Tuesday, 30 June 2020

A new Anglican province
is formed in Egypt
and across North Africa

Patrick Comerford with Archbishop Mouneer Anis at a recent USPG conference in High Leigh

Patrick Comerford

The Province of Alexandria has become the 41st province or self-self-governing Church in the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal/Anglican Province of Alexandria officially became the 41st province of the Anglican Communion yesterday (29 June 2020).

The new province was previously known as the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, and was then a diocese within the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East.

The first Primate of the new autonomous church is Archbishop Mouneer Anis, who will continue in this role and in his existing role as the Bishop of Egypt until his retirement next year (2020).

The new Province of Alexandria has four dioceses: Egypt, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and Gambella (Ethiopia). It also covers ten countries: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia. Morocco is included within the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe because to its proximity to Gibraltar.

The former Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa completed its transition into an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion after the move was approved at meeting of Anglican Primates in Jordan in January and by the Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The General Synod of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East approved the request to secede from its province, and the diocese then came under the temporary Metropolitical authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who signed a Dead of Relinquishment legally inaugurating the new Province of Alexandria.

The new Province is named after Alexandria, the north Egyptian city that was home to one of the earliest branches of the Christian Church.

Archbishop Mouneer Anis said, ‘the early church in Alexandria has shaped the Christian thought of the whole world during the first millennium. It is our prayers that the new Province of Alexandria would do the same during the third millennium.’

The former Diocese of Egypt has played a vital role in inter-faith dialogue and in recent years has been helping refugees from South Sudan and other countries along it borders.

An international service of thanksgiving to mark the inauguration of the new Province will be held in Cairo at a later date. The Province of Alexandria has been allocated Sunday 2 August in this year’s Anglican Cycle of prayer – a date that had been allocated to the now-postponed Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops.

Some years ago, when Archbishop Mouneer was the President Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, he was a speaker at the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), when he spoke about recent upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa.

He was asked frank questions about the conflict in Libya, the state of affairs in the ‘Holy Land,’ and what Anglicans can do.

Archbishop Mouneer has visited Libya many times, and before his fall Colonel Gadafy had handed over to the Anglican Church ‘a wonderful 16th century church’ in Tripoli that had been renovated at a cost of $1 million.

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said that Jerusalem has been at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict not just since the Israeli state was declared in 1948, but from very early on. Jerusalem is at the heart of the issue and at the heart of the conflict, he said, and we cannot ignore the place of Christians either. All three faiths have rights in the city. This is an international city, to which these three main religions should have free access. Both Jews and Muslims want exclusive access to Jerusalem, but a common-sense solution is required he said.

He spoke openly of the role of Anglicans as a small Church in every part of the Middle East. We have a bridging role between the Churches, as is being experienced in Egypt and Jerusalem, and in the Gulf, but Anglicans also have a bridging role between Christianity and Islam, and he believes Anglicans are the most active Church in dialogue in the region.

He provided an interesting analysis of the different Islamic groups in the Middle East, and pointed out that the majority of Muslims in the Middle East are peaceful, peace-loving moderate people, who have co-existed with Christians and Jews in the region for the past 14 centuries.

He offered interesting insights into the recent developments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Yemen Jordan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq, and spoke with compassion and passion of the experiences of young people and of women.

Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis with the Coptic leader, the late Pope Shenouda III (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the USPG conference that year, Archbishop Mouneer pointed out that the Coptic Orthodox Church, with 12 million members, is not only the biggest Church in Egypt, but is also the biggest Church in the Middle East. They are paying a heavy price, he said, and they remember that they were martyred in the first centuries and after the Islamic conquest, that they have suffered in the past, and that they have paid the price.

He offered interesting insights into the role of Turkey and its influence on many thinkers in Syria, Egypt and Tunisia. He pointed out that Islam in Turkey is different, more moderate and more peaceful, that Arab countries are watching Turkey, and, he suggested then, they were thinking Turkey’s model could be a good one.

I first got to know Archbishop Mouneer during working visits to Egypt around 2003 and 2004, when I was working on a resource pack, including a DVD, on Christian-Muslim dialogue. Later, he visited Ireland, including Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. He took part in one of the ‘Discovery’ services in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s Church, I brought him to the mosque in Clonskeagh, and he and his family were guests in my home in Dublin.

Archbishop Mouneer Anis spent 26 years in medical practice before becoming a bishop. Speaking at that USPG conference in High Leigh, near Hoddesdon, he drew on his own experiences as a doctor and a bishop in Egypt.

A pressing need in the 21st century is the need for health care, which is a basic human right and which underpins the millennium development goals. As Anglicans, he said, we need to be involved in restoring wholeness, and to follow in the steps of Jesus who sent his disciples to heal the sick and preach the kingdom.

Archbishop Mouneer pointed out that the healing ministry of Christ was linked with his proclamation of the Kingdom of God, and the outcome of healing always was that people give glory to God. When the Church offers healing, we walk in the steps of Christ and fulfil his mission, offering a practical response to the command to love our neighbour.

He also recalled the beginnings of the medical mission of the Anglican Church in Egypt, which is traced back to Dr Frank Harpur, a TCD-trained doctor and CMS missionary from Ireland who is well-known for eradicating the parasite enclostomi in Egypt.

Dr Harpur began working on the Nile on a floating house boat that he used as a hospital, visiting villages on the banks of the Nile and in the Nile delta, treating villagers. From this work, the Harpur Memorial Hospital was built in Menouf in 1910. ‘And they are still talking about Harpur,’ said Dr Mouneer, a former director of the hospital.

Providing figures on the state of the health of the world’s children, he told that year’s USPG conference: ‘Looking at all these sad figures, the Church cannot be silent.’ The work may be like a drop of water in the ocean, but we should do our best to relieve the suffering of people, in that way becoming partakers in Christ’s mission and compassion, he said.

We need to translate the good news of the Gospel into action, Archbishop Mouneer said. ‘There is an abundance of preaching in the Church, but the world wants to see the Gospel in action and not just to hear about it.’

He said health care is showing the Gospel in action. He recalled that he is asked frequently by Muslim friends in Egypt when they see the work of Christian-run hospitals, why Christians care in such a way. He answers because Jesus taught us to love everyone, and because he loved everyone. Love involves action and sacrifice. Healing and health are not only physical but holistic. The healing ministry is a vocation and not just a job, and practising medicine is a calling and not a job.

Archbishop Mouneer Hanna Anis in Christ Church Cathedral during a visit to Dublin

July 2020 in the Rathkeale and
Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes

A vision of the heavenly city (see Revelation 21) depicted in the West Window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The churches in this group of parishes re-open, with a mixture of caution and joy, in July: Askeaton and Tarbert on Sunday 5 July and Castletown and Rathkeale on Sunday 12 July.

If you feel vulnerable, or you are in the ‘at risk’ category, or you have recently been in contact with someone who has had Covid-19 symptoms, you may find comfort instead in reading the Sunday sermons and intercessions on-line.

Some pews have been roped off or marked in each church to help us maintain social distancing. The names and contact details of people attending will be kept for 14 days, only for the purposes of contacting and tracing.

On the first two Sundays, the Parish Eucharist will be celebrated to mark this special landmark in the life of these parishes. But after those two Sundays, we shall return to the normal rota of Sunday services in each church, hopefully.

To reduce the amount of time we are indoors, we are having only two readings and two hymns each Sunday at the moment.

No prayer books or hymnals are available, there is no exchange of peace, to reduce contact risks, and for these first few weeks there is no hymn-singing. But laminated service sheets are being prepared, and we can sit and thoughtfully listen to the two recorded hymns.

The Holy Communion will be administered only in one kind, and there is no shared common cup, for health reasons. At first, we may find that the administration of Communion is awkward or difficult. But be assured we are all in Communion with God and with one another.

Hand sanitising facilities are available at each church. Please do not bring your own prayer book or hymnal, and please remember to take home everything, including your tissues.

