‘Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn,’ by Desmond Fisher, was launched in Donnybrook last week Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015

‘Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn,’ by Desmond Fisher, was launched in Donnybrook last week Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015

From a dissolute to a desolate life … a new look at the story of an old hymn

Patrick Comerford

Book launches are always a good opportunity to meet people with shared interests and stories.

Last week, it was a pleasure to be invited by fellow blogger Michael Fisher to the launch in O’Connell’s in Donnybrook of a new book by his late father Desmond Fisher, Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn.

The book was launched by former Irish Times colleague and former Senator John Horgan, who is also a former Press Ombudsman. As a young reporter, John Horgan was given a job at the Catholic Herald in London by the editor, Desmond Fisher, who also worked for the Irish Press.

The attendance at the book launch included Wesley Boyd, who has reviewed the book in the ‘Irishman’s Diary’ in The Irish Times this morning [18 May 2015], and many former colleagues from, the world of journalism and broadcasting. But I was also there because of my theological and spiritual interests.

Stabat Mater is a much-loved Lenten hymn among English-speaking Roman Catholics, although it was once been banned by the Council of Trent and later by successive popes.

The title of this sorrowful hymn is an incipit of the first line, Stabat Mater Dolorosa (“The sorrowful mother stood”). The hymn meditates on the sorrows of the Virgin Mary as she stands at the foot of the Cross. It has been set to music by many composers, including Palestrina, Pergolesi, Alessandro Scarlatti and Domenico Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Haydn, Rossini, Dvořák, Karol Szymanowski, Poulenc and Arvo Pärt.

There are many variations in the translation from the original Latin. So, in this new book the late Desmond Fisher seeks to get back to the original meaning of the author who wroteStabat Mater 700 years ago. The hymn was well-known by the end of the 14th century. It was banned by the Council of Trent, but restored to the missal by Pope Benedict XIII in 1727, and was assigned by Pope Pius X in 1913 to the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (15 September).

But who was the author? At times, the hymn has been attributed to a variety of sources, including popes, three Saints and a member of the laity who was jailed and excommunicated.

In this book, Desmond Fisher identifies Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306) as the true author, and tells the story of his amazing life, from a dissolute to a disconsolate and desolate life. His privileged life came to end with the tragic death of his wife, and he eventually joined the Spirituali, an extreme, ascetic faction of Franciscans, before ending up in prison.

With a sympathetic and understanding approach, Desmond Fisher tells an amazing story of mediaeval extremism, but also provides a new translation of the poem, while adhering to the original metre and rhythm and re-presenting its emotions. He compares his own work with other well-known existing English versions – including those by the Irish poet Denis Florence McCarthy (1817-1882) and the English Anglican priest and hymn-writer Edward Caswall (1814-1878), who became a Roman Catholic – and tries to challenge long-accepted preconceptions.

This book was Desmond Fisher’s final achievement before he died on 30 December 2014 at the age of 94. In his final weeks, his manuscript was accepted by Gracewing.

As part of the pre-Reformation heritage of the undivided Church, it deserves to be better known among other traditions, including Anglicans. Even Archbishop Richard Chenevix Trench omitted it from his Sacred Latin Poetry in 1874 because of what he saw as its Mariolatry. Hopefully, Desmond Fisher’s new book will help to redress this.

Stabat Mater

Stabat mater dolorosa
juxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.

Cuius animam gementem,
contristatam et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.

O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta,
mater Unigeniti!

Quae mœrebat et dolebat, pia Mater,

dum videbat nati pœnas inclyti.

Quis est homo qui non fleret,
matrem Christi si videret
in tanto supplicio?

Quis non posset contristari
Christi Matrem contemplari
dolentem cum Filio?

Pro peccatis suæ gentis
vidit Iesum in tormentis,
et flagellis subditum.

Vidit suum dulcem Natum
moriendo desolatum,
dum emisit spiritum.

Eia, Mater, fons amoris
me sentire vim doloris
fac, ut tecum lugeam.

Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
in amando Christum Deum
ut sibi complaceam.

Sancta Mater, istud agas,
crucifixi fige plagas
cordi meo valide.

Tui Nati vulnerati,
tam dignati pro me pati,
pœnas mecum divide.

Fac me tecum pie flere,
crucifixo condolere,
donec ego vixero.

Juxta Crucem tecum stare,
et me tibi sociare
in planctu desidero.

Virgo virginum præclara,
mihi iam non sis amara,
fac me tecum plangere.

Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
passionis fac consortem,
et plagas recolere.

Fac me plagis vulnerari,
fac me Cruce inebriari,
et cruore Filii.

Flammis ne urar succensus,
per te, Virgo, sim defensus
in die iudicii.

Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
da per Matrem me venire
ad palmam victoriæ.

Quando corpus morietur,
fac, ut animæ donetur
paradisi gloria. Amen.

● Desmond Fisher, Stabat Mater, The Mystery Hymn, Leominster: Gracewing, ISBN 978 085244 862 5, 176 pp, £9.99.


Saint Martin of Tours Church in Culmullen, Co Meath, designed by William Hague  Photo: Patrick Comerford website

Saint Martin of Tours Church in Culmullen, Co Meath, designed by William Hague Photo: Patrick Comerford website

The latest episode on the Pugin trail by the Reverend Patrick Comerford focuses on Culmullen chapel near Dunshaughlin in County Meath and takes in the architect William Hague’s work, including a mention of the Westenra Arms Hotel in Monaghan.

Back on the Pugin trail at a wedding in a Gothic Revival church in Co. Meath

Patrick Comerford 

The church in Culmullen Co. Meath is dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours and was renovated in 1989, but dates back to last quarter of the 19th century. This is a single-cell Gothic Revival church designed in 1876 by the architect William Hague (1840–1899), a protégé of AWN Pugin.

