30 November 2023

The countdown to
Christmas begins
with a book launch
in Dublin this evening

The Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street, Dublin … the venue for this evening’s launch of ‘Christmas and the Irish’ edited by Professor Salvador Ryan

Patrick Comerford

I was supposed to be in Dublin this evening for the launch of a new book, Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany, edited by my friend and colleague, Professor Salvador Ryan of Maynooth. I was at Luton Airport this morning when I realised I had left my passport back in Stony Stratford, and it was too late to return in time to retrieve it.

I am missing the launch of this new book in the Royal Irish Academy, Dawson Street, this evening (30 November 2023) by the Wexford folklorist Michael Fortune.

This collection, follows the success of his three-volume series, Birth, Marriage and Death and the Irish (2016-2021), and it has been a privilege to have been invited to contribute to all four volumes in this collection.

There are only 25 days to go to Christmas, so is worth adding this new book to your list of Christmas presents this year.

This book examines the celebration of Christmas among the Irish, from the seventh century to the present day. The 75 chapters or articles range from the serious to the light-hearted, The writers are drawn from a range of academic disciplines and professions, including anthropology, Celtic studies, education, folklore, healthcare, history, journalism, literature, media and broadcasting, pastoral ministry, philosophy and theology.

In our papers, we reflect on what Christmas has meant to Irish people through the ages, whether living at home or abroad.

The topics include: the theme of light in early Irish texts; festive feasting and fighting in the Middle Ages; the Kilmore carols of Co Wexford; the history of Irish Christmas food through the centuries; crimes of Christmas past; Christmas on the Blasket Islands; the claim that ‘Santa’s Grave’ is in County Kilkenny; why Irish missionaries in Zimbabwe regularly missed out on their Christmas dinner; the origins and early life of the ‘Late Late Toy Show’; a Christmas surprise among Irish peacekeepers in the Lebanon; Christmas customs among the Travelling Community; Christmas and the Irish Jewish community; the Wren Boys; ‘Women’s Christmas’; Irish links to popular Christmas carols; Christmas and James Joyce; the curious custom of reciting 4,000 ‘Hail Marys’ in the lead up to Christmas; and why it became an established tradition for the Viceroy to send a woodcock to the British monarch every Christmas.

This anthology is a fascinating read for all who are interested in the social, cultural, and religious history of Ireland, and undoubtedly it will delight everyone who loves Christmas.

Many of the contributors are my friends and colleagues. In her essay, another Wexford historian, Dr Ida Milne of Carlow College, recalls her mother being the organist at the Christmas carol services in Ferns Cathedral.

Other contributors include Ian d’Alton of TCD, Seamus Dooley of the NUJ, the Limerick historian Seán Gannon, Crawford Gribben and Laurence Kirkpatrick, both of QUB, the singer-songwriter Max McCoubrey, Miriam Moffitt, John-Paul Sheridan of Maynooth, and Clodagh Tait of Limerick.

For the past few weeks, we have been rehearsing the ‘Wexford Carol’ in the choir in Saint Mary and Sint Giles Church in Stony Stratford for this year’s carol services. So, this adds to my pleasure that the ‘Wexford Carol’ is the subject of one of my three papers in the new book:

• The ‘Wexford Carol’ and the mystery surrounding some old and popular Christmas carols;

• ‘We Three Kings of Orient are’: an Epiphany carol with Irish links;

• Molly Bloom’s Christmas card: where Joycean fiction meets a real-life family.

Salvador Ryan is also planning some regional ‘launches’ of sorts over the next two weeks:

• National Museum of Ireland (Country Life), Castlebar, Co Mayo, Saturday (2 December) at 3 pm. There, Salvador Ryan will talk about Christmas traditions and their origins, followed by a small launch of the book afterwards.

• Cavan County Museum, Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, Wednesday (6 December) at 7pm. Once again, he will deliver a presentation in song and story on the origins of Christmas.

• Source Library and Arts Centre, Thurles, Co Tipperary, Tuesday 12 December at 8pm. This will be a launch of the volume by the local poet Larry Doherty.

Salvador Ryan is Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Saint Patrick’s Pontifical University, Maynooth. He writes on religious and cultural history from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. His other published titles include Death and the Irish, Marriage and the Irish, and Birth and the Irish (Dublin: Wordwell Books, 2016-2021); We Remember Maynooth: a College across Four Centuries (Dublin: Messenger Publications, 2020); Northern European Reformations: Transnational Perspectives (Palgrave, 2020); Material Cultures of Devotion in the Age of Reformations (Peeters, 2022), and Reforming the Church: Global Perspectives (Liturgical Press, 2023).

Copies of Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany are available to buy at each launch event, and it is also available to order in time for Christmas through local bookshops.

This was supposed to be a quick overnight visit to Dublin, and I had booked a flight back later tomorrow. Evem if I had travelled, I would have missed to miss the launch of the latest 2023 edition of the Old Limerick Journal in Dooradoyle Branch Library, Limerick, at 7 p.m. tomorrow evening (Friday 1 December 2023). It is being launched by Councillor Dan McSweeney, Deputy Mayor of Limerick City and County.

The Old Limerick Journal is edited by Tom Donovan and published by Limerick Museum. My paper in this latest edition looks at the Sephardic and Limerick ancestry of one of the most eminent Irish scientists of the 20th century. My six-page paper, ‘The Sephardic family roots and heritage of John Desmond Bernal, Limerick scientist’, is illustrated with nine of my photographs from Córdoba, Limerick, London and Venice.

Meanwhile, I heard yesterday that another history book in which I have a chapter has also been publsiehd this week and is due in the bookshops in time for Christmas. My seven-page paper, ‘Church-goers in Limerick During War and Revolution’, is Chapter 6 in Histories of Protestant Limerick, 1912-1923, and is accompanied by three of my photographs.

The book is edited Seán William Gannon, who is also a contributor to the Christmas book being launched this evening, along with Brian Hughes and is published by Limerick City & County Council.

Earlier this year, I co-wrote a book on the Philhellenes in Greek history, looking at the role of Irish Philhellenes in the Greek War of Independence in the 19th century. My research was published as <<Ο Sir Richard Church και οι Ιρλανδοι Φιλελληνες στον Πολεμο των Ελληνων για την Ανεξαρτησια>> in Πανος Καραγιώργος και Patrick Comerford, Ο Φιλελληνισμος και η Ελληνικη Επανασταση του 1821, published in Thessaloniki by Εκδοτικος Οικος Κ κ Σταμουλη.

I also edited and wrote the introduction to Who is Our Neighbour?, a six-session study course for Lent 2023 published in London by the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

In addition, my photographs have appeared in books three, including one published in Washington DC: National Geographic, and the cover photograph on Tim Vivian’s latest collection of poetry, A Doorway into Thanks: Further Reflections on Scripture.

But, I hope to share more in the coming weeks about my latest contributions to these books on Christmas and the civil war in Limerick and my paper on JD Bernal’s interesting ancestry.

