Saturday, 10 April 2021

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
53, Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

The pediment of the Passion façade of Gaudí’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona … still waiting for representations of the Resurrection (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society, Partners in the Gospel).

Easter began on Sunday with Easter Day. This week, I am offering photographs of images of the Resurrection from seven churches, some of which I have already visited during the season of Lent.

La Sagrada Família is Barcelona’s most famous building and Antoni Gaudí’s best-loved work (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

My photographs this morning (10 April 2021) are from the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, a towering church often mistakenly identified as a cathedral. This is Barcelona’s most famous building and Antoni Gaudí’s best-loved work.

Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) was only 30 when he was commissioned to work on the basilica, and from 1915 he devoted the rest of his life to its completion. He wanted this to be one large Bible in stone and designed the three façades of the Basilica with three themes: Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, and glory.

The Nativity façade and the Passion façade are totally different in their symbols, in their artistry and their expressiveness. The Passion façade faces Barcelona, but is unlike the joy of Christmas found on the Nativity façade. Twelve sculptural groups describing the hours between the Last Supper and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ were designed by sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs.

On the upper narthex of the Passion façade, Gaudí placed those who were walking towards resurrection: the patriarchs on one side and the prophets on the other, with their names inscribed by Subirachs on the wall behind. They come together in the stained-glass window of the Resurrection, which acts as a background from the street.

The pediment of the Passion façade is crowned with three acroterions symbolising Christ’s victory over death: one in the centre and one on either side. Gaudí designed the upper narthex on the Passion façade as a pediment with an acroterion at each corner: in the centre, a cross with angels 40 metres up, expressing the triumph of charity and love over martyrdom and death. On either side, Christ is represented by the Lion of Judah, who beat death, and, on the right, by the lamb or ram of Abraham, offered as a sacrifice.

The nave was completed on 31 December 2000. When I visited Sagrada Família, the Passion façade was near completion, except for these three acroterions on the pediment and the empty tomb, and the cross and the angels were still being designed and produced. Sagrada Família is not expected to be finally completed until 2026, which marks the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death.

Christ before Pilate (John 18: 33-37) … an image on the façade of Gaudí’s Basilica of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 16: 9-15 (NRSVA):

9 Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

12 After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13 And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.

14 Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15 And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.’

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (10 April 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for women in prisons and detention centres, and for girls in correctional institutions.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Work continues on La Sagrada Família … which is expected to be completed in 2026 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Friday, 9 April 2021

Hundreds of lost Jewish
gravestones, missing since 1940s,
found again in Bratislava

The graves of rabbis buried beside the Chatam Sofer in Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During my visit to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, at the end of 2019, I visited the Chatam Sofer Memorial, a unique Jewish heritage site. This is revered by many Orthodox Jews as the most sacred burial ground and place of pilgrimage in Europe.

The Chatam Sofer Memorial is the sole remaining part of the centuries-old Jewish cemetery that was destroyed in 1943 when a nearby tunnel was constructed. Only the most important section of the cemetery, with 23 graves surrounding the Chatam Sofer’s tomb, was preserved as an underground compound.

Now, the exciting discovery has been reported this week of hundreds of centuries-old matzevot or gravestones from the Old Jewish Cemetery in Bratislava, demolished nearly 80 years ago.

These gravestones had long been presumed lost or destroyed. But in a remarkable discovery, reported this week by Jewish Heritage Europe, hundreds of gravestones from the destroyed old cemetery have come to light. They date mainly from the 18th to early 19th century, and were found piled up in a neglected and heavily overgrown area near a far wall of the city’s active Orthodox Jewish cemetery. It seems they had lain there undisturbed for almost 80 years.

Tomáš Stern, president of the Bratislava Jewish community, said 300 or more baroque gravestones have been discovered over the last two months.

‘This is probably one of the most important projects for the preservation of the cultural heritage of our community in recent years, which certainly goes beyond regional significance,’ he said on the Bratislava Jewish community web site.

The matzevot are being numbered, photographed, documented, and digitised, and their epitaphs are being translated. Matzevot and fragments are being matched to archival photos, and project workers are trying to reassemble gravestones from broken pieces.

Mr Stern told JHE that fragments will be used to create a commemorative lapidarium at the Orthodox cemetery, while the best-preserved intact stones will be transferred back to the site of the old cemetery and re-erected as a complement to the underground memorial of the great sage Rabbi Moses or Moshe Schreiber (1762-1839), known as Chatam Sofer.

The grave of Chatam Sofer in Bratislava is one of the holiest pilgrim sites in Europe for Orthodox Jews (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This memorial also preserves the only 23 tombs from the Old Cemetery that were not removed from the site or destroyed. They are encased in a concrete shell and covered over, and even in communist times were a site of pilgrimage. They are now conserved in a memorial compound designed by the architect Martin Kvasnica in 2000-2002.

The Old Jewish Cemetery was established near the banks of the Danube in the 1690s, and was Bratislava’s main Jewish cemetery until 1847. It was demolished during World War II in 1942-1943, when a tunnel was built near the site. The matzevot were removed, and most of the graves were exhumed and reburied in a mass grave in the Orthodox cemetery.

Apart from the 23 gravestones conserved in the Chatam Sofer complex, the matzevot from the Old Cemetery were presumed to have been lost or destroyed. Their discovery is a remarkable story.

Mr Stern told JHE this week that in the 1990s he learned that at least some of these gravestones had survived. ‘One of the last members of the [Jewish community], who participated on the matzevot removal […] was still alive, and told me that in the bushes there are the stones from the old cemetery,’ he said.

