28 October 2023

A ‘virtual tour’ of
a dozen clocks as
the clocks go back
later tonight

‘The Irish Times Clock’, Dublin … the clocks go back an hour tonight (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Irish Times once ran an advertising campaign with the slogan: ‘If you miss Tthe Irish Times, you miss part of the day.’

If I miss putting the clock back an hour tonight, I may find myself missing things at the right time throughout the day tomorrow.

When I worked there from the mid-1970s until 2002, for almost 30 years, The Irish Times clock was a landmark on D’Olier Street. It was moved there from Westmoreland Street, and it has been moved again.

But, as the clocks fall back an hour tonight, I thought I would invite you to join me in a ‘virtual tour’ of landmark clocks in other towns and cities, found on churches, synagogues and public buildings.

1, The Astronomical Clock, Prague:

The Astronomical Clock was installed on the Old Town Hall in Prague in 1410 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The astronomical clock or Prague Orloj is a mediaeval astronomical clock on the south wall of the Old Town Hall in Prague. The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest clock still in operation.

The mechanism of the clock in the Old Town Square has three main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon and with various astronomical details, and with statues of saints on either side of the clock; ‘the Walk of the Apostles,’ an hourly show of moving Apostles and other figures, including a skeleton representing Death, striking the time; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months.

According to legend, the city will suffer if the clock is neglected and its good operation is placed in jeopardy. A ghost mounted on the clock was supposed to nod its head in agreement. According to the legend, the only hope is represented by a boy born on New Year's night.

The oldest part of the Orloj, the mechanical clock and astronomical dial, dates back to 1410, when it was created by the clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň and the professor of mathematics and astronomy at the Charles University Jan Šindel. A legend says the maker was blinded on the order of the city councillors so that he could not repeat his work. He in turn then disabled the clock, and no one was able to repair it for the next 100 years.

The Orloj was damaged on 7-8 May 1945, during the Prague uprising against the Nazis. The most recent renovation of the clock in 2018 became controversial when it was alleged the work had ‘radically changed the appearance, ages, skin tone, dress and even genders of the figures.’

The four figures flanking the clock are set in motion on the hour, and they represent: Vanity, represented by a man admiring himself in a mirror; Greed or Usury, depicted as a miser holding a bag of gold; Death, seen as a skeleton that strike the hour; and Lust or Earthly Pleasures in the form of a Turkish figure.

2, The Jewish Town Hall, Prague:

The Jewish Town Hall in Prague has two clocks, in Roman and Hebrew numerals (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Jewish Town Hall in Josefov, Prague, was built beside the Old New Synagogue in 1586 in Renaissance style by the Jewish community leader and philanthropist Mordechai Maisel (1528-1601), who also built the nearby Maisel Synagogue in 1590-1592.

The building was the main meeting house of the local Jewish community, but is now closed to the public. The Rococo façade dates from the 18th century.

The Jewish Town Hall is best known for its two clocks. One clock on a tower has Roman numerals. The second, lower clock has Hebrew numerals that are letters in the Hebrew alphabet, beginning with aleph and continue counterclockwise around the clock dial.

3, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge:

The grasshopper on the Chronophage or ‘Time Eater’ at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge … the clock is accurate only once every five minutes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Chronophage or ‘Time Eater’ at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, is a large sculptural clock unveiled by the Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking 15 years ago on 19 September 2008.

The clock is on the corner of Bene’t Street and Trumpington Street in Cambridge, looking out onto King’s Parade. I am familiar with this clock, as Saint Bene’t’s Church nearby was effectively my parish church whenever I was staying at Sidney Sussex College. The clock was conceived and funded by John C Taylor, an old member of Corpus Christi College.

The clock’s face is a rippling 24-carat gold-plated stainless steel disc, about 1.5 metres in diameter. It has no hands or numerals, but displays the time by opening individual slits in the clock face backlit with blue LEDs. These slits are arranged in three concentric rings displaying hours, minutes, and seconds.

The dominating visual feature of the clock is a grim-looking metal sculpture of a creature that looks like a grasshopper or locust. John Taylor called this grasshopper the Chronophage or ‘time eater,’ from the Greek χρόνος (chronos, time) and εφάγον (ephagon, I ate). It moves its mouth, appearing to eat up the seconds as they pass, and occasionally it blinks in satisfaction.

