13 June 2024

Enjoying the bridges and boats
on the Cherwell and Isis in
‘the city of dreaming spires’

Punts on the River Cherwell at Christ Church Meadow in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Despite living within commuting distance of Oxford for some time now and within the Diocese of Oxford, I am still familiarising myself with ‘the city of dreaming spires’.

The Victorian poet Matthew Arnold described the beauty of university buildings in his poem Thyrsis, in which he describes Oxford as ‘the city of dreaming spires’ because of its architecture:

And that sweet city with her dreaming spires,
She needs not June for beauty’s heightening.

‘The city of dreaming spires’ … a view of Oxford across Christ Church Meadow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

I still do not feel as familiar with Oxford as I do with Cambridge, where I have studied at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, staying at Sidney Sussex College over the years. I have also preached and lectured in Sidney Sussex and in Christ’s College, and feel I know my way around Cambridge, its colleges, churches and college chapels, its bookshops, cafés and bars, its open spaces and its hidden corners.

In Cambridge, I know my way along the Backs and by the boat clubs, and I wonder whether some day I am ever going to become as familiar with similar walks in Oxford.

The Cherwell and the Thames – known as the Isis in Oxford – run through the city, and walking through Christ Church Meadow, along the river banks and by the boat houses one recent sunny afternoon I too was captivated by those views that have made Oxford ‘the city of dreaming spires.’

The college boats houses are clustered together in Oxford, lined in a row along Boathouses Walk (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Both Cambridge and Oxford are also cities of bicycles, bridges and boats.

As in Cambridge, the college boats houses are clustered together in Oxford, lined in a row along Boathouses Walk: Saint Anne’s, Saint Hugh’s and Wadham; Saint Edmund Hall; Corpus Christi and Saint John’s; Jesus and Keble; Brasenose and Exeter; Oriel, Lincoln and Queen’s; Baliol and Osler House; Merton and Worcester; Linacre; and Christ Church. Facing them on the opposite bank are: University College, and more college boat houses as one continues south.

In all, there are 40 boat clubs within the university: four representative university clubs (Oxford University Boat Club, Oxford University Women’s Boat Club, Oxford University Lightweight Rowing Club and Oxford University Women’s Lightweight Rowing Club) and 36 college boat clubs, with over 3,000 active members in total. The 40 college and university clubs together form the confederation known as Oxford University Rowing Clubs (OURCs).

Jubilee Bridge, the newest bridge in Oxford, was built by Christ Church in 2014 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Nearby, I crossed the Jubilee Bridge, the newest bridge in Oxford. It was built by Christ Church and links Christ Church Meadow with the college’s playing fields over the River Cherwell.

The 28 metre-long steel bridge opened 10 years ago on 20 June 2014. But only Christ Church students and staff may cross it fully, and a gate blocks access to the sports ground side of the river.

This riverside setting gave rise to the name Oxenford in the Anglo-Saxon period.

All along the Cherwell and Isis, at this time of summer, the water is busy with punts and river cruises and with rowers and scullers practising their strokes.

Folly Island and Folly Bridge, a stone bridge over the River Thames (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

It was a June afternoon, I had walked almost a full circle in a clockwise direction when I found myself back at Folly Island and Folly Bridge, the stone bridge over the River Thames carrying the Abingdon Road south from the centre of Oxford.

The bridge is in two parts that are separated by an island and stands at the site of the ford over which oxen could be driven across the Isis. Until the late 17th century, the bridge was known as South Bridge, and formed part of a long causeway known as Grandpont that stretched along almost the full length of Abingdon Road.

In the 13th century, the philosopher and alchemist Roger Bacon (1214-1292) lived and worked at ‘Friar Bacon’s Study,’ which stood across the north end of the bridge until 1779, when it was removed to widen the road.

Samuel Pepys visited Bacon's study in 1669, noting: ‘So to Friar Bacon’s study: I up and saw it, and gave the man 1s[hilling].’ Later, the place was painted by a precocious 12-year-old JMW Turner. The bridge was rebuilt in 1825-1827 to designs by Ebenezer Perry (1779-1850), a little-known architect.