Hague was active as a church architect in Ireland throughout the mid and late 19th century, working mainly from his offices at 50 Dawson Street, Dublin. He was born in Co Cavan, the son of William Hague, a builder from Butlersbirdge who moved town Cavan town in 1838. William Hague jr designed several churches in Ireland, many in the French Gothic style. He was a pupil of Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860), the English architect who designed the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

Hague spent four years in Barry’s office, and after practising briefly as an architect in Cavan he opened an office at 175 Great Brunswick Street, Dublin, in 1861. Later he was invited to supervise the completion of the unfinished church of Saint Augustine and Saint John in Thomas Street (John’s Lane), Dublin, begun by Pugin’s son, Edward Pugin, and George Coppinger Ashlin in 1862.

In the year Saint Martin’s Church was built in Culmullen, Hague married Anne Frances Daly, the daughter of a Dublin solicitor, Vesey Daly of Eccles Street. They were married in Saint Michan’s Church, Dublin, on 26 April 1876, and they had two sons, William Vesey Hague, the writer and philosopher, and Joseph Patrick Clifford Hague, and two daughters.

Hague had a flourishing practice, particularly as a prolific designer of Roman Catholic churches, designing or altering 40 to 50 throughout Ireland. He was the architect to Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Armagh, in the 1880s and 1890s. When he went to Rome to select marbles for the cathedral, he had a private meeting with Pope Leo XIII, who “imposed upon him an injunction to make such choice as would be worthy of the Cathedral of Saint Patrick’s See.”

Saint Martin’s Church in Culmullen, which was dedicated on 1 September 1878, was built by Hall and Son. The church is a good example of Gothic Revival church architecture. It is worth looking out for is the use of structural polychromy throughout the exterior which adds textural contrast with the rock-faced limestone. The conical bell tower and stained glass give artistic effect.

The church is built of rock-faced limestone with polychrome brick detailing and string courses. It has a pitched two-tone natural slate roof, with decorative terracotta ridge tiles and cast-iron rainwater goods. There is a five-bay nave with pointed-arched stained glass windows, some in pairs, and stone sills. The windows are by Early and Powell, who worked in many of the Pugin and Gothic Revival churches in Ireland.

The gable-fronted west porch has a pointed-arch door opening with brick surrounds and a pair of timber doors. The bell tower is designed on a rectangular plan with conical slate spire, and is topped with a cast-iron weather vane, attached to the west at the junction of the nave and the chancel. There is a single-bay chancel to the north with a gable-fronted sacristy attached to the west. Three lancet windows illustrating the life story of Saint Martin of Tours light the chancel and the nave is lit by three lancet windows above five smaller lights, all with brick surrounds.

Both the nave and chancel gables are surmounted with carved stone crosses. The marble altar was designed by Neill and Co, and the octagonal font is said to be late mediaeval. The roof is supported on king post trusses with diagonal struts. The site of the church is enhanced by the cast-iron gates and railings and the graveyard to the rear. There are limestone gate piers with cast-iron gates and cast-iron railings on the limestone boundary wall, and a graveyard to the east.

St Macartan's Cathedral Monaghan Photo:

St Macartan’s Cathedral Monaghan Photo:

Hague designed churches, convents, colleges, schools and town halls throughout Ireland. He completed Saint Macartan’s Cathedral, Monaghan, after the death of JJ McCarthy, often known as the “Irish Pugin,” and was responsible for the spire, the tower and the interior of McCarthy’s chapel at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, which were completed after his death in 1905. He completed the interior of the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Monasterevin, Co Kildare, in 1880, when Bishop Michael Comerford was the parish priest. He also designed many of the buildings at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and Saint Eunan’s Cathedral, Letterkenny, Co Donegal.

Hague’s acceptance of commissions was ecumenical in scope. His many other works include the Archbishop’s Palace, Drumcondra, Dublin; Belturbet Presbyterian Church, Co Cavan; Cavan Methodist Church; the Protestant Hall, Cavan; Saint Aidan’s Church, Butlersbridge, Co Cavan; Saint Bridget’s Church, Killeshandra, Co Cavan; Saint John’s Church (Church of Ireland), Cloverhill, Butlersbirdge, Co Cavan; Saint Patrick’s Church, Ballybay, Co Monaghan; Saint Patrick’s Church, Trim, Co Meath; Saint Patrick’s College, Cavan; the Town Halls in Carlow and Sligo; Waterside Presbyterian Church, Derry; and the Westenra Arms Hotel, Monaghan.

Hague had become a Justice of the Peace (JP) for Co Cavan by 1885. He died of pneumonia at his house at 21 Upper Mount Street, Dublin, on 22 March 1899 and was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery three days later. He worked from: 175 Great Brunswick Street, Dublin, and Cavan (1861-1872); 44 Westland Row and Cavan (1872-1877); 44 Westland Row (1879); 40 Dawson Street, Dublin (1879-1881); 62 Dawson Street (1881-1887); and 50 Dawson Street (1888-1899). He lived at 21 Upper Mount Street, and Kilnacrott House, Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan.

After his death, his former student and managing assistant, Thomas Francis McNamara (1867-1947), took over most of his work under the business name of Hague & McNamara.


Villa Park then (1982) from the Holte End and now  Photo: AVFC

Villa Park then (1982) from the Holte End and now Photo: AVFC

Writing about Spaghetti Junction the other day, I mentioned Villa Park, the home of Aston Villa FC. I went there on a couple of occasions both to watch from the then terrace at the Holte End (see picture) and occasionally to report from the ground during my time in Birmingham with BBC Local Radio. So I am delighted to see that Patrick Comerford has written tonight about Aston Villa, and the club’s proud history. Like many Villa fans he remembers their great achievements in Europe in 1982 and is now looking forward to seeing the claret and blue in the FA Cup Final against Arsenal at Wembley on May 30th.