The constant motion of the Chronophage produces an eerie, grinding sound, and the hour is tolled by the sound of a chain clanking into a small wooden coffin hidden in the back of the clock. Below the clock is an quotation in Latin from I John 2: 17: mundus transit et concupiscentia eius (‘the world and its desire are passing away’). The full verse says: ‘And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever’ (I John 2: 17).

The clock is accurate only once in every five minutes. For the rest of the time, the pendulum may seem to catch or stop, and the lights may lag or, then, race to get ahead. According to John Taylor, this erratic motion reflects the ‘irregularity’ of life.

The Chronophage was conceived as a work of public art, and it reminds viewers in a dramatic way of the inevitable passing of time. Taylor deliberately designed it to be terrifying: ‘Basically I view time as not on your side. He’ll eat up every minute of your life, and as soon as one has gone he’s salivating for the next.’

4, Saint Mark’s Clock, Venice:

The Torre dell’Orologio or Clock Tower on the north side of Saint Mark’s Square, Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Torre dell’Orologio or Clock Tower on the north side of Saint Mark’s Square, Venice, is an early Renaissance tower dating from the end of the 15th century. Its location was chosen so the clock could be seen from the waters of the lagoon to let everyone who arrived know the wealth and glory of Venice.

The clock and tower stand above an archway into the main street of the city, the Merceria, which linked the political and religious centre of the city at Saint Mark’s with the commercial and financial centre at the Rialto.

Two great bronze figures known as the Moors strike the hours on a bell. One is old and the other is young, to illustrate the passing of time. Below is an image of the winged Lion of Saint Mark with the open book, before a blue background with gold stars. Below the lion, a semi-circular gallery has statues of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. On either side are two large blue panels showing the time: the hour on the left in Roman numerals and the minutes at five-minute intervals on the right in Arabic numerals.

Twice a year, on the feast of the Epiphany (6 January) and on Ascension Day, the three Magi, led by an angel with a trumpet, emerge from one of the doorways normally taken up by these numbers and pass in procession round the gallery, bowing to the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, before leaving through the other door.

Below again is the great clock face in blue and gold inside a circle of marble engraved with the 24 hours of the day in Roman numerals. A golden pointer with an image of the sun moves around this circle and indicates the hour of the day. Within the marble circle beneath the sun pointer are the signs of the zodiac in gold. These revolve slightly more slowly than the pointer to show the position of the sun in the zodiac. In the middle of the clockface, the earth and the moon are surrounded by stars against a background of blue enamel.

The clock was made by a father and son, Gian Paolo and Gian Carlo Ranieri. The tower was built in 1496-1497, the mechanism of the clock was then built into it, and the clock and tower were inaugurated on 1 February 1499. Legend says the clock’s craftsmen were later blinded to stop them from repeating the work. By 1500, the elder Raineri had died. But his son remained in Venice to look after the clock, and he continued to live in Venice until he died in 1531.

5, Ankeruhr, Vienna:

The ‘Ankeruhr’ or Anker Clock was commissioned by the Anker insurance company as part of the ‘Clock Bridge’ in Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Hoher Markt Square is one of the oldest squares in Vienna, dating back to a time when Vienna was part of the Roman army camp Vindobona – one of the streets beside the square is named after the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who died near Vienna.

Today, the square is often seen as an ugly car park in the heart of Vienna. But it has its attractions, including the Vermählungsbrunnen (‘Marriage Fountain’), erected to celebrate the marriage of Empress Maria Theresia and Franz Stephan of Lorraine but depicting the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph at their wedding.

However, you have to look up to see the most attractive feature in this square. The Ankeruhr or Anker Clock, was commissioned by the Anker insurance company to bridge two office buildings owned by the company, now known as Helvetia. The covered bridge is known as the Uhrbrücke or ‘Clock Bridge.’

The Anker Clock was designed in the Jugendstil style, similar to Art Nouveau, by the Austrian painter and sculptor Franz von Matsch (1861-1942), who worked closely with Gustav Klimt. Matsch made the clock in 1911-1917, at a creative but turbulent time in Austrian history. The Anker Insurance Company was expanding its headquarters in Vienna and saw the clock as an artistic contribution to the city’s culture and a subliminal reminder of the importance of life insurance, with figures representing life and death flanking the sun motif above the centre.