Christmas and the Irish: a miscellany, ed Salvador Ryan (Dublin: Wordwell Books), €25, ISBN: 978-1-913934-93-4. This new book can be ordered HERE.

The 2023 edition of the Old Limerick Journal is being launched in Dooradoyle Branch Library, Limerick, tomorrow evening

Daily prayers in the Kingdom Season
with USPG: (26) 30 November 2023

The Christ the King or Cooper Window in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted is inspired by the canticle ‘Te Deum’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

In this time between All Saints’ Day and Advent Sunday, we are in the Kingdom Season in the Calendar of the Church of England. This week began with the Feast of Christ the King and the Sunday next before Advent (26 November 2023).

The Church Calendar today celebrates the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle (30 November).

Later today, I am travelling to Dublin for the launch of Christmas and the Irish, a new book edited by my friend and colleague Professor Salvador Ryan of Maynooth, and which includes three essays by me on the Christmas theme. But, before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

Throughout this week, I am reflecting on Christ the King, as seen in churches and cathedrals I know or I have visited. My reflections are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on Christ the King;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The pet swan of Saint Hugh of Lincoln is an amusing detail in the Christ the King or Cooper Window in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Cooper Window, Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted:

I attended the funeral of a friend in Lichfield Cathedral yesterday, and earlier in the day I reflected on images of Christ the King in Lichfield Cathedral and other churches in Lichfield, including the reredos donated by the Cooper family to the former Saint Mary’s Church.

The Cooper family is also associated Cooper Window in the south aisle of Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted, which depicts Christ the King at the centre of images inspired by the canticle Te Deum.

The window in Berkhamsted was made in 1885 by Nathaniel Hubert Westlake (1833-1921), a leading designer in the Gothic Revival movement who was also inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites. His work includes the East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, and many windows in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, and windows and ceilings in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Westlake worked under William Burges for a while before joining the stained-glass firm of Lavers and Barraud in 1868. He later became a partner and finally the sole proprietor of Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, established in 1855 by Nathaniel Wood Lavers (1828-1911). The firm changed its name several and was later known as Lavers, Westlake and Co, and then NHJ Westlake, London, before closing in the 1920s.

The perpendicular stone tracery in the Cooper window in Berkhamsted probably dates from the 15th century. The Victorian glass was installed in the late 19th century in memory of the sheep dip manufacturer William Cooper (1813-1885).

William Cooper should not be confused with the 18th-century poet and hymn-writer William Cowper (1731-1800), who was born in Berkhamsted and who is also commemorated in windows in Saint Peter’s. William Cooper set up a factory in 1852 on the east side of Berkhamsted that became famous worldwide for the production of sheep dip.

Westlake’s work in the Cooper window is a fine example of Victorian stained glass. The images and text are all based on the ancient canticle Te Deum, celebrating God’s great glory.

The three-light window depicts Christ enthroned surrounded by angels, saints and martyrs, including Saint Edward the Confessor, with ewelled 3D-like robes, and Saint Hugh of Lincoln, the 13th century bishop, accompanied by his pet swan.

In the window lights, images of angels and saints are shown surrounding Christ. The saints’ names are written faintly in their haloes. Several bear mottoes on scrolls of paper, a sort of mediaeval equivalent of cartoon speech bubbles, with Latin quotations from Te Deum:

Prophets and angels in the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

1, Top section: The small lights in the top contain figures of prophets and angels bearing the mottoes: ‘Tibi omnes Angeli (proclemant)’ – ‘To thee all Angels cry aloud’, and ‘Te Prophetarum laudabilis numerus’ – ‘The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee.’

Saint John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary in the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

2, Left light upper, two kneeling figures: Saint John the Evangelist, motto: ‘Te gloriósus Apostolorum chorus’ – ‘The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee’. The Virgin Mary, motto: ‘Te per orbem terrárum sancta confitetur Ecclesia’ – ‘The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee’.

Christ enthroned in majesty in the centre of the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

3, Central light middle, the central figure: Christ enthroned in majesty. Christ is shown sitting on a throne in heaven after the Resurrection, his right hand raised in blessing. Christ’s hands and feet bear the scars of the Crucifixion, and above his head the hand of God the Father points down in blessing.

Saint Joseph and Saint John the Baptist in the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

4, Right light upper, two kneeling figures: Saint Joseph holding a wooden staff with lilies blooming from the top, a symbol from the mediaeval ‘Golden Legend,’ and the motto: ‘Te ergo quæsumus, tuis famulis subveni, quos pretioso sanguine redemísti’ – ‘We therefore pray thee, help thy servants whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.’ Saint John the Baptist, motto: ‘Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus’ – ‘The noble army of martyrs praise thee.’

King Edward the Confessor and Saint Hugh of Lincoln in the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

5, Left light lower, two English saints: King Edward the Confessor was one of the last Saxon Kings of England before the Norman Conquest, He appears to be wearing exquisitely jewelled three-dimensional robes in this window. Saint Hugh of Lincoln is with the swan with whom he had a lasting friendship and who followed him everywhere. He was the Bishop of Lincoln from 1186 until he died in 1200, and he was canonised in 1220. It is sometimes said Saint Hugh of Lincoln installed the first Rector of Saint Peter’s in 1222, but by then he had been dead for 22 years, and the Bishop of Lincoln at the time was Hugh of Wells.

Saint Clement and Saint Catherine of Alexandria in the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

6, Central light lower, two saints: Saint Clement (Pope Clement I), a first century pope, is said to have been consecrated by Saint Peter himself. He is shown wearing the papal tiara and vestments and holding a papal cross. Saint Catherine of Alexandria, with the wheel of her martyrdom, the Catherine wheel, is carrying a palm branch, a symbol of martyrdom. The east chapel beside the south transept in Saint Peter’s Church is dedicated to Saint Catherine.

Saint Leonard and Saint Thomas Beckett in the Cooper window (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

7, Right light lower, two martyrs: Saint Leonard, according to legend, freed prisoners from their chains, and he is traditionally depicted holding broken manacles. Many churches in Sussex and the Midlands are dedicated to him. Saint Thomas Beckett was at one time in charge of Berkhamsted Castle, and was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral, on the orders of Henry II. He is depicted here with a sword piercing his bishop’s mitre.

The artist’s hidden initials ‘NHW’ are etched in the stained glass in two places, one at the end of Saint Joseph’s robes, above the pavement in the bottom left corner, the other on the end of Saint Clements’s robes, to the right of his papal staff.

William Cooper’s nephew, Sir Richard Powell Cooper (1847-1913), eventually became the sole proprietor of the business, and was given the title of baronet in 1911, associated with Shenstone Court, near Lichfield. Sir Richard’s son, Sir Richard Ashmole Cooper (1874-1946), inherited the family business and title, and donated the reredos depicting Christ the King to Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, and the Friary site to the City of Lichfield.

