Friday, 16 July 2021

A child of the Holocaust and
a poet with a vision for
England’s place in Europe

A Holocaust memorial at the Jewish cemetery in Berlin … Tisha B’Av, beginning tomorrow evening, recalls major disasters in Jewish history, including the Holocaust (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Tomorrow evening (17 July) marks the beginning of Tisha B'Av (תִּשְׁעָה בְּאָב‎), literally the ‘Ninth of Av,’ the annual fast day in the Jewish calendar recalling many disasters in the course of Jewish history, mainly the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans.

Tisha B’Av, which this year lasts throughout Sunday (18 July) is regarded as the saddest day in the Jewish calendar and it is associated with many other disasters in Jewish history.

Traditionally, the day is observed through five prohibitions, including a 25-hour fast. The Book of Lamentations, which mourns the destruction of Jerusalem, is read in synagogues. This is followed by kinot or liturgical dirges that lament the loss of the Temples and of Jerusalem and recall events such as the murder of the Ten Martyrs by the Romans, massacres of mediaeval Jewish communities during the Crusades, the expulsions of Jews from Spain by the Inquisition, and the Holocaust.

For example, Jewish tradition points out that Himmler formally received approval from the Nazis for the ‘Final Solution’ on 2 August 1941 (9 Av), and the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began on 23 July 1942 (9 Av).

For these and many other reasons, many religious communities mourn the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust on Tisha B’Av, adding the recitation of special kinot related to the Holocaust.

During the week, I read the news that the poet Michael Horovitz had died earlier this month (7 July 2021).

He was born into a Jewish family in Frankfurt on 4 April 1935. When he was two, the family managed to escape Nazi Germany and the Holocaust in 1937.

‘My father fought for Germany in WWI and received an Iron Cross for bravery,’ he would recall. ‘He was totally plugged into German society. It took one of his clients being illegally arrested and persuaded to hang himself in his cell pre-trial by the SS to bring home to him the irredeemable dead-ends that were under way.’

Avraham Horovitz was active in brokering deals to transport Jews out of Nazi Germany. But he found he was unable to practice as a lawyer in England, the family fell on hard times, and some of Michael Horovitz spent some of his formative years in abandoned farmhouses and flood-prone cottages in the Thames Valley and Home Counties as bombs rained on London.

In many ways, despite his avant garde reputation and his associations with the Beat Generation, this refugee child became a quintessential English poet. His guiding light was William Blake, the subject of his abandoned post-graduate work at Oxford. For most of his life, he inspired outsiders and raged against the machine.

In the early 60s, he was a key figure among artists, actors and bon-vivants in the Soho venues of the time, including The Establishment Club, Ronnie Scott’s and The Partisan – the café in Carlisle Street that was a constant venue for CND meetings and jazz poetry evenings.

He was instrumental in 1965 in organising the first International Poetry Incarnation at The Royal Albert Hall – the single largest poetry event ever in Britain – and his anthology Children of Albion was published by Penguin in 1969.

‘Albion was William Blake’s name for the soul of England,’ he once explained. ‘England as internationalist; England as a joining of all the nations ... as the spiritual Jerusalem. All the Albion anthologies share that Blakean impetus for internationalism.’

Much of Horovitz’s poetry is concerned with radical politics, capitalist consumer culture and the machinations of war. His magnum opus, A New Waste Land: Timeship Earth At Nillenium (2007) is an epic tirade against war and political mendacity and an astute and brilliant reworking of TS Eliot’s classic The Waste Land (1922).

In later life, he fronted the William Blake Klezmatrix band, which performed, among other things, the Nigunim and songs that filled his head from synagogue and Shabbat tables until he left home for Oxford in 1954.

Although Wolverhampton Wanderers gave their name to an anthology in 1971, he was a devoted Arsenal fan and he was a true European too. But the appalling and racist behaviour of some English fans after Sunday’s UEFA Euro final have nothing in common with his understanding of ‘the soul of England’ … ‘England as internationalist; England as a joining of all the nations … as the spiritual Jerusalem.’

A child refugee, it is probable he would never have qualified as a legal immigrant under the new legislation being introduced by Priti Patel a part of the programme of Boris Johnson’s government that continues to dismiss public actions against racism as ‘gesture politics.’