The clock is 10 metres wide, 7.5 metres high, with a diameter of 4 metres. The design includes 12 historic figures from Vienna’s past, each made of copper. On the hour, every hour, one figure or couple is visible and on the hour a tune is played matching this figure.

At noon, all the figures and their matching tunes can be seen and heard to the gasps and cheers of tourists on the street below. It is a spectacle that can be compared to the hourly sight at the Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Hall in Prague. The last figure is Joseph Haydn, who composed the Imperial Anthem, which also became the German national anthem.

A plaque next to the clock reveals the identities of these rotating figures, offering a journey through Austrian history. The figures or couples and the hours to see them are:

1-2: The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who is said to have died in Vienna, then the city of Vindobona, in 180 CE

2-3: Charlemagne, who first incorporated Austria into the Holy Roman Empire ca 800

3-4: Leopold VI, Duke of Austria, who granted Vienna its city charter in 1221, and his wife Theodora

4-5: Walther von der Vogelweide, a mediaeval minstrel singer during Leopold’s reign

5-6: King Rudolf, the first Habsburg ruler of Austria, and his wife Anna von Hohenberg

6-7: Hans Puchsbaum, a 15th-century architect and master builder closely associated with the Stephansdom (Saint Stephen’s Cathedral)

7-8: Emperor Maximilian I, a major figure in the expansion of the Habsburg empire in the 16th century and a patron of the arts

8-9: Johann Andreas von Liebenberg, mayor of Vienna during the second Turkish siege in 1683

9-10: Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, who led the defence of the city in 1683

10-11: Prince Eugene of Savoy, who built the Belvedere and Hofburg Palace and the commander of the Imperial forces during the War of the Spanish Succession

11-12: Empress Maria Theresa, the 18th-century Habsburg monarch, and her husband Prince Franz Stephan of Lorraine

12-1: Joseph Haydn, the composer: when he appears, the clock plays his oratorio, The Creation

The tunes include works by Haydn, Mozart and Wagner. They were originally played by a mechanical organ with 800 tubes. However, the organ was so damaged during World War II that it was beyond repair and was replaced by recorded music.

6, The Friary Clock, Lichfield:

Lichfield Clock Tower or Friary Clock Tower … originally built on the corner of Bore Street and Bird Street in 1863 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Lichfield Clock Tower or Friary Clock Tower is a 19th-century Grade II listed clock tower on The Friary, south of Festival Gardens in Lichfield. It was first erected in 1863 at the corner of Bird Street and Bore Street on the site of the ancient Crucifix Conduit that supplied water to the Franciscan Friary since 1301.

Building clock towers became a fashion in England in the mid 19th century after ‘Big Ben’ was built, and Lichfield Council first suggested a clock tower in 1858. A number of locations were proposed, including the roof of the Guildhall and in the Market Square, beside the statue of Samuel Johnson. Eventually it was decided to build the tower at the corner of Bore Street and Bird Street on the site the redundant Crucifix Conduit.

The tower was designed in a Norman style by the Lichfield architect Joseph Potter jnr (1756-1842), who also restored Lichfield Cathedral with James Wyatt and who designed Newtown’s College, the Causeway Bridge and Holy Cross Church, Lichfield, and Saint John the Baptist Church, Tamworth

The clock tower was financed by the Lichfield Conduit Lands Trust to a total of £1,200. Originally, the tower only had three clock faces – a west face was deemed unnecessary as it would only look onto one property, the Friary. However, a fourth face was added after complaints from the tenant at the Friary. The whole mechanism was overhauled by Joyce of Whitchurch in 1898.

The 11-acre Friary estate was sold to Sir Richard Ashmole Cooper in 1920. He gave the site to the city for developing the area and laying out a new road. By then, traffic was making Bird Street and Bore Street increasingly congested. They are narrow streets and the position of the clock tower made matters worse.

When the road named The Friary was built across the site of the former friary in 1928, the clock tower was taken down and re-erected at its present site south of Festival Gardens, 400 metres west of its original location along the new road. The tower was repaired and restored in 1991 with the assistance of the Conduit Lands Trust, and it is now in the care of Lichfield City Council.

7, Brick Lane Mosque, London:

The clock on one side of Brick Lane Mosque … the building has been a church, mission hall, chapel, synagogue and mosque (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Brick Lane Mosque at the corner of Brick Lane and Fournier Street in the East End of London was once the Great Synagogue and been home to a succession of Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations since it was built in the mid-18th century, reflecting the waves of immigration in Spitalfields area.