‘Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house’ (I Peter 2: 5) … a cross carved into a corner stone at the church in Vlatadon monastery in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sunday 5 July (Trinity IV):

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

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

Liturgical colour: Red

Readings: Revelation 21: 9-14; Psalm 122; Matthew 21: 12-16

Hymns:

325: Be still, for the presence of the Lord (CD 20)
338: Jesus stand among us (CD 20)

Sunday 12 July (Trinity V):

9.30 a.m. The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2): Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick

11.30 a.m. The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2): Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick

Liturgical colour: Red

Readings: I Peter 2: 1-10; Psalm 121; John 10: 22-29

Hymns:

330: God is here! As we his people (CD 20)
374, When all thy mercies, O my God (CD 22)

Sunday 19 July (Trinity VI):

9.30 a.m. Morning Prayer (MP 2): Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick

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

Liturgical colour: Green

Readings: Genesis 28: 10-19a; Psalm 139: 1-11, 23-24; Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43

Hymns:

657, O God of Bethel, by whose hand (CD 38)
336, Jesus, where’er thy people meet (CD 20)

Sunday 26 July (Trinity VII):

9.30 a.m. Morning Prayer (MP 2): Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick

11.30 a.m. The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2): Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick

Liturgical colour: Green

Readings:

Genesis 29: 15-28; Psalm 105: 1-11, 45b; Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

Hymns:

544, O perfect love, all human thought transcending (CD 31)
95, Jesu, priceless treasure (CD 6)

Saints’ Days in July:

3 July: Saint Thomas
22 July: Saint Mary Magdalene
25 July: Saint James the Apostle



Monday, 29 June 2020

A reminder of ministry,
mission and unity
on Saint Peter’s Day

The Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul holding the church in unity … an early 18th century icon in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Last week, I marked the 20th anniversary of my ordination as deacon in 2000 and the 19th anniversary of my ordination as priest in 2001. In recent days, many of ordained colleagues have been posting photographs on social media celebrating the anniversaries of their ordinations too.

Today is Saint Peter’s Day (29 June), and this time of the year is known in Anglican tradition as Petertide, one of the two traditional periods for the ordination of new priests and deacons – the other being Michaelmas, around 29 September.

The Cambridge poet-priest Malcolm Guite says on his blog that Saint Peter’s Day and this season is appropriate for ordinations because Saint Peter is ‘the disciple who, for all his many mistakes, knew how to recover and hold on, who, for all his waverings was called by Jesus “the rock,” who learned the threefold lesson that every betrayal can ultimately be restored by love.’

In other church calendars, today is the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, honouring their martyrdom in Rome.

In the Orthodox Church, Saint Peter and Saint Paul are seen as figures of Church Unity, sharing a common faith and mission despite their differences. They are often seen as paired, flanking images at entrances to churches, and the icon of Christian Unity in the Orthodox tradition shows the Apostles Peter and Paul embracing each other – signs of the early Church overcoming its differences and affirming its diversity.

Peter’s Cell is an unusual place-name in the heart of the old city in Limerick. It marks the site of a house established by Donal Mor O Brian (1168-1194) for the Canonesses of Saint Augustine in 1171. Very little is known about these canonesses, apart from the fact that they had a church dedicated to Saint Peter – the word cell comes from cella or a room for each nun.

Despite the forced departure of the Augustinian canonesses at the dissolution of monastic houses during the Reformation, the name of Peter’s Cell survived in a small corner near the junction of Bishop Street and Peter Street. In the late 17th century, the Quakers had a small burial ground near Peter’s Cell, and the Dissenters, the precursors of the Presbyterians, rented the former site of the canonesses, from Lord Milton from the 1690s until they built a new meeting house or chapel in Peter Street in 1765.

Part of the ruined convent buildings was converted into the Peter’s Cell Theatre around 1760. Later, Saint Munchin’s College was located in Peter’s Cell briefly in 1800-1809.

So, Peter’s Cell has been used by Augustinians, Quakers, Presbyterians, theatregoers, and as a diocesan seminary. Another form of ecumenism and diversity in centuries gone by, I suppose. But then our ministry must always involve mission in a broken world, and not in a world as we would like to find it. And, at the heart of that ministry and mission must be the quest for unity among all Christians.

Pope Francis marked the feast of Saint Peter and Paul earlier today stressing the importance of unity in the Church and allowing ourselves to be challenged by God, urging people to spend less time complaining about what they see going wrong, and more time in prayer.

He noted that Saint Peter and Saint Paul were two very different men who ‘could argue heatedly’ but who ‘saw one another as brothers, as happens in close-knit families where there may be frequent arguments but unfailing love.’

God, he said, ‘did not command us to like one another, but to love one another. He is the one who unites us, without making us all alike.’

Saint Peter in chains (see Acts 12) … the window by Charles Eamer Kempe in Lichfield Cathedral commemorating Dean Herbert Mortimer Luckock shows (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Readings:

Ezekiel 3: 22-27; Acts 12: 1-11; Matthew 16: 13-19.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who inspired your apostle Saint Peter
to confess Jesus as Christ and Son of the living God:
Build up your Church upon this rock,
that in unity and peace it may proclaim one truth
and follow one Lord, your Son our Saviour Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The name of Peter’s Cell has survived at the corner of Peter Street and Bishop Street in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When Catholic Staffordshire
was once pitied as
‘the fag-end of the world’

Inside Holy Cross Church, Lichfield … built before the arrival of Irish Catholics in Lichfield in large numbers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In my stories in recent weeks about Staffordshire Catholics and the Wolseley family, many families emerge as prominent Roman Catholics in Staffordshire for successive generations, so that, as Michael Greenslade says in his book Catholic Staffordshire, it is obvious how Catholicism survived in Staffordshire more strongly that anywhere else in England except Lancashire.

These families included the Aston, Biddulph, Clifford, Comberford, Draycott, Fitzherbert, Fowler, Giffard, Harcourt, Howard, Littleton, Perry, Stafford, Stanford, Sutton, Talbot, Weld and Whitgreave families.

The late Sir Charles Wolseley was anxious to point out to me that his family were Catholics too. Some 16th and 17th century members of the family, including Cassandra, Erasmus and Walter Wolseley, were Catholics. But later members of the family became Catholics through marriages with some of these families, including the Clifford and Weld families. So, in the traditional understanding of the term, his family were not one of the old recusant families in Staffordshire.

Some of these families had early Irish connections, including the Wolseleys, and in the complex, tangled web that is their family tree, the English title of baronet was inherited in the Irish branch of the family, and another Irish branch of the family who received their own title became, in turn, heirs to the English title.

Saint Giles’s Church, Cheadle … designed by AWN Pugin and built for the Earl of Shrewsbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Some of the early Irish connections with Staffordshire Catholics include the marriages between the Dillon family and the heirs of the Stafford family and of the Lee family, Earls of Lichfield.

The self-styled Sir James Fitzgerald, who used an Irish title of baronet from Co Limerick or Co Cork, was living at Wolseley Hall at the time of his death in 1839. His widow, Lady Fitzgerald, lived at Maple Hayes, near Pipe Hall, Lichfield, before moving to Castle Ishen, Co Cork, with her children in the 1840s or 1850s.

John Talbot (1791-1852), 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, who lived at Alton Towers and commissioned AWN Pugin to build many churches in Staffordshire, including Saint Giles’s Church in Cheadle, was once ‘the most prominent British Catholic of day’ – although he was the last Earl of Shrewsbury to be a Roman Catholic.

Lord Shrewsbury extended his family’s Irish connections when he married Maria Theresa Talbot, daughter of Thomas William Talbot of Castle Talbot, Co Wexford – an Irish branch of the Talbot family that were patrons of Pugin too and that for generations claimed close kinship with the Talbots, Earls of Shrewsbury, in a way that parallels the claims of the Comerford family in Ireland to kinship with the Comberford family in Staffordshire.

The Talbot mausoleum dating from the early 19th-century in the mediaeval churchyard at John Street, Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

John and Maria were the parents of two daughters who married two Italian princes. Their elder daughter, Lady Mary Alathea Beatrix Talbot, married Prince Filippo Andrea Doria-Pamphilj Landi in Rome in 1832 after meeting at the coronation of Queen Victoria, who suggested Lady Mary as one of the eight coronal train-bearers as a gesture towards her father who was then the oldest earl in the kingdom and a Roman Catholic. Later, Mary was given the title of Prinzessin von Bayern, or a Princess of Bavaria, by King Ludwig I of Bavaria.