People checked the area, but only saw around 20 or 30 stones, he said.

But earlier this year, as president of the community, he raised funds to clear the area and look further. The project involved cutting trees, removing heavy brush and clearing accumulated soil. As the work progressed, hundreds of heaped-up intact stones and fragments were revealed.

The Jewish community in Bratislava is carrying out the project, in co-operation with outside experts, and is trying to raise €20,000 to complete the excavation. Daniel Polakovic, from the Jewish Museum in Prague, will oversee the translation of epitaphs, and Martin Kvasnica, the architect of the Chatam Sofer memorial, will advise on the placement of matzevot at the site.

The Chatam Sofer Memorial in Bratislava was designed by the architect Martin Kvasnica (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For my prayers and reflections this Friday evening I return to the version of the Mourner’s Kaddish by Lord (Jonathan) Sacks:

Mourner: Magnified and sanctified may His great name be, in the world He created by His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of all the House of Israel, swiftly and soon – and say: Amen.

All: May His great name be blessed for ever and all time.

Mourner: Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, raised and honoured, uplifted and exalted, raised and honoured, uplifted and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond any blessing, song, praise and consolation uttered in the world – and say: Amen.

May there be great peace from heaven, and life for us and all Israel – and say: Amen.

Bow, take three steps back, then bow, first left, then right, then centre, while saying:

May He who makes peace in His high places, make peace for us and all Israel – and say: Amen.

The translation of Kaddish in Service of the Heart is:

Extolled and hallowed be God’s great name in the world he has created according to his will. May he establish his kingdom, in our lifetime, and let us say: Amen.

Let his great name be praised to eternity.

Lauded and praised, glorified, exalted and adored, honoured, extolled and acclaimed be the name of the Holy One, though he is above all the praises, hymns and adorations which men can utter, and let us say: Amen.

May God grant abundant peace and life to us and to the whole house of Israel, and let us say: Amen.

May the Most High, source of perfect peace, grant peace to us, to all Israel, and to all mankind, and let us say: Amen.

Shabbat Shalom

Prayer books in the prayer hall emphasise that the Chatam Sofer memorial is a place of prayer and pilgrimage (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
52, Resurrection panel, Ennis Friary

The panel depicting the Resurrection of Christ on the Royal or MacMahon tomb in the Franciscan Friary, Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society, Partners in the Gospel).

Easter began on Sunday with Easter Day. This week, I am offering photographs of images of the Resurrection from seven churches, some of which I have already visited during the season of Lent.

My photographs this morning (9 April 2021) are from the ruins of the Franciscan Friary in Ennis, Co Clare. The Royal or MacMahon tomb is said to have been commissioned around 1470 by Máire O’Brien MacMahon, the wife of Terence MacMahon of Corcovaskin.

The sequence of images on the tomb suggests that this was an Easter sepulchre, a representation of Christ’s tomb that would have been placed to the left of the main altar and would have been a focus of the Easter ceremonies, when the general laity were given the rare opportunity to pass through the rood screen from the nave to the chancel. The panels on the tomb narrate the scenes of the Passion: the Arrest of Christ, his Flagellation, his Crucifixion, his Entombment and the Resurrection. All are modelled on English alabaster tables.

The panel depicting Christ and the Twelve Apostles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 21: 1-14 (NRSVA):

1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 6 He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (9 April 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for migrant women who travel across continents seeking a better life; a life based on hope.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Royal or MacMahon tomb once stood against the north wall of the chancel in the Franciscan Friary in Ennis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Thursday, 8 April 2021

A walk through woodlands in
Tymon Park with its sculpture
and the ruins of Tymon Castle

‘Cliabhan’ (‘Cradle’) by the sculptor Linda Brunker in Tymon Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I have been in Dublin this week for a consultation with my GP about my sarcoidosis and one of my regular injections for my Vitamin B12 deficiency.

I have stayed within a 5 km radius of the house in Knocklyon, and within my ‘family bubble.’ But after yesterday’s consultation I went for a walk in Tymon Park, a large suburban public park in South Dublin, between Tallaght, Templeogue and Walkinstown.

Tymon Park opened in June 1986 and is the second largest park in Dublin, after the Phoenix Park. It has an area of over 120 ha (300 acres) and is divided in two by the M50 motorway, with the two parts linked by a pair of pedestrian bridges.

Tymon Park Forest is designed to produce a rich and diverse woodland landscape for 125 different species, including beech, poplar, ash, horse chestnut, willow, maples, sycamore and birch, with alder, hazel, and hawthorn near the edges.

Tymon Park Forest is designed to produce a rich and diverse woodland landscape (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The park has a number of way-marked woodland trails, 29 sports pitches, and children’s playground close to the Greenhills Road entrance, beside Castletymon Road, beside the Willington Lane car park and at the Limekiln Road car park.

The River Poddle flows through the park, filling two bigger lakes and several inter-connecting smaller ponds and water features. The water features provide a valuable habitat for up to 92 species of flora and fauna, and a breeding ground for the popular waterfowl.

The PACT Woodland Project in Tymon Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The PACT Woodland Project in an attractively planted area by a lakeside is an innovative project by PACT in collaboration with South Dublin County Council. PACT is an adoption agency providing Irish families with a broad range of services in the areas of adoption, information and tracing and unplanned pregnancy. The project commemorated the 50th anniversary of PACT’s foundation in 1952 and 50 years of legal adoption in Ireland.