It was first built in 1743 as La Neuve Eglise or the New Church by Huguenots who had fled religious persecution in France. It later became a Wesleyan and then a Methodist chapel. It became the Machzike Hadath or Spitalfields Great Synagogue in 1891. The synagogue eventually moved to new premises in Golders Green, and the building became a mosque in 1976.

The clock on the building complements a sundial with a Latin motto, Umbra sumus (‘We are shadow’), which in turn is derived from Horace’s Pulvis et umbra sumus (‘We are dust and shadow’).

8, Shandon Bells, Cork:

Saint Anne’s Church, Shandon, was built in 1722-1726 on the site of the earlier Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The claim by the Unitarian Church on Prince’s Street to be the oldest church in Cork City may be rivalled by Saint Anne’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in the Shandon district.

Saint Anne’s has been described as ‘the most important ecclesiastical structure of any period, within the city of Cork and its immediate environs, it is also one of the most important early 18th century churches in Ireland and one of a small number which still retains their original 18th century bells.’

The name Shandon is derived from the Irish Sean Dún (‘old fort’). Saint Mary’s, a mediaeval church, stood close to the site of the fort and is mentioned in the decretals of Pope Innocent III in 1199 as ‘Saint Mary on the Mountain.’ Saint Mary’s Church stood until the Williamite wars when it was destroyed during the Siege of Cork in 1690.

A new Saint Mary’s Church was built in 1693 at the bottom of Mallow Lane, modern-day Shandon Street. However, the population of Cork was growing quickly, and it was decided to build a new church on the site of the ancient church.

The present Saint Anne’s Church was built in 1722-1726 on a hill in Shandon overlooking the River Lee, as a chapel of ease to the former Saint Mary’s Church, meaning this has been a site of worship since before mediaeval times.

Saint Anne’s was designed in the Old English architectural style and extended for the ‘pepper pot’ adornment on the tower. The belfry, added in 1749 to accommodate the bells, is a noted landmark and symbol of the city, and the church bells were made popular in a 19th century song.

Some sources draw a connection between the red and white materials and the red and white colours that represent Cork. The distinct colours are recorded in a rhyme collected by 19th century antiquary Thomas Crofton Croker, which he attributes to the 18th century Catholic priest and writer Father Arthur O’Leary:

Party-coloured, like the people,
Red and white stands Shandon Steeple

The church is noted for its eight bells, cast in 1750 and first rung on 7 December 1752, for the wedding of Henry Harding and Catherine Dornan.

The clock is known to people in Cork as ‘The Four-Faced Liar’ because the time seldom seems to correspond on each face. This was the first four-faced clock until Big Ben was built in London.

There are four clock faces, one on each side, each 14 ft in diameter. The clocks were erected by Cork Corporation in 1847 and were supplied by James Mangan, who had a clock shop on Saint Patrick's Street until the 1980s. One clock face is inscribed ‘Passenger measure your time, for time is the measure of being.’

The clock continues to be maintained by Cork City Council. It was stopped for maintenance in 2013, was repaired and restarted on 2 September 2014.

On top of the pepper pot, the weather vane is in the shape of a salmon. Some say it represents fishing of the River Lee, but the fish is an early Christian symbol. It is known locally as the ‘goldie fish.’

When Saint Anne’s Church became a full parish in 1772, the first rector was the Revd Arthur Hyde, great-great-grandfather of Dr Douglas Hyde, first President of Ireland.

The graves in the churchyard include Francis Mahony (Father Prout), author of ‘The Bells of Shandon.’ He was a grandson of Timothy Mahony, founder of Blarney Woollen Mills. He eventually left the priesthood to concentrate on writing. His took his pen-name Father Prout from a learned but eccentric priest from Watergrasshill.

9, Bevis Marks Synagogue, London:

The clock above the doorway of Bevis Marks Synagogue displays the Hebrew and secular dates of its manufacture: 5618, 1858 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bevis Marks Synagogue is often seen as the Jewish ‘cathedral’ among synagogues in London, and it is also the oldest operating synagogue on these islands. Bevis Marks Synagogue is officially the Qahal Kadosh Sha’ar ha-Shamayim (קָהָל קָדוֹשׁ שַׁעַר הַשָׁמַיִם, or ‘Holy Congregation Gate of Heaven’). It stands in a courtyard off Bevis Marks, the street in the city of London that gives the synagogue its popular name.

