01 June 2021

‘Who’s the king of the castle then?’

A small boat in the water at Kells Bay, near Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

After visiting Kells Bay House and Gardens at the weekend, two of us spent some time at the beach and pier in Kells Bay, about 15 km west of Glenbeigh and about 3 or 4 km east of Cahersiveen on the north coast of the Iveragh Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry.

Kells Bay House and Gardens are 200 metres from the beach, with a period house, sub-tropical gardens and a coffee shop and restaurant. Kells Bay is a secluded, Blue Flag beach, surrounded by mountains to the west, east and south, and views to north out into Dingle Bay, with the Blasket Islands in the distance.

Kells Bay is reached along a narrow country road off the N70. It is an idyllic sandy beach, with a harbour and small pier at the east end, and the crystal-clear water is fresh in Summer (14C+).

The Gulf Stream runs close to the area, providing a micro-climate ideal for plant growth. Kells Beach is within the Killarney National Park, Macgillycuddy Reeks and Caragh River Catchment Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and within the Iveragh Peninsula Special Protection Area (SPA).

During our afternoon visit, a small group of people were gathered around a small trawler at the end of the pier, and two council workers were moving large boulders from the white sandy beach.

But it felt as though we had the beach all to our selves, with only a half dozen people on the sand or in the water. Two men were swimming, a couple and their dog were enjoying the sunshine on the beach, and a couple spent half an hour in the water in kayaks.

Gentle waves on the beach at Kells Bay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The couple in the pair of kayaks may have been in their late 40s, and they reminded meof a scene on the old town beach in Rethymnon almost 40 years ago in the mid-1980s.

We had rented a private apartment in a residential suburban block for three weeks, without the normal facilities holidaymakers associate with Greek apartment lettings, such as a swimming pool and a bar.

Instead, we used the beach each day, and, although I was then in my mid-30s and had gone to a school with a swimming pool, I only learned to swim at that stage of life at that beach. The beach was near the harbour, and is now closed to swimming. But at the time it was popular, and we left our valuables at the beach bar when we went swimming.

It was an early introduction to Greece, and one of the bar staff assured us candidly that we were safe leaving our belongings at the bar. We could trust Greeks, he told us, and without batting an eyelid or showing any sense of embarrassment, told us it was the tourists we had to be concerned about.

It was October, the end of the season, and there were few tourists on the beach by then. But out in the water, a middle-aged English tourist in his late 40s was trying to teach himself to use a surfboard.

The man seemed to have little confidence, but every time he managed to climb onto his surfboard his wife, standing on the shoreline fully dressed, would shout out as a way of encouragement, ‘Who’s the king of the castle?’

‘Who’s the king of the castle then?’

Neither of them had noticed a handful – two or three – of other English tourists who were on the beach, watching every move. They tittered and smirked every time she cried out encouragingly, and quietly, unnoticed to the husband and wife, slipped into the water, and quietly went underwater.

Eventually, the more man steadied himself enoug, he matched this with a new sense of confidence and boldness, and stood up straight on the surfboard.

‘Who’s the king of the castle then?’

But as the woman called out, the small band of miscreants heaved from under the board, and he toppled over, falling into the water, retaining none of his dignity.

He splashed and surfaced. By the time he had steadied himself, his assailants had left the water.

By the time he got back to his sobbing wife on the shoreline, they had disappeared.

I later wondered whether it was a planned ambush. Were they all staying in the one place? Did they actually know each other?

I never saw the couple on the beach again. Perhaps their holiday was already coming to an end. Perhaps they moved along the beach to the longer stretch of white sand at the east end of the town.

Did he ever really get enough confidence to use a surfboard properly?

We stayed on in Rethymnon, I continued to learn how to swim on that beach in those warm October days, and our watches and wallets remained safe at the beach bar. Today, traffic and polluton from the harbour and the constrution of a new marina have closed the old town beach to swimming and diving.

If the EU agrees to safe passage between member states for people who have been vaccinated, I may even get back to Rethymnon before October arrives. But, meanwhile, on this road trip, we travelled on to Cahersiveen and another island in the sun, Valentia Island.

Lost in the sands of time … an old sign prohibiting swimming and diving at the old town beach in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
3, Barcelona Cathedral

The Gothic splendour of Barcelona Cathedral dates from the 13th to 15th centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

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).

To mark Trinity Sunday (30 May 2021), my photographs were from the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Gibraltar. For the rest of this week my photographs are from six cathedrals in Spain.

