02 September 2022

New Torah scroll to honour
scholar who saved the last
surviving synagogue in Crete

The Aron haKodesh or Ark in the Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania … a new Sefer Torah is being installed in memory of Nikos Stavroulakis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday marks the European Days of Jewish Culture (4 September 2002), and this year’s theme is ‘Renewal.’

Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania is inviting members and friends to the installation in coming weeks of a new Sefer Torah in loving memory of Nikos Stavroulakis (1932-2017), who was the driving force behind restoring the only surviving synagogue in Crete. At first, the ceremony was originally planned for Simhat Torah 5783, Monday 17 October 2022, but this is now being rescheduled.

I have not been back to Crete this year. Although I cannot be in Etz Hayyim for this event next month, I have deep respect for the work of Nikos Stavroulakis as a scholar and an artist, and especially for his work in restoring Etz Hayyim, which stood forlorn and in ruins close to the harbour in Chania for four decades after World War II.

The name Etz Hayyim means Tree of Life. This is one of my favourite synagogues, and I referred to it in my Friday evening reflections last week (26 August) as I was thinking about the word hayyim and the meaning of life. The story of this synagogue and its restoration is a true story illustrating the theme of ‘Renewal.’

Nicholas Peter Stavroulakis (aka Peter Stavis) was born on 20 June 1932 in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. His parents Petros and Annie were both immigrants: his Jewish mother was from Turkey and his Greek Orthodox father was from Crete.

He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1954 with a BA in European Literature and Philosophy. Two years later, he earned an MA in Islamic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan. He then left for England where he began his DPhil in Islamic Art and Architecture at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in the University of London under David Rice.

Much later he resumed his academic work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under Professor D Avi Yonah and completed his thesis on ‘The icons of Mar Saba Monastery in the Wadi Kelt’ under Professor Bezalel Narkiss in 1975.

He left England for Athens in 1958, uniting with family there, especially his first cousin, Dori Kanellos, son of his father’s sister Maria. For the next eight years, he taught at the Doxiadis School and the Anglo-American Academy.

At the same time, he developed his career as a painter and engraver, with a number of one-man shows from 1960 in Athens, London, Paris, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. His works can be seen in New York, Houston and other museums worldwide.

He moved to Israel in 1969, assuming his Hebrew name Daniel Hannan. In Jerusalem, he was as director of the excavation of Santa Maria Allemana under the Jerusalem Foundation in 1969-1971, and he lectured in Byzantine Art and Architecture at the University of Tel Aviv in 1972 -1974.

He returned to Athens in 1974, and lectured in Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman history and art for several American study-abroad programmes.

Nikos Stavroulakis was a consultant for the newly established Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Nikos co-founded the Jewish Museum of Greece in 1977 with Nouli Vital, Eli Almosnino and Ida Mordoh. He was its director from 1977 to 1993, constantly expanding its collection with rare books and publications, textiles, costumes, jewellery and domestic and religious artefacts.

During those years, he wrote several books, including The Jews of Greece, Salonica: Jews and Dervishes and the Cookbook of the Jews of Greece. He also translated the Holocaust memoir of Errikos Sevillias, Athens to Auschwitz. Later he was also a consultant for the newly established Jewish museums of Thessaloniki and Rhodes.

Nikos moved to Chania in 1994, and there he was the driving force behind restoring the synagogue of Etz Hayyim, which had been in ruins since World War II.

Etz Hayyim synagogue was built as a church in the 15th century and was converted into a synagogue in the 1600s. The 265 remaining Jews of Crete were rounded up in 1944 by the Nazis to be sent to Athens for deportation to Auschwitz. But early on the morning of 9 June 1944, the Tanais, the container ship carrying them to Athens, was torpedoed by a British submarine, the HMS Vivid, off the coast of Santorini.

In all, about 1,000 prisoners were on board the ship, including 400 Greek hostages and 300 Italian soldiers. No one survived.

The synagogue in Chania stood in ruins after World War II after the destruction of the local Jewish community. The World Monuments Fund placed it on its ‘watch list’ of most endangered heritage sites in 1996, and Nikos drove the efforts to bring it back to life.