Their younger daughter, Lady Gwendoline Catherine Talbot (1817-1840), was described by William IV as the ‘greatest beauty in the realm.’ She too married an Italian prince: Prince Marcantonio Borghese, Prince of Sulmona, in Rome in 1835.

The families of both daughters – like many leading Staffordshire Catholic families of the day – attended the society wedding of Sir Charles Wolseley and Anita Murphy in London in 1883. Today, the Anglican Centre in Rome is housed in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

A carved portrait at Oscott College of Father John Kirk … he built new churches in Lichfield and Tamworth in the 1820s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But, despite these Irish connections by marriage and descent in earlier families, the perceived wealth and social status of the Dillon-Lee, Fitzgerald, Talbot, Wolseley and other old recusant families in Staffordshire, isolated them from the Irish silk weavers who arrived in Staffordshire in the early 19th century, and the impoverished Irish immigrants who arrived in Lichfield and other parts of Staffordshire from the mid-19th century on.

Irish immigrants had settled in the potteries by the late 1820s, but those Irish silk weavers who late moved on to Manchester and Macclesfield in the 1830s.

Meanwhile, Father John Kirk built Holy Cross Church in Lichfield in the 1820s and a new church in Tamworth partly endowed by Lord Shrewsbury in Tamworth.

When Kirk extended the church in Lichfield in the 1830s and the 1840s, there were about 60 communicants and a small number of children. Numbers increased slightly with the arrival of French prisoners of war, but even when the core congregation increased to 75 or 80 in the early 1840s, the few Irish people – apart from Lady Fitzgerald and her family – may have been people stopping off on the road between Liverpool and London, bringing the number of churchgoers to about 90.

The Irish population in Lichfield in the mid-19th century was living mainly in the Sandford Street area (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

However, the composition or makeup of his parish changed as a large number of Irish people moved into the Sandford Street area of Lichfield by the middle of the century. At the same time, new Catholic churches were built in Bilston and Burton-upon-Trent in response to the arrival of new Irish workers attracted by expanding local industries in the 1840s.

The Rugeley mission was described in 1847 as ‘paralysed with poverty.’ At Walsall, the priest said an early mass on Sunday mornings in 1851 ‘for poor people who from want of proper clothes do not like to appear out of doors at a later period of the day.’

The people who arrived in Staffordshire in a new ‘influx of Irish’ in the early 1850s were described by one priest as ‘mostly very destitute.’ Mother Margaret Hallahan, a Dominican nun who established a convent at the Foley in Fenton in 1851 before moving to Stone in 1853, described the area as ‘a complete range of dust hills. The people say it is the fag-end of the Potteries; I think it is the fag-end of the world.’

By the mid-19th century, the old recusant families had become a minority among the Catholic population of Staffordshire, and the immigrant Irish families were fast becoming the majority.

Today, the Catholic population of Staffordshire is much more diverse, and descendants of those poor Irish immigrants of over a century and a half ago are completely integrated into English life.

The arms of the Talbot family, Earls of Shrewsbury, represented on the doors of Saint Giles’s Church, Cheadle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Sunday intercessions on
28 June 2020 (Trinity III)

‘Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death’ (Psalm 13: 3), ‘present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life’ (Romans 6: 13) … a funeral stele in Kerameikos Cemetery in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These intercessions were prepared for the Third Sunday after Trinity, 28 June 2020, in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. However, the churches have been closed temporarily because of the Covid-19 pandemic:

Let us pray:

Let us present ourselves to God,
for we have been brought from death to life (Romans 6: 13)

Heavenly Father,
Look upon us and answer us, O Lord our God (see Psalm 13: 3).

Comfort us in all our troubles and anxieties,
challenge us when we become too comfortable,
give us hope for all that is wonderful.

Comfort those who are isolated, alone and living in fear;
sustain and protect frontline workers;

Give hope to schools and places of education,
guide all who make difficult decisions,
help us to protect our communities and ourselves.

Give wisdom to the Taoiseach and the new government,
give wisdom to all people
crying for justice and seeking peace.

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

Lord Jesus Christ:
you call on us to welcome others as we would welcome you (Matthew 10: 40-42)

As our churches prepare to reopen throughout this diocese
next Sunday,
we pray for the Church,
that we may be prepared to be open and welcoming.

We pray for churches that are closed this morning,
that the hearts of the people may remain open
to the love of God, and to the love of others.

In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer, we pray this week
for the United Church of North India,
and Most Revd Dr Prem Chand Singh, Moderator, and Bishop of Jabalpur.

In the Church of Ireland, we pray this month for
the Diocese of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh,
and for Bishop Ferran Glenfield.

We pray for our Bishop Kenneth;

In the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer,
we pray for Youth work in our dioceses,
and the work of Boys’ Brigade,
the Girls’ Friendly Society,
the Tuam, Killala and Achonry Children and Youth,
and the United Diocesan Youth Council, Limerick and Killaloe.

Christ have mercy,
Christ have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
may we put our trust in God’s steadfast love (Psalm 13: 5):

We pray for ourselves and for our needs,
for healing, restoration and health,
in body, mind and spirit.

We pray for one another,
for those who are alone and lonely …
for those who are sick, at home or in hospital …
Alan and Margaret … Ajay … Charles …
Maria … Niall … Linda … Simon …

We give thanks for Lorraine’s successful treatment.

We pray for those who have broken hearts …
for those who live with disappointment …
We pray for all who are to be baptised …
We pray for all preparing to be married …
We pray for those who are about to die …

We pray for those who mourn and grieve…
we remember those who have died recently …
remembering this morning Tom Barrett and his family …
may their memories be a blessing …

We pray for those who have asked for our prayers …
and for those we have offered to pray for …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

A reflection on the Third Sunday after Trinity
in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG,
United Society Partners in the Gospel:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23: 1-2).

Merciful Father, …

As we prepare to reopen
our churches, are there
limits to our welcome?

‘Whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me’ (Matthew 10: 40) … a welcome sign at Athens Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 28 June 2020

The Third Sunday after Trinity (Trinity III)


The Readings: Genesis 22: 1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6: 12-23; Matthew 10: 40-42.

There is a link to the continuous readings HERE.

‘Whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous’ (Matthew 10: 41) … a welcome at a front door in Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

As we prepare to open our church doors next Sunday (5 July 2020) and to welcome people back into our churches next Sunday, it is interesting that the word welcome is used six times in the three short verses in this morning’s Gospel reading.

The verb that is used here (δέχομαι, déchoma-ee), means to take by the hand, to receive, to grant access to, a visitor, to receive with hospitality, to receive into one’s home. It can refer to a way of responding generously to something said, to respond positively to teaching or instruction, to receive favourably, to embrace or to make one’s own.

Irish people like to think of Ireland as the land of a hundred thousand welcomes. English people have always put a high value on hospitality – although I fear ‘post-Brexit’ Britain raises questions about whether hospitality is widely cherished as an English value today.

But our concepts of welcome and hospitality come nowhere close to the way these values are expressed by Greeks. In the village in Crete where I have stayed regularly for five years, the baker welcomes me back as I am buying bread for breakfast, wanting not only to assure me that he remembers me year-by-year but to be assured that I remember him too.

In the newsagents, I am asked how long I am there for ‘this time’ – it not only conveys the memory that I have been there before but contains the hope that I would be here many more times too.

The Greek concept of welcome implies that the stranger is becoming a neighbour, a friend. It is not a tourist marketing ploy. It is not a cheap expression of gratitude for return business. It is simply a part of the Greek nature and culture to welcome the stranger or the foreigner. And the Greeks have another word for it – φιλοξενία (philoxenia) – meaning literally ‘love of the stranger or outsider.’

In classical Greece, hospitality was a right, and a host was expected to see to the needs of the guests. There is a classical Greek term (xenia or theoxenia) that expresses this ritualised guest-friendship relation: theoxenia, welcoming the guest, becomes welcoming a god. In classical Greece, someone’s ability to abide by the laws of hospitality determined nobility and social standing, and showed that someone was truly religious.

