24 October 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (149) 24 October 2023

The Cathedral of Syracuse, in the city’s historic core on Ortigia Island, was originally a Greek Doric temple (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and the week began with the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XX, 22 October 2023).

Before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

My reflections on the Week of Prayer for World Peace concluded on Sunday, and my reflections each morning for the rest of this week are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on a church or cathedral in Sicily;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Inside the cathedral that is built around the Temple of Athena, first built ca 530 BCE (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Cathedral of Syracuse (Duomo di Siracusa), Sicily:

The Cathedral of Syracuse (Duomo di Siracusa), the Cattedrale metropolitana della Natività di Maria Santissima, is the seat of the Catholic Archdiocese of Siracusa. The cathedral, in the city’s historic core on Ortigia Island, was originally a Greek Doric temple and is a Unesco-designated World Heritage Site.

Syracuse or Siracusa in Sicily is a city rich in Greek history and culture, with classical theatres, temples and other architectural sites. The 2,700-year-old city was known to the Romans as Syracusae, to the ancient Greeks as Συράκουσαι and to the mediaeval Greeks as Συρακοῦσαι, and was once one of the major powers in the Mediterranean.

The island of Ortigia was the heart of the first Greek city at Syracuse. The Fountain of Arethusa is a freshwater spring planted with papyrus and filled with bream, mullet and carp. It is said to have been described in the Delphic sayings that brought the first Greeks to the site. According to a legend, the nymph Arethusa, hunted by the river god Alpheus, took shelter there after swimming across from the Peloponnese and was changed into a fountain by Artemis.

Syracuse was the birthplace of Archimedes, who had his Eureka moment in his bath there. It was there Aeschylus saw his last plays, Prometheus Bound and Prometheus Released, staged in the Greek Theatre, Sappho and Pindar were visitors, and Plato taught there.

Syracuse was allied with Sparta and Corinth against Athens, dominated Magna Graecia, and was its most important city. By the fifth century BCE, the city equalled Athens in size. Cicero once said Syracuse was ‘the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all.’

Syracuse was founded in 734 or 733 BCE by Greek settlers from Corinth and Tenea, led by Archias. It was known as Συράκουσαι (Syrakousai), Συράκοσαι (Syrakosai), or even Συρακώ (Syrako), and may have taken its name from marsh called Syrako. The ancient city began on the small island of Ortigia, and grew to become at one time the most powerful Greek city in the Mediterranean.

When Gelo came to power in 485 BC, he expanded Syracuse, and built the new quarters of Tyche and Neapolis outside the walls. His new theatre, designed by Damocopos, gave the city a flourishing cultural life. The theatre attracted leading Greek cultural personalities, including Aeschylus, Ario of Metimma, Eumelos of Corinth and Sappho, who had been exiled from Mytilene (Lesbos).

When Gelo defeated the Carthaginians under Hamilcar at the Battle of Himera, he commemorated his victory by building a temple to Athena.

In the fifth century BCE, the walls of Syracuse enclosed a city of 120 ha (300 acres). But, by the 470s BCE, the people were building outside the city walls. By 415 BCE, the population of greater Syracuse was 250,000, the same size as Athens.

Gelo was succeeded by his brother Hieron I (478-466 BC), who was eulogised by poets and visited by Pindar.

In the late 5th century BCE, Syracuse was at war with Athens during the Peloponnesian Wars. Syracuse enlisted the aid of a general from Sparta to defeat the Athenians, destroying their ships, and leaving them to starve on the island.

In the early 4th century BCE, after preventing the Carthaginians from capturing the whole of Sicily, Dionysius the Elder (405-367 BCE) built a massive fortress on Ortigia and walls around Syracuse. He was described as ‘cruel, vindictive’ and ‘profane.’

Syracuse expanded its territories, conquering Rhegion and establishing outposts in the Adriatic, including Ancona, Adria and Issa. Dionysius was as a patron of art, and during his time Plato visited Syracuse several times.

Syracuse was engaged in successive wars with the Carthaginians until Hieron II came to power and inaugurated a period of 50 years of peace and prosperity. During his reign, the mathematician, philosopher and engineer Archimedes lived in Syracuse. His contemporaries included the writer Theocritus.

The new altar or Ara was erected and enlarged in the mid-third century BCE by Hieron II (265-215 BCE) to commemorate the liberation of the city by Timoleon. It was the biggest altar of its kind in Magna Graecia, and 450 bulls were slaughtered there at the annual Panhellenic feast.

Syracuse fell to besieging Romans, led by Marcus Claudius Marcellus, in 212 BCE. A small party of Roman soldiers scaled the walls, took control of the outer city and killed Archimedes. A captain named Moeriscus then betrayed the city and opened a gate near the Fountains of Arethusa, letting the Romans in.

Syracuse was plundered and its day of glory had passed. Under Roman rule, the decline of the city declined slowly, although it remained the capital of Sicily and an important port for trade between East and West.