I know which team I want to win … but does David Cameron know?  Patrick Comerford 

Villa Park from Trinity Road Stand, showing (L-R) North Stand, Doug Ellis Stand and the Holte End (Photograph: Harry Vale/Wikipedia)

The Aston Villa website boasts a number of very public fans, including Prince William, Tom Hanks, Redd Pepper, Nigel Kennedy, Pauline McLynn (‘Mrs Doyle’ of Father Ted), Oliver Phelps … and David Cameron. Well, Cameron claims he is a fan. But is he?

Early in the 2011-2012 season, he took his young son to watch Alex McLeish’s side as they faced QPR at Loftus Road. He once said: “The first game I ever went to was an Aston Villa game and so I am an Aston Villa fan.” It’s easy for him to have a proprietorial attitude towards Villa … after all, his uncle, Sir William Dugdale, who lived near Tamworth until he died late last year, chaired Villa from 1975 to 1982 and took the future Prime Minister to his first ever game as a 13-year-old.

But in a public blunder a few days, David Cameron gave a speech celebrating the diverse allegiances of British people in which he said: “Where you can support Man United, the Windies and Team GB all at the same time. Of course, I’d rather you supported West Ham .. eh, hem.” He later avoided questions from the media aiming to ascertain his level of support for Aston Villa, which he said he had supported since watching them beat Bayern Munich in the1982 European Cup Final when he was a child.

In an interview with the Birmingham Mail, he has since claimed his “profoundly embarrassing” West Ham gaffe was down to thinking about cricket. “I want to say how sorry I am,” Cameron said. “All I can explain is I went past the West Ham stadium the day before and I just said the word West Indies in my speech and I was making a point about the cricket Test and all the rest of it. I meant to say Aston Villa and I am profoundly embarrassed.”

Cricket? It is embarrassing. I never knew West Ham played cricket. I like cricket too. Indeed, as a Villa fan, I knew about Aston Villa’s cricket association since its early days. But does David Cameron? 

Aston Villa Football Club was formed in March 1874, by four members of the cricket team at Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel in Handsworth. From as early as 1867, the chapel was known as Aston Villa Wesleyan Chapel. The four founders were Jack Hughes, Frederick Matthews, Walter Price and William Scattergood.
Local lore says they met under a gas-light in Heathfield Road to set about forming a new club. As cricket players, they were looking for something to keep them occupied during the winter, and they chose football after witnessing an impromptu game on a meadow off Heathfield Road.
The first match for the new side was against the local Aston Brook Saint Mary’s Rugby team on Wilson Road, Aston. As a condition of the match, the Villa side had to agree to play the first half under rugby rules and the second half under football rules. The game was a scoreless draw at half time but Jack Hughes scored a goal in the second half to ensure that Villa won their first ever game.Villa’s first official home was at Wellington Road in Perry Barr from 1876. The new club was soon playing soccer and won its first FA Cup in 1887, beating West Bromwich Albion 2-0 at the Oval. Aston Villa was one of the dozen teams that competed in the inaugural Football League in 1888. The first League game was on 8 September 1888, when Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers drew 1–1.Aston Villa went on to become the most successful club in the Victorian period. In 1897, Villa moved to the current home ground, the Aston Lower Grounds. By 1900, the fans were calling Villa Park, and the ground was bought outright in 1911. By the end of Villa’s “Golden Age” and at the start of the World War I, the club had won the League Championship six times and the FA Cup five times. Aston Villa won its sixth FA Cup in 1920.

However, during the inter-war years Villa was on a slow decline that would led to relegation to Division II in 1936 for the first time. By 1957, Villa was a Cup-winning side once again with a seventh FA Cup win, defeating Manchester United’s “Busby Babes” 2–1 victory. I remember the 1971-1972 season, when I was spending a lot of time in Lichfield, and Aston Villa returned to Division II as champions with a record 70 points. I became a convinced Villa fan, and by 1975 the club was back into Division I. In the 1977-1978 season, Villa reached the quarter-final of the UEFA Cup, going out 4–3 on aggregate against Barcelona.

The club won the league in 1980-1981, and went on to an epoch-making 1-0 victory over Bayern Munich in the European Cup final in Rotterdam on 26 May 1982. Villa was relegated again in 1987, but was promoted the following year, rose to second place in the Football League in 1989, and was one of the founding members of the Premier League in 1992, when Villa finished runners-up to Manchester United in the inaugural season.

In 2000, Aston Villa reached the FA Cup Final for the first time since 1957, but lost 1–0 to Chelsea in the last game played at the old Wembley Stadium. Now, 15 years later, Villa is back in an FA Cup Final once again. An eighth cup win would be so sweet after a a season that was often dominated by regulation fears.

I pass by Villa Park many times a year, on my way to and from Lichfield on the train. The King Edward VII, a landmark pub popular with Aston Villa fans on matchdays, has stood proudly on the junction of Lichfield Road and Aston Hall Road since about 1900. However, local newspapers reported a few weeks ago that the pub is to be pulled down as part of a major industrial park development and a wider revamp of the junction with Aston Hall Road. According to the reports, the pub’s owner, Paul McMahon, plans to move his business to the nearby derelict Aston Tavern.

By accident, I have arranged already to be back in Lichfield on Cup Final Day. Once again, I shall find myself close to Villa Park. I must find a good place in Lichfield to watch the match. Any suggestions? After all, I know which team I am supporting … but does David Cameron?


