23 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (34) Cinema

The Asteria in Rethymnon … part of Greek culture and the tradition of open-air cinema (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I was very pleased last week to see that the Asteria Cinema in Rethymnon has survived all the onslaughts of pandemic lockdowns and Greece’s economic woes, and that it remains part of strong Greek cultural tradition.

Most of the cinemas I associate with my childhood and early adult days have disappeared: the Desmond Cinema in Cappoquin was demolished in the early 1970s and is now the site of a fire station; the Kenilworth Cinema in Harold’s Cross is a vacant site; the Classic in Terenure has been turned into business outlets; the Regal in Lichfield, once an elegant art-deco building, has been replaced by an apartment block; and the Abbey Cinema on Upper George’s Street and the Capitol Cinema on South Main Street have both been demolished in Wexford.

However, the Asteria is a beguiling presence in Rethymnon and I first noticed it in the 1980s.

Open-air movies are an enduring part of Greek cultural life. Cinema arrived in Greece in 1896. Films were projected outdoors for the first time in the crowded cafés of Syntagma Square in Athens in the summer of 1900. The so-called provolatzides unfolded big pieces of cloth to screen movies in popular areas of the Greek capital.

The first open-air cinemas started popping up, and at first entrance was free. They became so popular that by the 1960s over 500 cinemas were operating in Attica. Today, it is said, there are 65 outdoor cinemas in Athens. Some are municipal, some private, some are hidden in parks, others are by the sea or in courtyards between apartment blocks.

The Asteria on Ioannou Melissinou, beneath the slopes of the Fortezza, is the one open-air cinema in Rethymnon. Although it is only open in the summer evenings, it remains part of Greek culture. Normally there are two showings, at 9pm and 11 pm, and tickets are €5 or €7 each. A little kiosk sells rinks, beers, chips, popcorn, sweets and snacks.

The word cinema in English was borrowed in the late 1890s from the French cinéma, an abbreviated form of the word cinématographe coined by the Lumière brothers in the 1890s from the Ancient Greek words κίνημα (kínēma, movement) and γράφω (gráphō, to write or record).

The word Κίνημα has also been used widely by political movements on the Left in modern Greece.

Andreas Papandreou formed the Panhellenic Liberation Movement (Πανελλήνιο Απελευθερωτικό Κίνημα) or PAK in exile in Sweden in 1968 to oppose the colonels’ regime in Greece. When the junta fell, Papandreou formed Pasok, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα), in 1974, and until 2015 it was one of the two major electoral forces in Greece, along with New Democracy.

After the collapse of Pasok’s vote after 2015, a number of parties emerged from the same political stable, including the Movement of Democratic Socialists (Κιδησο, Kidiso), formed by the former Prime Minister and PASOK leader George Papandreou. Today, that party officially calls itself To Kinima (Το Κίνημα, the Movement), although several media outlets and opinion pollsters continue to refer to it as Kidiso.

The Movement for Change (Κίνημα Αλλαγής) or Κιναλ, is now a centre-left alliance that includes Pasok and the Movement of Democratic Socialists, and it has also included The River and Democratic Left (Dimar).

As for the Asteria in Rethymnon: sit under the stars, let the cicadas chirp away, and ignore the background noise from the road or the Fortezza occasionally … they merely enhance the ambience.

The Pasok offices in Rethymnon in 2012 … signs that the party was then in freefall in a former stronghold (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
117, Saint Matthew Friday Street

Saint Matthew Friday Street depicted in ‘The Churches of London’ by George Godwin (1839)

Patrick Comerford

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 these few weeks is Wren churches and former Wren churches in London. My images this morning (23 September 2021) are of the former Church of Saint Matthew, Friday Street.

The altar in Saint Vedast came from Saint Matthew Friday Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Matthew Friday Street once stood on Friday Street, off Cheapside. This was the only church in the City of London dedicated to Saint Matthew, the patron saint of tax collectors and accountants.

The church is first named in a document in the reign of Henry III as ‘St Matthew in Fridaistret,’ and it is referred to as ‘St Matthew in Chepe’ in 1381-1382.

Hugh Myddleton, who engineered the New River to supply water to London, was a parishioner and churchwarden, and was buried in Saint Matthew Friday Street in 1631.

During this time, the rector of Saint Matthew’s was the puritan divine Henry Burton. In 1636, he preached there that William Laud’s changes to the liturgy were drawing the Church of England closer to popery and accused the bishops of being ‘caterpillars,’ not pillars of the church. Burton was placed in a pillory and had his ears cut off. After Laud’s fall and execution, Burton published The Grand Impostor Unmasked, or a detection of the notorious hypocrisie and desperate impiety of the late Archbishop (so styled) of Canterbury, cunningly couched in that written copy which he read on the scaffold.

Saint Matthew’s Puritan links continued after the Restoration, and the Puritan minister, Henry Hurst, was ejected in 1662. Four years later, Saint Matthew’s was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666.

The parish was combined with nearby Saint Peter, Westcheap, which was not rebuilt. The site of Saint Matthew’s was augmented by a piece of parish land. Building commenced in 1682 and the church was complete by 1685, at a total cost of £2,309. The combined parishes also paid Wren a gratuity of £3 8s.

Saint Matthew Friday Street was the smallest and cheapest of the Wren churches. Its plan was an irregular rectangle; George Godwin described the interior as ‘a plain room of most uneven shape,’ about 60 ft long and 30 ft broad within the walls, with a plain flat ceiling, slightly coved at the sides. There was a gallery at the west end with a small organ. The exterior walls were of brick, except for the east front, towards Friday Street, which was faced with stone.

The east wall was unadorned at street level, but had a row of five round-headed windows with cherub-headed keystones above.

The tower in the south-west corner was not visible from the street and was said to be the plainest of any Wren church. It was plain brick and hung one bell. The entrance to the church was through alleyways on the north and south sides.

With the move of population from the City to the suburbs after the mid-19th century, the church became redundant and was demolished in 1885 the parish was joined to Saint Vedast alias Foster. The site was sold for £22,005, and the proceeds used to build Saint Thomas, Finsbury Park. The Communion Table and the Royal Arms are now in Saint Vedast-alias-Foster, while the font and pulpit are in Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe.

The reredos by Edward Pearce was acquired by a London decorating firm, White, Allom & Company, and was rebuilt at Polesden Lacey at Great Bookham, near Dorking in Surrey.

The section of Friday Street where the church once stood was destroyed during World War II. The street was built over by the New Change Buildings in the 1950s, with the site of Saint Matthew’s being in the courtyard. The site has since been redeveloped.

The font and pulpit from Saint Matthew Friday Street are in Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 9: 7-9 (NRSVA):

7 Now Herod the ruler heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. 9 Herod said, ‘John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?’ And he tried to see him.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (23 September 2021, International Day of Sign Languages) invites us to pray:

Lord, we thank you for the gift of sign language. May we remember that communication is not limited to speech, and rejoice in the diversity of ways in which we can communicate. Let us pray for our society to be more inclusive of those with hearing impairments.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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