Under his direction, building work began in 1996, and the synagogue was rededicated in 1999. The synagogue reopened as a ‘place of prayer, recollection and reconciliation,’ with an eclectic and pluralistic congregation.

As Nikos Stavroulakis put it, Etz Hayyim ‘accommodates Jews of every variety of self-identity as well as non-Jews.’ He continued as the spiritual director of Etz Hayyim until he died in Chania in 2017 at the age of 85.

May his memory be a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom

Nikos Stavroulakis was the driving force behind restoring the synagogue of Etz Hayyim in Chania

Three former colleagues in Wexford
die within a few months of each other

With Wexford historians and journalists Hilary Murphy (left) and Nicky Furlong (right) at a dinner in the Ferrycarrig Hotel on the banks of the River Slaney in Wexford

Patrick Comerford

Three friends and former colleagues in Wexford have died recently. I first got to know Hilary Murphy, Nicky Furlong and Gerry Breen 50 years ago, when I worked with them in the Wexford Peoplemonths. I also worked closely with all three of them on many local history projects.

Hilary Murphy, who died last week, was a former assistant editor of the Wexford People, a journalist, author, genealogist and historian.

Hilary Murphy, who lived at Parklands, Wexford, was originally from Tilladavins, Tomhaggard, with deep family roots in the Screen-Curracloe area. He began working as a journalist with the Free Press before joining The People Newspapers in 1965. He initially worked in Arklow, Co Wicklow, with the Wicklow People, before moving to New Ross.

He returned to Wexford town around 1971 to the People Newspapers head office to work as a sub-editor. Later he became the assistant editor.

For some years, Hilary edited the Journal of the Wexford Historical Society, to which I was a regular contributor. He was a founding editor of the Kilmore Parish Journal. He contributed annually to the journal for over 40 years before retiring in 2012.

Hilary had a keen interest in local history and family history, and took over from me in writing the popular family history column in Ireland’s Own in 1976. His interests in local and family history lead to the publication of The Kynoch Era in Arklow (1976) and Families of Co Wexford (Geography Publications, 1986).

Hilary died in the care of the staff at Knockeen Nursing Home last week. He was predeceased by his wife Bernadette, and is survived by a large family, as well his former colleagues at The People Newspapers.

With Peter Prendergast, Hilary Murphy and Celestine Murphy at the launch of the ‘Journal of the Wexford Historical Society 2014-2015’

Nicky Furlong, who died earlier this year (21 March 2022), was a farmer, journalist, author, historian and playwright and Vice-President of the Wexford Historical Society.

For many years he wrote a satirical column for the People Group under the pen name ‘Pat O’Leary,’ and was a columnist with Echo Group Newspapers in Co Wexford – the Wexford Echo, the Enniscorthy Echo and the New Ross Echo.

Some years ago, he managed to make me the victim of his April Fool’s prank in the Echo newspapers in 2009. On their front pages, the Echo newspapers carried reports and photographs of sharks spotted variously in Wexford Harbour, in the Slaney at Enniscorthy and in the Barrow near New Ross. The sightings were confirmed by no less an expert in large fish than one Mr Ray Whiting.

Inside, the 1 April editions carried a report by Nicky that the Pugin churches of Co Wexford were suffering a unique infestation that threatened the demolition of the Pugin churches – and only the Pugin churches.

Beneath the dateline on the page, Nicky also carried a preposterous report with the headline, ‘Wexford man’s church promotion,’ welcoming the news that claiming I, as his ‘colleague journalist in Wexford is to become Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.’

His prank news item mixed fact and fantasy. I had ‘spent [my] holidays in Greece, Armenia, Ethiopia and even Soviet Russia when religion of any kind was forbidden.’ And, he added, my ‘colleagues in these parts, being of an excitable nature, have already focussed eyes on a mitre. In any event, we are pleased.’

It was hard to know who was more upset that April Fool’s Day – the then Dean of Saint Patrick’s, or those who had ambitions to succeed him.

I was one of the contributors to The Wexford Man, a collection of 22 essays addressed to Nicky Furlong by distinguished scholars, colleagues and friends, all focussing on matters relating to Co Wexford. It was a long-standing tribute to Nicky Furlong for outstanding service to his native county.