Coopers was bought by the Wellcome pharmaceutical giant in 1973. The Berkhamsted works eventually closed and most of the buildings have since been demolished.

Images of Christ the King can be seen in two other windows in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted.

The east window (1872) by Clayton and Bell is a memorial to the poet William Cowper. It depicts the Christ the King flanked by the women and disciples going to the empty tomb at the first Easter. The inscription at Christ’s feet is taken from Cowper’s hymn, ‘The Saviour, what a noble flame’: ‘Salvation to the dying man, And to the rising God.’ The original Chancel is now the vestry, and the window is not available to public viewing.

The south transept window (1873), also by Clayton and Bell, depicts the Resurrection of the Dead described in the Book of Revelation. It is a detailed, picturesque window, crowned by an image of Christ the King in the top section.

Christ the King is depicted in the William Cowper window, the East Window in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 4: 18-22 (NRSVA):

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Christ the King (detail) in the South Transept window in in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Thursday 30 November 2023):

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 ‘Preventing Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (30 November 2023, Saint Andrew) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for a greater awareness of the prejudices we carry. May we be open to one another and change our way of seeing.

Christ the King crowns the South Transept window in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who gave such grace to your apostle Saint Andrew
that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ
and brought his brother with him:
call us by your holy word,
and give us grace to follow you without delay
and to tell the good news of your kingdom;
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:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
by the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect

God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.

Yesterday’s Reflection (Images of Christ the King in Lichfield Cathedral)

Continued Tomorrow (Church of Christ the Saviour, Ealing Broadway)

Saint Andrew (centre) among an array in the reredos in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted … today is Saint Andrew’s Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

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

Christ the King in the reredos donated by Sir Richard Cooper to Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

29 November 2023

This blog rises to
7.5 million hits in
total, but what does
7.5 million look like?

Johnstown Castle, Co Wexford … recently renovated and restored at a cost of €7.5 million

Patrick Comerford

This blog is about to reach the monumental landmark of 7.5 million hits. The 7.5 million mark is about to passed later today (29 November 2023), and it has come as a delight.

After I began blogging, it took until July 2012 to reach 0.5 million hits. This figure rose to 1 million by September 2013; 1.5 million in June 2014; 2 million in June 2015; 2.5 million in November 2016; 3 million by October 2016; 3.5 million by September 2018; 4 million on 19 November 2019; 4.5 million on 18 June 2020; 5 million on 27 March 2021; 5.5 million on 28 October 2021; 6 million over a year on 1 July 2022; and 6.5 million early this year (6 February 2023), and 7 million about four month ago (13 August 2023).

This means that this blog continues to reach half a million readers in a four-to-seven month period, somewhere above 71,000 a month, up to 2,400 a day, and an average of almost 800 hits for each post. In recent months these figures have been exceeded on occasions, with a record 23,234 hits on one single day (3 September), followed by 21,999 (4 September), 15,211 (7 September), 15,193 (6 September) 11,333 (5 September), 10,785 (28 November), and 10,091 (26 September). At times, there have been 8,000 to 10,000 hits a day in recent months, including yesterday.

With this latest landmark figure of 7.5 million hits, I find myself asking: What do 7.5 million people look like? What would £7.5 million or €7.5 million buy? How vast is 7.5 million sq km? What does 7.5 million of anything mean to the environment?

Figures published in the Observer last month (13 November 2023) show that 7.5 million Palestinians and Arabs are living in the West Bank, Gaza and within the borders of Israel itself. About 7 million Jews are living in Israel itself, and other figures show at least 0.5 million Jews living on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. This gives us two competing totals of 7.5 million, and a total of 15 million people.

Hong Kong has a population of 7.5 million people. The population rose 2.1% from the middle of last year to June this year, marking the first significant rise since a downward trend began in 2020 due to COVID-19 measures.

The number of people living in Hong Kong increased by 152,000 in the period, bringing the Chinese special administrative region’s population to 7,498,100 by the middle of this year. It was the highest figure since 2019 when the city’s mid-year population hit 7,507,900.

Laos in south-east Asia also has a population of 7.5 million, and cities with populations of about 7.5 million include Ahmedabad in India, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and Xi’an in China.

Charlotte and I were blessed earlier this year to visit Ukrainian refugees in both Hungary and Finland. About 7.5 million Ukrainian refugees have fled their homes since the start of the war early last year.

Over 33 million refugees have been granted protection in another country in the last 10 years. A small number of countries are bearing almost all the responsibility, while most countries in the world have scarcely received any refugees at all. But many European countries have little to be proud of. In total, EU countries have provided protection to only 7.5 million refugees over the last 10 years, which corresponds to 1.63 per cent of the population.

Although the EU as a whole has received a large number of refugees in the last 10 years, this is because a few countries, such as Germany and Sweden, have taken responsibility.

The waiting list for hospital treatment in England topped 7.5 million people for the first time at the end of June – up by 100,000 on the month before. The latest figures show a record high waiting list of 7.77 million, and this could peak at more than 8 million by summer 2024. It means nearly one in seven of the population is on an NHS waiting list for routine treatment, including hip and knee operations.

The waiting list is now more than three million higher than it was before the pandemic. Of those on a waiting list, more than 383,000 have been waiting for longer than a year. And the figures continued to rise during the year, reaching 7.8 million in September.

Worldwide, raised blood pressure is estimated to cause 7.5 million deaths, about 12.8% of the total of all deaths, according to figures from the World Health Organisation. This accounts for 57 million disability adjusted life years (DALYS) or 3.7% of total DALYS.

Raised blood pressure is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and ischemic as well as haemorrhagic stroke.

The world’s vineyards cover an estimated 7.5 million hectares. To go up in scale, the Atlantic Ocean is an expanse of more than 75 million sq km – more accurately 76.76 million sq km, compared to the Pacific, which is almost twice the size at 155.56 million sq km.

The Antarctic is in the midst of a once in a 7.5-million-year winter, as sea ice surrounding the continent declines at a concerning rate which could have a major impact on the Earth’s weather systems.

Dr Caroline Holmes of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) says such a steep deterioration could create a ‘feedback loop’ – causing ocean temperatures to get hotter and hotter. Researchers have described the current situation in the Antarctic Ocean as a ‘five-sigma’ event – a significant deviation from normal conditions.

The ocean is said to be Earth’s life support, with 97% of the world’s water held by the ocean. We rely on it to regulate our climate, absorb CO2 and it is the number one source for protein for over a billion people. However, at the rate we are polluting the ocean with around 12.7 million tonnes of plastic a year, the damage we are doing to marine life and our ecosystem is becoming irreparable. Our actions over the 10 years will determine the state of the ocean for the next 10,000 years to come.

Forest fires and firefighting efforts this summer on the Greek island of Rhodes alone have cost around €7.5 million.

Plastic straws make up about 1% of the plastic waste in the sea. Among the statistics in a recent report, scientists estimate 7.5 million straws pollute US coastlines and there are between 437 million and 8.3 billion plastic straws on coastlines around the world.

