04 June 2021

Making light and becoming God’s
‘partners in the work of creation’

Havdalah at the end of Shabbat engages all five senses

Patrick Comerford

Many people are aware of Jewish customs associated with welcoming Shabbat on Friday evenings. But I wonder whether many people outside Jewish circles are aware of Havdalah and the customs associated with the end of Shabbat on Saturday evenings.

Havdalah (הַבְדָּלָה‎, ‘separation’) is a ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat and ushers in the new week. This ritual involves lighting a special Havdalah candle with several wicks, blessing a cup of wine and smelling sweet spices. Shabbat ends on Saturday night after the appearance of three stars in the sky.

Havdalah engages all five senses: feeling the cup, smelling the spices, seeing the flame of the candle, hearing the blessings and tasting the wine.

Spices (besamim), kept in decorative spice boxes to beautify and honour this mitzvah, are handed around so that everyone can smell their fragrances. In many Sephardi and Mizrahi traditions, branches of aromatic plants are used, while Ashkenazim have traditionally used cloves.

A special braided Havdalah candle with more than one wick is lit, and a blessing is recited. If a special havdalah candle is not available, two candles can be used, and the two flames joined when reciting the blessing.

As the candle is lit, people hold their hands up to the candle and gaze at the reflection of the light in their fingernails. At the end, some or all of the leftover wine is poured into a small saucer and the candle is quenched in it.

The text of the Havdalah service exists in two main forms, Ashkenazic and Sephardic. The introductory verses in the Ashkenazic version (beginning הנה אל‎, Hinei El) are taken from the books of Isaiah, Psalms and Esther. In the Sephardic liturgy, the introduction begins with the words ראשון לציון‎ (Rishon L’tsion) and consists of biblical verses describing God giving light and success interspersed with later liturgical prose. The four blessings over the wine, spices, candle and praising God for separation between holy and profane are virtually identical in both traditions.

The late Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks, has said that Havdalah is to the end of Shabbat what Kiddush is at the beginning: the marking of a transition from secular to holy time and vice versa. He says it fulfils the commandment to ‘Remember the Sabbath day,’ understood by the Sages to mean ‘Remember it at the beginning and at the end’ – in both cases over a cup of wine.

He writes that its deeper meaning recalls the moment at which Adam and Eve, exiled from Eden, prepared to enter for the first time the world outside, with its darkness and danger. As a gift, God showed them how to make light, ‘Hence the light of Havdalah.’

He says this ‘profound parable is the reverse of the Greek myth of Prometheus – who stole fire from the gods and was sentenced to everlasting torment.

‘Judaism taught that God wants and blesses human creativity. Day 8, for humans, was the counterpart to Day 1 for God. Just as God began creation by making light, so he taught humans how to make light – inviting them to become ‘his partners in the work of creation.’

Shabbat Shalom

Decorative spice-boxes in the Jewish Museum in Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
6, Seville Cathedral

Seville Cathedral is the third-largest church in the world, the largest cathedral and the largest Gothic church (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 (4 June 2021), my photographs are from Seville Cathedral or the Catedral de Santa María de la Sede.

The Patio de los Narnanjos, or Court of the Oranges … this site was first a mosque (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Seville Cathedral is the third-largest church in the world as well as the largest Gothic church. After its completion in the early 16th century, this became the largest cathedral in the world, a title that had been held until then by Hagia Sophia in Constantinople for almost 1,000 years.

As the two largest churches in the world – the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil and Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome – are not the seats of bishops, Seville Cathedral remains the largest cathedral in the world.

The cathedral covers an expanse of 23,500 square meters, and the Gothic section alone is 126 metres long, 83 metres wide and is 37 metres high at the centre of the transept. The total height of the Giralda tower from the ground to the weather vane is 96 meters.

However, the cathedral site began life as a mosque, and the tour began in the Patio de los Narnanjos, or Court of the Oranges, where Muslim worshippers in Moorish times would wash their face, hands and feet in the fountain before praying.

The Almohad caliph, Abu Yaqub Yusuf, ordered a new grand mosque to be built for the city in 1172. The new mosque was dedicated in 1182, but it was not completed until 1198. It supplanted an earlier mosque built in 829-830 by Umar Ibn Adabbas on the site of the present-day Church of Divino Salvador.