Paparazzi ... a theme behind the name of the restaurant in Templeogue (Photograph: © Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Paparazzi … a theme behind the name of the restaurant in Templeogue (Photograph: © Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Since I spent the first two years of my life in Terenure and my cousins lived there, I have retained an interest in the general area. So I was interested to see this blog from the Reverend Patrick Comerford, whose articles I have reproduced here from time to time, with permission of the author. This one is entitled:

‘Love All’ and ‘Paparazzi’ in the heart of suburban south Dublin 

Suburban south Dublin was looking beautiful in mid-January. Templeogue must be the archetypal south Dublin suburb, with its tennis club, sports facilities, cafés, fee-paying schools – and all 15 bus routes go through some part of Templeogue on their way to Terenure, Rathgar and Rathmines and on into the city centre.

But how big is Templeogue and how far does it extend? Like Terenure, it must have very porous boundaries, extending to parts of Ballyroan, Butterfield, Firhouse, Greenhills, Kimmage, Knocklyon, Limekiln, Old Orchard, Perrystown, Rathfarnham, Tallaght, Terenure, Tymon, and Whitehall.

In a moment of unguarded snobbery, a former colleague, point out that he lived in “Templeogue before the bridge” and not in more naff “Templeogue across the bridge.” He was not happy to hear that the original Templeogue was much nearer Tallaght than the present Templeogue village.

James Joyce mentions Templeogue in Finnegans Wake, the poet Austin Clarke lived in Bridge House beside Templeogue Bridge on the banks of the River Dodder, and Archbishop George Simms retired to live in Templeogue with his wife Mercy in 1991.

The Irish name, Teach Mealóg, means the “New Church of Saint Mel” or the house or Church of young Saint Mel, said to have been built ca 1273. By 1615, the church was in ruins, and the ruins can be seen in the graveyard at the top of Wellington Lane near the Spawell Leisure Centre. Nearby, Saint Michael’s House occupies the former Templeogue House, which incorporates parts of Templeogue Castle, built by the Talbot family.

Although Templeogue is only 6 km from the city centre, we had sweeping views across to the Dublin Mountains this afternoon during lunch at a window table in Paparazzi in Old River House, in the heart of Templeogue. We had a LivingSocial voucher for lunch, and had Tagliatelle Vegetarian, Seafood Risotto, two glasses of white wine, and two double espressos.

In the background, popular Italian folk songs from decades ago were unobtrusive. The walls were decorated with paparazzi photographs of Marilyn Monroe, and the mirrors gave the first floor restaurant a greater feeling of expansive space.

Looking out at Templeogue Village from a window in Paparazzi in Templeogue (Photograph: © Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Looking out at Templeogue Village from a window in Paparazzi in Templeogue (Photograph: © Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Immediately below us was Templeogue Tennis Club, and to the left the rows of shops that give Templeogue its village character, from Templeogue Barbers and Massey’s Funeral Home, passing the Templeogue Inn, known more popularly as ‘The Morgue,’ and on to Hollingsworth’s bicycle shop.

The Templeogue Inn is the one and only pub within the boundaries of the village. It is also known as The Morgue. When the old tram route passed through Templeogue, it is said, because the tram ran so close to the pub, there were many deaths and the corpses were often brought back into the pub and laid out on the tables.

‘Love All’ ... Rachel Joynt’s sculpture in the heart of Templeogue Village (Photograph: © Patrick Comerford, 2014)

‘Love All’ … Rachel Joynt’s sculpture in the heart of Templeogue Village Photo: © Patrick Comerford 2014

Some years ago, when a betting shop opened a few doors down, between Massey Brothers and the tennis club, many residents took offence when it was given the name “Dead Cert.” Now in front of Massey’s, the barbers and the tennis club, the most noticeable landmark is Love All, a large bronze spherical sculpture about a metre in diameter. The bronze is patinated green and dramatically resembles a tennis ball from afar. At a closer look, however, is looks more like a scaled-down world with tiny details of houses, roads, cars and people emerging from the textured green surface, and seam of the tennis ball turns out to represent the River Dodder. Rachel Joynt was inspired by both the tennis club and the River Dodder as she worked on Love All. She also suggests the notion of a globe or the world by mounting the sculpture on an axle so that it rotates slowly if pushed.

“For me, a successful public artwork needs to have a sense of place, a freshness, some intrigue and playfulness, a bit like a frozen moment from a daydream,” she has said.

Riverside Cottages ... a semi-rural setting in the heart of suburban south Dublin (Photograph: © Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Riverside Cottages … a semi-rural setting in the heart of suburban south Dublin (Photograph: © Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Behind the village, the tennis club and Hollingsworths, we walked down the hidden laneway that drops down to an old semi-circle of houses at Riverside Cottages, built on the banks of the River Dodder over 100 years ago. Here there is a semi-rural setting in the heart of suburban south Dublin, and from here it is possible to walk along the river bank through Rathfarnham and much of south Dublin.

Later this evening, while I was in Harold’s Cross, I caught a glimpse to the east of the still full moon rising in a clear sky above the green copper dome of the church in Rathmines. It was a very different “bronze age” view than Rachel Joynt’s Love All in Templeogue.

Patrick Comerford January 17th 2014



Bishop Pat Storey  Photo: Derry/Raphoe Diocese

Bishop Pat Storey Photo: Derry/Raphoe Diocese

Congratulations to the Right Reverend Pat Storey who was ordained in Dublin this afternoon as the first woman Bishop in Ireland and Britain. Patrick Comerford is a Canon at Christ Church Cathedral where the service took place and his regular blog describes the occasion in detail.

