar by the sculptor Henry Moore, and its associations with the founder of the Samaritans, the late Canon Chad Varah.

Last year, when I was in London for a meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), I arrived at this domed church early in the morning before it opened, and late in the afternoon, but on both occasions, it was closed. So it remained high on my ‘must visit’ list until I managed to visit one afternoon this week.

Saint Stephen Walbrook stands on the site of a seventh century Saxon church that was probably built on the foundations of a second or third century temple of Mithras. In this temple, Roman soldiers sought valour and virility in shower-baths of hot blood from slaughtered bulls. But after the recall of the legions to Rome in 410 the building became a quarry.

Saint Stephen Walbrook stands on the site of a seventh century Saxon church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The original Church of Saint Stephen stood on the west side of the Walbrook, a brook or stream running south across the City of London from the City Wall near Moorfields to the Thames. This brook was later concealed in a culvert.

Saint Stephen’s Church is first mentioned around 1096. In 1100, during the reign of Henry I, it was given by one of the king’s courtiers, Eudo, to the monastery of Saint John at Colchester.

The church moved to its present site, on the east side of the Walbrook, in the 15th century. In 1428, Robert Chichely, acting as executor of will of the former Lord Mayor of London, Sir William Stondon, bought a piece of land on the east side of the Walbrook from the Grocers’ Company to build a new, larger church, and presented it to the parish. Several foundation stones were laid on 11 May 1429, and the church was consecrated on 30 April 1439.

This church was 38 metres long long and 20 metres wide, and was considerably larger than the present building. That church also had a memorial to the composer John Dunstaple.

At the east end of the church was Bearbidder Lane, the source of the Great Plague of 1665.

The dome inside Saint Stephen Walbrook, designed by Sir Christopher Wren (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The nearby Church of Saint Benet Sherehog was destroyed in the same fire but was not rebuilt, and instead its parish was united with the parish of Saint Stephen.

The present church was built in 1672-1679 to a design by Sir Christopher Wren, at a cost of £7,692, becoming one of his largest parish churches in London.

The church is rectangular in plan, with a dome and an attached north-west tower. Entry to the church is up a flight of 16 steps, enclosed in a porch attached to the west front.

Wren also designed a porch for the north side of the church. This was never built, and the north door was bricked up in 1685 because it let in offensive smells from the slaughterhouses in the neighbouring Stocks Market. The walls, tower, and internal columns are made of stone, but the dome is of timber and plaster with an external covering of copper.

The 19 metre high dome is based on Wren’s original design for Saint Paul’s Cathedral. It is centred over a square of 12 Corinthian columns. The circular base of the dome is not carried, in the conventional way, by pendentives formed above the arches of the square, but on a circle formed by eight arches that spring from eight of the 12 columns, cutting across each corner in the manner of the Byzantine squinch. This all creates what many believe to be Wren’s finest church interior.

The contemporary carved furnishings of the church, including the altarpiece and Royal Arms, the pulpit and font cover, are attributed to the carpenters Thomas Creecher and Stephen Colledge, and the carvers William Newman and Jonathan Maine.

The 17th century altarpiece is attributed to the carpenters Thomas Creecher and Stephen Colledge, and the carvers William Newman and Jonathan Maine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The spire was added to the square tower in 1713-1715 as were the square urns on the tower balustrade, and may have been designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The design is similar to those of Saint James Garlickhithe and Saint Michael Paternoster. The architect Sir John Vanbrugh was buried in the north aisle of the church. George England provided a new organ in 1760.

The central window in the east wall was bricked up in 1776 to allow for the installation of Benjamin West’s painting, Devout Men Taking Away the Body of Saint Stephen, which was commissioned for the church by the rector, the Revd Thomas Wilson.

Wilson also set up a statue of the radical Whig republican historian, Catharine Macaulay (1731-1791), in the church the following year. Macaulay was still alive and Wilson admired her political ideals, but the statue was removed after protests.

The east window was unblocked and West’s painting was moved to the north wall in 1850 during extensive restorations.

The church suffered some bomb damage during the London Blitz in 1941. It was restored after World War II, was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950, and was rededicated in 1954. The united parishes of Saint Mary Bothaw and Saint Swithin London Stone, which were merged in 1670, were united with Saint Stephen’s in 1954.

The church was closed for structural repairs from 1978 to 1987. Chad Varah’s son, Andrew, built chairs to replace the pews as part of this programme of repairs and reordering.

Henry Moore’s altar in Saint Stephen Walbrook (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

But the greatest great controversy followed the installation of a large circular altar in travertine marble by Henry Moore (1898-1986), commissioned by Varah and his churchwarden, the property developer and art collector Peter Palumbo, later Lord Palumbo and chair of the Arts Council.

This massive white polished stone altar was carved in 1972 and was installed in the centre of the church. Its unusual positioning required the authorisation of a rare judgement of the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved, which granted a retrospective faculty for its installation.

By carving a round altar table with forms cut into the circular sides, Henry Moore suggested that the centre of the church reflected the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, commemorating the sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac as a prefiguring of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and the place for the offering of the Eucharist at the heart of worship. This place was designed for people to gather as a community around the altar where God could be found at the centre.

A circle of brightly coloured kneelers designed by Patrick Heron (1920-1999), was one of Britain’s foremost abstract painters, was added around the altar in 1993.

West’s Devout Men Taking Away the Body of Saint Stephen, which once hung on the north wall, was put into storage following the reordering. This decision was controversial, as the initial removal of the painting was illegal.

