16 June 2021

Saint Mary’s Church, Dingle:
a McCarthy Church changed
radically in the 1960s

The church looking out into world and inviting the world into the Church … in the front porch of Saint Mary’s Church, Green Street, Dingle, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

There is colourful, much-photographed pair of gates beside a pub on Green Street, Dingle, that declares: ‘Where is Dick Mack’s? Opposite the Church? Where is the Church? Opposite Dick Mack’s.’

It is not difficult to find Saint Mary’s Church in the heart of Dingle, Co Kerry. It dominates the street corner, and is part of a larger site that includes the former Presentation Convent, the visitor centre, labyrinth and gardens of An Díseart and the planned new campus of Sacred Heart University.

This was built in 1862-1865 as a neo-Gothic church to designs by JJ McCarthy, who has assumed the Irish mantle of AWN Pugin. But a century later it was at the heart of one of the great controversies in Irish architecture when it saw one of the most radical reordering schemes carried out in any church in Ireland 100 years later in 1963.

Saint Mary’s Church, Dingle … orginally designed in the 1860s by JJ McCarthy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The church was built in large part thanks to the generosity of a local woman, Clarissa Hussey, who donated £3,000 towards the building costs. She was a ‘most bountiful benefactress,’ who died on 14 August 1864, ‘aged over 80 years,’ according to a memorial plaque inside the church.

A plaque in the church porch recalls Father Michael Devine, the parish priest of Dingle who died in 1849 ‘having inhaled the poison of death in administering the consolations of religion to the plague-stricken members of his flock, during the cholera’ epidemic in Dingle that year.

The foundation stone of the church was laid on Saint Patrick’s Day 1862. Because of the shape of the site, the church is oriented from the north-west to the south-east, rather than on the traditional, liturgical east-west axis.

Saint Mary’s Church was radically redesigned in 1963 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The church originally had a nave and side aisles, separated by arcades, supported by columns, and capped by octagonal tops.

This church has a five-bay double-height nave with five-bay single-storey lean-to aisles at the north-east and the south-west, single-bay double-height transepts at the north-east and south-west, a single-bay single-storey projecting chapel at the south-west, a pyramidal roof over the crossing, a single-bay double-height bowed apse at the north-west gable end, an entrance bay at the south-east gable end and a single-bay four-stage engaged corner tower at the south on a square plan.

Inside Saint Mary’s Church, Dingle, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

There are random red sandstone walls with grey limestone dressings. The windows are paired lancets with limestone ashlar surrounds and hood mouldings.

There is a pointed arch to the doorway, a square-headed opening with quatrefoil in the tympanum, flanking pilasters and double-leaf boarded doors with decorative strap hinges.

There is a carved stone arcaded reredos with trefoil arches. The graveyard has gravestones dating from ca 1865 to the present.

Social distancing at the Last Supper ... a pair of lancet wndows in Saint Mary’s Church(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

In what is seen as one of the most radical reordering schemes carried out in any church in Ireland in the wake of the liturgical reforms after Vatican II, the interior was largely remodelled in 1963.

The plaster was stripped off the rubble walls and the roof profile altered with exposed beams on timber posts. The remaining arches at the transepts have ashlar voussoirs and columns.

The exterior walls were demolished to below the original clerestory level, and, most notably, to the attic and upper ranges of the west elevation.

The church was reroofed, and now has pitched copper sheet roofs with a rooflight along ridge of the nave, a pyramidal roof above the chancel, a slate roof on the tower and stepped coping.

It may have been at this time that the limestone steps at the front were extended in concrete at either side. But on these summer evenings, tourists and visitors sit on the steps, enjoying the late sunshine, eating from the Fishbox and other shops across the street and enjoying takeaway drinks from Dick Mack’s.

‘Where is Dick Mack’s? Opposite the Church? Where is the Church? Opposite Dick Mack’s’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Bloom’s wanderings in
Dublin and challenging
an anti-Semitic trope

The figure of Sinagoga, blindfolded by a snake, at Lichfield Cathedral … a motif surviving from mediaeval art depicting a hidden anti-Semitism (Photograph courtesy Clive Read)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Bloomsday, and throughout Ireland this literary anniversary is being celebrated with readings and re-enactments of Leopold Bloom’s wanderings through the streets of Dublin on 16 July 1904.

In Ulysses, James Joyce has Leopold Bloom thinking that Jews have ‘wandered far away over all the earth, and that for 3,000 years the history of Jews as a people has been defined by expulsion, exile, and yearning for a homeland.’

Bloom is half Jewish, born to an Irish mother and a Jewish father in house in Clanbrassil Street or Dublin’s ‘Little Jerusalem’ – two doors down from a Comerford family home. But Bloom was not brought up a Jew: as Ulysses relates, he has been baptised three separate times. He thinks of himself as both Jewish and Irish, and Ulysses fuses two myths, the wandering of Ulysses and the Wandering Jew.