Punts and river tours are available close to the bridge and Salters Steamers are there too. The Head of the River public house is next to the bridge to the north-east, with views of the bridge and river. It looks like an inviting place to begin or end my next riverside walk.

The Head of the River … a good place to begin or end riverside walks in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland originated as a story first told by Lewis Carroll on a boating trip that began at Folly Bridge. But perhaps that is material for stories and other blog postings in the weeks to come.

Perhaps the most intriguing site at Folly Bridge is Caudwell’s Castle on Folly Bridge. It was built in 1849 by the eccentric Joseph Caudwell, who decorated and adorned it with follies, riotous brickwork, metal and stone statues, cast-iron balconies, decorative crenelations, French windows, and a rooftop statue of Atlas.

It is a folly that tells stories of intrigue, student pranks that backfired, shots in the dark, deceit, intrigue, raucous scenes in courtrooms, clerical misbehaviour, trials and perjury. But these are tales and stories for another evening too.

Five minutes by the river in Oxford (Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Ordinary Time 2024:
35, 13 June 2024

Holy Trinity Abbey Church, now the Roman Catholic parish church in Adare, Co Limerick … restored through the patronage of the Dunraven family in the 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This week began with the Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity II, 9 June 2024). In the two weeks after Trinity Sunday, I illustrated my prayers and reflections with images and memories of cathedrals, churches, chapels and monasteries in Greece and England dedicated to the Holy Trinity. I am continuing this theme this week, with images and memories of churches I know in Ireland that are dedicated to the Holy Trinity.

Before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

Inside Holy Trinity Abbey Church in Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 5: 20-26 (NRSVUE):

[Jesus said:] 20 “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

The east window in Holy Trinity Abbey Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holy Trinity Abbey Church, Adare, Co Limerick:

Holy Trinity Abbey Church is the Roman Catholic parish church in the centre of the picturesque estate village of Adare, Co Limerick.

The Trinitarian order was founded in France in the early 12th century with the purpose of rescuing hostages taken from the Crusades in the Holy Land. A panel from the stained-glass window above the altar in Adare shows a monk about to redeem a hostage.

There were about 20 Trinitarian foundations in England and Scotland, but Holy Trinity Abbey in Adare is the only example of a church of the Trinitarian order in Ireland. The date of the arrival of the Trinitarian order in Adare unknown.

Saint James was the patron of the abbey in Adare, and it may well have been in existence long before 1226, when Geoffrey de Marisco, an Anglo-Norman feudal lord, obtained a grant to hold a fair at Adare during the eight days following the feast of Saint James.

But de Marisco fell out of favour with the king and his allies in Ireland and ended his days in exile in France.

John FitzThomas FitzGerald (ca 1265-1316), 1st Earl of Kildare, who held lands throughout Ireland, may have endowed the abbey in the late 13th century rebuilt it in 1272, when he was attempting to force his cousin’s widow, Agnes de Valence, to hand over her estates in Co Limerick.

The original monastery housed a range of monastic buildings, with an inner cloister, enclosed on four sides by a church, a dining area, dormitories and workshops.

Peter, the minister, and three other canons at Adare were accused of seizing goods from their neighbours, the Augustinian friars in Adare, in 1319. John Arbibard became minister of the ‘Hospital House of St James of Hathdar’ in 1497. Thomas de Geraldinis became minister at the abbey in 1506.

With the dissolution of the monastic houses at the Reformation, the abbey was dissolved in February 1539. Despite popular belief and local lore, the prior was not beheaded, having refused to take the Oath of Supremacy, nor were 42 monks from the abbey imprisoned.

The abbey was leased to James Gold in 1583, and it was granted to Sir Henry Wallop in 1595. But within a century, the abbey was the property of the Earl of Kildare. In 1683, he granted possession of the abbey to Thady Quin (1645-1725), a lawyer and a descendent of the O’Quin family of Inchiquin, Co Clare.

By the early 19th century, the abbey was in ruins, and the church was first restored in 1811, when Valentine Quin (1752-1824), 1st Earl of Dunraven, reroofed the church and added the north transept.

Wyndham Quin (1782-1850), 2nd Earl of Dunraven, made a gift of the ruined abbey to the Roman Catholic parishioners of Adare in 1824 and he initiated a programme of restoration that was continued by his successors.

In 1852, Edwin Wyndham-Quin (1812-1871), 3rd Earl of Dunraven, had the church repaired and expanded to fill the space that once contained the mediaeval cloister.

Dunraven employed the English architect Philip Charles Hardwick (1822-1892), who worked in the Gothic Revival tradition of AWN Pugin to restore and enlarge the church while taking care to maintain the fabric of the historic building. Most of Hardwick’s known Irish commissions appear to have resulted either directly or indirectly from the patronage of who employed him to complete Adare Manor and to carry out other work in the village of Adare.

Hardwick also built a church for Lord Dunraven at Sneem, Co Kerry. Dunraven was closely involved with Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, for which Hardwick designed additions. Hardwick’s work at Adare probably resulted in the commissions he received to design Saint John’s Roman Catholic Cathedral and Mount Saint Alphonsus, the Redemptorist Church in Limerick city.

During Hardwick’s restoration of the church in Adare in the 19th century, the remains of the mediaeval church, including the nave, chancel and tower, were incorporated into a new parish church, and a triple lancet window was restored as the east window. During that time, the residential buildings on the site were also renovated and converted into a convent for the Sisters of Mercy and a school for girls.

The church as we see it today represents a fusion between the mediaeval remains and 19th-century Gothic Revival architecture in a radical building programme that lasted until 1884.

Much of the interior work and decoration was the work of George Goldie (1828-1887) of Goldie and Child. Goldie also designed a new chancel, high altar, reredos, tabernacle and east window in Saint Saviour’s Dominican Church in Limerick in 1863-1666, and remodelled the interior and exterior there in 1870. In Adare, Goldie replaced the north nave wall with circular columns, moved the nave into a new section, and rebuilt the east chapel as a Lady Chapel.

Goldie added a north aisle with decorative buttresses to the external wall, greatly increased the size and complexity of the interior, and made the mediaeval tower which, until then, had been central to the church, part of the south aisle.

In March 1884, the restored church was blessed as the Roman Catholic parish church of Adare by George Butler (1815-1886), Bishop of Limerick.

The multiple phase construction adds much of historical and architectural interest to the site. The ornamentation in the façade is focussed mainly on the openings, where fine stone work and artistic interest are found in fine stone crafting such as the floral motif stops and the elaborate and varied window tracery.

Inside, the many interesting details include the altar screen, font and pulpit, as well as early stained-glass windows and the painted and timber ceilings. The mediaeval highlights include the tower, nave and part of the choir, and the timber roofs.

A 19th-century description of the Quin Chalice of 1726 recorded that the chalice was preserved in the Roman Catholic Church at Adare. The Quin chalice is still used by the church for special occasions concerning the Wyndam-Quin family.

A major programme of critical repairs and elective works began on the roof and external walls in 2010.

As it stands today, the church presents an imposing and prominent feature on the main route into Adare from the east, which is further outlined by the tall 19th-century nave and tower.

The arms of the Earls of Dunraven in a panel in the east window in Holy Trinity Abbey Church, Adare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Thursday 13 June 2024):

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 ‘Estate Community Development Mission, Diocese of Colombo, Church of Ceylon.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a programme update. The Church of Ceylon is one of USPG’s Partners in Mission (PIM).

The USPG Prayer Diary today (13 June 2024) invites us to pray:

Heavenly Father, we pray for Malaya Makkal (‘people of the hills’) teachers like Kavitha. Give them grace as they teach, wisdom to inspire and educate and strength for when they feel weak.

The Collect:

Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Loving Father,
we thank you for feeding us at the supper of your Son:
sustain us with your Spirit,
that we may serve you here on earth
until our joy is complete in heaven,
and we share in the eternal banquet
with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect:

Faithful Creator,
whose mercy never fails:
deepen our faithfulness to you
and to your living Word,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

Inside Holy Trinity Abbey Church in Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The interior decoration of Holy Trinity Abbey Church displays the strong influence of AWN Pugin’s principles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version, Updated Edition copyright © 2021, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The south porch of the church facing onto the Main Street of Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)