14 January 2024

Mary Comerford Boddington,
a Cork-born travel writer,
and her descendants
who died in the Holocaust

The snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees … Mary Comerford Boddington wrote two volumes of travel books on the Pyrenees (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing late last week about four brothers – Alexander, Arthur, Patrick and Robert Law – who were prominent in cricket and in the theatre in the late Victorian era, and their Comerford family connections.

Their grandmother, Belinda Comerford, was a sister of Mary Teresa (Comerford) Boddington (1776-1840) was an Irish-born writer and traveller and the author of many volumes of travel literature, fiction and poetry.

Mary was born in Cork in 1776. Her father, Patrick Comerford of George’s Quay, Cork, and Summerville, Co Cork, was a wine merchant in Cork in partnership with his father John Comerford, who was directly descended from the Comerford family of Co Wexford. His mother Elizabeth Hennessy was a member of the well-known Hennessy family of Cognac fame.

Patrick Comerford married Anne (Teresa) Gleadowe in Bath in 1770. She was a daughter of Thomas Gleadowe (1700-1766) of Castle Street, Dublin, and a sister of the banker Sir William Gleadowe-Newcomen (1730-1806), of Killester, Co Dublin.

The couple returned to live in Cork, and their younger surviving daughter, Belinda Isabella Comerford, married the Revd Francis Law (1768-1807), Vicar of Attanagh in the Diocese of Ossory and Rector of Cork. They are part of the Comerford family stories. Many of Belinda’s descendants kept the Comerford family name, including her son, the Revd Patrick Comerford Law.

Belinda’s elder sister, the writer Mary (Comerford) Boddington, was born in Cork in 1776. She wrote verse frequently for papers and literary magazines in Cork before she left for London in 1803. Two years later, she married Thomas Boddington (1774-1862), a West Indian merchant, whose lucrative business was centred there.

Mary Comerford and Thomas Boddington were married on 16 April 1805, in Saint George’s Church, Hanover Square, London, then as now a fashionable church for weddings. There the architect Henry Holland married Capability Brown’s daughter Bridget in 1773, the architect John Nash married Mary Ann Bradley in 1798, and much later 28-year-old Theodore Roosevelt, the future US President, married Edith Carow (25) in 1886.

In the musical My Fair Lady, Alfred Doolittle (Stanley Holloway), having just been provided with an inheritance and having to move into ‘middle-class morality,’ invites his daughter Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) to his wedding at this church, leading to the song, ‘Get Me to the Church on Time.’

Mary toured continental Europe after 1815. Her first book, Slight Reminiscences of the Rhine, Switzerland and a corner of Italy (1834), was published in London in two volumes. This was followed by a two-volume collection of short stories, The Gossip’s Week (1836), James Hamilton and other tales (two volumes, Philadelphia, 1837), a second travel book, Sketches in the Pyrenees, with some remarks on Languedoc, Provence and the Cornice (two volumes, 1837), and a collection of poems, called simply Poems (1839).

Most of her books were published by Longman. Some of her songs were written to Irish airs, but while she and her husband Thomas Boddington are referred to frequently in Thomas Moore’s Diary, her poetry is now regarded as vain doggerel, remembered only because of her prolific output and because she was a woman writer who managed to publish so much at a time when men dominated the world of literature and publishing.

Mary died in 1840, and the popularity of her poetry and her travel writing faded soon after her death.

Mary and Thomas Boddington were the parents of two daughters and a son:

1, Mary Theresa (1806-1898).
2, Thomas Boddington (1807-1881).
3, Harriet Olivia (1809-1877).

Their elder daughter, Mary Theresa (1806-1898), was born in London on 13 January 1806. She moved to France and at the age of 25 she married Jean Ernest Lannes de Montebello (1803-1882), Baron de Montebello, in the British embassy in Paris on 27 April 1831. Jean Ernest was born on 20 July 1803 in Lisbon, where his father was Napoleon’s ambassador to Portugal. He died on 24 November 1882 in Pau, France, and Mary died there on 15 May 1898.

There the memories of their side of the Comerford family might have died out in the narratives of the Comerford genealogies if I had not decided in some idle moment many years ago to explore what had happened to Mary Comerford’s daughter and her descendants.

When Mary Boddington married Jean Ernest, he was chef de cabinet at the French Foreign Ministry and a chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur. His father, Jean Lannes, 1st Duc de Montebello (1769-1809), was a Marshal of the French Empire. He was one of Napoleon’s most daring and talented generals. In his exile on Saint Helena, Napoleon said of Lannes: ‘I found him a pygmy and left him a giant.’