Another study suggests switching just 30% of meat for plant-based alternatives would save enough water to fill 7.5 million swimming pools per year. If the biggest meat-eating countries swapped 30 percent of animal products for vegan proteins, they could also free up a carbon sink the size of India by 2030.

These findings come from new research carried out by the consultancy Profundo and commissioned by the environmental group Madre Brava.

A country estate with a connection to Emmerdale, the long-running soap opera, was put on the market a few months ago by Savills with an asking price of £7.5 million. Arthington Hall, in the picturesque West Yorkshire village of the same name, was built in the mid-15th century, and was used as a filming location for Emmerdale in the mid-1990s, and for the period police drama Heartbeat.

After a fire in the late 1700s, the house was substantially remodelled by John Carr, one of the great architects of the day in northern England. One of the most significant stamps Carr left on the home was its ‘flying staircase’: set in an oval stairwell, the staircase starts with two flights that meet to form a central unsupported flight.

Kilmurry House, an 18th-century manor in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, is on the market for €7.5 million through the estate agents Sherry Fitzgerald. The house stands on over 90 acres of land and has an impressive landscape that includes its own lake.

The house dates from 1690 and is a 20-minute drive from Kilkenny city and 1.5 hours from Dublin city, It was the birthplace and home of the Irish watercolourist Mildred Anne Butler (1858-1941). Seven of her watercolours were bought by the National Gallery of Ireland for its permanent collection.

The Belle Isle Estate on the banks of Upper Lough Erne and on the outskirts of Lisbellaw in Co Fermanagh, has also gone on the market through Savills, once again with an asking price of £7.5 million.

The estate, owned in recent decades by the Duke of Abercorn, is where the Annals of Ulster were written. It includes a 17th century castle, and a total of 181 ha (448 acres), with about 239 acres of pasture land and 178 acres of woodland, including ancient woods of mixed species, 6.5 miles of water frontage, four private islands and a jetty for a boat.

I would never wish for such extravagance ever to be within my reach. I can only respond by suggesting £7.5 million would buy a large number of tents for homeless people in Britain, no matter what Suella Braverman thinks.

During conservation and restoration works that have cost €7.5 million, a secret room was discovered in Johnstown Castle, Co Wexford. The room was discovered in August by a carpenter was working on a window. When the contractors broke through a section of wall they uncovered a hidden room that had remained untouched for many years.

Brenda Comerford, the manager of Johnstown Castle, said the room appeared to have been covered up for a long time. ‘It is part of one of the towers and looking around it, on initial inspection we think it was most likely a small turret bedroom.’ The room is being assessed by the Irish Heritage Trust to find out more about what it was used for, when and who by.

I have said so often before that this is not a ‘bells-and-whistles’ blog, and I still hope it is never going to be a commercial success. It was never designed to be so.

I decline advertising and commercial sponsorships, I accept no ‘freebies,’ and I endorse no products. Even when I am political, mainly about war and peace, racism, human rights and refugees, I refuse to declare my personal party preferences when it comes to voting.

I continue to resist commercial pressures, I have refused to receive books from publishers and I only review books I have bought myself. Without making too much a point of it, I value my independence so much that I refuse the offer of coffee when I return to a restaurant I mention … as journalists like to be reminded, there is no such thing as a free meal.

The half dozen most popular postings on this blog so far have been:

1, About me (1 May 2007), over 36,000 hits.

2, The Transfiguration: finding meaning in icons and Orthodox spirituality (7 April 2010), over 30,000 hits.

3, ‘When all that’s left of me is love, give me away’ … a poem before Kaddish has gone viral (15 January 2020), over 29,000 hits.

4, Readings in Spirituality: the novelist as a writer in spirituality and theology (26 November 2009), over 16,600 hits.

5, A visit to Howth Castle and Environs (19 March 2012), over 16,000 hits.

6, Raising money at the book stall and walking the beaches of Portrane (1 August 2011), over 12,000 hits.

When I think of 7.5 million hits, I think of 7.5 million people, and today, once more, I am humble of heart rather than having a swollen head.

But this blog should never be about success measured in the number of hits. I shall repeat again a recent posting by my friend and colleague, the Revd David Messer, that has helped me to draw a comparison between blogging like this and some of my experiences in ministry:

‘I wish I had something worthwhile of my own to say, but at the moment, I haven’t the wherewithal ... because rural ministry means living in a permanent state of failure – which is exhausting. So instead, here’s a wonderful quote from Giles Fraser, which gives me heart:

‘In a world where we semaphore our successes to each other at every possible opportunity, churches cannot be blamed for failing to live up to this austere and wonderful message. The worst of them judge their success in entirely worldly terms, by counting their followers.

‘Their websites show images of happy, uncomplicated people doing good improving stuff in the big community. But if I am right about the meaning of Christ’s passion, then a church is at its best when it fails, when it gives up on all the ecclesiastical glitter, when the weeds start to break through the floor, and when it shows others that failure is absolutely nothing of the sort.

‘This is the site of real triumph, the moment of success.

‘Failure is redeemed.

Hallelujah.’

Now that I am in my 70s, I find myself agreeing with the Swedish actor Ingrid Bergman who she once said: ‘Getting old is like climbing a mountain; you get a little out of breath, but the view is much better!’

Moving from ideas such as these into prayer on this xxx afternoon, I might pray in these words, although I do not know who wrote them:

‘May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, superficial relationships, so that you will live deep within your heart.

‘May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you will work for justice, equality and peace.

‘May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and change their pain into joy.

‘And may God bless you with the foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world, so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.’

In a vineyard in the south of France … the world’s vineyards cover an estimated 7.5 million ha

Daily prayers in the Kingdom Season
with USPG: (25) 29 November 2023

Christ the King is at the centre of Charles Eamer Kempe’s window, ‘The Tree of the Church’ (1895), in the south transept in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In this time between All Saints’ Day and Advent Sunday, we are in the Kingdom Season in the Calendar of the Church of England. This week began with the Feast of Christ the King and the Sunday next before Advent (26 November 2023).

The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship designates today (29 November) as a ‘Day of Intercession and Thanksgiving for the Missionary Work of the Church.’

Later this afternoon, I plan to attend the funeral of a friend in Lichfield Cathedral. But, before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

Throughout this week, I am reflecting on Christ the King, as seen in churches and cathedrals I know or I have visited. My reflections are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on Christ the King;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The mediaeval carving of Christ in Glory in the canopy over the doorway at the West Door in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Christ the King: images in Lichfield:

Today’s funeral in Lichfield Cathedral brings to mind images of Christ the King in the cathedral and in some other churches in Lichfield.

The most magnificent window by Charles Eamer Kempe in Lichfield Cathedral is ‘The Tree of the Church’ (1895) in the south transept. This was the first important work of Kempe’s new draughtsman, John Lisle, introduced to Kempe as a 16-year-old student at the Lambeth School of Art.