As I reflect on this Friday evening, I think of the many events that Tisha B’Av recalls, including the Holocaust, and I am reading Opening Sections of Synagogue Music, in which Michael Horovitz recalls his father’s experiences, how he was forced to flee the Holocaust, and how he retained his identity:

A sound arrests my blood, then quickens it
a pin-prick of memory that sparks a fuse
straight back to the austere blue-black stitching round the edge
of a white satin High Holy Day tallith bag
from my childhood and early teenage years
– years that I have tried to disown since as mawkishly mis-spent
on a treadmill of insincere religious postures, galley slaving
under the yoke of relentless rabbinic rules
– continually shlepping (except when I managed to skive away)
in and out of synagogue, choir practice, Hebrew classes – gruelling timetable
of duties, prayers, rehearsals, soul-searching and insatiable laws
– imagination hemmed in,
cowed – prodded like a young beast not yet ripe for slaughter
to follow, troop, parade, bleat and bray with the hated herd
– hated for its unquestioning sheep-eyed conformities.

Half a century on,
I hear again the solemn strains of Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei
on the radio and recall
the trembling exultation of my father singing it – believing every word –
his impassioned tenor trills soaring from the heart
of the pristine Yom Kippur kittel
that now beshrouds his bones.

Shabbat Shalom



Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
48, Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Kilmacduagh

The cathedral and monastic ruins at Kilmacduagh, Co Galway … sometimes referred to as ‘the seven Churches’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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 from seven cathedrals or former cathedrals in the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe. Earlier in this series, I have looked at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert. My photographs this week are from Aghadoe, Ardfert, Emly, Gort, Kilfenora, Kilmacduagh and Roscrea.

The East End of Kilmacduagh Cathedral … the cathedral acquired its present shape in the 14th and 15th centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Since my appointment as Precentor of Limerick, Killaloe and Clonfert in 2017, I have tried to visit all the cathedrals and former cathedrals in the diocese. This morning (16 July 2021), my photographs are from Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Kilmacduagh, Co Galway.

Saint Colman founded his monastery at Kilmacduagh, about 5 km south-west of Gort, on land given by his cousin, King Guaire Aidne mac Colmáin of Connacht, in the early seventh century.

This site on the edges of the Burren District gave rise to the Diocese of Kilmacduagh and it has several churches and a well-preserved but leaning round tower that is over 30 metres high.

The site includes the ruined cathedral, Saint John’s Church, Saint Mary’s Church, the ruins of an Augustinian Church, the Glebe House, which may have been the residence of the abbots and bishops of Kilmacduagh, and Ireland’s tallest round tower.

The name Kilmacduagh means ‘the church of Duagh’s son.’ Saint Colman, the son of Duagh, was the first abbot or bishop of the monastery until his death ca 632. His feast day is celebrated on 29 October, but the date of the monastic foundation is uncertain.

The names of his successors, apart from Indrect, who died in 814, until the Anglo-Normans arrived, have not survived in the Annals.

Nevertheless, the site was so important in mediaeval times that it became the centre of a new diocese, the Diocese of Kilmacduagh, in the 12th century. The Diocese of Kilfenora and the Diocese of Kilmacduagh both had their territories defined by the Synod of Kells in 1132.

The ruins of the monastery are sometimes referred to as ‘the seven Churches.’ However, not all of these buildings were actually churches, and none of them dates back to the seventh century.

The present, cruciform cathedral is 29.2 metres long and 6.8 metres wide. It dates from the 11th or 12th century, but is the result of rebuilding much of the earlier cathedral in the 14th and 15th centuries. The building seen today is a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic and Tudor styles.

The west wall of the nave dates from the 11th or 12th century, but incorporates a blocked tenth century doorway below a three-light Tudor window with some zig-zag carving.

The rest of the nave was built in the 12th century when the cathedral was enlarged. The south wall has a Romanesque lancet, a Gothic arch leading to the south transept, a small lancet window and a low Gothic entrance door.

The north wall has a blocked flat-arch early doorway leading to the north transept has been blocked up but contains a small round-headed doorway.

A high Romanesque arch leads to the late 13th or early 14th century chancel, with an Early English East Window replacing a blocked Romanesque window.