Part of this project is Cliabhan (the Irish for ‘Cradle’) by the sculptor Linda Brunker and unveiled on 9 September 2006. The sculpture, 1 metre wide and 2 metres high, consists of large bronze leaves in the form of an arm that extends from the ground up into three hands. These hands cradle a golden bronze baby in a nest of leaves. Linda Brunker designed the sculpture to symbolise the three-pronged nurturing aspect of the work of PACT.

Linda Brunker was born in Dublin in 1966 and graduated from the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, with a Diploma in Sculpture (1987) and a degree in fine art (1988). She has developed her own innovative style of bronze casting. She had solo shows in Dublin, New York and Los Angeles and has completed private and public commissions worldwide. She now lives in Toulouse in France.

Her other public works include ‘Voyager’ (2004) at Laytown Strand, commissioned by Meath County Council; ‘The Healing Tree’ (2002), Virginia, Co Cavan; ‘The Wishing Hand’ (2001), Department of Education, Marlborough Square, Dublin; and ‘The Children of Lir’ (1993) overlooking Lough Owel, outside Mullingar, commissioned by Westmeath County Council.

The site of Tymon Castle (left) on Tymon Lane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The area in Tymon Park was also the home of Tymon Castle, which once stood on a high ridge by Tymon Lane. The castle was once a local landmark, and Tymon Lane was an important link between rural areas and the centre of Dublin as a route on high ground through marshlands.

The castle was built some time between the 12th and 15th centuries, when many castles were built as defensive outposts along the edge of the Pale.

Although Tymon Castle was quite small, it stood on high ground that allowed its defenders to see for miles across the surrounding countryside. This high position and the surrounding marshy land ensured it was not an easy building to attack. A small projecting gallery over the entrance added to its defences.

However, the castle had deteriorated by the early 16th century and was in a ruinous state by 1547. It was partially repaired in 1779, but was only partially occupied.

During the 1798 rebellion, the body of an Irish rebel was left at the castle by a group of rebels after they were attacked by soldiers near Old Bawn. His body was later found by soldiers who hung it from a castle window where it was left to decay.

Children at Saint Mary’s School, Tallaght, described the ruins of the castle in the 1930s, saying ‘These ruins are on a great height and serve as a landmark for miles around.’ The ruins were a popular location for picnics, despite the dangerous state of the castle.

In his account of Tymon Castle in 1899, William Domville Handcock said it was almost in complete ruin, and recalled how the stones from the castle had been reused in other buildings. He added, ‘Probably in a few years more it will all be level with the ground.’

Tymon Castle was finally levelled in 1960 because of its dangerous condition.

‘Cliabhan’ (‘Cradle’) by the sculptor Linda Brunker in Tymon Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
51, Church of the Resurrection, Bucharest

The Church of the Resurrection, the Anglican church in the centre of Bucharest (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society, Partners in the Gospel).

Easter began on Sunday with Easter Day. This week, I am offering photographs of images of the Resurrection from seven churches, some of which I have already visited during the season of Lent.

My photographs this morning (8 April 2021) are from the Church of the Resurrection in Bucharest. The Anglican church in Gradina Icoanei is an attractive, red-bricked church in the centre of the Romanian capital. The earliest records of the church date from the 1860s, although there was an Anglican presence in Bucharest from 1850.

The cornerstone of the church was laid on 20 October 1913. The external fabric was completed by 1914, but building work was interrupted with the outbreak of World War I. The first service was held in the new church on Easter Day, 4 April 1920; it was soon completed, and was dedicated by the Bishop of Gibraltar on 5 November 1922.

Among the many icons presented to the church is one donated by the Patriarch of Romania to the Bishop of Gibraltar when Archbishop Michael Ramsey visited Romania in 1965. A full-time chaplaincy was established a year later in 1966, and the chaplains included the Revd Dr David Hope, later Archbishop of York.

I have visited the Church of the Resurrection numerous times when the Revd James Ramsay was the chaplain, preached there when the Revd Martin Jacques was chaplain, and I have also spoken at meetings of the Parochial Church Council.

Inside the Church of the Resurrection (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 24: 35-48 (NRSVA):

35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.’

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (8 April 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for women and girls who are refugees, living in camps as a result of war.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Church of the Resurrection, Bucharest … a photograph on the website of the Centre for Romanian Studies

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

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Three theologians walk
into a bar: Karl Rahner,
Hans Küng, Joseph Ratzinger

The celebrated Swiss theologian and priest Hans Küng … died yesterday at the age of 93

Patrick Comerford

Soon after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope, Michael McGough recalled a joke in the Los Angeles Times about three German-speaking theologians who all died on the same day.

Karl Rahner, Hans Küng and Joseph Ratzinger all arrived at the pearly gates at the same time and are sent together to Saint Peter’s office to find out their fates.

Saint Peter points at Rahner and says ‘Karl! In my office.’

Four hours later, the office door opens, and Karl Rahner comes out. He is distraught, mumbling, ‘Oh my, that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done! How could I have been so wrong! So sorry.’ He stumbles off into heaven, a testament to the mercy of God.

Hans Küng goes in next. After eight hours, the door opens, and Küng is near collapse. He too is mumbling, ‘How could I have been so wrong!’ as he lurches into heaven, another testament to God’s mercy.

Saint Peter finally calls in Joseph Ratzinger. Twelve hours later, the door opens and Saint Peter stumbles out, mumbling, ‘How could I have been so wrong?’

The celebrated but controversial Swiss theologian and priest Hans Küng died yesterday (6 April 2021) at his home in Tübingen at the age of 93. He has lived with Parkinson’s disease for the past eight years and who lived, taught and lectured for more than 40 years in Germany.