The Stoics regarded hospitality as a duty inspired by Zeus himself.

The word φιλοξενία (philoxenia) – from φῐ́λος (phílos), a loved one who is more than a ‘friend,’ and ξένος (xénos), a ‘stranger’ or ‘outsider’ – is used by many of the philosophers (Plato, Polybius, Philo of Alexandria and others) to express the warmth properly shown to strangers, and the readiness to share hospitality or generosity by entertaining in one’s own home.

It is a word that is used constantly in the epistles in the New Testament.

Saint Paul speaks of the importance of contributing to the needs of the saints – those inside the Church, and extending hospitality to strangers – those from outside who must be welcomed (κοινωνοῦντες τὴν φιλοξενίαν διώκοντες, Romans 12: 13).

In Hebrews 13: 2, the author uses a similar phrase (τῆς φιλοξενίας μὴ ἐπιλανθάνεσθε) when saying, ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.’

The concepts of to be hospitable (Φιλόξεον, philoxeon or φιλόξενος philoxenos), or to show hospitality (ξενοδοχέω, xenodocheo), occur throughout Saint Paul’s letters (see I Timothy 3: 2; Titus 1: 8, I Peter 4: 9, and I Timothy 5: 10). For example: ‘she must be well attested for her good works, as one who has brought up children, shown hospitality (ἐξενοδόχησεν), washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to doing good in every way’ (I Timothy 5: 10).

One of the requirements of a bishop in the New Testament Church is to be ‘hospitable,’ to be welcoming to strangers (I Timothy 3: 2; Titus 1: 8).

But the NRSV translation shows its weaknesses in those passages. It is not enough to translate these words as hospitality or welcome; it is hospitality towards the stranger, it is welcoming the outsider, the stranger, the foreigner, the person who is different, who comes among us: the people who look different, smell differently, wear different clothes, speak different languages, have different family structures, different names, different religious beliefs and practices.

And in the list of priorities in the New Testament, care for others, for children and hospitality to the stranger come before looking after the needs of church members, described here are washing the saints’ feet.

In his book, Faith in the Future, the former British Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, says: ‘The Hebrew Bible contains the great command, “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19: 18), and this has often been taken as the basis of biblical morality. But it is not: it is only part of it. The Jewish sages noted that on only one occasion does the Hebrew Bible command us to love our neighbour, but in 37 places it commands us to love the stranger. Our neighbour is one we love because he is like ourselves. The stranger is one we are taught to love precisely because he is not like ourselves.’

In the New Testament, the concept and the duty of philoxenia is in contrast to ordinary love (φιλία, philia), for it is easy to love those who are like us, from the same family or locality, and is in contrast to xenophobia, the fear of the stranger or the other, which is both unfounded and obsessive – and which is on the rise everywhere and finding expression in disgusting far-right and so-called ‘populist’ movements.

The Christian virtue of philoxenia has its roots in the injunctions to hospitality in Leviticus 19: 18 and 34. We are not just to love our neighbours as ourselves, but: ‘The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.’

Despite what is being said in the current debate dividing Anglicanism and many other Christian traditions, the sin of Sodom (see Genesis 19) was to refuse to welcome the stranger. The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 109, makes it clear. For 1,700 years after the destruction of Sodom, ancient Jews linked the destruction of Sodom to the refusal of hospitality, not to homosexuality.

What we often call ‘hospitality’ is really entertaining, and typically we offer it to friends who reciprocate by inviting us back. Hospitality to strangers is not entertaining friends or neighbours. Philoxenia is much more than that. Philoxenia turns on its head xenophobia and any other irrational attitude to those who are different, those who are strangers, those who come from the outside.

And Christ reminds the disciples in this Gospel reading that whoever welcomes them welcomes him. And that welcome begins not in the large gestures, such as accepting a whole, complex set of dogmatic statements and teachings, but in small, gentle gestures, such as offering a cup of water to those who are thirsty.

There can be no limits or bounds to our welcomes, our hospitality, our openness to others who are different or who are outsiders?

And so, may all we think say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me’ (Matthew 10: 40) … a welcome sign at Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania on the Greek island of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 10: 40-42 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 40 ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

‘Welcome, No Exit’ … ‘Welcome, Way Out’ … signs at Cambridge Railway Station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: Green (Ordinary Times, Year A)

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
you have broken the tyranny of sin
and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts
whereby we call you Father:
Give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that we and all creation may be brought
to the glorious liberty of the children of God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

O God,
whose beauty is beyond our imagining
and whose power we cannot comprehend:
Give us a glimpse of your glory on earth
but shield us from knowing more than we can bear
until we may look upon you without fear;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

‘Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple …’ (Matthew 10: 42) … a café in Ashford, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

59, New every morning is the love
601, Teach me, my God and King
517, Brother, sister, let me serve you
495, Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

‘O God, whose beauty is beyond our imagining and whose power we cannot comprehend: Give us a glimpse of your glory on earth’ (Post-Communion Prayer) … a blanket of flowers beneath trees in a garden in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saturday, 27 June 2020

A lockdown ‘virtual
tour’ of a dozen
more favourite hotels

The Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield in September sunshine this week … as Lyncroft House, it was the home of the composer Muzio Clementi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Now that it looks like ‘bridges’ are about to be introduced, allowing safe travel between some EU member states that have similar responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, I am beginning to think that my planned holiday back in Greece at the end of summer may yet be a possibility.

I was saying this morning that there are some hotels that I would stay in just for own sake, and at the top of my list was the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford.

But there are some hotels outside Ireland that I would return to anytime, just because of the hotels themselves. In particular, these include the Hedgehog in Lichfield, Las Casas de la Judería in Seville, and the Pepi Boutique Hotel in Rethymnon.

So, if you’re still planning or dreaming about a summer holiday – this year, or perhaps next year – these are a dozen of my favourite hotels in Britain and Europe.

1, The Hedgehog, Lichfield:

The plaque commemorating Muzio Clementi at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

I have stayed in many places in Lichfield over the last five decades or more, from youth hostels to guest houses, pubs, a variety of hotels, and in friends’ homes. But in recent years, I have tended to stay in the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on Stafford Road.

From here, it is just a 15-minutes stroll along Beacon Street into Lichfield Street, and the rural setting of this boutique hotel on the edges of the cathedral city make it conducive for my personal retreats, for time I need for reflection and writing, and for meeting friends. The food and the welcome here are always worth returning for.

Many of the trees at the Hedgehog may date back to Muzio Clementi’s days in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

This house was built as Lyncroft House in 1797. A few decades later, the house was home to Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), a celebrated composer, piano-maker, conductor and music publisher. Lyncroft House later became the home of the Revd Henry Gylby Lonsdale (1791-1851) when he was Vicar of Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, in the 1830s.

The house has been beautifully restored in recent years, and a recent refurbishment was completed in March, just days before the lockdown. I was due to stay here at the end of March, but the lockdown put an end to those plans. The Hedgehog stands in its own grounds, with large gardens and commanding views across Lichfield and the Staffordshire countryside. After a long, three-month lockdown, the Hedgehog is reopening on Saturday 4 July.

2, Las Casas de la Judería, Seville:

Las Casas de la Judería, a Seville hotel that is worth visiting … just for itself (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Las Casas de la Judería is in the historical centre of Seville and part of the city’s old Jewish Quarter, on the edge of the Barrio Santa Cruz. Inside, the hotel is paradise of its own making, another world away from the city.

This is a collection of 27 different 15th century traditional houses. They appear to have been assembled randomly, but they have been restored to reflect the atmosphere of the surrounding neighbourhood. There are baroque influences, and rustic charms in this self-contained barrio with a variety of buildings, courtyards, alleyways, overhanging balconies, gardens and terraces.

The 40 patios are typical Andalusian courtyards and ooze with vibrant colour, with hanging baskets, fountains, frescoes and classical features. We moved through the hotel, from one courtyard to the next, one garden to the next, through a lair of labyrinthine tunnels, steps and arched passageways, often to the sound of water dripping from a tap or fountain that was heard but not seen.