A memorable afternoon at the consecration of Bishop Pat Storey in Christ Church Cathedral

Peace and calm in Christ Church Cathedral Dublin at noon as the final touches were put to preparations Photograph: © Patrick Comerford, 2013

It was wonderful to be part of the momentous events in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this afternoon when the Most Reverend Patricia Storey was consecrated Bishop of Meath and Kildare. It was an afternoon that saw Church of Ireland liturgy – and cathedral music at its best, led by the Cathedral Choir.

The principal consecrating bishop was Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin, assisted by Bishop Paul Colton of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, and Bishop Ken Good of Derry and Raphoe. Most of the bishops of the Church of Ireland were present, apart from Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory, who is on sabbatical leave in Swaziland, and Bishop Ferran Glenfield of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh. Retired bishops of the Church of Ireland present included a former Archbishop of Dublin, Bishop Walton Empey, and Bishop Ken Clarke, Bishop Edward Darling, Bishop Samuel Poyntz and Bishop Roy Warke. Participants and guests line up in the cloister garth to welcome the new bishop Photograph: © Patrick Comerford, 2013

The Archbishop of Canterbury was represented by Archdeacon Sheila Watson. Also present were by the Primus, Bishop David Chillingworth, and Bishop Mark Strange of Moray, Ross and Caithness, from the Scottish Episcopal Church; Archbishop Barry Morgan of the Church in Wales; and Bishop Karsten Nissen of the Church of Denmark.

Other Church leaders and ecumenical guests included the Revd Dr Heather Morris, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland; the Right Revd Dr Rob Craig, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin; Monsignor Dermot Farrell, present on behalf of the Bishop of Meath; Monsignor Hugh G Connolly, President of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth; Dr Gesa Thiessen of the Lutheran Church; Father Godfrey O’Donnell of the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Irish Council of Churches. Dr Ali Selim represented the Islamic Community.

The setting was Franz Schubert’s Mass in G, with organ voluntaries by Maurice Duruflé, and motets by Thomas Tallis and Anton Bruckner. The singling of the litany was led by the Revd Eugene Griffin, a Deacon-Intern in Taney Parish, Dublin.

The Scripture reading were read by the Revd Earl Storey, Bishop Storey’s husband, Mrs Deirdre Amor from Saint Augustine’s Parish, Derry, and the Revd Trevor Holmes, deacon-intern in the parish of Julianstown, Co Meath. My stall as the sixth canon in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin  Photograph: © Patrick Comerford, 2013

The cathedral chapter members sat in our stalls, and I was asked to assist with the administration of Holy Communion at the West End of the cathedral. Afterwards, there was a lavish reception in the State Apartments in Dublin Castle this evening, with an opportunity to linger awhile with friends old and new. Leaving the State Apartments in Dublin Castle this evening  Photograph: © Patrick Comerford, 2013

Reverend Nigel Parker preaching at the ordination of Bishop Storey  Photo:  © Church of Ireland

Reverend Nigel Parker preaching at the ordination of Bishop Storey Photo: © Church of Ireland

Sermon by the Reverend Nigel Parker at the Consecration of The Reverend Pat Storey as Bishop (from Church of Ireland News Release)  ‘Consecrate yourself to the Lord’  John 21. 1–17

Picture the scene:

Thursday evening – before Jesus was crucified. Jesus eats the last supper with the disciples; He says that one will betray and the rest deny Him; Simon Peter says, ‘everyone else, never me!’; Jesus says – ‘before the cock crows twice you will disown me three times’; they go out to Gethsemane with heavy hearts; Judas arrives with soldiers to arrest Jesus; the disciples flee; Jesus endures the mockery of a trial. In a courtyard, Peter warms himself by the fire and is challenged three times about being a disciple of Jesus, and each time he denies even knowing Him; the cock crows for the second time and Simon Peter weeps.

Friday – Jesus is crucified, and Simon Peter is nowhere. Saturday (the Sabbath) – the same. Sunday – Jesus is risen. Alleluia! In the morning, He appears to Mary Magdalene in garden. In the evening, to the disciples, except Thomas, in a locked room in Jerusalem.
One week later, they are back in room with Thomas. Days roll by, silence. The eyes of the others are on Peter, looking for leadership! He is in inner turmoil: ‘How can I lead, I denied my friend! Does Jesus still want me? Would people still want to follow?’ He can’t take the pressure any longer. Simon Peter says: ‘I’m going out to fish.’ Six other disciples say: ‘We’ll go with you.’ It is important to note on this Feast of St Andrew that, to his credit, Andrew who is so often at his brother’s elbow, stands his ground and stays in Jerusalem while Simon Peter runs! Out of Jerusalem, back to Galilee, to his boat.

Picture a second scene:

First thing – one of the unnamed disciples was Church of Ireland – an accountant, because Jesus, risen from the dead, is sitting by a fire, with barbecued fish and bread ready for their breakfast and he stops to count the fish! Perhaps that was his gift – the gift of administration is very important – it verifies the miraculous catch of 153 large fish.

So here are seven disciples around a fire with the Son of God. There’s a boat on the edge of the water, net full of wriggling writhing fish beside them. For at least three of them (Simon Peter, James, John), a beach (perhaps this very beach) is highly significant. This may be the very place where Jesus said to them, ‘Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ (Mark 1. 17) The Lord has a wonderful way of taking us full circle.

In a similar way, after breakfast, Jesus talks to Simon Peter about the matter, which is foremost in Peter’s mind – denying Jesus three times. Jesus doesn’t reprimand him or warn him, Peter has cried enough tears, he is a penitent man.

Jesus, as always, has not come to condemn, but to save – to restore. So to redeem Peter’s threefold public denial of Jesus, even after his boasts of eternal faithfulness on that Thursday evening, Jesus asks Simon Peter three questions.