He engaged in dialogue with Buddhism, Chinese religions, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, became the most prominent Catholic theologian to speak in China and the first theologian to address a group of astrophysicists. His popularity was directly related to his readability, clarity, erudition, honesty, fearlessness. He was profound yet popular, intellectual yet understandable, said and wrote what he thought needed to be expressed and was passionate in his search for truth.

After seven years studying philosophy and theology in Latin at the Gregorian University in Rome, Küng was ordained a priest in Rome in 1954 and celebrated his first Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica. He completed a further three years of study in French for his doctorate at the Sorbonne and the Institut Catholique in Paris, where he wrote his thesis on Justification.

In his doctoral dissertation on Justification, Küng concluded an agreement in principle was possible between Catholic theology as set down at the Council of Trent in the 16th century and 20th century Reformation theology found in the work of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics was possible.

At 34, he was the youngest expert at Vatican II, soon joined by the Dominicans Edward Schillebeeckx of Belgium and Yves Congar of France; the German priests Joseph Ratzinger and Karl Rahner, and John Courtney Murray, George Higgins, John Quinn, Gustave Weigel and Vincent Yzermans from the US.

His Infallible?: An Inquiry caused an uproar across the Catholic world in 1971, and made him l’enfant terrible of the Catholic Church. He questioned his Church’s teachings on infallibility, celibacy, contraception and the ordination of women as well as men.

His most popular book, On Being a Christian (Christ sein) was a best-seller when it was published in 1974, an unusual achievement for a work of scholarly theology. I bought – and I still have – the first edition in English that year.

At the end of 1979, the Vatican revoked his missio canonical or license to teach as a Catholic theologian at the University of Tübingen, where he had been Professor of Dogmatic Theology from 1963. In the end, he retained his professorship in the university's secular Institute for Ecumenical Research, which he had founded and directed since the early 1960s.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was involved in removing his teaching license. As dean of theology at Tübingen in the early 1960s, Küng had offered – and Ratzinger accepted – a professorship at Tübingen. But Ratzinger left academia, and later headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the successor to the Inquisition, for 25 years under Pope John Paul II.

By the time I became a post-graduate student at the Irish School of Ecumenics (1982-1984), Hans Küng was seen as one the most influential theologians in the world. I was doubly blessed, because one of my lecturers, the late Revd Dr Robin Boyd, had been a doctoral student under yet another great German-speaking Swiss theologian, Karl Barth.

Many of my colleagues remember Hans Küng’s visit to Dublin in 1985, and still regard his lecture in Trinity College Dublin during that visit as one of the seminal moments in their theological lives.

In the 1990s, Küng took on the task of preparing a Declaration Toward a Global Ethic for the Parliament of the World Religions in Chicago in 1993. The most referenced part of the declaration was no peace among the nations without peace among the religions.

Little did I realise when I met Küng at that lecture in TCD almost 30 years ago that I would later share the distinction of contributing to a book with him.

In 2000, to mark the millennium in a particularly Christian way, The Irish Times ran a monthly series of features, commissioned by Patsy McGarry. The series opened with a contribution from Hans Küng, and continued each month with distinguished contributors who followed in his wake, including Jerome Murphy O’Connor, Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu, Sean Freyne and Andrew Greely. Each month, I completed the features with a series that built up into ‘A brief history of Christianity.’

The features were collected and edited by Patsy McGarry in a book, Christianity, published by Veritas in 2001. The opening chapter was Hans Küng’s opening feature, and the second half of the book was my ‘Brief History of Christianity.’ The cover illustration was an icon I had bought in Rethymnon in Crete in 1989.

To the surprise of many, Küng requested a meeting with Ratzinger shortly after his election as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. The two had retained a distant respect for one another and maintained a limited correspondence over 45 years.

In On Being a Christian, Küng quoted the German physicist and philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, who said: ‘There is one thing I would like to tell the theologians: something which they know and others should know. They hold the sole truth which goes deeper than the truth of science, on which the atomic age rests. They hold a knowledge of the nature of man that is more deeply rooted than the rationality of modern times. The moment always comes inevitably when our planning breaks down and we ask and will ask about the truth.’

‘Christianity’ (2001), edited by Patsy McGarry … the contributors included Hans Küng, and the cover illustration was an icon from Crete in my private collection

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
50, Resurrection window, Saint Michael’s, Lichfield

The Resurrection … a stained glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society, Partners in the Gospel).

Easter began on Sunday with Easter Day. This week, I am offering photographs of images of the Resurrection from seven churches, some of which I have already visited during the season of Lent.

My photographs this morning (7 April 2021) are from Saint Michael’s Church on Greenhills, Lichfield, including the Resurrection window. This is one of the oldest and one of the largest burial grounds in England. Although much of the present church on a sandstone ridge on the east side of Lichfield dates from rebuilding projects in the 1840s, there has been a church on this high ground since at least 1190.

There is a legend that this was the burial place of 999 early Christian martyrs who were the followers of the legendry Saint Amphibalus, who had converted Saint Alban to Christianity in the third or fourth century. There is no evidence to support the legend of those martyrs in the year 300 during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. But the legend became so popular that it was often said that the name Lichfield actually means ‘field of the dead.’

Saint Michael’s is also associated with the family of Lichfield’s most famous writer, Samuel Johnson (1709-1784): a floor slab n the centre of the nave commemorates his father Michael, his mother Sarah and his brother Nathaniel, all buried in the church. The church also has associations with the family of the poet Philip Larkin.