In 2013, the church was given permission to sell the painting to a foundation, despite opposition from the London Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, and by the Church of England’s Church Buildings Council. The foundation has since loaned it to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which has undertaken restoration work on the painting.

Saint Stephen Walbrook seen from the garden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The pleasant tree-lined and largely paved raised churchyard is tucked behind Saint Stephen’s, bounded by wall topped with iron railings, with access from Saint Stephen’s Row through ornamental gate flanked by fine stone piers with steps up to churchyard garden. Today the churchyard has seats and modern sculptures.

At one time, a prayer written by the nonjuror, Bishop Thomas Ken (1637-1711), was inscribed on the door of the church:

‘O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship, narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife.

‘Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling-block to children, nor to straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power.

‘God make the door of this house the gateway to thine eternal kingdom.’

The list of rectors includes Henry Pendleton, the ‘Vicar of Bray,’ several divines, one of whom was later sent to the Tower of London, and the Revd Robert Stuart de Courcy Laffan (1853-1927), whose family was born from Dun Laoghaire and who helped Baron Courbetin to revive the Olympic Games.

The Irish poet, novelist, historian and Anglican priest, George Croly, was rector of Saint Stephen Walbrook from 1835 until he died in 1860. His hymns included ‘Spirit of God, descend upon my heart,’ written in 1854:

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart,
wean it from earth, through all its pulses move;
stoop to my weakness, mighty as thou art,
and make me love thee as I ought to love.


Charlotte and Anne BrontĂ« visited Saint Stephen’s Walbrook, on their first visit to London, hoping to hear Croly preach, as he was by then a famous author and cleric. Unfortunately, he was absent that Sunday. Croly was buried at Saint Stephen Walbrook, where there are and memorials to him, his wife, daughter and eldest son.

The pulpit and other furnishings are attributed to the carpenters Thomas Creecher and Stephen Colledge, and the carvers William Newman and Jonathan Maine (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

But, undoubtedly, the best-known rector of Saint Stephen’s must be Canon Chad Varah (1911-2007), who founded the Samaritans, the world’s first crisis hotline telephone support for people contemplating suicide, in 1953. The first branch of the Samaritans met in the crypt beneath the church. A telephone in a glass box in the church was the first telephone used by the Samaritans.

Canon Edward Chad Varah was born in Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire, on 12 November 1911, the eldest of nine children of Canon William Edward Varah, Vicar of Saint Peter’s. Edward Varah was a strong Tractarian and named his son after Saint Chad of Lichfield. According to the early historian of England, the Venerable Bede, Saint Chad had founded the 7th century monastery ad Bearum, ‘at Barrow,’ that may have stood in an Anglo-Saxon enclosure beside Barton Vicarage.

Chad Varah studied Natural Sciences and then Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Keble College, Oxford, and graduated in 1933. He then moved to Lincoln Theological College, where his lecturers included Michael Ramsey, later Archbishop of Canterbury.

He was ordained deacon in 1935 and priest in 1936. He was a curate at Saint Giles, Lincoln (1935-1938), Saint Mary’s, Putney (1938-1940), and Barrow-in-Furness (1940-1942). He was then Vicar of Holy Trinity, Blackburn (1942) and Saint Paul, Battersea (1949).

The Grocers’ Company offered him the living of Saint Stephen Walbrook in 1953, and he became rector of the Wren church.

Chad Varah supported the ordination of women, but preferred the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. Despite the absence of a permanent congregation, his church remained popular for weddings, and he officiated at the marriage of Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, only daughter of Princess Margaret, to the actor Daniel Chatto in 1994.

He became an Honorary Prebendary (canon) of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in 1975, becoming Senior Prebendary in 1997. He retired in 2003, aged 92, by which time he was the oldest incumbent in the Church of England.

Entry to the church is up a flight of 16 steps, enclosed in a porch attached to the west front (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Varah began to understand the problems facing the suicidal when he was taking a funeral as an assistant curate in 1935, his first church service, for a 14-year-old girl who had taken her own life because she had begun to menstruate and feared that she had a sexually transmitted disease.

Chad Varah also influenced my childhood reading habits because he was also closely associated with founding the comic The Eagle with another Anglican priest, the Revd Marcus Morris, in 1950. He supplemented his income by working as a scriptwriter for The Eagle and its sister publications Girl, Robin and Swift until 1961.

He used his scientific education to be ‘Scientific and Astronautical Consultant,’ as he put it, to Dan Dare. He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1961 with by Eamonn Andrews.

Canon Varah was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Gold Medal in 1972, and became an Honorary Fellow of Keble College in 1981. He held several honorary doctorates, was made OBE in 1969, CBE in 1995, and a Companion of Honour (CH) in 2000, and he also received the Romanian Patriarchal Cross.

When Chad Varah retired at the age of 92 in 2003, he was the oldest serving incumbent in the Church of England. His wife Susan (Whanslaw) was World President of the Mothers’ Union in the 1970s. Chad Varah died on 8 November 2007, four days before his 96th birthday.

Until recently, the rector of Saint Stephen Walbrook was the Revd Jonathan Evens. The Revd Stephen Baxter became the Parish Priest of Saint Stephen Walbrook in March 2018. He was ordained in 2014 and spent 3½ years as curate and then associate vicar of Saint Olave Hart Street and Saint Katharine Cree in the City of London.

Saint Stephen Walbrook is rectangular in plan, with a dome and an attached north-west tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)