It was edited by Bernard Browne and other contributors included John Banville, Billy Colfer, Monsignor Patrick Corish, Daniel Gahan, Diarmaid Ó Muirithe, Celestine Rafferty, Billy Roche, Eithne Scallan, Colm Tóibín, Dermot Walsh and Kevin Whelan.

The former editor of the Wexford People Gerry Breen died earlier this year at the age of 88 in January.

Gerry grew up in Davitt Road, Wexford, and later in Swan View, and left school at the age of 13. His , first job was ‘licking stamps and delivering parcels around the town’ with Huggard Brennan. He attend evening classes and night classes in Wexford Tech. Gerry and Marie were both singers in the Wexford Festival Opera chorus and they sang together on stage in 1952.

He joined the Wexford People as a young reporter in the mid-1950s, when it was a privately owned firm. He later became a sub-editor and then assistant editor to the late Tom Fane, before taking on the role of editor before Independent Newspapers bought the company in the early 1970s.

Gerry offered me my first job with the Wexford People as a subeditor 50 years ago, after only the briefest of interviews on a Sunday afternoon in the Talbot Hotel in 1972. I worked with him and Hilary and a team of wonderful colleagues and friends for almost three years before leaving for The Irish Times.

Hilary and Gerry worked closely together. During his years at the Wexford People, Gerry saw the transformation of the newspaper and print industry from the time of hot metal to computerisation, the switch from broadsheet to tabloid, and the then revolutionary replacement of advertising on the front page by news headlines around 1970.

In all, he worked for 46 years with the Wexford People. Later, he spent many years as editor of Ireland’s Own, and he continued writing articles for the magazine until late last year, only retiring only in December. He also edited the journal of Rosslare Historical Society.

He was a driver and volunteer for the oncology outpatients at Wexford General Hospital, was involved in fundraising for the scouts, the Faythe school board of management, and was a walking tour guide at Wexford Festival Opera. He is survived by his Marie and a large family, as well his former colleagues at the People Newspapers.

Hilary Murphy and Nicky Furlong were two among a group of Wexford historians who travelled to Dublin, along with King Milne and Rory Murphy, for my ordination in Christ Church Cathedral.

Over the years, I continued to keep in touch with Hilary and Nicky, meeting at book launches, lunches and a recent memorable dinner by the banks of the River Slaney in Ferrycarrig, where we regretted not being joined by Gerry Breen.

We have all contributed, in our own ways, to Wexford journalism and to telling the history of Wexford. Time moves on – in history, in life and on river – and each passing phase brings new opportunities and new blessings.

At the launch of the ‘Journal of the Wexford Historical Society’ in 2015 (right, back row) with Hilary Murphy (left back row), Jarlath Glynn, John Patterson and Tom Ryan; and (front): Celestine Raferty, Peter Prendergast, Nicholas Furlong and Brian Matthews

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Friday 2 September 2022

Lucian Tapiedi (second from right) among the ten martyrs of the 20th century above the West Door of Westminster Abbey … he is commemorated today with the Martyrs of Papua New Guinea (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today [2 September] remembers the Martyrs of Papua New Guinea (1901 and 1942) with a commemoration.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘I sometimes think about the cross,/ and shut my eyes, and try to see’ … the Lichfield Cross by Ian Knowles in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The church in Papua New Guinea has been enriched by martyrdom twice in the 20th century. James Chalmers, Oliver Tomkins and some companions were sent to New Guinea by the London Missionary Society. They met their death by martyrdom in 1901. Forty years later, during World War II, New Guinea was occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army and Christians were severely persecuted.

Among those who died for the faith were two English priests, Vivian Redlich and John Barge, who remained with their people after the invasion of 1942 but were betrayed and beheaded, together with seven Australians and two Papuan evangelists, Leslie Gariadi and Lucian Tapiedi.

Matthew 10: 16-22 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said,] 16 ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.’

Today’s reflection: ‘It is a thing most wonderful’

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

Yesterday, I was listening to the hymn ‘For All the Saints,’ which was written by Bishop William Walsham How and was set by Vaughan Williams to his tune Sine Nomine.