‘A serious house on serious earth it is’ … Saint Michael’s Church, Greenhill, Lichfield … the poet Philip Larkin said, ‘A serious house on serious earth it is’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 24: 13-35 (NRSVA):

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19 He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25 Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Faith, Hope and Love … a window in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (7 April 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for women and men who accept the good news of Jesus’ resurrection but find it difficult to live out this reality in their daily lives.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

I ‘run my hand around the font’ (Philip Larkin) … the font in Saint Michael's Church, where generations of the Larkin family were baptised (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

‘For Such a Time as This’:
hoping to take part in
USPG’s 2021 conference

‘For Such a Time as This’ … the theme of this year’s USPG conference

Patrick Comerford

With the roll-out of the vaccine in both Ireland and Britain, I am still holding out hope that I may be able to get to the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) later this summer in the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire.

The conference last year was due to take place in Swanwick, Derbyshire, from 20 to 22 July 2020, with the theme ‘Rejoice in the Lord always: God’s People in God’s Mission’, immediately before the Lambeth Conference. I had been hoping to spend some days in Lichfield too before or after the conference. But both conferences were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

I have not been back in England since March last year, and I have not been in High Leigh since July 2019.

I am in Dublin this evening to visit my GP tomorrow for a check-up on my sarcoidosis and an injection for my Vitamin B12 deficiency. But I am also hoping to get a date for my first Covid vaccine.

Should my first and second jabs come through on time, and should travel between these two islands become possible, then perhaps – just perhaps – I may be able to take part in the conference, with even the possibility of a visit to Cambridge.

The USPG conference this year has the working title, ‘For Such a Time as This,’ similar to the title of USPG’s Lenten course this year, ‘For Such a Time.’

We have not witnessed ‘such a time as this’ on a global scale of pandemic, ecological crisis and racial divisions in living memory. What do these major global factors say to the mission of the Anglican Church?

How can USPG and its partners speak prophetically into these important issues alongside supporting Churches in their community responses?

For the first time this year, the USPG Annual Conference will be both a physical and a virtual event. The full conference takes place from 4 pm on Monday 19 July to 2 pm on Wednesday 21 July at the High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire.

Key sections of the conference will be livestreamed for a virtual audience in four two-hour sessions over those three days.

The annual meeting of USPG Council takes place on Tuesday 20 July, and my six-year term as a trustee of USPG comes to a conclusion at that meeting.

The all-inclusive fee for the full conference is £190. It is also possible to register for the day conference on Tuesday and for the online conference. In the event of the conference being cancelled due to further Corona virus restrictions, a full refund will be given to everyone who has registered for the physical conference.

Needless to say, all my travel plans are more in hope than in anticipation today, and subject to the roll-out of the vaccine and changes in government guidelines on trave.

Meanwhile, USPG supporters are being invited to join USPG later this month for a ‘Global Mission Webinar’ on USPG work in the Philippimnes.

The webinar, from 10 am on Thursday 29 April expects to hear three different speakers from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) share their experience and knowledge of the mission of the Church among the Lumad communities of Philippines.

Speakers are introducing case studies from grass roots mission work, along with challenges and opportunities that are being encountered by the Church in their accompaniment programme.

Find out more about these events on the USPG website HERE.

The High Leigh Conference Centre near Hoddeson in Hertfordshire … the venue for the USPG Conference this year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
49, Resurrection frescoes, Tolleshunt Knights

The Empty Tomb … a fresco in the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society, Partners in the Gospel).

Easter began on Sunday with Easter Day. This week, I am offering photographs of images of the Resurrection from seven churches, some of which I have already visited during the season of Lent.

My photographs this morning (6 April 2021) are from frescoes in the Stavropegic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, near Maldon in Essex.

I visited this monastery on a one-day pilgrimage each year while I was a student at the summer school in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

The monastery was founded by Archimandrite Sophrony (1896-1993), a disciple of Saint Silouan (1866-1938) of Mount Athos. This mixed community gives a central place to the Jesus Prayer and is a popular place for pilgrims and Orthodox visitors.

Inside the Resurrection Chapel at the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 20: 11-18 (NRSVA)

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14 When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”.’ 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (6 April 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the followers of Jesus in this age who are witnessing in challenging places as they spread the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Resurrection and the Crucifixion in a fresco in the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Monday, 5 April 2021

Remembering champions of justice
at virtual meetings of USPG trustees

Bishop Humphrey Taylor … instrumental in the USPG response to apartheid in South Africa

Patrick Comerford

For the past year, I have continued to attend meetings of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). But, instead of travelling to London a few times a year for these meetings, the pandemic lockdowns mean these have been ‘virtual’ meetings, attended online in the Rectory in Askeaton, without the benefit of the sideline meetings that help to foster and nurture friendships.

At the end of each meeting of USPG trustees, we remember in prayer former missionaries, staff members and supporters who have died since the previous meeting. At our latest ‘virtual’ meeting, those we remembered included Bishop Humphrey Taylor, a former USPG general secretary, and the Revd James Potts, who had been a missionary in Tanzania.

Bishop Humphrey Taylor (1938-2021) was a former USPG general secretary (1984-1991) and later the Suffragan Bishop of Selby.

He went with SPG to Malawi, where he was the Rector of Saint Peter’s, Lilongwe. But President Hastings Banda expelled the Humphrey family from Malawi in 1971. Back in England, he was chaplain at Bishop Grosseteste College in Lincoln and worked for the General Synod Board of Education.

Humphrey Taylor returned to USPG as Missions Programmes Secretary in 1980 and General Secretary in 1984. He visited South Africa on behalf of USPG in 1982, with Geoffrey Cleaver and Roger Symon, visiting 15 Anglican dioceses and people and groups, from parish level to the Provincial Standing Committee of the Anglican Church.