The south wall also has a replacement Gothic window. Beside this, a doorway leads to what may have been a sacristy. It has one round-arch window in the south gable.

The cathedral became cruciform in shape when the transepts were added in the 14th and 15th centuries. The 15th century south transept has Gothic windows in the south and east walls.

The north transept was probably added in the 14th century. It has square Tudor windows in the east and west walls and a narrow window in the north wall. This transept is sometimes known as the O’Shaughnessy Chapel, and has a number of tombs, from the 16th to the 18th century, of members of the O’Shaughnessy family, who were lay patrons of the cathedral, including wall tomb of Sir Dermot O’Shaughnessy.

The cathedral is surrounded by a graveyard still used by local people.

Kilmacduagh Cathedral began to fall into disuse and disrepair in the religious strife that followed the Reformations in the 16th century.

When Roland Lynch arrived as the new bishop in 1587, he found all the buildings ‘spoiled and wasted.’ He was the last separate Bishop of Kilmacduagh. He also became Bishop of Clonfert in 1602, and the two dioceses were united in 1625.

The cathedral was reroofed in 1640s, but fell into disrepair and disuse and once again in the Cromwellian period.

Later, Saint Colman’s Church in Gort, built in 1814 to replace an earlier church, served in effect as the cathedral of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh. The Rectors of Gort were the Deans of Kilmacduagh, and the Rectory on Church Street, Gort, built in 1812, was also known as the Deanery House.

With the Church Temporalities (Ireland) Act 1833, the united see became part of the Diocese of Killaloe and Clonfert in 1834.

The last Church of Ireland Dean of Kilmacduagh installed in Kilmacduagh Cathedral was the Very Revd Christopher Henry Gould Butson (1817-1892). Butson was born in Dublin, a son of James Strange Butson, Archdeacon of Clonfert (1812-1845), and a grandson of Christopher Butson (1747-1836), Bishop of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh (1804-1834) and Bishop of Killaloe, Clonfert and Kilmacduagh (1834-1836).

Dean Butson was educated at Trinity College Dublin. He was a curate in Clontarf (1844-1845), Vicar of Clonfert (1845-1882), Archdeacon of Clonfert (1856-1874), and Dean of Kilmacduagh (1874-1892).

When Dean Butson was installed in Kilmacduagh Cathedral in 1874, he reported, he ‘had to sit upon a tombstone amidst a luxuriant crop of stinging nettles, within the precincts of the roofless cathedral.’

His successor in Gort, Henry Varian Daly (1838-1925), was the Rector of Gort (1874-1925), Archdeacon of Clonfert (1881-1925) and Archdeacon of Kilmacduagh (1891-1925).

Since 1976, Kilmacduagh is one of the dioceses incorporated into the United Dioceses of Limerick and Killaloe, incorporating Ardfert, Aghadoe, Clonfert, Emly, Kilfenora and Kilmacduagh. Formally, the Dean of Killaloe and Clonfert is also Dean of Kilfenora and Provost of Kilmacduagh, although these appointments have not always been made formally in recent years.

Meanwhile, Saint Colman’s Church in Gort has become a public library, and there is no open Church of Ireland parish church within the boundaries of the former Kilmacduagh.

The seven other church buildings on the site at Kilmacduagh are:

The round tower, about 15 metres south-west of the cathedral.
Saint Mary’s Church, also known as ‘The Lady’s Church,’ on the east side of the road.
The Church of Saint John the Baptist, to the north of the cathedral.
The Glebe House or ‘Abbot’s House’, further north, beside the car park.
Saint Colman’s Church, south of the graveyard.
The ‘Monastery Church’ or ‘O’Heyne’s Church’, about 180 metres north-east of the cathedral.
An unidentified church beside O’Heyne’s Church.

Inside the cathedral ruins in Kilmacduagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Matthew 12: 1-8 (NRSVA):

1 At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ 3 He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’

The north transept was probably added in the 14th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

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

We pray for those struggling with mental health issues. May we treat mental health as seriously as we treat physical health, and promote wellbeing across the contexts in which we operate.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The west end of Kilmacduagh Cathedral … the cathedral fell into disuse and disrepair after the Reformations (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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

The round tower beside Kilmacduagh Cathedral is Ireland’s tallest round tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)