Adrian Barlow in Espying Heaven describes the window as ‘one of the finest achievements not simply of the [Kempe] Studio but of nineteenth-century stained glass as a whole.’

This huge window was installed in 1890, replacing a window made in 1819 by Betton & Evans of Shrewsbury, most of which was recycled in the adjoining clerestory windows.

The central figure in the upper part of Kempe’s window is Christ in Glory surrounded by four angels – there is a total of eight angels in the window. The saints depicted include Saint Chad holding a model of Lichfield Cathedral, with Saint Columba and Saint Aidan on either side of him. Below Saint Chad is Saint Augustine of Canterbury, flanked by Saint Wilfred of Worcester and Saint Hugh of Lincoln. These and the other saints all have their identifying symbols and garb, and many heraldic symbols that typify Kempe’s approach to design.

High in the tracery are Kempe’s trademark wheatsheaves and the monogram of his master glazier, Alfred Tombleson (1852-1943).

The window was given by Bishop John Lonsdale’s nephew, Arthur Pemberton Heywood-Lonsdale (1835-1897), a son of the Revd Henry Gylby Lonsdale (1791-1851) Vicar of Saint Mary’s, Lichfield (1830-1851), who lived at Lyncroft House, now the Hedgehog Vintage Inn, Lichfield, and a nephew of John Lonsdale (1788-1867), Bishop of Lichfield (1843-1867).

Lichfield Cathedral is also known for the carved figures that fill the west front, with a remarkable number of ornate carved figures of kings, queens, apostles, evangelists, prophets, saints and angels. Almost all the 113 figures on the west front were replaced during the restoration of the cathedral by the Gothic revival architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878).

The architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner dates the statues to 1876-1884, ‘replacing cement or stucco statues of 1820-2’. Most of the statues were produced nearby in the Bridgeman workshop on Quonian’s Lane.

The only exceptions are a likeness of Queen Victoria on the main façade, by her daughter the sculptor daughter Princess Louise, those around the central doorway by Mary Grant (1831-1908), and a mediaeval carving of Christ in Glory in the canopy over the doorway.

In the centre of the door stands Mary Grant’s sculpture of the Virgin Mary gently holding the Christ Child who has one arm raised in blessing. Next to them, on the viewer's left, stands Saint Mary Magdalene, holding ointment, with the ‘Other Mary’ to the right. The mediaeval carving of Christ in Glory remains in place in the canopy over the doorway.

The figure of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, with the two women who visit the grave at Easter morning placed behind them, and the mediaeval figure of Christ the King above, link the Incarnation and the Resurrection, Christmas and Easter, and the Advent hope of the Second Coming.

While he was living at Lyncroft House, Henry Lonsdale proposed rebuilding Saint Mary’s Church in the centre of Lichfield in a Victorian Gothic style. A church stood on this site on the south side of the Market Square since at least 1150.

The new church would serve as Henry Lonsdale’s memorial, and when he died at Lyncroft House on 31 January 1851 he was buried beneath the west tower of Saint Mary’s.

The bishop’s son, Canon John Gylby Lonsdale (1818-1907), later became Vicar of Saint Mary’s (1866-1878), and oversaw the completion of the building programme. He was the father of Sophia Lonsdale, one of Lichfield’s great Victorian social reformers. In the 1880s, she declared that Lichfield’s slums were worse than anything she had seen in London. She was active in demands for poor law reforms and her outspoken criticism eventually led to a slum clearance programme in Lichfield from the 1890s on.

The reredos and oak panelling in the chancel were the gift of Sir Richard Ashmole Cooper (1874-1946) and his family. Cooper also donated the site of the Friary to the City of Lichfield in 1921.

The upper panel of the reredos depicts Christ as the King of Kings, the lower panel in the represents the Christ Child in the care of his mother. Below the reredos, the three mosaic panels in the altar depict the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Presentation in the Temple.

Saint Mary’s is a Grade II* listed building, beside the Samuel Johnson Birthplace and Museum. In recent years, it has found new life as a library and arts centre, the Hub at Saint Mary’s. The refurbishment has retained the High Altar and reredos and has incorporated many of the church’s original features, including the High Altar and reredos, 19th century columns, choir stalls, pews, the organ and monuments, including one to Bishop Lonsdale, and the Dyott family memorials in the Dyott Chapel, and the stained-glass windows, including one illustrating today’s reflection.

The East Window in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, is filled with John Piper’s magnificent interpretation of ‘Christ in Majesty’ in stained glass, which was installed in 1984.

John Piper (1903-1992) is best-known for his Baptistry window in Coventry Cathedral. He worked closely with Patrick Reyntiens (1925-2021) in designing the stained glass windows in the new Coventry Cathedral as well as the East Window in Saint John’s, Lichfield.

John Piper’s work can also be seen in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool (see 26 November 2023), Chichester Cathedral, Hereford Cathedral, the chapels of Robinson College, Cambridge, and Magdalen College, Oxford, the Old Chapel in Ripon College Cuddesdon, and the chapel of Eton College. As a set designer, he designed many of the premiere productions of Benjamin Britten’s operas at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, the Royal Opera House, La Fenice and the Aldeburgh Festival. The Tate Collection holds 180 of his works.

John Piper’s East Window is the main attraction for many visitors to the chapel in Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield. It was his last major undertaking, and was executed by Patrick Reyntiens in 1984. Piper’s inspiration for the window came from his drawings and paintings of Romanesque sculptures in the Dordogne and Saintogne areas of western French during his many visits between 1955 and 1975.

The window shows Christ in Majesty, dressed in royal purple and flanked by angels within a mandorla surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists: Matthew (angel), Mark (lion), Luke (ox) and John (eagle). They appear aged, perhaps because Piper had in mind the residents of Saint John’s Hospital who pray daily in this chapel.

The window provides a splash of deep, vibrant colour above the altar in the chapel. But it is also a window of great solemnity power. Look closely and you can also see behind Christ that the cross is in the shape of the Mercian cross, which also features on the coat-of-arms of the Diocese of Lichfield.

John Piper’s ‘Christ in Majesty’ … the East Window in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 21: 12-19 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 12 ‘But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; 15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17 You will be hated by all because of my name. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.’

Christ the King in the reredos in the former Saint Mary’s Church in the centre of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Wednesday 29 November 2023):

Common Worship designates today (29 November) as a ‘Day of Intercession and Thanksgiving for the Missionary Work of the Church.’ In John 1, Andrew is listed as one of the disciples of John the Baptist. When Jesus walked by, Andrew followed him and then went and found his brother, Simon, saying, ‘We have found the Messiah!’ So Andrew is seen as the first missionary, and the vigil of his feast day is an appropriate time for intercession and thanksgiving for the missionary work of the Church.