The core of each question is the same:
‘Simon son of John, do you love me?
And Simon Peter’s response is, in essence, the same each time:
‘Yes Lord, you know that I love you.’

Sometimes a word or phrase stands out.
‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’

Perhaps, Jesus was asking:
• Simon – do you love me more than you love these men? Am I, your God, first in your affection?
• Simon – you said you would never forsake me even if all others did. Do you love me more than these men love me?
• Simon – do you love me more than you love these fish?

Fish are everywhere in the story, at least 155 of them! 153 in the net when it came ashore, some on the barbecue. They’ve just eaten fish. Fish bones are all around them. Fish meant a great deal to Simon Peter – both a livelihood and a way of life. Was it a sense of uselessness that drove Peter out of Jerusalem and back to Galilee? A hunger for income, security, self–respect, standing in a community where he hadn’t totally disgraced himself?

Simon knew fish. How to catch them, gut them, sell them, cook them, eat them. Simon knew how to lead men on a boat to catch fish. He knew where fish were to be found. Except, of course, for this night, for they had caught nothing. Imagine Simon Peter’s mood:
‘I don’t believe it!’
‘Can’t lead men to catch men!’
‘Now can’t lead men to catch a single sardine!’

As they approach the shore, failure weighs heavy on Simon Peter’s shoulders. Then a man, somehow familiar, standing on the beach, calls out, seemingly with a wry smile on His face:
‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’
‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’

As soon as Peter realizes it is the Lord Jesus, he’s in the water heading towards Him – demonstrating the abandonment, which Jesus has always loved in Peter; the passion in his heart. All through the meal, the irony would not have been lost on Peter, that Jesus the carpenter was a better fisherman than he.

And then as he sits drying himself in front of the fire (the setting where he betrayed Jesus in the courtyard), with his belly full of cooked fish, surrounded by fish bones, a net full of fish beside them, Jesus asked him:
‘Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’


A French monk, Dominic Valome, had terminal cancer. He asked to be released from the monastery so he could go and live in a slum area of Paris. He rented a flat and took on a job as a night watchman. Every morning on his way back from work, he would sit on a park bench and talk to whoever came by. Often men would come to drink and leer at the girls walking past. He would listen to the story of their lives and sometimes their language was very choice and sometimes their stories were far from clean. But he never judged them, he just listened to them and shared his sweets with them.

Then came the day when someone asked him, ‘What’s your story?’ He told them and from that day there was no more swearing and no more dirty stories. They found him dead not long after that in his single–tap cold water flat. Do you know how many people came to his funeral? 7,000 people. All that it says on his tombstone is, ‘Dominic Valome, a witness to Jesus Christ’.

What had he done? He listened to people and shared his sweets with them. Somehow through that people had been touched by the love of God. After that they found his journal in his flat. The last entry in his journal read, ‘I can genuinely say I have no other interest other than the love of God’.


That is consecration:
• Our love for Him who first loved us
• Placing ourselves entirely at His disposal
• Declaring, ‘Whatever it takes!’

Whenever we truly love someone or something, we are willing to make the necessary sacrifices. In pursuit of a closer walk with Jesus, Dominic Valome consecrated himself and left the secure setting of the monastery and lived his final months among the poor in the slums of Paris. In the midst of his sacrifice, he was not disappointed.

Above all sacrifices, of course, stands the sacrifice of Jesus, the Word made flesh, who stepped out of heaven to live, suffer and die among us to bring us back to the Father who loves us so much that He willingly gave everything. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3.16) Today, as we gather for consecration, we follow in the glorious footsteps of our Master, who has unleashed heaven on earth, declaring, ‘My Father, not my will but yours be done’.

Consecration is so vital, because it is an invitation to the Holy Spirit to have His way. No wonder, as the People of Israel prepared to cross the River Jordan, Joshua told them, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’ (Joshua 3.5)

Those amazing things are not dependent on who we are, but on who God is!

Dwight L. Moody was a shoe salesman who felt the call of God to preach the gospel. Early one morning he and some friends gathered in a hay field for prayer, confession and consecration. A man called Henry Varley said, ‘The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through someone who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.’

Moody was deeply moved by those words. Later, as he listened to the great preacher Charles Spurgeon, Moody thought ‘I could be that person. Well by the Holy Spirit in him, he would be that person.’ And then suddenly, in the high gallery, he saw something he’d never realised before – it was not Mr Spurgeon, after all, who was doing that work: it was God. And if God could use Mr Spurgeon, why should he not use the rest of us, and why should we not just lay ourselves at the Master’s feet, and say to Him, ‘Send me! Use me!’

Through that one ordinary life God began to do the extraordinary. Moody became one of the greatest evangelists of modern times. He preached in services across Britain and America where many thousands came to Christ.

Pat – It has been our privilege over the years to see you respond to our Father’s love with love, trust and obedience:

• You have given yourself whole–heartedly to Him and His Church, serving His people as a deacon and priest – teaching the Scriptures and pastoring with that disarming directness, which is your hallmark, a directness, which speaks the truth in love, with a ready laugh and delightful sense of humour.

• You have demonstrated your love for the Father in your hard work, impeccable organisation and evangelistic heart, like that of the Apostle Andrew, which longs to see many come into the family of God, through the completed work of Jesus Christ.

• You have shown your care and thoughtfulness to many, not least your family, Earl, Carolyn and Luke, and to us, your friends.

So today, it is our privilege to pray for you, as the Lord Jesus calls you to a deeper life of sacrificial service as a bishop, calls you to consecrate yourself to Him, His Church and His Cause.

And not only you, all of us. Do you want to see the Lord move powerfully in your life, parish, diocese? Then consecrate yourself to the Lord!