Marshall Lannes was born on 10 April 1769 in the small town of Lectoure, in the Gers department in the south of France, the son of a Gascon farmer. He had little education and was first apprenticed to a dyer. But after enlisting in the army he quickly rose through the ranks and alongside Louis Nicolas Davout and André Masséna he is regarded as one the ablest of all of Napoleon’s marshals.

Napoleon sent him as ambassador to Portugal in 1801. Lannes bought the 17th century Château de Maisons, near Paris, in 1804, and had one of its state apartments redecorated for a visit by Napoleon.

When the French empire was founded, he was named a Marshal of France (1804), and he commanded the advanced guard of a great French army in the campaign of Austerlitz. Napoleon took him to Spain in 1808, and gave him a detached wing of the army, with which he won a victory over Castaños at Tudela. As a reward, Napoleon gave him the title of Duc de Montebello in 1808.

He was sent to capture Saragossa in 1809. After his last campaign in Spain, he said: ‘This damned Bonaparte is going to get us all killed.’ That year, for the last time, he had command of the advanced guard. He took part in the engagements around Eckmühl and the advance on Vienna. With his corps he led the French army across the Danube, and bore the brunt, with Masséna, of the terrible battle of Aspern-Essling. He received a mortal wound on 22 May and died on 31 May 1809.

Marshall Lannes and his second wife, Louise Antoinette, Comtesse de Guéhéneuc (1782-1856), had five children, including Jean Ernest Lannes, Baron de Montebello (1803-1882), who married Mary (Comerford) Boddington’s daughter, Mary Theresa.

Mary Theresa and Jean Ernest Lannes de Montebello were the parents of six children:

1, Marie (1832-1917), who married Henri O’Shea, a descendant of the family of wine merchants who had once been in partnership with the Comerford family in Cork.
2, Eveline (1837-1868), a nun in the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul.
3, Berthe (1838-1893), who married Auguste Guillemin.
4, Jean Gaston Lannes de Montebello (1840-1926), 2nd Baron de Montebello, an artillery officer and a chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur.
5, René Lannes de Montebello (1845-1925), whose story continues this exploration of Comerford family connections.
6, Roger Lannes de Montebello (1850-1878), who died in Paris.

René Lannes de Montbello (1845-1925) was born in Gelos on 13 September 1845, and inherited some of the family fame and titles. He married Princess Marie Lubmirska (1847-1930) in Paris on 4 November 1875. She was the daughter of a celebrated Polish composer, Prince Kazimierz Anastazy Karol Lubomirski (1813-1871), whose family lived near Lviv in what is now Ukraine.

René was an army major and was known by the courtesy title of Baron de Montebello. But, when his son Henry was born in Paris in 1876, he assumed the title of count. Henry died in childhood, but René and his Polish princess were the parents of four other children. He died on 27 December 1925, and Princess Marie died on 18 May 1930.

One of their sons, Count André Roger Lannes de Montebello (1908-1986), was involved in the French resistance during World War II. He was the father of Count Guy Philippe Henri Lannes de Montebello, who, as plain Philippe de Montebello, was the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York until he retired 2008.

But it is the fate of André’s elder sister that I have found distressing. Hedwige Marie Renée Lannes de Montebello (1881-1944), was born in Pau on 10 Mar 1881, and on 17 September 1910 she married in Biarritz Louis d’Ax de Vaudricourt (1879-1945), of the Château Vaudricourt, who was born on 20 May 1879.

Like her brother, Hedwige was involved in the French resistance. She was captured, and on 7 April 1944, named simply as Hedwig Ax, she was sent on a train from Gare de l’Est in Paris to the transit camp at Neue Bremm in Saarbrücken, Germany. She was moved to the women’s concentration camp in Ravensbrück, where her unique number was 47135. She died in Ravensbrück on 19 November 1944.

Her husband, named simply in his deportation papers as Louis Ax, died in the concentration camp in Dachau in January 1945.

Although I first came across her story more than ten years ago, I know no more than this about Hedwige Marie Renée Lannes de Montebello and her husband. They may seem like very distant twigs on a distant branch of the Comerford family tree. But if we fail to claim them as part of the family, they stop being part of ‘us’ and part being part of ‘them.’ And therein lies the beginning of all the dangerous thoughts that lead to racism and violent racism.

Hedwige Marie Renée Lannes de Montebello (1881-1944), a direct descendant of Mary Comerford Boddington – and through her of the Comerfords of Wexford and Cork – died in Ravensbrück on 19 November 1944. Later this month, Holocaust Memorial Day on Saturday 27 January 2024 recalls the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps. The rise of the far-right across Europe and Holocaust Memorial Day later this month are stark reminders of the need to keep these stories alive, and to respect and honour the memories of the dead.