There are surprises everywhere in these courtyard and tunnels (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There are surprises everywhere in these courtyard and tunnels. Fountains, statues and Roman amphoras decorate the winding passageways linking the rooms and shared open spaces. A Roman tunnel connects the rooms with the breakfast room and spas. At times, we criss-crossed the narrow streets and alleyways of Seville itself, yet still found ourselves in the hotel.

The hotel has 178 rooms, individually designed and decorated, each with its own unique touch, filled with history and character, and facing into beautiful cool courtyards filled with plants.

Some of the rooms have names that are reminders of the people said to have lived in these houses down through the centuries: Duke of Bejar, Count of Villamanrique, Casa del Cura … one room is named after Christopher Columbus, who is buried in Seville Cathedral.

Some of the names are a reminder that this was the heart of the Jewish Quarter before the Inquisition … Casa de Mose Bahari … or an intricate Star of David interlaced in the woodwork of a door.

3, Pepi Hotel, Tsouderon Stree, Rethymnon:

The gardens and the pool at Pepi Studios (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I have returned time and again to Rethymnon, a charming old Venetian town on the north coast of Crete since the mid-1980s, so that after 35 years I feel at home in Greece, and Rethymnon has become my home town in Crete.

I have stayed in a variety of paces in Rethymnon, from private apartments, to rooms over bars, crumbling old hotels like the Acheillion and large hotels. For the past five years, I have stayed out in the eastern suburbs of Rethymnon, in the villages of Platanias and Tesmes, and this is the first in many that I have not been able to get to Crete. Should I ever stay in the heart of Rethymnon again, I would want to stay in the Pepi Boutique Hotel in the heart of the old town.

Pepi is just a few minutes away from the harbour, the restaurants, the Fortezza and the historic sites in Rethymnon and less than ten minutes from the long sandy beach. Behind the gardens around the pool, you can see the library behind Aghia Barbara Church, and the minaret of the former Valide Sulana Mosque juts up above the roofs of the shops and houses to the south.

The entrance to Pepi Studios at No 22 Tsouderon Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This building was once one of Europe’s oldest public primary schools for boys and girls, known as Athena. The building has been in the same family since the 19th century, when the headmistress of Athena, Amalia retired, the school closed, and the silent, empty building and its overgrown gardens were sold to the grandfather of the present owners, Sifis (Iosif), who started a cotton and silk business.

His son George opened Pepi Studios in 1986 and named it in honour of his wife. Sifis, and Manos, the younger generation of the family, decided to the transform Pepi Studios in 2009, and it became the Pepi Boutique Hotel.

4,The Electra Palace Hotel, Aristotelous Square, Thessaloniki:

The Electra Palace Hotel (left) is an integral part of Ernest Hébrard’s design of Aristotelous Square in the heart of Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Aristotelous Square is the main square in the heart of Thessaloniki, and like the White Tower it is virtually synonymous with the city itself. It is a venue for many cultural and political events, and is lined with hotels, cafés and bars.

The two quarter-circle sides of the square are occupied by two culturally important and imposing buildings: the Electra Palace Hotel, where I stayed once while I was travelling to and from Mount Athos, and the Olympion Theatre cinema, the venue of the annual Thessaloniki International Film Festival.

The statue of Aristotle in Aristotelous Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The square was designed over 100 years ago in 1918 by the French architect, archaeologist and urban planner Ernest Hébrard (1875-1933), who proposed a number of large squares in Thessaloniki, including Aristotelous Square, which he planned to name after Alexander the Great.

His vision was for a monumental axis for Thessaloniki, stretching from Aristotelous Square on the seafront to Venizelou Square and the Roman Forum. He wanted to name this axis after Alexander the Great, and to transform this into a city with boulevards and contemporary roadways, squares and parks.

I have been back to Thessaloniki many times since, and although I have stayed in other hotels, I always appreciate the way Hébrard integrated the Electra Palace Hotel into his plans and vision for a new, vibrant, post-earthquake city.

5, The Macan CaveHotel, Göreme:

The Maccan Cave Hotel is a cave hotel in Göreme with traditional décor

I spent Easter week some years ago in Cappadocia in Central Anatolia, an area of ancient Christian, archaeological and geological heritage. This is a region of exceptional natural wonders on central Turkey, known for its ‘fairy chimneys’ and its unique historical and cultural heritage.

I was staying in the Maccan Cave Hotel in Göreme, a cave hotel with traditional décor in the arched rooms and a garden and a rooftop terrace with panoramic city views.

Cappadocia’s ‘fairy chimneys’ in Göreme today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The hotel takes its name from one of the ancient names for Göreme (Greek Κόραμα). In the past, the town has also been known as Korama, Matiana, Maccan or Machan, and Avcilar.

The Göreme National Park was added to the Unesco World Heritage List in 1985, and when the Göreme Valley nearby was designated an important tourist destination and a centre for tourism in Cappadocia, the name of the town was changed to Göreme.

6, Al Capello Rosso Hotel, Bologna:

The Al Cappello Rosso Hotel in Bologna dates back to 1375 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Al Cappello Rosso Hotel, where I celebrated some important family occasions at the end of 2017, was first built in 1375 and is one of the oldest hotels in Bologna. It is in the cultural and historical heart of in Bologna, just 50 metres from the Piazza Maggiore, and with wonderful views of the old city.

The hotel is in the central but secluded Via Fusari and boasts an interesting history. The first documents trace this hotel back to 1375, and it welcomed the first ‘foreigners’ passing through the city in the 14th century.

The Al Cappello Rosso Hotel is an ideal place to start exploring Bologna on foot (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Advertising in the late 19th and early 20th century boasts this ‘ancient and renowned hotel-restaurant Cappello’ offers guests ‘elegant rooms from 1.50 lire, with electric light, telephone, radiators, toilets and showers’ – all modern comforts at the time. The hotel also had a banqueting hall, home cooking, wines from Romagna, Tuscany and Piedmont, and ‘the real lambrusco from Sorbara,’ all at ‘moderate prices.’

The hotel was recently renovated in 2001, and it was an ideal place to explore the monuments, markets, shops, mediaeval streets and hidden corners of Bologna on foot.

7, Palazzetto San Lio, Venice:

An intimate view of Venice from the Palazzetto San Lio (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I had often visited Venice on day trips, but I stayed there for the first time at the end of 2018, staying at the Palazzetto San Lio in the heart of Venice, between the Rialto Bridge and Saint Mark’s Square. It is at the end Calle del Frutariol in the sestiere or district of Castello, and just a stone’s throw from Rialto and the Grand Canal.

Palazzetto San Lio is a small but splendid Venetian palace built in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is owned by an old Venetian family that for generations has been committed to keeping alive the traditional splendour of the palace and its Venetian style. All the apartments have canal views, and they are furnished with Venetian antique furniture, Murano chandeliers and upholstered walls in the grand Venetian style.

Our very own ‘small private cellar with a selection of our finest wines’ in the apartment in the Palazzetto San Lio in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The careful restoration of the building’s exterior last year has given new life to the external façades, while maintaining the original architectural features.

One of the surprises and unexpected joys of staying in the Palazzetto San Lio was an invitation to enjoy our own ‘small private cellar with a selection of our finest wines.’

The family that owns this small palace also owns its own vineyard on the banks of the River Piave, just outside Venice, where they have been producing their own fine DOC wines since 1925.

8, Arcadia Boutique Hotel, Frantiskanska Street, Bratislava:

The Arcadia Boutique Hotel is in the heart of the old city of Bratislava, a building that dates back to the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I spent a few days in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, last November, celebrating some landmark dates in the family, and stayed in the Arcadia Boutique Hotel on Frantiskanska Street, in the heart of the old city.

It is close in the old town this afternoon, and the attractions on the doorstep include Saint Martin’s Cathedral, Gothic churches, palaces and castles, the Museum of Jewish Culture, the banks of the River Danube and the other sites that make Bratislava a charming European capital.

During the Third Crusade (1189-1192), it is said, the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa stayed at a building on the site of this hotel. The hotel building claims to date back to 1290, with memories than date back seven or eight centuries, housed in mediaeval buildings that have been transformed into a romantic hotel, but retaining its vaults, old ceilings and winding corridors.