In Calypso, Bloom thinks of his people living from ‘captivity to captivity.’ Bloom glances also at the Arab world, complaining that Jews are ‘At this very moment … sold by auction in Morocco like slaves or cattle.’

In Scylla and Charybdis, Mulligan mockingly calls Bloom ‘The wandering jew,’ explicitly introducing this image into this story about a peripatetic Jewish protagonist.

Circe makes clear the anti-Semitic implications of such speech, implicitly linking Bloom with the far less acceptably Jewish Reuben J Dodd: ‘Reuben J Antichrist, wandering jew, a clutching hand open on his spine, stumps forward. Across his loins is slung a pilgrim's wallet from which protrude promissory notes and dishonoured bills.’

But Oxen of the Sun uses kinder language to present the same mythical figure: ‘Of Israel’s folk was that man that on earth wandering far had fared.’

Joyce’s frequent association of Moses with Bloom helps to bring positive qualities to the figure of the Wandering Jew. In Aeolus, Moses appears as a Jewish leader whose rousing call to national identity symbolically figures Ireland’s own longing for the restoration of its homeland. Joined with the nostos theme of Homer’s Odyssey, it is almost as though Moses gives homelessness a good name.

The word wander is repeated throughout Ulysses. On Christian lips, it is a term of moral opprobrium. But when it enters the orbit of Bloom, ‘that vigilant wanderer’ (Oxen of the Sun), and Stephen, ‘wandering Ængus of the birds,’ the word gathers positive associations from minds devoted to exploring experiential reality.

During a webinar lecture last year, organised by the Sephardi Academia programme at Bevis Marks Synagogue, Professor Ronnie Perelis of Yeshiva University, New York, spoke about ‘Early Modern Crypto-Judaism in its Transatlantic Context.’

He spoke, in particular, of the Carvajal family of Portuguese and Spanish origin, and how these conversos had suffered at the hands of the Inquisition in Mexico at the end of the 16th century.

The year 1492 was regarded as the annus mirabilis by many in power in Spain, who associated the year with four events: the introduction of the Inquisition, the conquest of Granada; the unification of Spain under Ferdinand and Isabel; the expulsion or forced conversion of Spain’s large Jewish population; and Christopher Columbus sailing west to the New World.

Columbus himself, in the prologue to his diary dedicated to Ferdinand and Isabel, links his voyage to the expulsion of Jews from Spain. Yet there were many conversos on the expedition, and many found safer climes in the New World. Although the Inquisition arrived in Lima and Mexico in the 1570s, many could escape forced baptisms and form communities that were cohesive for generations. In this New World, these peregrino could sow the seeds that would lead to a rebirth of Sephardic Judaism in the decades and centuries that followed.

Professor Perelis subtitled his presentation as Peregrinos de las Indias Occidentales: Criptojudaísmo en su contexto transatlántico, or ‘Pilgrims of the West Indies: crypto-Judaism in its transatlantic context.’

I was intrigued by both his maps of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the western diaspora, showing how far these communities spread and his use of the word peregrino.

The maps were interesting, because I was already familiar with maps showing the dispersion of Spanish and Portuguese communities throughout the Mediterranean as they travelled on through Italy, North Africa, the Balkans, Greece and the Ottoman Empire.

As for the word peregrino, it conveys the sense of pilgrim – often in the context of the camino or pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela – or restless traveller. But for these conversos, the word peregrino also conveyed the concept of a convert or someone who had made the journey or return journey to Judaism.

For someone like Luis de Carvajal, his family had travelled from Portugal to Spain and Mexico, and he had made a return journey to Judaism, reconstructing his Judaism especially through the books and manuscripts he found in the monastic library at Santiago de Tlatelolco, where he had been exiled to teach Latin to the Franciscan seminarians.

The wanderings of these peregrinos and their use of this word as a self-description reminded me of the legends and stories of the ‘Wandering Jew,’ a mythical, immortal man whose legend began to spread in Europe in the 13th century. The original legend involves a Jew who is said to have taunted Christ on his way to the Crucifixion and was then cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming.

The details of the wanderer’s indiscretion varies in different versions of the tale, as does of his character. Some stories say he was a shoemaker or other tradesman, others cast him as doorman at the palace of Pontius Pilate, and he is named variously as Cartaphilus, Joseph, Ahasver, Matthias, Buttadeus, Paul Marrane, Isaac Laquadem, or the Shoemaker of Jerusalem.

In some versions, he is conflated with ‘the Disciple whom Jesus loved’: ‘So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die’ (John 21: 23).