This morning [2 September 2022], I invite you to continue in this mode, listening to another hymn by Bishop How, ‘It is a thing most wonderful’ (Irish Church Hymnal, 226; New English Hymnal, 84), which Vaughan Williams set to the tune ‘Herongate.’

The tune ‘Herongate’ is one of several folksong melodies collected by Vaughan Williams. He transcribed the tune of ‘In Jesse’s City’ in 1903 when he heard a maid singing that song in Ingrave Rectory near Brentwood, about three miles from Herongate in Essex. It was first used with this hymn in 1906 in the first edition of the English Hymnal, which Vaughan Williams edited with Canon Percy Dearmer.

Herongate is near Ingrave, Essex, and both the Boar’s Head pub and the pond at Herongate are named after the crest of the Tyrell family: a boar’s head with a peacock feather in its jaws. The inn has legendary connections with Dick Turpin, with stories of him leaping from upstairs windows.

Whether or not Vaughan Williams ever visited the Boar’s Head, the tune ‘Herongate’ is based on the tune he had heard with ‘In Jesse’s City’ in Ingrave Rectory. But, because he had already used ‘Ingrave’ as the name for a different tune, set to ‘There’s a Friend for Little Children,’ he named this morning’s tune ‘Herongate.’

The song is one of the ‘Died For Love’ / ‘Tavern in the Town’ family, also known as ‘In London City’ or ‘The Butcher Boy’ – although here it is a postman boy who is the unfaithful lover.

‘It is a thing most wonderful’ was written by How, while he was Rector of Whittington in Shropshire – then in the Diocese of St Asaph but now in the Diocese of Lichfield – but it was not published until 1872.

The first version was five verses in length, but within 15 years he had added two more verses to the original. Through this hymn, How is trying to reveal the love of God by looking at the Cross through the eyes of a child. In the 1872 draft, he placed the text I John 4: 10 above the hymn: ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.’

It is a thing most wonderful,
almost too wonderful to be,
that God’s own Son should come from heaven,
and die to save a child like me.

And yet I know that it is true:
he chose a poor and humble lot,
and wept and toiled, and mourned and died,
for love of those who loved him not.

I cannot tell how he would love
a child so weak and full of sin;
his love must be most wonderful,
if he could die my love to win.

I sometimes think about the cross,
and shut my eyes, and try to see
the cruel nails and crown of thorns,
and Jesus crucified for me.

But even could I see him die,
I could but see a little part
of that great love which, like a fire,
is always burning in his heart.

It is most wonderful to know
his love for me so free and sure;
but ’tis more wonderful to see
my love for him so faint and poor.

And yet I want to love thee, Lord,
O light the flame within my heart,
and I will love thee more and more,
until I see thee as thou art.

All Saints’ Church, one of the two Anglican churches in Rome … William Walsham How was chaplain here from 1865 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Friday 2 September 2022 (The Martyrs of Papua New Guinea):

The Collect:

Almighty God,
by whose grace and power the holy martyrs of Papua New Guinea
triumphed over suffering and were faithful unto death:
strengthen us with your grace,
that we may endure reproach and persecution
and faithfully bear witness to the name
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
who gave us this holy meal
in which we have celebrated the glory of the cross
and the victory of the Martyrs of Papua New Guinea:
by our communion with Christ
in his saving death and resurrection,
give us with all your saints the courage to conquer evil
and so to share the fruit of the tree of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary all this week is ‘A New Province,’ inspired by the work of the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola (IAMA), made up of dioceses in Mozambique and Angola, the second and third largest Portuguese-speaking countries in the world.

The Right Revd Vicente Msosa, Bishop of the Diocese of Niassa in the Igreja Anglicana de Mocambique e Angola, shares his prayer requests in the USPG Prayer Diary throughout this week.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for the Diocese of Zambezia. We pray especially that they continue to serve those displaced by terrorism and cyclones.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘I sometimes think about the cross,/ and shut my eyes, and try to see’ … walking along Cross in Hand Lane in Lichfield Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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