Today we give thanks for all those who have worked to bring the Good News to areas where it was previously unknown, in both historic and more recent times, and we respond in faith to God’s call to the Church in our own day to spread the gospel and proclaim his kingdom in the world.

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 ‘Preventing Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (29 November 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for those researching the spread of infectious diseases. May their learning and discovery bear fruit for the good of all.

‘Crown him with many crowns’ … three crowns in a window in the former Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This Post Communion Prayer may be used as the Collect at Morning and Evening Prayer during this week.

Additional Collect

God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.

Collect on the Eve of Andrew:

Almighty God,
who gave such grace to your apostle Saint Andrew
that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ
and brought his brother with him:
call us by your holy word,
and give us grace to follow you without delay
and to tell the good news of your kingdom;
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.

Yesterday’s Reflection (Christ the King Church, Turner’s Cross, Cork)

Continued Tomorrow (a window in Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted)

The reredos in the former Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield, was donated by Sir Richard Cooper (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

Saint Andrew among the apostles on the west front of Lichfield Cathedral … today is designated a ‘Day of Intercession and Thanksgiving for the Missionary Work of the Church’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

28 November 2023

The Seven Sleepers of
Ephesus and parallels
in the story of a sleeping
philosopher in Crete

The caves of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing last week about the seven cities or places that have given their names to nine of the Pauline letters in the New Testament: Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae and Thessaloniki. I have visited many of these place, including Rome, Corinth, Ephesus and Thessaloniki.

As I was writing about Ephesus last week (22 November), I was reminded how many times I had visited the classical ruins of Ephesus, the present day Turkish city of Selçuk, and some of the sites clustered together in the this area, including the Temple of Artemis, the Library of Celsius, the Basilica of Saint John, the Isa Bey Kami, which mut be unusual as a mosque for having a name that honours Jesus, the supposed ‘House of Mary’, and the Tomb of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

I sometimes wondered how many of the tourists who make their way from Kusadasi to Ephesus know of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus or notice the site of the cave. Yet, their story was so popular in the early Church that it is referred to even in an early Irish monastic manuscript associated with the monks of Tallaght, they were celebrated as martyrs throughout the early church, they inspired great works of literature in mediaeval Europe, and they are even discussed in one chapter of the Quran.

Tradition says the Seven Sleepers (επτά κοιμώμενοι) were a group of young men in the third century who hid inside a cave outside Ephesus (Selçuk) ca 250 CE to escape persecution and who emerged many year later – if not hundreds of years later.

In the traditional telling of this story, the seven young men were trying to escape one of the many persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire and they awoke some 300 years later.

The earliest known version of the story is told in the writings of the Jacob of Serugh (ca 450-521), a Syriac bishop who relied on an earlier, now lost Greek source. An outline of this story appears in the writings of Gregory of Tours (538-594) and in the History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon (720-799). The best-known Western version of the story appears in Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend (1259-1266).

The story is told in up to a dozen mediaeval languages and found in over 200 manuscripts, from the ninth to the 13th centuries. These include 104 Latin manuscripts, 40 Greek, 33 Arabic, 17 Syriac, six Ethiopic, five Coptic, two Armenian, and one each in Old French, Old English and Middle Irish.

The ninth-century Irish calendar Félire Óengusso or Martyrology of Óengus, attributed to Saint Óengus of Tallaght, commemorates the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus on 7 August. The Roman Martyrology commemorates them on 27 July, the Byzantine calendar commemorates them on 4 August and 22 October, while Syriac Orthodox calendars give various dates: 21 April, 2 August, 13 August, 23 October and 24 October.

Early versions of the story do not agree on or even specify the number of sleepers. Many accounts say there were seven sleepers along with a dog named Viricanus.

The number of years the sleepers slept also varies in the accounts. The highest number, given by Gregory of Tours, was 373 years; some accounts say 372; Jacobus de Voragine calculated 196 years – from 252 CE to 448 CE; other accounts suggest 195 years. Islamic accounts, including the Qur'an, suggest a sleep of 309 years: these are presumably lunar years, making it 300 solar years.

The lists include at least seven different sets of names for the sleepers, mainly variations on the names Maximian, Martinian, Dionisius, John, Constantine, Malchus and Serapion, although Gregory of Tours names them as Achillides, Probatus, Stephanus, Sambatus, Quiriacus and Diogenus.

According to the story, during the persecutions by the Roman emperor Decius ca 250 CE, seven young men were arrested as Christians. They were given time to recant their faith, but they refused to bow to Roman idols. Instead, they chose to give their worldly goods to the poor and they retired to a mountain cave to pray, where they fell asleep. The Emperor then ordered the mouth of the cave to be sealed.

Decius died in 251, and as the years passed Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. At some later time in the reign of Theodosius II (408-450), there were heated discussions about the resurrection of the body and life after death. At that time, a farmer decided to open up the sealed cave to use it as a cattle pen. But when he opened the cave, he found the sleepers inside. They woke up, imagining that had slept for only a day, and sent one of their number to Ephesus with a saucer of silver coins to buy ‘pure food’ in the bazaar.

When he arrived in Ephesus, the former sleeper was astounded to find buildings with crosses on them. The people of Ephesus, for their part, were astounded to find a man trying to use old coins from the reign of Decius to buy food. The bishop was summoned to interview the sleepers. They told him their story, and died praising God.

A pilgrim account written between 518 and 531, De situ terrae sanctae, records the existence of a church dedicated to the sleepers in Ephesus. The story spread rapidly throughout the Christian world.

The story was popularised in the West in the late sixth century by Gregory of Tours in his De gloria martyrum (Glory of the Martyrs). He claimed to have heard the story from ‘a certain Syrian interpreter’ (Syro quidam interpretante), although this could refer to a Syriac speaker or even a Greek speaker from the Levant.

The story of the sleepers is also referred to in the Quran (18: 9-26). But the surah does not speculate about the number of the sleepers nor about the years they slept in the cave: ‘My Sustainer knows best how many they were.’

As the earliest versions of the legend spread from Ephesus, an early Christian catacomb there came to be associated with the story and attracted pilgrims. During the Crusades, bones from Ephesus, claimed as relics of the Seven Sleepers, were brought to France in a large stone coffin and displayed in the Abbey of Saint Victor in Marseille.

The Seven Sleepers were included in the Golden Legend, the most popular book of the later Middle Ages.

The grotto of the Seven Sleepers is on the slopes of Mount Pion (Mount Coelian) near Ephesus (present-day Selçuk), with ruins of the religious site built over it. It was excavated in 1926-1928, when several hundred graves dated to the fifth and sixth centuries were found, with inscriptions dedicated to the Seven Sleepers on the walls and in the graves.

The account remained popular, even after the Reformation. The poet John Donne asks in ‘The Good Morrow’:

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?


Although their story lost popular currency at the Enlightenment, Edward Gibbon gives different accounts of the story in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Their story was revived with the coming of Romanticism. The Golden Legend may have been the source for retellings of the Seven Sleepers in Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, in a poem by Goethe. It has many echoes in Washington Irving’s Rip van Winkle and in HG Wells’s The Sleeper Awakes.