Their joint report expressed admiration for a Church that was ‘strong in numbers, rich in talent, efficiently led, active in evangelism, powerful in stewardship, deeply involved in social concern.’ But they were also worried that the Church was part of the status quo and pointed out: ‘Despite the black majority (80%) in its church membership, of seventeen diocesan bishops … only six were black.’

The close links between USPG and the Anglican Church in South Africa made USPG a respected source of information for the media, and USPG was instrumental in setting up the South Africa Crisis Information Group. When I was working as a journalist, I relied on USPG as one of my sources for church life in South Africa at that time.

When the life of Bishop Simeon Nkoane was threatened violently in Johannesburg in 1986, Humphrey Taylor and USPG arranged a high-profile visit to South Africa by Bishop Keith Sutton of Lichfield as the representative of Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury. Later, Humphrey Taylor accompanied Archbishop Runcie to the enthronement of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, and it is said he wrote Archbishop Runcie’s sermon for the occasion.

Archbishop Tutu made Humphrey Taylor a Provincial Canon of Southern Africa in 1989 for his ‘inestimable contribution’ to the life and work of the Church there. After 11 years at USPG, he became Suffragan Bishop of Selby in 1991. He died on Ash Wednesday, 17 February, at the age of 82.

The Revd James Potts was a missionary in Tanzania for 12 years, where he was involved in theological education. He later lived in retirement in Lichfield, and we got to know each other at Lichfield Cathedral, where he regularly presided at the mid-day Eucharist in the cathedral, in the Lady Chapel or at the High Altar.

In retirement, he was also the chaplain of Dr Milley’s Hospital on Beacon Street, Lichfield. We last met at the mid-day Eucharist in Lichfield Cathedral many months ago. He died on 8 February at the age of 90.

This news report is published in the April 2021 edition of Newslink (pp 8-9), the Limerick and Killaloe diocesan magazine

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
48, Resurrection windows, Tamworth

The World War I memorial window in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, by Henry Holiday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society, Partners in the Gospel).

Easter began yesterday with Easter Day. This week, I am offering photographs of images of the Resurrection from seven churches, some of which I have already visited during the season of Lent.

My photographs this morning (5 April 2021) are of Resurrection images in the windows in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth.

Saint Editha’s Church has three interesting war memorials side-by-side in the North Aisle. The first of these windows, at the west end of the north aisle, is the World War I Memorial Window, dating from 1920, and by Henry George Alexander Holiday (1839-1927).

The artist Henry Holiday succeeded Sir Edward Burne-Jones as the chief designer for James Powell & Sons in 1863. Some of his windows were made by Lavers & Barraud and by Heaton, Butler & Bayne. He established his own workshop in 1890, and his later work was made at the Glass House, Fulham.

In the centre of this window, the Risen Christ is crowned and enthroned, with a cross in his left hand and his right hand raised in blessing. Above him are the words: ‘Come unto me & ye shall find rest to your souls.’ On either side are the words ‘Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.’

The rainbow above the throne is a sign of the Covenant of God and of hope. Two cherubs above are symbols of Divine Love. Four angels in two pairs on each side bear a scroll with the words: ‘Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted.’

The words at the bottom read: ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord hath anointed me to bind up the broken hearted, to comfort all that mourn, to give unto them the garment of praise for the spirit of the spirit of heaviness.’

Below the figure of Christ, groups of bereaved people are bringing their sorrows to him.

The memorial window commemorating the Revd Maurice Peel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, by Henry Holiday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The second war memorial window in Saint Editha’s Church, also by Henry Holiday, is in memory of the Revd Maurice Berkeley Peel (1887-1917), Vicar of Tamworth (1915-1917), who was killed in France in May 1917 during World War I.

The three principle human figures in the three lights are caught up in the wind and represent Life (left), Death (right) and Resurrection (centre), with angelic figures above them who represent Faith (left), Hope (right) and Love (centre).

The third window, at the east end of the north aisle of Saint Editha’s, is a World War II Memorial Window from 1949. This window is by Gerald Edward Roberts Smith (1883-1959).

The focal point of this window is the figure of the Risen Christ in Glory in the centre light, symbolising the Victory over Evil. Christ is shown in the Tree of Life, with its branches spreading into the outer lights, for its leaves are for the healing of the nations. He is encircled with the words, ‘Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through Our Lord Jesus Christ.’

This window is inspired by the themes in the canticle Te Deum, and depicts the Prophets, the Glorious Company of the Apostles, the Noble Army of Martyrs, and ‘the Holy Church throughout the World.’

The World War II memorial window by Gerald Smith in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 28: 8-15 (NRSVA)

8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’

11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, ‘You must say, “His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.” 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (5 April 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for women and girls who are afraid to tell when acts of violence are committed against them. We pray for their perpetrators and for a justice system that would believe their tales of pain.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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

Sunday, 4 April 2021

An Anglican missionary
nun and martyr in Korea
who was born in Ireland

Mother Mary Clare, an Irish-born Anglican martyr, is remembered in a room at Saint Columba’s House, Woking (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

After a year of pandemic lockdowns and partial lockdowns, I may be on the brink of being ‘all-Zoomed-out’ … but for the fact that many Zoom meetings introduce me to amazing and committed people I might not meet otherwise.

Recently, I was involved in a ‘virtual meeting’ arranged by the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) with Anglican priests and bishops from the Philippines and from South Korea. The meeting with four Korean priests reminded me of the Whitty sisters from Ireland, including an Anglican nun who died a martyr’s death during the Korean War.