Then expect to be challenged to leave the familiar, because we will find ourselves, like Simon Peter, as he looked into the face of man with eyes like fire, hearing the voice of the Master addressing us by name and asking, ‘Do you love me more than these?’

We may not, like Simon Peter, be sitting on a beach warming ourselves by a fire. For us, the question will be posed in surroundings familiar to us – our home, a church service, a coffee shop, our workplace, just as those surroundings were so familiar to Simon Peter. The setting is immaterial the reality is the same:

Do you love me more than:
• You love your family, country
• Your comfort / security
• Career / Reputation
• Ministry, denomination
• Money, house, holidays
• Old familiar ways

And so we should pray for one another, because we know that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, that we have this treasure in jars of clay. Simon Peter’s story of failure, forgiveness and restoration is so encouraging for us, because the Risen Lord Jesus deals with us in similar fashion. Again and again, He comes to us, His disciples, in awesome humility, and says: ‘Do you love me more than these?’

Each of us will answer in different words. Two of my favourites are:

Apostle Paul – ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.’ (Philippians 3.10–11)

C.T. Studd, former England cricket captain, who gave up fame and a glittering career to serve the Lord as a missionary in inland China, said: ‘If Jesus Christ be God, and He died for me, then nothing is too hard for me to do for Him!’

But perhaps the simple words of a former fisherman are the most poignant of all: ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’

‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’ (Joshua 3.5)


Once again I am turning to the Reverend Patrick Comerford for today’s contribution. A very interesting talk about the Church of Ireland: Church, Culture and being relevant. It was part of a series of talks on Anglicanism being delivered by him at the Mater Dei Institute of Education in Dublin.

Map of Sandford Road Ranelagh c.1850 showing Woodville, where Carleton lived (Dublin City Library)

Map of Sandford Road Ranelagh c.1850 showing Woodville, where Carleton lived (Dublin City Library)

He might have added William Carleton (1794-1869) to the list of writers who were members of the Church of Ireland, although he came from a Catholic background and wrote mainly about the poor tenant farmers in the Clogher Valley: ‘Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry’. Carleton died in Ranelagh and is buried at Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin and he spent most of his adult life in the city. This article on the Life of William Carleton was published in the William Carleton Society summer school booklet 2013 and is also included in a new publication due to be launched in Dungannon next Tuesday (19th November) on the ‘Shared History, Shared Future’ project involving five local historical and cultural societies.

John Slattery portrait of William Carleton from National Gallery of Ireland collection

John Slattery portrait of William Carleton from National Gallery of Ireland

William Carleton (1794 – 1869) was born the youngest of a family of fourteen children in the townland of Prolusk (spelled ‘Prillisk’ in his autobiography) near Clogher in Co.Tyrone, on Shrove Tuesday, 20th February, 1794. Although there is little suggestion that the Carletons were upwardly mobile, they did move house frequently within the Clogher area and were established at the townland of Springtown when William left the family home. Carleton obtained his education at local hedge schools which he was to write about, fictionalising the pedagogue Pat Frayne as the redoubtable Mat Cavanagh. From other retrospections of his home district, we learn of Carleton’s delight in his father’s skill as a seanachie and the sweetness of his mother’s voice as she sang the traditional airs of Ireland; of his early romances- especially with Anne Duffy, daughter of the local miller; of Carleton the athlete, accomplishing a ‘Leap’ over a river, the site of which is still pointed out; of the boisterous open air dancing. Initially an aspirant o the priesthood, Carleton embarked in 1814 on an excursion as a ‘poor scholar’ but, following a disturbing dream, returned to his somewhat leisurely life in the Clogher Valley before leaving home permanently in 1817. Journeying via Louth, Kildare and Mullingar, he found work as a teacher, librarian and,  eventually, as a clerk in the Church of Ireland Sunday School Office in Dublin. In 1820, he married Jane Anderson who bore him several children. By 1825, Carleton. who had left the Roman Catholic Church for the Anglican Church of Ireland, met a maverick Church of Ireland cleric, Caesar Otway, who encouraged him to put his already recognised journalistic talents to such prosletysing purposes as satirising the attitudes reflected in pilgrimages to ‘St Patrick’s Purgatory’ at Lough Derg, a totemic site in Irish Catholicism. Further writings in the Christian Examiner & Church of lreland Magazine led in 1829 and 1833 to the publication of what is arguably Carleton’s best known work: Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry. In these stories Carleton returned imaginatively to the Clogher Valley, drawing on comedy, farce, melodrama and tragedy to present a tableau of the life of the country people of the north of Ireland before the famines of the 1840s altered their pattern of existence for ever. Carleton went on to respond to the challenge of the novel, in his tirne a comparatively undeveloped genre amongst Irish writers, and published Fardorougha the Miser (1839), Valentine McClutchy (1845), The Black Prophet (1847), The Emigrants of Aghadarra (1848), The Tithe Proctor (1849), The Squanders of Castle Squander (1852). In these works he addresses many of the issues affecting the Ireland of his day such as the influence of the Established Church and landlordism, poverty, famine and emigration but does so with an earnestness that regrettably often caused his more creative genius to be swamped in a heavy didacticism. Carleton continued to write in a variety of forms, including verse, until his death in 1869, but critics are agreed that the quality of the work is uneven. Despite his prolific output, Carleton never really made a living from his writings and welcomed the pension voted to him by the government following the advocacy of such contrasting figures as the Ulster Presbyterian leader, Dr Henry Cooke, and Paul Cardinal Cullen, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin. His last project, uncompleted when he died, was his Autobiography, which was re-issued through the efforts of the Summer School Committee in 1996. Carleton was buried in the cemetery at Mount Jerome in Dublin and over his grave a miniature obelisk records the place “wherein rest the remains of one whose memory needs neither graven stone nor sculptured marble to preserve it from oblivion”.


