10 July 2019

The choices between the cost
of a statue, a ship, a court
case, an eye or a milkshake

Bishop John Jebb’s statue in the north transept, Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … how would you like to be memorialised for future generations? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I spent an hour or so in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, after lunch on Tuesday afternoon [9 July 2017], showing John and Sheila Comerford from Seattle, Washington, around the cathedral where I am the canon precentor.

We exchanged stories about the Comerford family and about Cambridge, and we shared a lot about the awful, frightening state of politics in the US today under the Trump administration.

They enjoyed hearing tales about Brian Boru’s palace and the tombs of the O’Briens of Thomond, the Anglo-Norman foundation and the chapter structures of Anglican cathedrals, and the mediaeval building and the misericords, the Reformation and Cromwellian Puritan iconoclasm, sculptures and stained-glass windows, and listening to Peter Barley on the organ.

As I was regaling them with stories about squatting prebendaries and the mediaeval misericords, John was taken aback by the size and scale of the statue of Bishop John Jebb in the North Transept or Jebb Chapel commemorating John Jebb (1775-1833), Bishop of Limerick, and the lengthy lists on the panels naming the donors who subscribed to erecting the statue.

John wondered out loud had I ever considered what my own memorial would be.

With John and Sheila Comerford in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, this week

There is a trend on Facebook of asking people to donate to particular causes or charities to mark a friend’s birthday. It is not a trend I have followed, although I would always encourage friends and colleagues to support in their own way the work of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

I have been working this week on online resources for next Sunday’s Gospel reading, the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37), and preparing two sermons on this reading.

The Good Samaritan leaves money at the inn to help pay for the cost of the overnight stay of the man who has been beaten up and robbed on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem.

Whose expenses would you be happy to contribute towards?

I would be very pleased to know someone decided to memorialise me not by erecting a statue or commissioning a stained-glass window, but donating to the legal costs faced by Carola Rackete, the German sea captain who defied Italy’s ban on migrant rescue ships last month by forcing her way into the port of Lampedusa last month.

She has told Lorenzo Tondo of the Guardian that she would do it all again, even though she faces a lengthy trial and a possible jail sentence.

On 12 June, the crew of the rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 pulled a group of migrants from an inflatable raft drifting off the Libyan coast. Carola Rackete was denied entry into Lampedusa but eventually forced her way in past Italian military vessels.

When she disembarked with 42 rescued migrants, she faced a mixed reception. Some of the crowd gathered on the quay cheered her but others hurled abuse and threats. She was immediately arrested and is facing the prospect of a long trial on charges of aiding illegal immigration and attempting to ram a patrol vessel.

Soon after Sea-Watch 3 arrived in Lampedusa, the migrants were taken off the ship, and Rackete was arrested and warned she could face 10 years in jail. In the end, Judge Alessandra Vella accepted that as the ship’s captain, Carola Rackete had a duty to protect the lives of those on board.

For many, she is a hero for facing down Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who has called her a ‘pirate.’

Libya has descended into a lawless, chaotic state policed by armed militias, and Sea-Watch, a German charity, had already vowed never to return migrants to its shores.

Last month, the Italian cabinet passed an emergency decree ruling that any vessel that sailed into Italian waters without permission would face a fine of up to €50,000. But the charity has promised, ‘Forcibly taking rescued people back to a war-torn country, having them imprisoned and tortured, is a crime that we will never commit.’

Two online campaigns to support her legal costs have raised close to €1.4 million between them over the past week.

Carola Rackete, the captain of the rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 (Photograph: Sea Watch Mediateam / Sea-Watch e.V. / The Guardian)

Or I would be pleased to know someone decided to memorialise me not by erecting a statue or commissioning a stained-glass window, but donating to the legal costs faced by the people who took recent legal action that led to the Court of Appeal in London ruling that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been unlawful. The judgment that also accused ministers of ignoring whether airstrikes that killed civilians in Yemen broke humanitarian law.

Three judges said that a decision made in secret in 2016 had led them to decide that Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Liam Fox and other key ministers had illegally signed off on arms exports without properly assessing the risk to civilians.

The Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, said cabinet ministers had ‘made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law.’

As a result, the court said that the UK export licensing process was ‘wrong in law in one significant respect’ and ordered Liam Fox, Britain’s international trade secretary, to hold an immediate review of at least £4.7 billion worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The case was taken by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). Thousands of civilians have been killed since the civil war in Yemen began in March 2015 with indiscriminate bombing by a Saudi-led coalition that is supplied by the west and accused of being responsible for about two-thirds of the 11,700 people killed in direct attacks.

A critical passage in the ruling added that ‘a close reading’ of evidence supplied in secret suggested that in ‘early 2016’ – probably when David Cameron was prime minister – that there had been a covert change of UK policy towards Saudi Arabia. There was a decision, or a change of position, so that there would be no assessment of past violation of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

It emerged last month that while Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary he had recommended that the UK allow Saudi Arabia to buy bomb parts expected to be deployed in Yemen – a decision he took only days after an airstrike on a potato factory in Yemen had killed 14 people in 2016.

But neither Boris Johnson nor Jeremy Hunt bothered to refer to any of this illegality in their televised debate last night. Johnson was too busy pulling the rug from underneath the feet of the British Ambassador in Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, and allowing Donald Trump to dictate the pace and tempo of British foreign policy.

Or I would be pleased to know someone decided to memorialise me not by erecting a statue or commissioning a stained-glass window, but donating to the expenses of Dr Yacoub Yousef’s clinic in Jordan.

He is the eye surgeon in Jordan who was shown on BBC News last night and who is giving a new eye to Yusra, a six-year-old girly from Yusra’s new eye.

The BBC’s Orla Guerin met Yusra and her family in war-torn Yemen last October. She had an aggressive tumour in her left eye, but could not get the life-saving treatment she needed.

She has received a prosthetic eye in Jordan and is returning home. She is now cancer-free but has a genetic condition, so follow up checks are being arranged in Yemen. I wonder what future she faces when either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt becomes Prime Minister and reviews British arms sales to Yemen.

Or I would be pleased to know someone decided to memorialise me not by erecting a statue or commissioning a stained-glass window, but donating to the legal costs of Paul Crowther who was taken to court in Newcastle after dousing Nigel Farage with a milkshake.

Paul Crowther was convicted on one count of criminal damage and another of common assault, fined £350 and ordered to complete 150 hours of community service. He also lost his job as a technical adviser at Sky television.

Paul Crowther said: ‘The bile and the racism he spouts out in this country is far more damaging than a bit of milkshake to his front.’

The banana and salted caramel milkshake cost £5.25. The figure of £350 was reached by calculating the cost of cleaning Farage’s suit and tie, and repairing a microphone on his lapel. A crowdfund on GoFundMe raised £1,705 – significantly more than the fine, or than Farage’s cheap suit and cheap tie.

The Good Samaritan depicted in a window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A Dean of Lichfield who
played a key role in
Cambridge and who
restored Bath Abbey

The alabaster effigy and monument in Bath Abbey of Bishop James Montagu, former Dean of Lichfield and the first Master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, the week before last, I was reminded that the first Master of Sidney Sussex was at the same time – albeit briefly – also Dean of Lichfield.

James Montagu was Master of Sidney Sussex, Dean of Lichfield, one of the translators of the Authorised Version or King James Version of the Bible, later became Bishop of Bath and Wells and Bishop of Winchester and was singularly responsible for the restoration of Bath Abbey in the early 17th century.

James Montagu (1568-1618) was the fifth son of Sir Edward Montagu of Boughton, Northamptonshire and a grandson of Edward Montagu. His eldest brother, Edward Montagu, would become Lord Montagu of Boughton in 1621, and another brother, Henry Montagu, became Earl of Manchester.

As a student, he was a fellow-commoner of Christ’s College, Cambridge. He became the first Master of Sidney Sussex when it was founded, and he laid the foundation stone on 20 May 1596.