The synagogue was built in 1701 and is at the heart of the story of London’s Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community. It is the only synagogue in Europe that has held regular services continuously for more than 300 years.

Bevis Marks Synagogue was built in 1701 for the congregation of Sephardim or Spanish and Portuguese Jews in London, formed in 1698. It was built by Joseph Avis, a Quaker, to erect a building at a cost of £2,650. According to legend, Avis declined to collect his full fee, on the ground that it was wrong to profit from building a house of God. Another legend says the timber for the roof was donated by the then Princess Anne, later Queen Anne.

The plain exterior and its large, clear windows are both characteristics of the church architecture of Sir Christopher Wren. Above the central doorway are the Hebrew and secular dates of its opening: 5462, 1701. Above the doorway, in similar fashion, the clock bears the Hebrew and secular dates of its manufacture: 5618, 1858.

10, Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta:

The three clocks on the bell tower of Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The bell tower of Saint John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, the capital of Malta, has three clocks to tell the time, the date and the day of the week. The bell tower is on the south side of the cathedral in Saint John’s Square.

Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, was built by the Order of Saint John or Knights of Malta in 1572-1577. The church was commissioned by the Grand Master, Jean de la Cassière, as the Conventual Church of Saint John and was designed by the Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, who designed several of the more prominent buildings in Valletta.

The Time-Date-Day-Clock has several unusual features. Below a balcony from which a newly selected Grand Master was announced to the knights and the people of the town is a large single-hand clock. Lower and to the left is a dial that indicates the date, and to the right is a dial that indicates the day of the week in Latin abbreviations.

10, Trinity College, Cambridge:

The clock tower in Trinity College, Cambridge … part of the Great Court Run (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The college clock in Trinity College, Cambridge, is housed in King Edward’s Gate, otherwise known as the clock tower. This gate originally formed a grand entrance to King’s Hall, which was dissolved in 1546 and joined with Michaelhouse to found the new College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

A clock, dial-plate, and bell seems first to have been added to the clock tower in 1610 by Thomas Tennant of London. The bell is still in place and in use. A new clock and dial-plate were put in place in 1726-1727.

The old clock was replaced yet again in 1910. It was built by Smith of Derby and designed by Lord Grimthorpe, who drew on ‘Big Ben. The Trinity clock is notable for striking the hour twice, first on a low note, the ‘Trinity’ chime, and then on a much higher one, the ‘Saint John’s’ chime. William Wordsworth refers to this phenomenon in his poem ‘The Prelude’ (1850):

Near me hung Trinity’s loquacious clock,
Who never let the quarters, night or day,
Slip by him unproclaimed, and told the hours
Twice over with a male and female voice.

The Great Court Run is an attempt to run around Great Court within the time it takes the clock to strike the hour of 12, including the preparatory chiming of the four quarters and the two sets of 12.

The course is about 370 metres long. Depending on the state of winding, the clock takes between about 43 and 44½ seconds. It is traditional for athletic members of Trinity to attempt the run every year at noon on the day of the Matriculation Dinner. The Great Court Run is a central scene in the film Chariots of Fire (1981) – although, in fact, it was not filmed at Trinity.

The race was recreated for charity in 1988 by Britain’s two foremost middle-distance runners at that time, Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram, with Daley Thompson as a reserve. Starting from under the clock-tower and running anti-clockwise, the runners restricted themselves to the customary course dictated by the flagstones between the cobbles, and so had to turn very sharply at each corner. Coe won, with a time of 46.0 seconds beating Cram’s 46.3 seconds. Neither runner, however, beat the clock, which took 44.4 seconds.

On 20 October 2007, Sam Dobin, a second year undergraduate reading Economics, made it round within the sound of the final chime, with a time of 42.7 seconds. The course taken by the runners that year was slightly different to that of 1988, as the competitors ran on the cobbles as well as the flagstones.

11, The Clock Tower, Youghal, Co Cork:

The Clock Gate Tower, the symbol of Youghal, was built in 1777 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Youghal, Co Cork, with a population of about 8,000, stands on the edge of a steep riverbank on the estuary of the Blackwater River. The town, with its long, narrow streets and narrow side lanes, dates back in time to a Viking settlement in the 11th century, and received its first charter of incorporation as a town in 1209.