The new mosque, which was larger and closer to the city’s Alcázar, was designed by the architect Ahmad ben Basso, with a minaret and ablutions courtyard. Its prayer hall had 17 aisles oriented southward, perpendicular to its Qibla wall, like many mosques in Al-Andalus, including the mosque of Ibn Adabbas.

Shortly after Seville was conquered by Ferdinand III in 1248, Yaqub Yusuf’s mosque was converted into the cathedral. Its orientation was changed, the interior was partitioned and adorned to suit Christian liturgy and worship, chapels were created by erecting walls in the bays along the north and south walls, and almost the entire east half of the cathedral became the royal chapel where Ferdinand, his wife and Alfonso the Wise were buried.

The cathedral was rebuilt in Gothic splendour in the 15th and 16th centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The city leaders decided in 1401 to build a new cathedral ‘so good that none will be its equal.’ According to local lore, the members of the cathedral chapter said: Hagamos una Iglesia tan hermosa y tan grandiosa que los que la vieren labrada nos tengan por locos (‘Let us build a church so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will take us for mad’).

Building work continued until 1506. The clergy of the parish offered half their stipends to pay for architects, artists, stained glass artisans, masons, carvers, craftsman and labourers and other expenses.

Several factors delayed the start of building work, including royal resistance to the temporary relocation of the royal chapel. But in 1434, King John II of Castille allowed the bodies to moved temporarily and stored in the cathedral cloister.

Five years after building ended, in 1511, the crossing lantern or cimborrio collapsed and building work began again. The crossing collapsed again due to an earthquake in 1888, ‘every precious object below’ the dome was destroyed, and work on the dome continued until at least 1903.

The High Altar has 44 gilded relief panels carved by Spanish and Flemish sculptors in 1482-1564 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The High Altar or Retablo Mayor in the sanctuary or Capilla Mayor, is screened off by monumental iron grilles made in 1518-1532. Here Santa María de le Sede, the cathedral’s patron, sits above the altar and below a waterfall of gold. The 44 gilded relief panels were carved by Spanish and Flemish sculptors between 1482 and 1564.

The cathedral has 80 chapels, including the Capilla Real or Royal Chapel. It was reported in 1896 that 500 masses were said daily in the chapels.

The baptistery Chapel of Saint Anthony contains the painting of ‘The Vision of Saint Anthony’ (1656) by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. In 1874, it was discovered that thieves had cut away the portion depicting Saint Anthony, but it was recovered in New York a year later.

The royal chapel in the cathedral holds the tomb of the city’s conqueror, King Ferdinand III of Castile, his son and heir Alfonso the Wise, and their descendant, King Peter the Cruel. Christopher Columbus and his son Diego are buried in the cathedral, as are Cardinal Juan de Cervantes and Cardinal Pedro González de Mendoza Quiñones.

Seville Cathedral has 14 doors on its four façades. The major doors are: the Door of Baptism, the Main Door or Door of Assumption, the Door of Saint Michael or Door of the Nativity, the Door of Saint Cristopher or De la Lonja, the Door of the Conception, the Door of the Lizard, named for the stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling, the Door of the Sanctuary, the Door of Forgiveness, the Door of Sticks or the Adoration of the Magi and the Door of the Bells.

After visiting the cathedral, I climbed to the top of the Giralda or bell tower of the cathedral, which is 104.5 metres high.

The Giralda is the former minaret of the mosque and was designed to resemble the minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech. It was converted into a bell tower for the cathedral, although the top section dates from the Renaissance.

Building work began in 1184 under the architect Ben Ahmad Baso, and it was completed on 10 March 1198. The belfry was added in the 16th century by the architect Hernán Ruiz the Younger. The statue at the top, ‘El Giraldillo,’ was put in place in 1568 to represent the triumph of the Christian faith.

The font in the baptistery Chapel of Saint Anthony (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 12: 35-37 (NRSVA):

35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, ‘How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared,

“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet’.”

37 David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?’ And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.

The tomb of Christopher Columbus in the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (4 June 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for youth-led movements for ecological justice, such as the Young Christian Climate Network and Fridays for Future. May we learn from their enthusiasm, knowledge and urgency.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The cathedral seen from the Giralda (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