Later, John Buchan refers to the Seven Sleepers in The Three Hostages, where Richard Hannay surmises that his wife Mary, who is a sound sleeper, is descended from one of the seven who has married one of the Foolish Virgins.

The Three Sleepers are characters in CS Lewis novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Several languages have idioms related to the Seven Sleepers to describe someone who is a late riser or oversleeps, including Hungarian, Norwegian, Swedish and Welsh, and there is a phrase in Irish, na seacht gcodlatáin, that refers to hibernating animals.

In Germany, Seven Sleepers’ Day (Siebenschläfertag) on 27 June recalls the legend of the Seven Sleepers and is part of traditional weather lore, with the notion that the weather that day are supposed predicts the weather for the next seven weeks.

Epimenides, the sleeping philosopher in a cave in Crete, gives his name to a street in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There are earlier stories and legends in classical literature that provide similar myths if not the origin for the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. Epimenides of Knossos, or Epimenides of Crete (Ἐπιμενίδης) was a Greek philosopher-poet from Knossos or Phaistos who lived in the seventh or sixth centuries BCE. While Epimenides was tending his father’s sheep, it is said, he fell asleep in a cave in Crete that was sacred to Zeus, and awoke after 57 years with the gift of prophecy.

Aristotle and Plutarch say Epimenides purified Athens after the pollution brought by the Alcmaeonidae, a powerful noble family who negotiated an alliance with the Persians during the Persian Wars. Pericles and Alcibiades also belonged to the Alcmaeonidae, and during the Peloponnesian War the Spartans referred to the family’s curse in an attempt to discredit Pericles.

It is said that the expertise Epimenides showed in sacrifices and the reform of funeral practices were of great help to Solon in reforming the Athenian state. But the only reward he would accept was a branch of the sacred olive, and the promise of perpetual friendship between Athens and Knossos. He is also said to have prophesied at Sparta on military matters.

He died in Crete at an advanced age, and legends say he lived until he was almost 300 years old – another parallel with the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

Several prose and poetic works have been attributed to Epimenides. But all of his works are now lost, and we only know of them through quotations by other authors. In a fragment of one of his poems, citied in the Hymn to Zeus of Callimachus, Minos of Knossos addresses Zeus:

Τύμβον ἐτεκτήναντο σέθεν, κύδιστε μέγιστε,
Κρῆτες, ἀεὶ ψευδεῖς, κακὰ θηρία, γαστέρες ἀργαί.
Ἀλλὰ σὺ γ᾽ οὐ θνῇσκεις, ἕστηκας γὰρ ζοὸς αίεί,
Ἐν γὰρ σοὶ ζῶμεν καὶ κινύμεθ᾽ ἠδὲ καὶ ἐσμέν.

They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.
But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being.


It is yet another parallel with the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

Epimenides is also remembered today because he is quoted twice in the New Testament.

While speaking to a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in front of the Areopagus in Athens (see Acts 17: 22-34), the Apostle Paul quotes from Epimenides’ Cretica: ‘For “In him we live and move and have our being”.’

In this address in Athens, Saint Paul is citing the fourth line in the Hymn to Zeus of Callimachus, with its reference to one of ‘your own poets’ (Acts 17: 28). Saint Paul goes on to quote from Aratus’ Phaenomena: ‘For we too are his offspring’ (see verse 28).

When Saint Paul spoke to Saint Titus concerning his mission in Crete, he committed a logical fallacy by quoting Epimenides: ‘It was one of them, their very own prophet, who said, “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.” That testimony is true’ (Titus 1: 12-13a).

The ‘lie’ of the Cretans is that Zeus was mortal, for Epimenides believed that Zeus is dead. The logical inconsistency of a Cretan asserting all Cretans are always liars may not have occurred to Epimenides, nor to Callimachus, who both used the phrase to emphasise their point, without irony.

However, Saint Paul must have thought long about the idea of a dead god and the dead god’s tomb as he sought to preach the Resurrection in Crete.

Epimenides is first identified as the ‘prophet’ in Titus 1: 12 by Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 1, 14). Clement mentions that ‘some say’ Epimenes should be counted among the seven wisest philosophers. But he does not indicate that the concept of logical paradox is an issue.

Saint John Chrysostom (Homily 3 on Titus) gives an alternative fragment:

For even a tomb, King, of you
They made, who never died, but ever shall be.


However, it is not clear when Epimenides became associated with the Epimenides paradox, a variation of the liar paradox. Saint Augustine restates the liar paradox in Against the Academicians (III.13.29), but does so without mentioning Epimenides.

In the Middle Ages, many forms of the liar paradox were studied under the heading of insolubilia, but they were not associated with Epimenides.

Paradoxically, I have to say I have found most if not all Cretans to be truthful and honest.

Many years ago, back in the 1980s, as I entrusted someone on the beach in Rethymnon with my wallet and valuables as I went for a swim, I was advised that it was tourists and foreigners I needed to be wary of.

Epimenides also gives his name to a street in Iraklion in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Daily prayers in the Kingdom Season
with USPG: (24) 28 November 2023

The Church of Christ the King, Turner’s Cross, Cork … Francis Barry Byrne was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and pioneering in the use of concrete instead of brick or stone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In this time between All Saints’ Day and Advent Sunday, we are in the Kingdom Season in the Calendar of the Church of England. The week began with the Feast of Christ the King and the Sunday next before Advent (26 November 2023).

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

Throughout this week, I am reflecting on Christ the King, as seen in churches and cathedrals I know or I have visited. My reflections are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on Christ the King;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The large sculpture of Christ the King by John Maguire above the entrance to the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Church of Christ the King, Turner’s Cross, Cork:

The Church of Christ the King in Turner’s Cross on the south side of Cork, is one of the most striking 20th century church buildings in the city. The architect, Francis Barry Byrne (1883-1967), was strongly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the large sculpture of Christ the King by John Maguire above the entrance is a landmark work of public art.

The church is the first and one of the few Irish churches designed by a US architect, and the first Irish church built with concrete instead of brick or stone. It has a seating capacity of 1,200 and has one of the largest suspended-ceilings in any church in Europe.

The church was commissioned in 1927 by Bishop Daniel Cohalan of Cork and designed by the Chicago-based architect Barry Byrne. The church was built at a cost of £30,000 by John Buckley in 1929-1931 and opened on the Feast of Christ the King, Sunday 25 October 1931.

The Feast of Christ the King was then a recent innovation in the Church calendar. It was first suggested at the end of 1925 when Pope Pius XI published an encyclical, Quas Primas, in which he castigated secularism in Europe and declared that the secular powers ought to recognise Christ as King and that the Church needed to recapture this teaching.

At the time, the entire idea of kingship was quickly losing credibility in western societies, not so much to democracy but to burgeoning fascism – Mussolini was in power in Italy since 1922, and a wave of fascism was about to sweep across central Europe.