Daily prayers during
Christmas and Epiphany:
21, 14 January 2024

An icon of Saint Timothy … Saint Paul addresses two letters to Saint Timothy in Ephesus

Patrick Comerford

The celebrations of Epiphany-tide continue today (14 January 2023), and this is the Second Sunday of Epiphany (14 January 2024). Christmas is a season that lasts for 40 days that continues from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).

Covid and its aftermath prevented me from going to church for two successive Sundays. Now, hopefully, I plan to be at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, later this morning. Before this days begins, however, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

My reflections each morning during the seven days of this week include:

1, A reflection on one of the seven people who give their names to epistles in the New Testament;

2, the Gospel reading of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Archaeological remains in the Basilica in Ephesus … two Pauline letters are addressed to Timothy in Ephesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1, Saint Timothy of Ephesus:

Although Saint Paul does not give his own name to any of his letters, seven people give their names to a total of eleven of the letters or epistles in the New Testament: Timothy (I and II Timohty), Titus, Philemon, James, Peter (I and II Peter), John (I, II and III John), and Jude.

Three of the Pauline letters are known as the Pastoral Letters: I Timothy, II Timothy and Titus. They are generally discussed as a group – sometimes along with the Letter to Philemon – and have been known as the pastoral letters since the 18th or 19th century because they address two individuals, Timothy and Titus, who have pastoral oversight of local churches and discuss in pastoral ways issues of Christian living, doctrine and leadership.

These letters are arranged in the New Testament in order of size, although this does not represent their chronological order.

Paul addressed his letters to Timothy and Titus who were left behind by Paul to preside in their respective churches during the author’s absence – Timothy in Ephesus (I Timothy 1: 3) and Titus in Crete (Titus 1: 5).

They use similar terms to describe the desirable qualifications of hose they appoint to offices in the Church. Timothy and Titus are warned against the same prevailing corruptions, and in particular against the same misdirection of their cares and studies.

These three letters share similar phrases and expressions and similar greetings to the two recipients.

Saint Timothy (Τιμόθεος, Timótheos, ‘honouring God’ or ‘honoured by God’) probably died ca 97 CE. The New Testament tells us he travelled with Saint Paul, who was also his mentor.

He is mentioned at the time of Saint Paul’s second visit to Lystra in Anatolia (Acts 16: 1-2), where Timothy is said to be a ‘disciple.’ Paul, impressed by his ‘own son in the faith,’ arranged that he should become his companion. Little is known about his father, apart from the fact that he was Greek, while his mother was a Jewish woman who became a Christian (Acts 16: 1). His mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, are noted as eminent for their piety and faith (II Timothy 1: 5), which may mean they were Christians too. Timothy had not been circumcised, so Paul ensures this is done so that Timothy is acceptable among the Jews.

Timothy is praised by Paul for his knowledge of the Scriptures, and is said to have been acquainted with the Scriptures since childhood (II Timothy 1: 5; 3: 15).

He was ordained by Saint Paul (I Timothy 4: 14) and accompanied Saint Paul on his journeys through Phrygia, Galatia, Mysia, Troas, Philippi, Veria, and Corinth. He is mentioned on several occasions by Paul as his trusted companion and fellow worker (for examples, see Romans 16: 21, I Corinthians 4: 17).

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews implies that Timothy was jailed at least once, mentioning Timothy’s release at the end of the epistle (Hebrews 13: 23).

Timothy may have had some stomach malady, for Saint Paul advises him to ‘No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments’ (I Timothy 5: 23).

According to later traditions, Saint Paul consecrated Timothy as Bishop of Ephesus in the year 65, and he served there for 15 years. Those traditions say that in the year 97, when Timothy was dying, the 80-year-old Timothy tried to halt a pagan procession of idols, ceremonies and songs in Ephesus. In response, the angry mob beat him, dragged him through the streets, and stoned him to death.

I Timothy may have been written around 66 or 67 CE and II Timothy a year or so later from Rome, where Paul was a prisoner.

I Timothy primarily provides guidance for the worship and organisation of the Church. It deals with the issue of women in relationship to authority (I Timothy 2: 9-15) and dignity (I Timothy 3: 11), speaks of bishops (overseers, I Timothy 3: 1-7), deacons (I Timothy 3: 8-10, 12), and elders (I Timothy 5: 17-18).

The letter also opposes false teaching of a speculative and moralistic type.

This epistle or letter consists mainly of counsels to Timothy regarding the forms of worship of the Church (I Timothy 2: 1-15), and the responsibilities resting on its members, including ἐπίσκοποι (epískopoi, bishops or overseers, I Timothy 3: 1-7), πρεσβύτεροι (presbyteroi, presbyters, priest or elders, I Timothy 5: 17-20), and διάκονοι (diákonoi, deacons, I Timothy 3: 8-13).