The Latomia del Paradiso is a Paradise today, with a garden of citrus, oleander and bay trees. But for the slaves who worked in the quarries there, including 7,000 captured Athenians, it was their hell on earth, as they carved out the rock for temples, theatres, pillars and monuments.

One cave they carved out is known as the Orecchio di Dionisio or the ‘Ear of Dionysius’ because of its shape and its echo. The cave is 60 metres long and 20 metres high, and the legend grew that through a hole in the top of the cave Dionysius could listen to the planning and plotting of the slaves as they worked away at the rockface. However, its name is a late innovation, and was given to the cave by Caravaggio. Nearby is the grave of Archimedes.

The Teatro Greco is one of the largest and best-preserved theatres from Greek civilisation. The cavea of the theatre is one of the largest ever built by the Greeks. It has 59 rows, of which 42 remain, and is divided into nine sections with eight aisles. At one time it could seat 15,000 people.

The Apostle Paul stayed in Syracuse for three days on his way from Malta to Rome (see Acts 28: 12), and it once served briefly as the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

The imposing cathedral on the Piazza Duomo is built around the Temple of Athena, first built ca 530 BCE. The Temple of Athena was a Doric temple with six columns on the short sides and 14 on the long sides. The statue of Athena on the roof of the temple carried a golden shield that caught the glittering rays of the sun and served as a beacon for sailors on the Ionian Sea.

The first cathedral or Duomo was built in the seventh century by Bishop Zosimo incorporating the great Temple of Athena, with the temple columns used like a skeleton for the walls of the cathedral.

Under Arab rule, the cathedral became a mosque, but it became a cathedral once again when the Normans captured Syracuse. They built the roof of the nave and provided the baptism font with a marble basin, cut from a block still marked with a Greek inscription and supported by seven bronze lions.

The cathedral was rebuilt after the earthquake that devastated Sicily in 1693, and the façade was rebuilt by Andrea Palma in 1725-1753, with a double order of Corinthian columns, and statues by Ignazio Marabitti.

The cathedral is a relatively late example of the High Sicilian Baroque style. The double order of Corinthian columns on the façade provide a classic example of carved Acanthus leaves in the capitals. The full-length statues on the façade are the work of the sculptor Ignazio Marabitti.

Inside, the cathedral has a nave and two aisles, rustic walls and Baroque details. The font with a marble basin dates from the 12th or 13th century. The ciborium or altar canopy was designed by the architect Luigi Vanvitelli. The statue of the Madonna della Neve (‘Madonna of the Snow’, 1512) is by Antonello Gagini.

The Temple of Apollo on the Piazza Emanuele Pancali was the first of the great Doric temples built in Sicily. It was adapted as a church in Byzantine times and was used as a mosque when the Arabs ruled the city.

After the fall of Rome, Syracuse was recovered by the Byzantine Empire in 535, and from 663 to 668 Syracuse was the capital of the Byzantine Emperor Constans II.

The city remained the centre of Byzantine resistance to the advancing Muslim conquest of Sicily until it finally fell to the Aghlabids in 878. During two centuries of Muslim rule, the capital of Sicily was moved to Palermo, the cathedral became a mosque and Ortigia was rebuilt along Islamic styles.

The Byzantine general George Maniakes reconquered Syracuse in 1038 and sent the relics of Saint Lucy to Constantinople. The castle on the cape of Ortigia still bears his name.

Syracuse fell to the Arabs again, but in 1085, the Normans captured Syracuse after a long siege. The Normans rebuilt parts of the city and restored the cathedral and other churches.

Syracuse was struck by two earthquakes in 1542 and 1693, and a plague in 1729. After the 17th century, much of Syracuse was rebuilt in the Sicilian Baroque style. The city has a population of about 125,000 today and is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The columns of the Temple of Athena provided the skeleton for the walls of the cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 12: 13-21 (NRSVA):

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ 14 But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15 And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 16 Then he told them a parable: ‘The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” 18 Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” 20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.’

The Teatro Greco in Syracuse is one of the largest and best-preserved theatres from Greek civilisation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers: USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Praying for Peace.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a prayer written by the Revd Tuomas Mäkipää, Chaplain of Saint Nicholas.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (24 October 2023, United Nations Day) invites us to pray in these words:

We give thanks for the United Nations and the work it does to foster international cooperation on difficult issues like trade and conflict.

The Collect:

God, the giver of life,
whose Holy Spirit wells up within your Church:
by the Spirit’s gifts equip us to live the gospel of Christ
and make us eager to do your will,
that we may share with the whole creation
the joys of eternal life;
through 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:

God our Father,
whose Son, the light unfailing,
has come from heaven to deliver the world
from the darkness of ignorance:
let these holy mysteries open the eyes of our understanding
that we may know the way of life,
and walk in it without stumbling;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

A cave carved by Athenian slaves is known as the ‘Orecchio di Dionisio’ or the ‘Ear of Dionysius’ because of its shape and its echo (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 new altar or ‘Ara’ was erected and enlarged in the mid-third century BCE by Hieron II, was the biggest altar of its kind in Magna Graecia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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