Youghal is the first town in either Ireland or Britain to have a Jewish mayor when William Annyas or William Moses Annyas Eanes (Ben Yohanan) was elected Mayor of Youghal in 1555.

The Clock Gate Tower, the symbol of the town, was built in 1777 on the site of Trinity Castle, part of the town’s mediaeval fortifications. The Clock Gate was the town gaol until 1837, and later became a family home, until the McGrath family left in 1959.

12, Villierstown Church, Co Waterford:

The clock over the front door of the church in Villierstown, Co Waterford, was erected in 1910 by Mary Villiers-Stuart of Dromana (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Villierstown is on the banks of the River Blackwater in west Waterford, about 8 km south of Cappoquin. The village was founded by the Villiers-Stuart family, who give the place its name. The family and their direct ancestors have lived in Dromana House in its different forms for over 700 years, making it one of the oldest family estates in Ireland up to the 20th century.

John Villiers (1684-1766), 1st Earl Grandison, established the village in the 1740s to develop a linen industry. The original village consisted of a church, a rectory, a school, 24 houses, a court, a police barracks and a quay on the river. It was initially populated with linen-weavers, some of whom were from Lurgan, Co Armagh.

Grandison built a new church in the Queen Anne style 1748 for the new village and its new residents. The new chapel could accommodate about 400 people, and regular Sunday services were being held by 1757.

The church remained outside the parochial and diocesan structures of the Church of Ireland. It was a ‘chapel of ease’ and marriage services, for example, could not take place there without a special licence. Affane Parish, which included Villierstown, was united with Cappoquin in 1874. The position of chaplain at Villierstown came to an end in 1919, and from then on, the chapel was served by the clergy of Lismore Cathedral and the curate of Cappoquin. Lismore and Cappoquin were united in 1955.

Sunday attendance figures in Villierstown had dropped to about six by 1955, and the chapel closed in 1958. A church commission recommended removing the roof and capping the walls, retaining the porch as a mortuary chapel for the churchyard. But the Villiers-Stuart family was unhappy and James Henry Ion Villiers-Stuart (1928-2004) donated the church to the village in 1965 to prevent it from ‘falling into disrepair and ruin.’

After a meeting with the Roman Catholic bishop, Dr Daniel Cohalan, it was agreed that it would become a church for the Catholic villagers. It was the first time a Church of Ireland church was given to a Roman Catholic parish. The gift was welcomed by Bishop Cohalan and the parish priest, Father Hackett. A local committee raised £1,500 for its adaptation as a Catholic church.

However, Bishop Cohalan and Father Hackett died within weeks of each other. Their successors, Bishop Michael Russell and Father Quinlan, were less than enthusiastic, and decided the three existing churches were enough for the parish. The church is now an arts, entertainment, community and wedding venue.

The bellcote embellishes the pedimented roof. The clock over the front door was erected in 1910 by Mary Villiers-Stuart of Dromana, and a plaque reads: ‘This clock was the gift of Mary Villiers Stuart of Dromana to the people of Villierstown, to whom she was deeply attached. 1910. Restored by Mary’s grandson James, 1990.’

13, The Clock Tower, Valentia Island, Co Kerry:

The Clock Tower on the harbour front at Knightstown on Valentia Island, Co Kerry (Patrick Comerford)

There is an extra hour tonight as the clocks go back, so I thought I might add an extra clock to this ‘virtual tour’ of a dozen clocks and clock towers. The clock tower is the dominant landmark on the harbour at Knightstown, the main village on Valentia Island in Co Kerry.

Valentia Island, off the Iveragh Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry, is one of Ireland’s most westerly points. It is about 11 km (7 miles) long, 3 km (2 miles) wide, and has a population of 665.

Tourism began on Valentia Island in 1833, and the Royal Valentia Hotel, which began as an inn, has been in business for almost two centuries. The hotel faces onto the harbour at Knightstown, the island’s main village. It has been known as the Royal Valentia Hotel since Queen Victoria’s youngest son Prince Arthur (1850-1942), later Duke of Connaught, visited in 1869.

The clock tower, in front of the Royal Valentia Hotel, is a square-plan weigh house, built ca 1880, with a round window opening and a tapered pyramidal roof, a central clock in the apex, ogee-domed capping and a decorative urn finial. It is part of a composition on the quay that includes a cast-iron lever, a group of six iron weights arranged in a pyramidal fashion, and a cast-iron weigh bridge. The clock was decommissioned in 1922, but was restored in 1990.