In I Timothy, the task of preserving the tradition is entrusted to ordained πρεσβύτεροι. Deacons are not mentioned in Titus, but the office of πρεσβύτερος is also mentioned in James 5, and this word, sometimes translated as elder, is also the Greek root for the English word priest.

There are exhortations to faithfulness in maintaining the truth amid surrounding errors (4: 1 ff), presented as a prophecy of erring teachers to come. The letter warns strongly against teachers who lack understanding, wander into vain discussions, and end by making a shipwreck of their faith (I Timothy 1: 3-7, 19-20; 6: 3-10). It also attacks an asceticism that was related to Gnosticism (see I Timothy 4: 3, 7; 6: 20).

The epistle’s ‘irregular character, abrupt connections and loose transitions’ have led critics to discern later interpolations, such as the epistle’s conclusion (I Timothy 6: 20-21), read by some as a reference to Marcion of Sinope, and lines that appear to be marginal glosses that have been copied into the body of the text.

This epistle also includes the well-known but oft-misquoted passages: ‘For we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it’ (I Timothy 6: 7), and: ‘For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil’ (I Timothy 6: 10).

II Timothy is the most personal of the pastoral letters, and most of it is addressed directly to Timothy. It is an earnest pastoral letter from a veteran missionary to a younger colleague.

In II Timothy, Paul asks Timothy to come to him and bring Mark. He warns Timothy about the false teachers and urges him to be faithful in carrying out the office to which he has been called. It is a prophecy about difficult times that will come.

In this epistle the author, who identifies himself as the Apostle Paul, entreats Timothy to come to him before winter, and to bring Mark with him (cf Philemon 2: 22).

He realises ‘the time of my departure has come’ (II Timothy 4: 6), and he exhorts Timothy, his ‘beloved child’ (II Timothy 1: 2) to all diligence and steadfastness in the face of false teachings, giving him advice about combating them with reference to the teachings of the past. He urges him to be patient under persecution (1: 6-15), and to faithfully discharge of all the duties of his office (4: 1-5), with all the solemnity of one who is about to appear before Christ Jesus, the judge of the living and the dead.

The cross-shaped baptismal pool in the Basilica in Ephesus … according to later traditions, Saint Paul consecrated Timothy as Bishop of Ephesus in the year 65 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 1: 43-51 (NRSVA):

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ 46 Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48 Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49 Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50 Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51 And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

‘We have found him’ (John 1: 45) … the calling of Philip and Nathanael depicted in a window in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Dromcollogher, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Sunday 14 January 2024, Epiphany II):

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: ‘Climate Justice from Bangladesh perspective’. This theme is introduced today by the Right Revd Shourabh Pholia, Bishop of Barishal Diocese, Church of Bangladesh:

Climate justice is an issue that holds immense significance for Bangladesh, particularly as it is a low-lying coastal area vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The impacts include rise in sea levels, cyclones and severe flooding. The people of Bangladesh, who bear little responsibility for global greenhouse gas emissions, suffer the most from these consequences. This stark injustice reflects the teachings of the Bible, which emphasise empathy and justice for the vulnerable.

The Bible encourages us to be good caretakers or stewards by cultivating and caring for the earth (Genesis 2: 15). The mandate extends to addressing climate change, which disproportionately affects impoverished communities in Bangladesh. Climate justice, from a Biblical perspective, calls for taking responsibility for our environmental actions and rectifying the harm inflicted on the most vulnerable.

The Bible emphasises principles of love, compassion, care and justice. God calls us to respond to those who are oppressed. The entire Creation is now neglected, exploited and at risk. Climate justice, from a Biblical perspective, calls for doing justice with love towards our neglected planet’s health and its impact on impoverished communities worldwide.

In recent years, Bangladesh has been at the forefront of advocating for climate justice on the global stage, demanding equity in climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. They call for accountability from the nations with historically high emissions, echoing the biblical call for justice.

Climate justice from the perspective of Bangladesh underscores the moral imperative to address climate change and its disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities, echoing the call for justice and care for ‘the least of these’ as seen in the scriptures (Matthew 25:40). It serves as a reminder that climate action is not just an environmental issue but a deeply moral one, demanding global cooperation and accountability.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (14 January 2024) invites us to pray in these words:

Heavenly Father, help us work together on behalf of all Creation as part of that mighty river of peace and justice to speak out with and for communities most impacted by climate injustice and the loss of biodiversity.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of glory,
you nourish us with your Word
who is the bread of life:
fill us with your Holy Spirit
that through us the light of your glory
may shine in all the world.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Eternal Lord,
our beginning and our end:
bring us with the whole creation
to your glory, hidden through past ages
and made known
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection (Laodicea)

Continued tomorrow (Saint Titus of Crete)

Remains of the basilica in Ephesus (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