Since 1925, the celebration of Christ the King or the Kingship of Christ has become part of the calendar of the wider Western Church. It took on an ecumenical dimension from 1983 on with its introduction to Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and others through the Revised Common Lectionary.

By the mid-1920s, the South Parish in Cork city had grown in both population and area to a point where it could no longer function with a single church. To address the situation, Bishop Daniel Cohalan of Cork designated Turner’s Cross as the location for a second parish church to serve the growing population.

The Cork Examiner reported that Dr Cohalan originally planned a more standard design by an Irish or British architect, but the cost had proved ‘well-nigh prohibitive.’ He changed his mind when he read an article by Barry Byrne, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Byrne had already designed three Catholic churches in the US, and all had received acclaim and criticism for their bold and innovative designs. He was well-known too for regular contributions on church design to publications such as Commonweal.

Byrne was born on 19 December 1883. His father, Charles Emmett Byrne, a native of Prince Edward Island, was a railroad blacksmith. His mother, Mary Barry Delaney, was from Chicago, with family connections with Co Wexford.

When Byrne visited an exhibition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in Chicago in 1902, he was offered a place at Wright’s Oak Park studio as an apprentice tracer. Although he had little formal education, Wright saw in Byrne the same raw love and enthusiasm for architecture he too had experienced in his youth.

Byrne established his own practice in Chicago in 1915. His first large building contract was in 1921 for the Immaculata High School, Chicago. This was followed by the Church of Saint Thomas the Apostle in Chicago.

His wife Annette Cremin regularly drew artist’s impressions of his designs and in some cases designed the interior colour schemes for some of his buildings and churches.

Ireland must have seemed to be inward looking and very traditional in the 1920s, and the idea of a futuristic design by a foreign architect would have fomented strong opposition. But this was only the first of many problems to come.

The first model for the church was based on a brick exterior and interior, with a suspended wooden ceiling. It was a development of a previous design by Byrne for a church also dedicated to Christ the King in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1926), and represented a more economic solution, typically used in the US.

However, this design was subject to an overall cost restriction of £30,000 with £20,000 allocated for the building and the remaining £10,000 kept for the inner furnishings.

After investigations, the site supervising architect, JR Boyd Barrett, reported that a brick and wood church could not be built on a £20,000 budget and he suggested a complete concrete construction with plaster ceiling would be more realistic.

Although reluctant to sacrifice the brick and wood design, Byrne reworked his solution to use concrete as the main construction material. The result would involve the use of large sections of moulded concrete re-enforced for strength. Decorative features around the doors and windows would all be made from cast stone, and the stone mason was not a consideration.

The reconfigured model was a new departure in Byrne’s style and the Church of Christ the King became the first Irish church ever built from concrete. The innovative design and its use of concrete may have been the first large-scale application of re-enforced concrete construction in Ireland. At the time, ready-mix cement was unheard of, and the project involved a complete shake-up for the building industry in Ireland.

Before building work began, Barry Byrne and his wife, Annette Cremin Byrne, visited Cork to view the site and to discuss the final details of the project with Dr Coholan.

Work began in March 1929 and the foundations were blessed by Dr Cohalan on 21 July. The Initial problems were with the foundation. The soft marsh-like terrain of the site was no match for the heavy foundation. Before any walls could be erected, the building contractor, John Buckley, had to sink foundations 15 ft to reach a solid base, well above the 5-6 ft estimated by Byrne.

Other issues included strong opposition from the Society of Stone Cutters and Marble Masons. Their anger related to the selection of concrete as a base material and they instructed that the foundation stone ‘shall not be worked, as the building of the said Church is detrimental to our trade.’

A general building trade strike from May to August 1930 caused significant delays for the project. But the church still opened on time on the Feast of Christ the King, 25 October 1931. However, there is evidence of a too-hasty completion: terrazzo panels were missing on the altar reredos, the Stations of the Cross were unfurnished and an external fence was not erected for some time.

When it was completed, the church never provoked much admiration or criticism. Yet, in that years that followed, many buildings influenced by the style of Frank Lloyd Wright were built in Ireland, although church architecture in Britain and Ireland largely ignored these new styles. However, the choice of concrete as a raw material became a major influence.

Byrne was pleased with the results that he never again chose brick as his preferred material. His later churches perfected the use of concrete as a more versatile material and as a cheap alternative to brick.

The original tender submitted by John Buckley was for £20,000. The costs for the internal furnishings, including seats and marble, terrazzo and other fittings, amounted to £7,000, with the total cost at £27,000. A significant contribution of £10,000 from the Geary family foundation provided much needed support to pay off the debts.

A local sculptor, John Maguire, was contracted to build the large sculpture of Christ the King that stands over the entrance. The statue was designed by the American sculptor John Storrs and the final work was based on plaster models shipped from Storrs home in France to Cork. Maguire also worked on the marble altars and gold mosaics.

The marble terrazzo work was carried out by JJ O’Hara & Co. Dublin. This includes the black floor surface and lower wall, beige dado rail and all white marble surfaces in the sanctuary and at the reredos. The terrazzo work is said to be the first of its kind in Ireland.

Piggot & Co furnished the Mannborg Model 40 organ fitted in the concealed choir gallery, glazing and painting work was by JF O’Mahony of Cork, and the bell was supplied by Gillett and Johnston of Croydon.

It is surprising, then, that Byrne never saw the finished building in person, and it remains his only church where he did not personally supervise the construction.

Bishop Cornelius Lucey designated Turner’s Cross an independent parish in 1957. At the same time, five new churches were built in Cork, including a church for the newly formed parish of Ballyphehane.

As for Barry Byrne, he moved to New York in the early 1930s and supplemented his limited work as a building inspector and by writing articles for various publications. At the age of 62, he returned to Chicago in 1945. He died in 1967.

The church was rededicated by Bishop John Buckley on 25 May 2002, at a ceremony presided over by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster. Meanwhile, however, with the formation of new parishes, the Church of Christ the King would never again serve the huge masses for which it was commissioned. However, its design and craftsmanship have stood the test of time, and the church retains most of its original character and layout.

Inside the Church of Christ the King, facing the west end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 21: 5-1 (NRSVA):

5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6 ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’

7 They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ 8 And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.

9 ‘When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.’ 10 Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

Inside the Church of Christ the King, facing the east end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Tuesday 28 November 2023):

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 ‘Preventing Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (28 November 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for all those living with HIV and AIDS. May they be enabled to live a full life, free from fear safe within the communities they live.

The Collect:

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This Post Communion Prayer may be used as the Collect at Morning and Evening Prayer during this week.

Additional Collect

God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.

Yesterday’s Reflection (Cathedral of Christ the King, Mulingar)

Continued Tomorrow (images of Christ the King, Lichfield Cathedral)

The sanctuary and High Altar in the Church of Christ the King (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