24 September 2021

A ‘determination that all … shall
enjoy the blessings of the earth’

‘Just as the etrog has a both a beautiful taste as well as a beautiful fragrance, so there are (those) who are learned and who do good deeds …’ (Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 30:12) … lemons on a tree in Cordoba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Jewish Festival of Sukkot began this year at sunset on Monday (20 September) and ends at sunset next Monday (27 September).

Sukkot is known as the ‘Festival of Tabernacles’ or the ‘Feast of Booths,’ and it is one of the three central pilgrimage festivals in Judaism, along with Passover and Shavuot. It is traditional in Jewish families and homes to mark this festival by building a sukkah or a temporary hut to dwell in during the holiday. The customs include buying a lulav and etrog and shaking them daily throughout the festival.

A sukkah is a temporary dwelling in which farmers once lives during the harvest. Today, it is also a reminder of the type of the fragile dwellings in which the people lived during their 40 years wandering through the wilderness after fleeing slavery in Egypt.

Throughout the holiday, meals are eaten inside the sukkah and some people even sleep there as well. On each day of the holiday, it is traditional to perform a waving ceremony with the ‘Four Species’ or specified plants: citrus trees, palm trees, thick or leafy trees and willows.

On each day of the festival, worshippers walk around the synagogue carrying the ‘Four Species’ while reciting special prayers known as Hoshanot.  This takes place either after the morning’s Torah reading or at the end of Mussaf. This ceremony recalls the willow ceremony in the Temple in Jerusalem, when willow branches were piled beside the altar with worshippers parading around the altar reciting prayers.

A custom originating with Lurianic Kabbalah is to recite the ushpizin prayer to ‘invite’ one of seven ‘exalted guests’ into the sukkah. According to tradition, each night a different guest enters the sukkah followed by the other six. Each of the ushpizin has a unique lesson to teach that parallels the spiritual focus of the day on which they visit, based on the Sephirah associated with that character.

Some streams of Judaism also recognise a set of seven female shepherds of Israel, known as Ushpizot or Ushpizata. They are sometimes listed as the seven women prophets: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Hulda and Esther. Other lists name: Ruth, Sarah, Rebecca, Miriam, Deborah, Tamar and Rachel.

The interim days of Sukkot, known as hol HaMoed (חול המועד, festival weekdays), are often marked with special meals in the sukkah, when guests are welcomed.

The Shabbat that falls during the week of Sukkot, beginning this evening, is known as Shabbat Hol HaMoed. The Book of Ecclesiastes is read, with its emphasis on the ephemeral nature of life: ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ This echoes the theme of the sukkah, while its emphasis on death reflects the time of year in which Sukkot falls, the ‘autumn’ of life.

A meditation on Sukkot in Service of the Heart, a prayer book I use regularly in my daily prayer and meditation, offers this Kiddush, composed by Rabbi Sidney Brichto (1936-2009), for welcoming Sukkot:

‘The Festival of Sukkot teaches us to give thanks to God for the harvest of fruit and grain and to share these and all nature’s blessings with our fellow men.

‘Let us praise God with this symbol of joy and thank him for his providence which has upheld us in our wanderings and sustained us with nature’s bounty from year to year. May our worship lead us to live this day and all days in the spirit of this Festival of Sukkot with trust in God’s care, with thanksgiving for his goodness, and with determination that all … shall enjoy the blessings of the earth.’

Shabbat Shalom

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
118, Saint Michael Bassishaw

The Church of Saint Michael Bassishaw by Robert William Billings and John Le Keux 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 (24 September 2021) are from the former Church of Saint Michael Bassishaw.

The window depicting Saint Michael in Saint Lawrence Jewry recalls the former parish of Saint Michael Bassishaw (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Michael Bassishaw, or Basinshaw, was a parish church in Basinghall Street in the City of London. It once stood on land now occupied by the Barbican Centre complex.

The church was first recorded in 1196, and was one of seven churches in the City of London dedicated to the Archangel Michael. From the 15th century, the dean and chapter of Saint Paul’s Cathedral were patrons of the parish.

The Revd Francis Hall, a chaplain to Charles II, was appointed Rector in 1662. But he fled the parish on the outbreak of the Great Plague of London in 1665, and the church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. Hall returned only in 1670 to collect his stipend.

After the Great Fire, a new church was designed by the office of Sir Christopher Wren in 1675 and it was completed four years later. It was 70 ft long and 50 ft wide, divided into a nave and aisles by Corinthian columns that supported an elaborate entablature and a coved ceiling.

The plan was irregular, and the building was smaller than the pre-Fire church. The main front was on the east side, facing onto Basinghall Street, and was unadorned except for a large round-headed window flanked by two round windows.

However, the work was unsatisfactory, and there were problems with the foundations at the east end, with allegations of that the Corinthian columns were ‘specimens of … jerry-building.’ By 1693, the parish was lobbying Wren to provide resources for repairs, and by the end of the century the church was shored up and in need of repair.

Much of the church was rebuilt in 1713. The steeple, probably designed by Robert Hooke, was an octagonal drum surmounted by a lantern, with trumpet-shaped cone, topped by a ball and finial. These can now be seen on the spire of Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe.

The church was judged unsafe in 1892 and was closed, and the parish was combined with Saint Lawrence Jewry. Saint Michael Bassishaw was demolished in 1900 and the land was sold to the City of London Corporation for £36,000. Part of the proceeds of the sale was used to build Saint Aldhelm’s Church, Silver Street, Edmonton, and Saint Michael’s church, Bury Street, Edmonton. The weathervane went to Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe and the organ to King’s College, Taunton.

Today the site once occupied by Saint Michael’s lies beneath the courtyard of the Guildhall offices and the Barbican highwalk.

Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe … the weathervane is from Saint Michael Bassishaw (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 9: 18-22 (NRSVA):

18 Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ 19 They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ 20 He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’

21 He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, 22saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (24 September 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for an end to civil war across the world. May we remember the conflicts in Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Azerbaijan, and pray for peaceful resolutions to these situations.

The Guildhall, London … the site of Saint Michael Bassishaw lies beneath the courtyard of the Guildhall offices and the Barbican highwalk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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