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 fa├žade, 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)