Parts of the Arcadia Boutique Hotel are said to date back to the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Evidence of a Celtic settlement in the area in the 3rd century BC has been found in the cellar, archaeological research has revealed indications of a Roman settlement at the site, and objects from the 12th and 13th centuries have been found in the hotel grounds. Inside, the building retains fine works in wrought iron from the Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism eras.

The building served as the headquarters of the Hussite movement in Bratislava in 1432. As a legacy from that time, a chalice as the symbol of the Hussites was carved in stone into one of the arcades in the building.

The hotel’s cellar, now used as a wellness area, is the oldest part of the building and has a fine example of Gothic vaults. On the first floor, there are examples of late-Gothic wall ornaments and stone window frames. The arcades in the central courtyard area that now forms the hotel’s lobby area are among the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Slovakia. The Renaissance-era vaulted ceiling in the cocktail bar is decorated with Baroque ornaments.

9, Varvaras Diamond Hotel, Platanias:

The Varvaras Diamond Hotel is on a quiet corner in Platanias, east of Rethymnon on a leafy, flower-filled street that leads to the beach (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

In recent years, during my return visits to Rethymnon, I have stayed in the suburban villages of Platanias and Tsesmes, about 5 km east of this old Venetian harbour city, and close to the long, sandy beach. Although the pandemic cancelled my plans to spend Greek Easter in Crete this year, over the last five years or I have stayed in a variety of apartments and hotels in Platanias and Tsesmes, including Julia Apartments, La Stella, and the Varvaras Diamond Hotel, which is set in a quiet corner on a leafy, flower-filled street that leads to the beach.

All these hotels are close to restaurants, tavernas and shops, yet in a quiet, laid-back area. The Varvaras Diamond Hotel, a family-run hotel owned by the Kantartzis family, was built in 2001 and is surrounded by evergreen trees and gardens with palm trees, colourful plants and flowers.

The Varvaras Diamond is on a leafy, flower-filled street that leads to the beach at Platanias (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

From my balcony there that Easter two years ago, I was looking out onto lemon trees with the fruits in full bloom. It was late May and early June – the beginning of summer.

During those two weeks, I spent time in a monastery, visited icon workshops, browsed in bookshops, swam in the Mediterranean, rambles around archaeological sites, sought out churches and buildings of architectural and historical interest, looked for old mosques, synagogues, hanging balconies and fountains in the former Muslim and Jewish quarters of Rethymnon and Chania, got lost in the back streets of both cities, found time to read poetry, novels, history and newspapers, enjoyed long lazy lunches in the sun and dinners in the sunset, tried to get up to speed with Greek politics and even brushed up on my rusty and limited knowledge of the Greek language.

10, Syntagma Square, Athens:

Both the Athens Plaza and the Acropolis View left me close to the Acropolis and Syntagma Square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I have often visited Athens both for work and for family breaks. Sometimes I have stayed in Air B&B apartments, on other occasions in small but comfortable hotels.

On one occasion I had lunch in the Grande Bretagne Hotel on Syntagma Square – the most famous hotel in Athens. And on another working visit I was booked into the Athens Plaza Hotel, on another corner of Syntagma Square, in a room with stunning panoramic views of Athens and the Acropolis.

On two occasions I have also stayed at the Acropolis View Hotel at No 10 Webster Street, and close to Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, one of the most beautiful pedestrian streets of Athens, and close to the Acropolis rock.

I was close to Filopappou Hill, the Pnyx, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, and all the other major classical sites in Athens.

11, Penn Club, London:

The Penn Club in Bedford Place … an oasis of tranquillity in Bloomsbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I first stayed in an hotel in Britain in 1965, I have stayed in a variety of places in England, from youth hostels, monasteries and rectories to friends’ homes, Cambridge and Oxford colleges and hotels. I stayed in two different hotels in London in recent months, but my favourite place to stay in London is not an hotel but the Penn Club in the heart of Bloomsbury.

The Penn Club is a quiet place in Bedford Place off Russell Square, and the accommodation is plain rather than simple. At times, I have had a room at the back overlooking the gardens that back onto Museum Street at the side the British Museum.

The Penn Club is beside the British Museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The club is housed in three inter-linking Georgian terrace houses built in the 1800s. Russell Square, a pleasant green space with shady trees, a café and a beautiful fountain in the centre, is just a few steps from the Penn Club, as are Tavistock Square with its Gandhi memorial and peace monuments, and tiny Bloomsbury Square. The club is also close to London University, the British Museum, the British Library, and Covent Garden and the West End theatres.

The Penn Club was established by Quakers in 1920 with funds left over from the Friends Ambulance Unit, which was active during World War I. The club continues to have connections with Quakers throughout Britain and world-wide, and maintains traditional Quaker values of integrity, equality, tolerance and simplicity, honesty and fairness in all its dealings. The value Quakers place on silence means there is no television in the rooms, and all mobile phones were switched off during breakfast this morning.

12, Hotel Franklin Feel the Sound, Via Rodi, Rome:

In the lobby of the Hotel Franklin Feel the Sound on Via Rodi … just a stroll from the Vatican (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When I was last in Rome three years ago, I stayed at the Hotel Franklin Feel the Sound on Via Rodi.

The hotel is in Rome’s elegant Prati district, between the Vatican walls and Piazza Mazzini. I was just a few steps from the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, which meant I could walk to Saint Peter’s Basilica and Castel Sant’ Angelo in just minutes.

The Hotel Franklin Feel the Sound is a music-themed hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The hotel is part of the Best Western Group, and – as you can imagine, with a name like that – it is a music-themed hotel. The nearby metro stops at Ottaviano and Cipro-Vatican Museums, and Ottaviano is on line A, the same line as the Spanish Steps and Termini Train Station.

Prati is known for its wide, sweeping avenues, elegant buildings, and modern European charm. The grid layout and its elegant ‘Art Nouveau’ and ‘Umbertino’ style give Prati a unique personality, so that it has a distinct personality and a style reminiscent more of a quartier in Paris than a former marshland in Rome.

There are many other hotels and favourite places to stay I could mention, from hotels in the Peloponnese and other Greek islands, to hotels in Turkey, the Middle East and the Far East … including the spectacular Fuji View in Japan that I promised to return to when I was there in 1979.

But that’s another story. Let’s hope we can all travel again, safely and soon.

Some recent ‘virtual tours’:

A dozen hotels in Ireland.

A dozen buildings in Tamworth (Part 1);

A dozen buildings in Tamworth (Part 2);

More than a dozen Comberford family homes;

More than a dozen Comerford and Quemerford family homes;

A dozen Wren churches in London;

Ten former Wren churches in London;

More than a dozen churches in Lichfield;

More than a dozen pubs in Lichfield;

A dozen former pubs in Lichfield;

A dozen churches in Rethymnon;

A dozen restaurants in Rethymnon;

A dozen churches in other parts of Crete;

A dozen monasteries in Crete;

A dozen sites on Mount Athos;

A dozen historic sites in Athens;

A dozen historic sites in Thessaloniki;

A dozen churches in Thessaloniki;

A dozen Jewish sites in Thessaloniki.

A dozen churches in Cambridge;

A dozen college chapels in Cambridge;

A dozen Irish islands;

A dozen churches in Corfu;

A dozen churches in Venice.

A dozen churches in Rome.

A dozen churches in Bologna;

A dozen churches in Tuscany.

A lockdown ‘virtual
tour’ of a dozen
hotels in Ireland

Sunrise at the mouth of the River Slaney at the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

The lockdown introduced in response to Covid-19 pandemic is beginning to be eased, and many of us are probably beginning to think about – if not planning – staycations in Ireland as soon as the opportunity arises.

When I was in my late teens, I hitched hiked all over Ireland and England, staying in youth hostels, over pubs and in bed and breakfast guesthouses.

It is left me with a taste for ‘cheap and cheerful’ hotels, rather than the expensive plush hotels I have sometimes found myself staying in during working trips.

But there are some hotels I have stayed in that I have come to regard as worth staying in, no matter where they are, simply because of themselves. And at the tope of this list in Ireland is the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford.