Mother Mary Clare (1883-1950) was born Clare Emma Whitty in Fenloe, near Newmarket-on-Fergus, during one of many family holidays in Co Clare. Her sister, Sophia Angel St John Whitty (1877-1924), was born in Dublin and was a celebrated artist and woodcarver.

Their father, Dr Richard Whitty (1844-1897), was from Rathvilly, Co Carlow. At least three members of the Whitty family were Church of Ireland priests in Rathvilly; another branch of the family included three Rectors of Kilrush, Co Clare.

The Whitty sisters were cousins of Catherine O’Brien (1881-1963), the stained-glass artist; the Irish nationalist historian Alice Stopford-Green (1847-1929); and the controversial hymnwriter Stopford Brooke (1832-1916).

The two Whitty sisters spent much of their childhood at Hillcot in Whitechurch, Co Dublin, but family holidays were spent in Co Clare. When they were still children, Dr Whitty qualified as a medical doctor, the family moved to Limerick, and the family lived at No 11 The Crescent before moving to Essex later.

No 11 The Crescent, Limerick … for a few years the childhood home of the Anglican martyr and missionary nun Mother Mary Clare and her sister the artist Sophia Angel St John Whitty (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

***

Clare Emma Whitty studied in Paris and became a teacher in Birmingham. She joined the Anglican Community of Saint Peter in Kilburn and took her vows in 1915 as Sister Mary Clare. Bishop Mark Trollope (1862-1930), the Anglican Bishop of Korea, invited her to start a society of Korean sisters, and she founded the Society of the Holy Cross in Seoul in 1925. She became the first Mother Superior in 1929, and after spending World War II in exile in England, returned to Korea in 1947.

On the outbreak of the Korean War, she remained in Seoul. When the North Koreans captured Seoul in June 1950 she was interned, and as they retreated Mother Mary Clare and other missionaries were force-marched into North Korea. The ‘Death March’ was over 100 miles in winter, with little food or warm clothing. Mother Mary Clare died on 6 November 1950 was buried in the north-west part of North Korea by five French-speaking Roman Catholic sisters who dug her shallow grave.

Mother Mary Clare’s sister, Sophia St John Whitty, was a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement. She designed carved walnut figures for Christ Church, Bray, including two angels and Saint Patrick. She died in 1924 and was buried in Powerscourt.

Mother Mary Clare’s former community now runs Saint Columba’s House, a retreat house and conference centre in Woking where I have stayed during a meeting of USPG trustees. There, one of the guest rooms remembers her with the name ‘Mary Clare.’

By the 1880s, the Whitty family had moved to The Crescent, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A racist fraudster
from Rathmines


I have written in recent months about the bogus and competing claims made by Victorian clergy in Ireland to be chiefs of the O’Hanlon Clan and to hold the title of ‘The O’Hanlon,’ and about Lady Fitzgerald who lived in Victorian Lichfield, whose husband and sons used an Irish title to which they had no legitimate claims.

But the most preposterous charlatan and conceited claimant to titles I have come across must be Robert Gair or Gayre (1907-1996), the Rathmines-born son of a pastry baker who claimed he was a Scottish clan chief and laird.

This pretender was neither Scottish nor a clan chief. He was born in Dublin, was a charlatan and confidence trickster who invented his own Scottish clan and his own genealogical charts and orders of chivalry. He set up and edited his own pseudo-scientific journals, The Armorial and Mankind Quarterly, to advance his claims in subjects as diverse as heraldry and anthropology.

Robert Gayre was actually born George Robert Gair on 6 August 1907 at 4 Woodland Villas, Rathmines. His father, Robert William Gair (1875-1957) from Shelbourne Road, and his mother, Clara Hart from Serpentine Avenue, had been married in Dublin on 28 July 1906.

Robert Gair, or Gayre, who was born in Dublin in 1907, spent decades embellishing his pedigree and acquiring heraldic accessories and concocting colourful but bogus pedigrees and genealogical claims.

George Robert Gair, aka Robert Gayre of Gayre and Nigg … born in Rathmines, he held preposterous and racist views

***

Robert Gair studied anthropology at Exeter College, Oxford, but there is no record that he received a degree at Oxford. Later, he claimed three doctorates from three Italian universities, all dating from 1943-1944, when Britain was at war with Fascist Italy, and after World War II he assumed the rank of ‘lieutenant-colonel.’

In 1947, he self-published Gayre’s Booke: Being a History of the Family of Gayre. There, he set out a bogus ancestry that he claimed established him as the chieftain of the Clan of Gayre. However, no clan or sept by that name is mentioned in any record prior to Gayre’s claims.

At 50, he changed his surname from Gair to ‘Gayre of Gayre and Nigg’ in 1957, bought a castle in Scotland, and assumed the fraudulent and fictitious feudal title of Baron of Lochoreshyre. He claimed knighthoods, roles, medals and gongs in a diverse range of chivalric orders with differing grades of legitimacy and credibility.

But he also held extreme views that made him an undisguised anti-Semitic racist. He nurtured links with the National Front, former members of Mosley’s blackshirts, Nazi supporters and advocates of apartheid, and he regularly visited South Africa and Ian Smith’s Rhodesia. When he was challenged, he lost libel actions against the New Statesman and the Sunday Times.

He engaged in Ruritanian intrigues with pretenders to the throne of France, the would-be head of the House of Bourbon-Two-Sicilies, and the deposed king of Yugoslavia. The scope and magnitude of his fraudulent claims did not come to light until after he died on 10 February 1996.