Lady Frances Sidney (1531-1589), Countess of Sussex, the founder of the college, was his great-aunt and a sister of his maternal grandmother Lucy Sidney. Lady Sussex left £5,000 in her will and some plate for a new college ‘to be called the Lady Frances Sidney Sussex College.’

Although there is no record of Montagu graduating with a degree, he was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Divinity (DD) by ‘special grace’ in 1598.

At Sidney Sussex College, Montagu beautified the interior of his college chapel, and also spent £100 of his own money in purifying the King’s Ditch in Cambridge.

Montagu was appointed Dean of Lichfield on 12 July 1603, in succession to George Boleyn, who had died earlier that year in January. At the same time, he became Dean of the Chapel Royal. It was a powerful position in the Church that gave Montagu immediate access to the monarch. It was said that he was closer to the king than the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot, who had previously been Bishop of Lichfield.

Montagu was also one of three key Church leaders with connections with Lichfield who played important roles in the translation of the Authorised Version of the Bible, the two others being George Abbot and Bishop John Overall.

John Overall (1559-1619) was a member of the First Westminster Company, directed by Lancelot Andrewes, which translated the Books Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings and II Kings.

Overall was Bishop of Lichfield from 1614-1618. He ended his days as Bishop of Norwich (1618-1619), but had also been Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London (1601-1614), Master of Saint Catharine’s College, Cambridge (from 1598), and Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge (1596-1607).

At Cambridge, Overall was also a tutor to the future Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, who had a life interest in the Manor of Lichfield. In 1614, Overall was appointed Bishop of Lichfield. He was translated to Norwich in 1618, and died the following year.

George Abbot (1562-1633) was Bishop of Lichfield for only a month in 1609 before being moved to the Diocese of London, and he later became Archbishop of Canterbury. But his appointment to Lichfield was an immediate reward from King James I for his work on restoring the episcopacy to the Church of Scotland. In 1611, Abbot became Archbishop of Canterbury.

James Montagu was a member of the Second Oxford Company, involved in translating the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Book of Revelation. But, despite being a member of this Oxford company, Montagu was intimately associated with Cambridge.

The Montagu coat-of-arms arms above Costa coffee shop in Montagu House on the corner of Sidney Street and Sussex Street, Cambridge … part of Sidney Sussex College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Although Montagu became Dean of Lichfield on 12 July 1603, he remained at Lichfield for just 17 months, and continued as Master of Sidney Sussex College. He left Lichfield to become Dean of Worcester on 20 December 1604.

While he was Dean of Worcester, Montagu worked with King James on An Apologie for the Oath of Allegiance in 1607, at Royston and Newmarket, reading to the king the four volumes of the works of Cardinal Bellarmine.

Throughout these years, Montagu remained Master of Sidney Sussex College. After little more than three years at Worcester, he was appointed Bishop of Bath and Wells on 29 March 1608. He was consecrated bishop on 17 April and was enthroned and installed at Wells Cathedral on 14 May 1608. On becoming Bishop of Bath and Wells, he resigned as Master of Sidney Sussex College.

He repaired the episcopal palace at Wells and the manor-house at Banwell, and vigorously took in hand the restoration of the nave of Bath Abbey, spending £1,000 of his own personal fortune on the restoration work, which was completed in 1617.

There is a story that Sir John Harington of Kelston, walking with him one day in the rain, took him into the abbey, then roofless, under pretence of seeking shelter. There he impressed on Montagu the neglected state of the building and inspired him to restore it.

He moved from Bath and Wells when he became Bishop of Winchester in 1616. Montagu also edited and translated the collected works of James I, published in 1616.

He died of jaundice and dropsy at Greenwich on 20 July 1618, at the age of 50. He was buried in Bath Abbey, where an alabaster tomb on the north side of the nave displays his effigy.

Throughout all that time, he had continued to hold the office of Dean of the Chapel Royal, and when he died he was succeeded by Lancelot Andrewes, one of the great Caroline Divines.

Montagu House on the corner of Sidney Street and Sussex Street, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)