St Anne's Cathedral Belfast Photo:

St Anne’s Cathedral Belfast   Photo:

St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast city centre has an interesting history. Although the foundation stone was laid in September 1899, its unique ‘spire of hope’ was added in April 2007 during the tenure of  Dean Houston McKelvey. Architect William Henry Lynn supervised the building programme at the cathedral from 1910 – 1915. He designed the baptistry in 1915 (the year of his death) and was a worshiping member of the cathedral community. There is a memorial plaque to Lynn on the south wall of the cathedral which states:-

”His art adorns the city and many others throughout the Empire. He aided Sir Thomas Drew in the original design of this cathedral and watched with ceaseless care the erection of the nave. He was a devout Christian and a generous benefactor of the Church. The Great West window was a gift and he made a liberal bequest to the cathedral building fund.”

I am writing about this landmark building because I have just read another very interesting blog by the Reverend Patrick Comerford. He was in Belfast yesterday for the ordination by the Bishop of Connor Alan Abernethy of a new deacon for St John’s Parish on the Malone Road, close to where I live.

Reverend Rod Smyth

Reverend Rod Smyth Photo: St John’s Malone

Rod is from St Gall’s, Carnalea near Bangor in County Down. He was a chorister in St Anne’s and also a Bass Lay Clerk whilst studying music at Queen’s University. He served as Parish Organist in St Gall’s for some twenty years. For the last 33 years he has worked in education, recently leaving the post of Head of Senior School at Bangor Academy and Sixth Form College. Here is how Patrick Comerford described the occasion and he took the opportunity to get some great photographs:

                    An afternoon filled with light in Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast: a cathedral for one city and two dioceses                           (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I was in Saint Anne’s Cathedral in Donegall Street, Belfast, yesterday afternoon [Sunday 15 September 2013] for the ordination of the Reverendd Roderick Smyth as deacon to serve in the parish of Saint John the Evangelist, Malone Road. There was a very warm welcome from the Dean of Belfast, the Very Reverend John Mann, and we walked around the tour for some time before the Ordination Service.

Saint Anne’s is an unusual cathedral for it serves two separate dioceses (Connor, and Down and Dromore) which have their own cathedrals (in Lisburn, Downpatrick and Dromore), yet it is the seat of neither bishop, although they both have seats in the chancel. Belfast received its first charter in 1613, but remained a city without a cathedral for centuries.

Bishop Jeremy Taylor’s ‘chair’ in the north ambulatory                                                (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The first proposal for a cathedral in Belfast came from the Dean and Chapter of Connor in 1860. At the time Connor and Down and Dromore were united as dioceses, ever since the saintly Jeremy Taylor was bishop after the Caroline Restoration in the 1660s. So the scheme was not as geographically difficult as it now appears.

After the proposal for a cathedral in Belfast was presented to the Diocesan Council by Bishop Thomas Welland, the project was taken up enthusiastically by Henry Stewart O’Hara when he became Rector of Belfast in 1894.

Sir Thomas Drew (1838-1910) was chosen as architect, and the foundation stone was laid in 1899 by the Countess of Shaftesbury in the presence of the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin.

The Good Samaritan window survives from old Saint Anne’s                                           (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The old parish church of Saint Anne continued in use while the new cathedral was being built around it and the old church was not demolished until the end of 1903. Today, the the only remaining feature from the old church is the Good Samaritan window in the sanctuary. The nave of the cathedral was completed in 1904 and was consecrated by Bishop Welland that June.

On the north side of the nave, running from the West Doors to the Choir, the following corbels are set above each column or respond: the Archangel Gabriel, Bishop George Berkeley, Dean Henry Stewart O’Hara, Archbishop William King, Provost George Salmon, Bishop Jeremy Taylor, and the Archangel Michael.

On the south side of the nave, running from the Choir to the West Doors, the figures in the corbels above each column or respond are: the Archangel Raphael, Archbishop James Ussher, Bishop Thomas Percy, Bishop William Bedell, Archbishop William Alexander, Cecil Frances Alexander and the Archangel Uriel.

The West Front of the cathedral was built in the 1920s                                       (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The west front of the cathedral was built in the 1920s as a memorial to the men and women of Ulster who died in World War I. The central crossing was built in the early 1920s. The Baptistery was dedicated in 1928. The Chapel of the Holy Spirit, with mosaics depicting Saint Patrick, was dedicated on 5 July 1932, the 1,500th anniversary of the arrival of Saint Patrick in Ireland.

  Mosaics depicting Saint Patrick’s missionary journey to Ireland                                               (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The only tomb in the cathedral is that of the Unionist leader Edward Carson, who was given a state funeral in 1935 and buried in the south aisle.

The ambulatory, at the east end of the cathedral, was built in the 1950s. When Bishop Jeremy Taylor’s old church at Lower Ballinderry was restored some years ago, portions of its ancient oak furniture were made into a chair. The chair is now placed beneath his portrait on the north side of the ambulatory, providing a link with the great Bishop of Down and Connor and Dromore who is commemorated in the corbel above the Pillar of Music on the north side of the nave.

Work on the north and south transepts began in the 1960s. The south transept, with the Chapel of Unity and the organ loft, was dedicated in 1974; the north transept, with the Chapel of the Royal Irish Rifles, was completed in 1981. A 40-metre stainless steel spire, the “Spire of Hope,” was installed on top of the cathedral in 2007.

Belfast Cathedral is probably best known for the “Black Santa” sit-outs at Christmas, first organised over 30 years ago by Dean Samuel Crooks. The tradition has been continued by successive deans, including the present dean, the Very Revd John Mann, and the chapter members.

During coffee in the side aisles after the ordination service, