08 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (19) Pharmacy

Greek pharmacies deal with everything, from Advice to Vitamis and Wellness (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

While I was in Crete some years ago, I blogged regularly about Greek words that we have adapted and integrated into the English language.

Those words included Neologism (Νεολογισμός), Welcoming the stranger (Φιλοξενία), Bread (Ψωμί), Wine (Οίνος and Κρασί), Yogurt (Γιαούρτι), Orthodoxy (Ορθοδοξία), Sea (Θᾰ́λᾰσσᾰ), Theology (Θεολογία), Icon (Εἰκών), Philosophy (Φιλοσοφία), Chaos (Χάος), Liturgy (Λειτουργία), Greeks (Ἕλληνες or Ρωμαίοι), Mañana (Αύριο), Europe (Εὐρώπη) and Architecture, and some extra or missing words.

During a visit to Athens a month later, I added the words Theatre (θέατρον) and Drama (δρᾶμα).

I thought I might add a few more words to this lexicon during the time I am spending in Crete over these two weeks.

Before leaving Askeaton, I made sure to visit my local pharmacist last week to make sure I had enough medication for these weeks, needed to control the symptoms of my Sarcoidosis and my B12 deficiency.

Most of us probably call them pharmacists today, but when I was growing up their shops were generally known throughout England and Ireland as ‘chemists.’ Today, we are more likely to associate the label ‘chemists’ with people who work in laboratories or even in industry.

The rise of loud-mouthed anti-vaxxers is giving a bad name to any profession or industry that begins with a prefix that sounds like ‘pharma-.’ Yet, I sometimes think that having a good relationship with your pharmacist is akin to having a good relationship with your GP, although I care little for the many ‘extras’ that seem to clutter the display shelves in pharmacies, from sweets and sun cream to cosmetics and hair care products

Perhaps it was ever so. In my childhood ‘the chemist’ also barley sticks, olive oil and Buckfast ‘tonic wine,’ and often had a penn wieghing machine on the street outside.

Of course, the words pharmacist and pharmacy come from Greek. The words came into English from the Old French farmacie, a substance, such as a food or in the form of a medicine, that has a laxative effect. This, in turn, was derived from the mediaeval Latin pharmacia, which comes from the Greek pharmakeia (φαρμακεία), ‘a medicine,’ which derives from pharmakon (φάρμακον), meaning ‘drug, poison, spell,’ which is etymologically related to pharmakos (φαρμακός), the ritual sacrifice or exile in ancient Greek religion of a human scapegoat or victim.

Pharmacies in Greece are different places these days – no more scapegoating, for example, or beating Aesop to death – and they are very different from pharmacies in England or Ireland.

For one, they have different opening hours. There is always a pharmacy open 24 hours a day, seven days a week in most large town and cities in Greece.

If you find a pharmacy and it is closed, a calendar in the door or window tells you where to find one that is open.

Secondly, if you are on medication at home, it helps to know the ‘generic name’ that it is also known by. Greek pharmacists are very helpful when it comes to looking for their version of a medication. Indeed, if you have an empty prescription container, it often happens that you do not need a paper prescription.

And thirdly, for Greeks, the local pharmacist is the first point of contact for any complaint or to seek medical advice.

Perhaps this explains how a recent study found that Greece has the largest number of pharmacists, per inhabitant, in Europe. On a per capita basis, there are more than twice as many pharmacists in Greece as in France or Spain, and an astonishing 17 times as many as in Denmark.

Greece is one of the few EU member states that sets prices for over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin, and restricts their distribution solely to licensed pharmacies. Regulations limit the ownership of pharmacies to actual pharmacists, each pharmacist is allowed to own only one outlet, and pharmacy owners must employ one actual pharmacist for every three assistants.

In his essay ‘Plato's Pharmacy,’ the French philosopher Jacques Derrida deconstructs several texts by Plato, such as Phaedrus, and reveals the inter-connection between the word chain pharmakeia-pharmakon-pharmakeus and the notably absent word pharmakos.

In doing so, he attacks the boundary between inside and outside, declaring that the outside – pharmakos, never uttered by Plato – is always-already present right behind the inside: pharmakeia–pharmakon–pharmakeus.

But if you are visiting Greece, you will realise soon that the local pharmacy is one of the places you are not going to feel like an outsider. They are friendly, welcoming, knowledgeable, erudite and cultured … which makes them sound like my GP in Dublin and my pharmacist in Askeaton all rolled into one.

One of my favourite pharmacies in Rethymnon has always been to the fore in helping refugees, migrants and asylum seekers … a good way to challenge scapegoating and to break down the barriers between inside and outside.

A pharmacy in Adelianos Kampos, east of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Tomorrow: Rhapsody

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
102, Saint Lawrence Jewry, London

Saint Lawrence Jewry, beside the Guildhall, is the official church of the City of London Corporation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good morning from Crete, where I am staying this week and next on the eastern fringes of Rethymnon.