A car ferry runs a shuttle service from Knightstown to Reenard Point, near Cahersiveen, on the Ring of Kerry, throughout the day in the summer months (April to October). The island is also linked to the mainland by a bridge at Portmagee.

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (153) 28 October 2023

The Church of the Immaculate Conception (Chiesa Maria Immacolata) seen from the beach in Giardini Naxos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and tomorrow is the Last Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XXI, 29 October 2023). The Church Calendar today (28 October) celebrates the Apostles, Saint Simon and Saint Jude.

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 last Sunday, and my reflections each morning throughout the rest of this week followed 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.

The beach at Naxos, where the first Greek settlers arrived in Sicily in 735 BC (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Church of the Immaculate Conception, Giardini Naxos, Sicily:

The Church of the Immaculate Conception (Chiesa Maria Immacolata) is a striking modern church, whose cone shape makes it a very visible landmark on the coast of Giardini Naxos in Sicily. The church was built in the San Giovanni district of Giardini Naxos in 1963-1968, and opened on 8 October 1968.

Giardini Naxos takes its name from the site of Naxos, the earliest Greek settlement in Sicily. Today, it is a popular tourist resort , close to Taormina, and within easy reach of Mount Etna, and the classical sites in Syracuse and Noto.

The site of the classical city of Naxos is behind a railed site, east of the beach at Recanati, and the entrance to the archaeological site and museum is beside La Sirena restaurant on the busy seafront, on the low, rocky headland now called Cape Schisò.

It is hard to imagine with these few scanty remains that this was once an important centre of Greek civilisation and culture on the island of Sicily, and it remained so until the Arab invasions of the Byzantine Empire. Classical Naxos stood on Cape Schisò, formed by an ancient stream of lava, immediately to the north of the Alcantara, one of the great gorges in Sicily. A small bay to the north separates it from the foot of the hill-top town of Taormina.

Classical writers say Naxos was the most ancient Greek colony in Sicily. It was founded a year before Syracusae (Syracuse), or in 735 BCE, by a group of colonists from Chalcis in Euboea and the island of Naxos in the Cyclades. The leader of the colonists and the founder of the city was Theocles or Thucles, who was born in Athens. But the name of Naxos is derived from the presence among the original settlers of a group of colonists from Naxos.

The new colony was soon joined by fresh settlers from Greece. Six years after it was established, the Chalcidians at Naxos were able to send out a fresh colony to set up the city of Leontini (Lentini) in 730 BCE, followed soon by another colony at Catana. Strabo also speaks of Zancle (modern Messina) as a colony from Naxos, although Thucydides does not mention this. Callipolis was another colony of Naxos, although the site is not known.

Surprisingly, little is known about the early history of Naxos, and the first accounts are of disasters that hit the Greek city. Herodotus recounts that Naxos was besieged and captured by Hippocrates, the despot of Gela, ca 498-491 BCE.

Naxos was in the hands of Gelon of Syracuse and his brother Hieron by 476 BCE. In a move to strengthen his own military power, Hieron moved the people of Naxos and Catana to Leontini, and brought in new Greek colonists to live in the cities he had emptied. However, Naxos was restored to the original inhabitants in 461 BCE, and the cities of Naxos, Leontini and Catana formed a close alliance against Syracuse and the other Doric cities in Sicily.

When Athens sent a force to Sicily under Laches and Charoeades, Naxos immediately came to its aid. In the war that followed, Naxos repulsed a sudden attack from Messina in 425 BCE. During a later expedition from Athens to Sicily, the Athenian fleet landed at Naxos in 415 BCE, and Naxos once again fought on the same side as the Athenians. Thucydides recalls that Naxos and Catania were the only Greek cities in Sicily that sided with Athens.

A revenge attack on Naxos by Syracuse was called off in 409 BCE because Carthage was posing a military threat to all the Greek cities in Sicily. But in 403 BCE, Dionysius of Syracuse captured Naxos which was betrayed by the general Procles. Dionysius sold all the inhabitants of Naxos into slavery, razed the city walls and buildings, and handed over the defeated city’s territory to neighbouring Siculi.