The pretentious coat-of-arms used by George Robert Gair after he changed his name to Robert Gayre or Gayre and Nigg

A USPG bishop who
challenged apartheid


At the end of each meeting of USPG trustees, we remember in prayer former missionaries, staff members and supporters who have died since the previous meeting. At our latest ‘virtual’ meeting, those we remembered included the Revd James Potts, who had been a missionary in Tanzania, and Bishop Humphrey Taylor, a former USPG general secretary.

James Potts was a missionary in Tanzania for 12 years, where he was involved in theological education. He later lived in retirement in Lichfield, and I got to know him at Lichfield Cathedral, where he regularly presided at the mid-day Eucharist in the cathedral, in the Lady Chapel or at the High Altar.

In retirement, he was also the chaplain of Dr Milley’s Hospital on Beacon Street, Lichfield. We last met at the mid-day Eucharist in Lichfield Cathedral many months ago. He died on 8 February at the age of 90.

Bishop Humphrey Taylor (1938-2021) was a former USPG general secretary (1984-1991) and later the Suffragan Bishop of Selby.

He went with SPG to Malawi, where he was the Rector of Saint Peter’s, Lilongwe. But President Hastings Banda expelled the Humphrey family from Malawi in 1971. Back in England, he was chaplain at Bishop Grosseteste College in Lincoln and worked for the General Synod Board of Education.

Dr Milley’s Hospital, Lichfield … the Revd James Potts was appointed chaplain in 2010 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

***

Humphrey Taylor returned to USPG as Missions Programmes Secretary in 1980 and General Secretary in 1984. He visited South Africa on behalf of USPG in 1982, with Geoffrey Cleaver and Roger Symon, visiting 15 Anglican dioceses and people and groups, from parish level to the Provincial Standing Committee of the Anglican Church.

Their joint report expressed admiration for a Church that was ‘strong in numbers, rich in talent, efficiently led, active in evangelism, powerful in stewardship, deeply involved in social concern.’ But they were also worried that the Church was part of the status quo and pointed out: ‘Despite the black majority (80%) in its church membership, of seventeen diocesan bishops … only six were black.’

The close links between USPG and the Anglican church in South Africa made USPG a respected source of information for the media, and USPG was instrumental in setting up the South Africa Crisis Information Group.

When the life of Bishop Simeon Nkoane was threatened in 1986, Humphrey Taylor and USPG arranged a high-profile visit to South Africa by Bishop Keith Sutton of Lichfield as the representative of Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury.

Humphrey Taylor accompanied Archbishop Runcie to the enthronement of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, and it is said Bishop Taylor wrote Archbishop Runcie’s sermon on the occasion.

Archbishop Tutu made Humphrey Taylor a Provincial Canon of Southern Africa in 1989 for his ‘inestimable contribution’ to the life and work of the Church there. After 11 years at USPG, he became Suffragan Bishop of Selby in 1991. He died on Ash Wednesday, 17 February, at the age of 82.

Bishop Humphrey Taylor … instrumental in the USPG response to apartheid in South Africa

This two-page feature was published in April 2021 in the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough

Sunday intercessions on
4 April 2021, Easter Day

The Resurrection depicted in the Foley window in Saint Mary’s Church, Nenagh, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Let us pray:

‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him’ (Acts 10: 34):

Heavenly Father,
on this Easter Day,
we thank you for the grace to follow Christ,
in times of grief and of rejoicing,
in times of rejection and welcome,
in times of defeat and triumph.

We pray for the nations of the world,
for Ireland north and south,
for the Taoiseach and Tanaiste,
the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

We pray for nations torn by war, strife and division,
we pray for all who defend democracy and human rights,
for all who stand against racism, prejudice and oppression,
and we pray for all peacemakers …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here’ (Mark 16: 6):

Lord Jesus Christ,
we pray for the Church,
that we may welcome Christ in word and sacrament.

We pray for our neighbouring churches and parishes
in Co Limerick and Co Kerry,
that we may be blessed in their variety and diversity.

In the Anglican Cycle of Prayer,
we pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

In the Church of Ireland this month,
we pray for the Diocese of Down and Dromore
and Bishop David McClay.

In the Diocesan Cycle of Prayer this week,
we pray for all suffering from depression and other mental illnesses,

We pray for our own parishes and people,
and we pray for ourselves …

Christ have mercy,
Christ have mercy.

‘Christ, once raised from the dead dies no more; death has no more dominion over him’ (The Easter Anthems):

Holy Spirit,
we pray for one another …
we pray those we love and those who love us …
we pray for family, friends and neighbours ...
and we pray for those we promised to pray for …

We pray for those in need and those who seek healing …
for those working for healing …
for those waiting for healing …
for those seeking an end to this Covid crisis …

We pray for those who are sick or isolated,
at home or in hospital …

Una … Ann … Valerie … Daphne … Sylvia … Ajay …
Joey … Ena … George … Louise …

We pray for people who are lonely this Easter, without their families around them …

We pray for those we have offered to pray for …
and we pray for those who pray for us …

We pray for all who grieve and mourn at this time …
for Joey, Kenneth, Victor, and their families …

We remember and give thanks for those who have died …
especially for Linda Smyth …
for Bridget, whose birthday is at this time …
for those whose anniversaries are at this time …
May their memories be a blessing to us …

Lord have mercy,
Lord have mercy.

A prayer from the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) on Easter Day:

Loving God, we come to you on this day that your Son
broke the bonds of death and rose victoriously from the tomb.
May the risen Christ continue to strengthen us
with the desire to share the good news of Your love for the world.


Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!



These intercessions were prepared for use in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes on Easter Day, Sunday 4 April 2021