Earlier in this series, I returned to the Cathedral of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela (31 March 2021, HERE), and the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (10 April 2021, HERE). This morning (1 June 2021), my photographs are from Barcelona’s great Gothic Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia.

The cloisters of Barcelona Cathedral include side altars and side chapels, an enclosed garden, and a fountain a pond (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This cathedral dates back to 343, and some claim it stands on the site of an earlier Roman temple. The present cathedral was built in the 13th to 15th centuries, with the main work carried out in the 14th century.

Barcelona Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulàlia (Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia or Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia) is a fine example of Catalan Gothic architecture, seen in its roof, cimborio or octagonal lantern, the choir area, the side chapels and its gargoyles, featuring a wide range of domestic and mythical animals.

The choir stalls display the coats-of-arms of the knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece, whose Spanish chapter meet here. The roof is known for its gargoyles, depicting a wide range of domestic and mythical animals. The neo-Gothic façade was completed in the late 19th century.

An interesting part of the cathedral is the cloister, with its own series of side altars and side chapels, an enclosed garden, and a fountain a pond.

The secluded Gothic Cloisters were completed in 1448. At the heart of the cloisters is the Fountain of the Geese (Font de les Oques), the fountain and pond that provide a home to 13 white geese.

The sound of the loud cackling of the geese can be heard throughout the cathedral. In the past, they warned against intruders and thieves, but the number of the geese is explained variously by the story that Saint Eulàlia was 13 when she was martyred or that she suffered 13 tortures while she was being martyred by during a persecution of Christians by Romans in the reign of Emperor Diocletian.

Saint Eulàlia is the co-patron saint of Barcelona, alongside Saint George. She was a young teenager when she died a martyr’s death after refusing to deny that Christ is the Son of God.

Saint Eulalia (Aulaire, Aulazia, Olalla, Eulària) – her name means ‘well spoken’ – was born ca 290. In late third century Barcelona, the Roman Consul Dacian was engaged in the relentless persecution of local Christians. Saint Eulàlia presented herself before Dacian to proclaim her Christian faith and to rebuke him for his harsh treatment of Christians.

Dacian is said to have condemned her to 13 tortures, each one marking a year of her age. At first, she was exposed naked in the public square but a miraculous snowfall in mid-spring covered her nudity. She was then put inside a barrel filled with glass (or knives) and rolled down the street now known as Baixada de Santa Eulàlia or Saint Eulàlia’s Descent, and where there is now a small chapel.

She survived and so her persecutors tried to burn her alive. But she survived this torture too, and emerged unscathed as the flames miraculously drew away from her body and instead headed for the soldiers.

Despite her sufferings, the girl’s faith never faltered, and her ordeals never led her to recant her Christianity. Her other tortures included having her breasts cut off, and being crucified on an X-shaped cross. She is often depicted with this cross as one of the instruments of her martyrdom.

Finally, she was decapitated. A dove is said to have flown out from her neck after her head was severed. The date of her martyrdom is given as 12 February 303.

Her body was originally kept in the church of Santa Maria de les Arenes (Saint Mary of the Sands), now Santa Maria del Mar (Saint Mary of the Sea). It was hidden in 713 during the Moorish invasion, and was only recovered in 878. In 1339, she was moved to an alabaster sarcophagus in the crypt of the newly-built Cathedral, before the High Altar.

As well as Saints Eulàlia, the cathedral houses the tombs of Saint Olegarius, Saint Raymond of Penyafort, Count Ramon Berenguer I and his third wife Almodis de la Marche, Bishop Berenguer de Palou II, Bishop Salvador Casañas y Pagés, and Bishop Arnau de Gurb, who is buried in the Chapel of Santa Llúcia, which he had built.

The square in front of Barcelona Cathedral, the Pla de la Seu, is a popular meeting place, but also acts as a stage for some of the best buskers in the city. On Sunday mornings, the square also provides a stage for the Sardana Dances, a unique Catalan folk dance that anyone can join.

The panels on the alabaster sarcophagus of Saint Eulalia recall her tortures and martyrdom (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 12: 13-17 (NRSVA):

13 Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. 14 And they came and said to him, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? 15 Should we pay them, or should we not?’ But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, ‘Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.’ 16 And they brought one. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ 17 Jesus said to them, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they were utterly amazed at him.

A flock of 13 white geese has permanent sanctuary in the cloisters of Barcelona Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (1 June 2021) invites us to pray:

We give thanks for the work of Hope for the Future. May we encourage churches to become more involved in the fight against climate change.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Catalan national dance, the sardana, is performed by hundreds of people in the Plaça de la Seu every Sunday afternoon (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