Naxos never recovered from this blow, and it is difficult to trace what happened to it in the immediate aftermath. A new settlement was built on the hill called Mount Taurus, which rises immediately above the site of Naxos, ca 396 BCE. This eventually became the town of Tauroménion (Ταυρομένιον), present-day Taormina.

In 358 BCE, Andromachus, the father of the historian Timaeus, gathered together the descendants of the people of Naxos, by now exiles throughout the island, and brought them to live on the hill of Tauroménion, which became the successor of ancient Naxos. Pliny the Elder is mistaken when he says Tauroménion was once called Naxos. The new city quickly prospered, and the site of Naxos was never fully resettled.

However, the altar and shrine of Apollo Archegetes continued to mark the spot where Naxos once stood, and it is mentioned in the war between Octavian and Sextus Pompey in Sicily in 36 BCE. It remained a tradition for all envoys setting out on sacred missions to Greece or returning to Sicily to stop at Naxos and offer a sacrifice on the altar.

The site stretches over a large area of Cape Schisò, among olive and lemon groves. It is poorly labelled, but it is possible to make out the foundations of a once-large town laid out in grids and a long stretch of the city wall of Naxos, as well as rubble indicating the later presence of a Byzantine town on the site.

During the Arab occupation of Sicily, Naxos was called al-Kusus. In the Norman period, Kusus became Kisoi and then Schisò. Since the area was widely cultivated with citrus orchards, it came to be known as Giardini and was part of the administrative area of Taormina.

Queen Adelasia, the wife of Count Roger of Altavilla, gave the Church of Saint Pantaleo at Schisò to monks following the rule of Saint Basil in 1005, granting them the right of tax-free fishing in the sea off Naxos.

Schisò Castle may date back to 1100. For centuries, the castle belonged to the De Spuches family. It is still owned privately by the Palladino family and is not open to visits or for archaeological research. It may date back to 1100. It has a square shape and four round towers and is surrounded by a large garden. The castle had its own independent supply of water thanks to a well immediately outside.

Underground passages connected to the Vignazza Tower, an impressive defence garrison on the promontory of Naxos, and to another small fortress east of the castle. Inside the Schisò Castle is the small Church of Saint Pantaleo, a martyr who was a missionary in Roman Sicily (feast day 29 July).

The towers and castles on the cape helped to protect the Sicilian coastline along the Ionian Sea against corsairs and pirates from the north African coast, and the raids did not cease until France conquered Algiers in 1830.

King Ferdinand II made Giardini an independent commune in 1846. On the evening of 18 August 1860, Garibaldi set sail from Giardini for the Calabrian coast at the beginning of the Italian War of Unification.

Giardini Naxos began to develop economically around 1870 after the Messina-Catania railway opened, changingd the small maritime village into a popular tourist destination. However, the site of Naxos has never been fully excavated by archaeologists, and some of the small number of pieces recovered are on display in the small two-room museum.

The tall, slender Church of the Immaculate Conception with its conical shape has become one of the modern landmarks on the coastline of Giardini Naxos. Bishop Carmelo Canzonieri, Auxiliary Bishop of Messina, blessed the laying of the foundation stone on 1 May 1963. Building work was completed by 8 October 1967, when Archbishop Francesco Fasola of Messina recognised the new parish.

Father Eduardo Di Felice, a Capuchin Franciscan, was the first parish priest. He worked hard to complete the church and the parish complex, and the church was later visited by Pope John Paul II. The parish continued to be run by the Capuchin Franciscans until the beginning of the 2000s.

The other churches in Giardini Naxos include the Church of Santa Maria della Racconmandata, known as the ‘mother church’ of Giardini Naxos and built in 1719, and the Church San Pancrazio (Saint Pancras), built in 1957 and dedicated to the patron of the nearby lofty hill-top town of Taormina.

The lengthy remains of the former city walls of Naxos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 15: 17-27 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 17 ‘I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

18 ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”

26 ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.’

The Byzantine site at Giardini Naxos (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), has been ‘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 (28 October 2023, Simon and Jude, Apostles) invites us to pray in these words:

Let us give thanks for the lives and works of Saint Simon and Saint Jude. May we emulate them in our discipleship and witness to the Good News.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who built your Church upon the foundation
of the apostles and prophets,
with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone:
so join us together in unity of spirit by their doctrine,
that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you;
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.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

Among the exhibits in the Archaeological Museum at the site of Naxos (Photographs: 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

Caves between the beaches on the coast at Giardini Naxos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)