In the spirit of my recent ‘virtual tours’ during this lockdown, I offer this ‘virtual tour’ of a dozen of my favourite hotels in Ireland. Perhaps it might help readers as they think about a ‘staycation’ later this year.

1, The Ferrycarrig Hotel, Wexford:

All bedrooms in the Ferrycarrig Hotel look out onto the River Slaney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

If there is one hotel in Ireland that I would stay in just for its own sake, then it has to be the Ferrycarrig Hotel, is just 3 km from Wexford Town.

I lived in Wexford almost 50 years ago, and still feel that I am part of Wexford and that Wexford is part of me. In the past, when I returned to Wexford, I wanted to stay in the town, staying with friends or in a variety of hotels and guesthouses. Ferrycarrig seemed to be far out, even though I walked there regularly in my early 20s.

Now I know it is actually very convenient to the town, and I have stayed in the Ferrycarrig Hotel on a number of occasions in recent years. and before dinner last night two of walked around the streets of the old town.

All the bedrooms in the Ferrycarrig Hotel look out onto the River Slaney, and there is nothing comparable to waking up to this sight any morning, any time of the year.

In the corridors of the Ferrycarrig Hotel in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the morning, the colours on the Slaney and in the skies slowly can change from greys and dull blues to contrasts of bright orange and silver sparkle and then to bright blues and reflections of the landscape in the water. Time moves on – in history, in life and on river – and each passing phase brings new opportunities and new blessings.

in one of the corridors of the hotel, among a large collection of posters from the Wexford Festival, I came across a poster from the 1994 festival, that is the same as a block-mounted poster in the my house in Knocklyon.

However, unlike my own poster in Dublin, the hotel’s copy is not fading, a reminder of my continuing, harboured and cherished memories of Wexford that never fade.

2, Castle Leslie, Co Monaghan:

Castle Leslie exudes old-world grandeur and hospitality(Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I stayed many years ago in Castle Leslie, Co Monaghan, while I was attending the ordination of four former students. Castle Leslie, at the village of Glaslough, is a country house hotel exuding old-world grandeur and hospitality, and is free from distractions and intrusions.

The 1,000-acre Castle Leslie Estate includes the charming and eccentric Castle Leslie with its own equestrian centre and hunting lodge set in unspoiled countryside, with ancient forests, rolling hills, green fields, lakes and streams. Castle Leslie stands on the site of an earlier castle, and was designed in 1870 by Charles Lanyon and WH Lynn for Sir John Leslie in the Scottish baronial style.

Castle Leslie is beside the pretty village of Glaslough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The colourful history of the Castle Leslie Estate is a story that is bedecked with politics, royalty and war, with a family that includes much-married bishops, exiled opponents of William of Orange, a woman said to be the granddaughter of George IV and his mistress, cousins of Winston Churchill, prisoners-of-war, and eccentrics who believe we are about to be invaded by flying saucers and UFOs.

Swift wrote many verses about the Leslies, not all of them complimentary:

With rows and rows of books upon the shelves
Written by the Leslies
All about themselves.


3, The Zuni Hotel, Kilkenny:

The Zuni Hotel is close to all the attractions of Kilkenny

I have stayed in many hotels in Kilkenny, at clergy conferences, church meetings, eating in some of my favourite restaurants, or visiting some of my favourite places, including Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny Castle, Rothe House and Ballybur Caste, or exploring the streets, lanes and churches of Kilkenny.

But one of my favourite places to stay in Kilkenny is the Zuni Hotel on Patrick Street, a short walk from Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny Design Centre and Kilkenny’s main shopping district and many fine restaurants and bars.

The Zuni Hotel has its own award-winning restaurant

But, despite all these attractions so close at hand, the Zuni Hotel is a boutique hotel with its own award-winning restaurant.

4, Markree Castle, Co Sligo:

Markree Castle, near Collooney, Co Sligo … this was once the coldest place in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I stayed at Markree Castle, near Collooney, Co Sligo, during a family wedding in Sligo Cathedral. Markree Castle is a small family-run hotel, owned by the Corscadden family who also own Cabra Castle Hotel, Co Cavan, Ballyseede Castle Hotel, Co Kerry, and Bellingham Castle, Co Louth.

The hymn-writer Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) is said to have written the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful while she was a guest there of the Cooper family in 1848.

The staircase leading into Markree Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Markree Castle, which is partially moated by the River Unshin, is the ancestral seat of the Cooper family. The castle, as we see it today, dates from 1802 with exterior changes by the architect Francis Johnston. Some later changes, mainly to the interior, were made in in the late 1860s and in the 1890s.

Charles Cooper transformed his ancestral castle into a hotel in 1989. The castle’s restoration was featured in a television documentary, and the renewed facilities included a hotel and restaurant.

Markree Castle was run as a hotel by Charles and Mary Cooper, the tenth generation of the family to live there. After four centuries, the castle finally changed hands in 2015 when it was sold for an undisclosed sum after being on the market with an asking price of €3.12 million. The hotel is now run by the Corscadden family.

5, Castle Durrow, Co Laois:

Castle Durrow was built over 300 years ago by the Flower family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Castle Durrow, in the Midlands village of Durrow, Co Laois, is a country house hotel on the N8 old Dublin-Cork road, about an hour from Dublin. The house was built over 300 years ago in 1712-1716 as his family home by Captain William Flower, whose family later held the title of Viscount Ashbrook.

The pre-Palladian design and formal gardens were the height of fashion in those days, and the grey/blue cut stone contrasts with the breath-taking views of the landscape.

In the grounds of Castle Durrow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The banks foreclosed in 1922, and the Flower family were forced to sell up and move to England. The Land Commission divided up the lands and the Forestry department took over many of the woods for plantation, but the great house was left empty. The Parish of Durrow bought the estate for a mere £1,800 and Castle Durrow was transformed into Saint Fintan’s College and Convent.

Peter and Shelly Stokes bought Castle Durrow in the 1990s and began renovating the castle over three years. The Stokes family manage the daily running of the castle and are an intricate part of this charming hotel.

6, Strand Hotel, Dugort, Achill Island:

The Strand Hotel looks out onto the beach at Dugort, below Slievemore, on Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Strand Hotel is north coast of Achill Island, Ireland’s largest off-shore island. The hotel is beneath the slopes of Slievemore, Achill's highest mountain, and looks out across the beach at Dugort facing out onto Blacksod Bay.

I first visited Achill Island in 1974, and first stayed in the Strand Hotel around 1979. The proprietor, Billy Scott, was so kind, that in the 1980s it became a regular retreat on occasions when I needed solitude and a place to write in peace and quiet, just a short walk from Saint Thomas’s Church.

On the beach at Dugort, below the Strand Hotel, on Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This became a regular venue for family holidays in the 1990s. Although I have been back in recent years for summer schools and seminars, I have not stayed in the Strand Hotel for 15 years or more.

However, the location remains inviting, and the view of the beach in Dugort remains inviting.

7, The Station House Hotel, Kilmessan, Co Meath:

The Station House Hotel, Kilmessan, Co Meath … an old railway station with all the charm of a country house hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Kilmessan is a quite village off the M3 and just a short distance from Dunshaughlin, Navan, Trim and Ratoath. The Station House Hotel is a country house hotel and restaurant set in acres of woodlands and manicured gardens, providing an idyllic a country escape, away from the bustle of daily life.

This has been run as an hotel for more than 35 years but was once a train station and the hotel grounds retain some of the original fixtures, including the old railway bridge and turntable.

The old signal cabin still stands at one end of the former station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Chris and Thelma Slattery, who also owned the Waterside House Hotel in Donabate, Co Dublin, bought the Station House Hotel in 1981, the third family to own the old train station, and transformed it into a guest house in 1983.

The remains of the old station at the Station House Hotel today include the safe made by Milners Safe Company Ltd, London and Liverpool, fireplaces and the platforms, which stand outside the main door of the hotel. The remainder of the turntable lies at the end of the wooded area near the bridge.