Others refer to words in the Bible: ‘Because they have not listened to him, my God will reject them; they shall become wanderers among the nations’ (Hosea 9: 17). Others link the legend with Christ’s words: ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom’ (Matthew 16: 28).

In my naivety, I had thought the term ‘wandering Jew’ may have been derived from the story of Cain in Genesis , who is punished to wander over the earth, or the forty years of wandering in the wilderness after the people escaped slavery in Egypt.

The Book of Esther also describes the Jews as a persecuted people, scattered across every province of the vast empire of Ahasuerus, which is similar to the later Jewish diaspora in Christian-ruled empires and the experiences of Jewish refugees escaping the Inquisition and finding themselves scattered across the Mediterranean and Latin America.

A popular houseplant is known as a ‘Wandering Jew.’ The name is used for several plant species within the Tradescantia genus. They include at least 75 different herbaceous perennial species, including some noxious weeds, some prized outdoor garden plants such as the garden spiderworts, and three indoor houseplants.

The name is thought to derive from the plant’s habit to migrate to wet, moist regions, or because they are survivors that may be pushed right to the brink of desolation and but can be brought back to full health within days with tender, loving care – a reminder that life fluctuates and that things can get better.

But I sometimes wondered whether the Wandering Jew was an antisemitic trope.

Two years ago, the London-based Bloombox Club announced online Bloombox Club that is no longer going to refer to Tradescantia by this common name ‘Wandering Jew’: ‘We assumed the name referred to the Israelites, cursed to ‘wander’ through the desert in search of the promised land until the last member of the original generation (Moses) dies. But further research revealed ‘Wandering Jew’ to be connected to an apocryphal myth, one that has been used to justify anti-Semitism since at least the 13th century.’

Disturbed by the antisemitic appropriation of Hebrew lettering and Jewish prayers around the figure of the Crucified Christ on the Crucifix on the Charles Bridge in Prague, and the image of the feminine persona of Sinagoga, blinded by a snake in her portrayal on mediaeval cathedrals, including Lichfield Cathedral, I now wonder too on this Bloomsday about the theme of the ‘Wandering Jew’ throughout western literature.

A plaque claims Leopold Bloom was born at No 52 Upper Clanbrassil Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
18, The cathedral and ‘leaning tower’ of Pisa

The Duomo or Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Pisa, and its ‘leaning tower’ (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).

This week my photographs are of seven cathedrals in Italy. This morning (16 June 2021), my photographs are of the Duomo or Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Pisa, and its ‘leaning tower.’

Inside the Duomo … Galileo watched the swinging sanctuary lamp and developed his theory about the movement of a pendulum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Pisa, which was once a naval power that rivalled the seafaring reputations of Amalfi, Genoa and even Venice. The waters of the deltas of two rivers – the Arno and the Serchio – on which Pisa was built have since silted up and Pisa is so far inland today that is hard to imagine that Pisa was once a great Mediterranean port and an independent maritime republic dating back to the tenth century. Indeed, the town is so old that its Etruscan origins can be said to predate the foundation of Rome by centuries.

The entrance through the old city walls leads into the Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) or Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), the wide, walled, partly-paved and partly-grassed area at the heart of the city.

At the heart of the piazza is the Duomo or Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. This five-nave cathedral was built in 1064 by Buscheto, in the distinctive Pisan-Romanesque style.

Pisa’s most famous son, Galileo Galilei, is said to have formulated his theory about the movement of a pendulum by watching the swinging of the sanctuary lamp hanging in the cathedral nave.

Across from the cathedral, the Baptistry dates from 1153, and was completed in the 14th century, when the top storey and dome were added by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano. This is the largest baptistry in Italy, and is a few centimetres higher than the ‘Leaning Tower.’

The Baptistry is known for its acoustics, and the guards sometimes treat visitors to short singing demonstrations of this.

The ‘Leaning Tower’ was built originally as the campanile or bell tower for cathedral, and is about 60 metres high. Building began in 1173 and the bell-chamber was added only in 1372. But five years after building began, as work reached the third-floor level, sinking began due to the weak subsoil and the poor foundations.

The building was left alone for a century, the subsoil stabilised, and the building was saved from collapsing. Building work resumed in 1272, and the upper floors were added, with one side taller than the other. The seventh and final floor was added in 1319. But by then the building was leaning one degree, or 80 cm from vertical. Today, the tower is leaning by about four degrees.

The sanctuary and the apse in the Duomo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 1 ‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

2 ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

5 ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

16 ‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’

The five-nave cathedral was built in 1064 by Buscheto in the distinctive Pisan-Romanesque style (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (16 June 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the humility and strength to change our ways. May we live more sustainable lives, and encourage others to do likewise.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Baptistry dates from 1153 and was completed in the 14th century (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