Today in the Church Calendar (8 September) is the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for the coming weeks is Wren churches in London, and my photographs this morning (8 September 2021) are from Saint Lawrence Jewry.

Sir Christopher Wren is depicted in a stained glass window in the vestibule (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Lawrence Jewry is a guild church on Gresham Street, forming a square with the Guildhall. It was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, and was rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren. It is now the official church of the Lord Mayor of London.

There has been a church on the present site since the 12th century. Before the great fire, there were 156 churches in the City, many with the same saint’s name. To distinguish them from another, another title was attached. The first church on the site of Saint Lawrence Jewry is thought to have been built in 1136 and was dedicated to Saint Lawrence, the Deacon of Rome.

There are two paintings of Saint Lawrence’s martyrdom in the church: one above the main altar dates from the 1950s and is the work of the architect of the church’s restoration in the mid-20th century, Cecil Brown; the second painting in the vestibule is a 16th century Italian work and survived both the great fire in 1666 and the Blitz in the 1940s. In addition, the weather vane of the church is in the form of his instrument of martyrdom, the gridiron, a symbol of Saint Lawrence.

The church is called Saint Lawrence Jewry because it stands near the former mediaeval Jewish ghetto, which was centred on the street named Old Jewry. The Jewish community lived from 1066, when they came to England with William the Conqueror, until to 1290, when they were expelled from England by Edward I. There are still reminders of their presence and contribution in plaques and street names in the surrounding streets.

Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) was born nearby in Milk Street, then in the parish of Saint Mary Magdalen, and was probably baptised there. One of his early mentors and tutors was the Vicar of Saint Lawrence Jewry, William Grocyn, the English Renaissance scholar credited with reintroducing Greek to the academic curriculum in England. Erasmus described Grocyn as ‘the patron and preceptor of us all.’

While Grocyn was Vicar of Saint Lawrence Jewry (1496-1517), Thomas More lectured in the church in 1501 on Saint Augustine’s De Civitate Dei (The City of God), which was formative in his thinking on church-state relations. Appropriately, he is commemorated in a window above the pulpit.

The mediaeval church was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666. It was rebuilt by Wren between 1670 and 1687, and is said to be his most expensive church in London.

Wren is honoured in a window in the vestibule that also with his master carver Grindling Gibbons and his master mason Edward Strong. A small cameo at the bottom of this window shows the architect Cecil Brown planning the 1950s restoration with the vicar. Sir John Betjeman described this church as ‘very municipal, very splendid.’ It was designated a Grade I listed building in 1950.The church is 81 feet long and 68 feet wide.

Inside, Wren’s church has an aisle on the north side only, divided from the nave by Corinthian columns, carrying an entablature that continues around the walls of the main body of the church, where it is supported on pilasters. The ceiling is divided into sunken panels, ornamented with wreaths and branches.

During World War II, the church was extensively damaged but not completely destroyed during the Blitz on 29 December 1940.

After World War II, the City of London Corporation agreed to restore the church because Balliol College had no funds to carry out the work. It was restored in 1957 by Cecil Brown to Wren’s original design. It is no longer a parish church but a guild church, and the advowson has been transferred to the City of London.

The present vicar is Canon David Parrott. Past vicars and clergy include John Tillotson, who became Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in 1689 and the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1691, and who is buried in one of the vaults in the church.

Other past vicars include John Wilkins, who was a founding figure in the Royal Society and became Bishop of Chester; Ben Cowie, who became Dean of Manchester and then Dean of Exeter; John Wilkins, who was Dean of Ripon and Dean of Chester; and Edward Reynolds, later Bishop of Norwich and who was the author of the ‘General Thanksgiving’ in the Book of Common Prayer, possibly inspired by a private prayer of Queen Elizabeth that was issued in 1596. This prayer was added to the Book of Common Prayer in 1662:

Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
We thine unworthy servants Do give thee most humble and hearty thanks
For all thy goodness and loving-kindness
to us, and to all men.
We bless thee for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
But above all, for this inestimable love
In the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
For the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies,
That our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful,
And that we may show forth thy praise,
Not only with our lips, but in our lives;
By giving up ourselves to thy service,
And by walking before thee
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
To whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit,
Be all honour and glory, World without end. Amen.

The story of Saint Lawrence’s martyrdom is told in a painting above the main altar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 1: 46-55 (NRSVA):

46 And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Sir Thomas More depicted in window on the south side at the east end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

Let us celebrate the work of those who teach others to read, and give thanks for the power of language.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The window depicting Saint Michael recalls the former parish of Saint Michael Bassishaw (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

The Guildhall, London, across the square from Saint Lawrence Jewry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)