8, Mount Wolseley, Tullow, Co Carlow:

Mount Wolseley House near Tullow, Co Carlow … sold in 1925 for £4,500 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I stayed some years ago in Mount Wolseley on the edges of Tullow, Co Carlow, during a family wedding. Mount Wolseley House is the ancestral home of a branch of the Wolseley family from Wolseley in Staffordshire, and the Irish branch included the famous general Viscount Wolseley and Frederick York Wolseley who gave his name to a stylish car.

Mount Wolseley was bought by the Morrissey family in 1994 and has been developed into a four-star hotel. The house and gardens are private and remain the home of the Morrissey family, but they can be viewed in the near distance from the entrance gate beside the hotel.

The hotel at Mount Wolseley retains many memories of the original family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The hotel and the grounds are now owned by Lismard Properties and Enterprises. One wing of the hotel includes Aaron’s Lounge, a name that comes from a misunderstanding of the name of Mount Arran, first given to the estate by the Butler family, Earls of Arran, in the late 17th century. The name of Frederick’s Restaurant is a tribute to Frederick York Wolseley.

However, as the estate was developed over the past 20 or 30 years, the replica site of the Battle of Waterloo in the grounds was turned into an 18-hole championship golf course, and the Duke of Wellington’s battle plan can no longer be traced in the greens, fairways and the willow-lined ponds.

9, BrookLodge, Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow:

Autumn colours at the BrookLodge Hotel … a country spa hotel near the forgotten borough of Carysfort, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Another recent family wedding took place in Macreddin Village in south Co Wicklow, when I stayed overnight in BrookLodge Hotel, a country spa hotel 6 km north of the village of Aughrim.

The BrookLodge Hotel and Wells Spa opened in 1999, and the resort includes an equestrian centre, golf course, bakery, smokehouse, pub and microbrewery, and food, wine and craft shops. BrookLodge includes the Strawberry Tree, which claims to be Ireland’s only certified organic restaurant, and La Taverna Armento, an Italian taverna.

Macreddin, once known also as Moycreedin, is said to take its name (‘the Valley of Credin’) from Credin, a fifth century local saint chief who is said to have been killed by his enemies and brought back to life by Saint Kevin of Glendalough.

The Strawberry Tree claims to be Ireland’s only certified organic restaurant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Macreddin was granted to the monastery of Saint Saviour, Glendalough in the 12th century. When the Diocese of Glendalough was merged with the Archdiocese of Dublin, Macreddin was transferred to the Priory of All Hallows in Dublin. On the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, it was transferred to Dublin Corporation.

Co Wicklow was shired in 1606-1607, and so was the last county to be formed in Ireland, taking in the southern part of Dublin (with the exception of three ‘islands’ or enclaves of church property, and the northern part of what was then ‘Catherlough’ or Co Carlow, including Arklow. Two decades later, when Henry Cary, 1st Viscount Falkland, was Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1625-1628, a fort was built at Macreddin and was named Carysfort in his honour.

10, WatersEdge Hotel, Cobh:

The WatersEdge Hotel in Cork is a special venue in every sense of the word (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The last hotel in Ireland I have stayed in is the WatersEdge Hotel in Cork, which is a special venue in every sense of the word. Nestled in the harbour town of Cobh near Cork and situated on the waterfront, we really had a ‘room with a view.’

This is a boutique hotel that commands breath-taking views, with spacious, comfortable accommodation and bistro-style food. It is an hotel to come to time after time.

A view of Cork Harbour from our room in the WatersEdge Hotel, Cobh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The large balcony rooms are spacious and comfortable with a waterside terrace that is hard to leave.

We had a view right across the harbour with its islands, and we were within walking distance of the see-front museums, restaurants and the sites linked with the stories of the Titanic and the Lusitania.

11, Mustard Seed, Ballingarry, Co Limerick:

The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge … fine dining in a country house setting in Ballingarry, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Mustard Seed, an oasis of countryside bliss surrounded by verdant pastures in the heart of Co Limerick. It is within my own parish in West Limerick, but also on the doorstep to Adare.

This boutique hotel with a restaurant that is legendary with superb food and warm hospitality. Sitting on acres of manicured lawns, an orchard and a working kitchen garden, this hideaway is perfect house for a stopover, romantic nights, lazy days and special occasions.

The Library at the Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge in Ballingarry, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Originally, Echo Lodge was a long, thatched dwelling located in what is now the kitchen garden. This thatched house was a stopping house for the great Daniel O’Connell on his journey from Derrynane to Dublin.

The Revd Timothy Ryan Shanahan built the present Echo Lodge as a parochial house in 1885. Later, it passed to the Sisters of Mercy for one penny. Dan Mullane set up the Mustard Seed restaurant in Adare in 1985, and 10 years later moved the Mustard Seed to Echo Lodge, allowing diners the opportunity to stay overnight.

The Mustard Seed changed hands from Dan to his manager John Edward Joyce in 2016.

12, Charlemont Arms Hotel, Armagh:

The Charlemont Arms Hotel … three and a half centuries of history in Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In recent years, when I have been in Armagh at General Synod of the Church of Ireland, I have tended to stay in the Charlemont Arms Hotel in English Street, a third-generation, family-run hotel in the centre of the cathedral city.

The motto on the coat-of-arms of the Earls of Charlemont, over the hotel front door, which gives its name to the hotel, proclaims boldly: Deo Duce Ferro Comitante, ‘God is my leader, the sword is my companion.’ The first part of the motto may be appropriate for synod members staying in Armagh – but I have serious problems about the second part.

The hotel, which has thrived throughout the centuries, was originally home to a Dr Atkinson. By the 1760s, it had become a hostelry known as ‘The Caulfeild Arms.’ It was renamed in 1763, when James Caulfeild (1728-1799), fourth Viscount Caulfeild, was given the title Earl of Charlemont.

In the heyday of the Volunteers, there was a Charlemont Arms in every Irish town of note. However, this hotel may be the only one to survive – something that makes the current proprietors very proud.

In Victorian times, the facilities on offer included Turkish, plunge and other baths. It passed to Robert and Elizabeth Forster in 1934. Today, a third generation of the Forster family is involved in running the hotel.

A monument to the Caulfeild or Charlemont family in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The hotel is perfectly located between the city’s two cathedrals and close to the beautiful Mall, the theatre, city centre shops, the Armagh Planetarium and Observatory, the Armagh County Museum and the old Armagh Women’s Gaol. But it is also a short stroll from the synod venue and many synod members stay here, meaning this is often a place where a lot of back-room synod work is done.

There are many other hotels I could have named. During church and clergy conferences, I have stayed in hotels such as the Dunraven Arms in Adare, Arnold’s in Dunfanaghy, the Skelligs Hotel in Dingle, and other hotels in Athlone, Enniskillen Strandhill, and Kilkenny.

Presents and gifts have allowed me to stay in the Wineport Lodge, the Lough Erne Resort, the Ice House in Ballina, Tinnakilly House in Wicklow and the Maritime Hotel in Bantry.

And, of course, there are many more hotels, as well as the wonderful guesthouses I have stayed in across the island. But I thought I would next look at 12 more hotels in England and across Europe.

Some recent ‘virtual tours’:

A dozen buildings in Tamworth (Part 1);

A dozen buildings in Tamworth (Part 2);

More than a dozen Comberford family homes;

More than a dozen Comerford and Quemerford family homes;

A dozen Wren churches in London;

Ten former Wren churches in London;

More than a dozen churches in Lichfield;

More than a dozen pubs in Lichfield;

A dozen former pubs in Lichfield;

A dozen churches in Rethymnon;

A dozen restaurants in Rethymnon;

A dozen churches in other parts of Crete;

A dozen monasteries in Crete;

A dozen sites on Mount Athos;

A dozen historic sites in Athens;

A dozen historic sites in Thessaloniki;

A dozen churches in Thessaloniki;

A dozen Jewish sites in Thessaloniki.

A dozen churches in Cambridge;

A dozen college chapels in Cambridge;

A dozen Irish islands;

A dozen churches in Corfu;

A dozen churches in Venice.

A dozen churches in Rome.

A dozen churches in Bologna;

A dozen churches in Tuscany.

At the Dunraven Arms in Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)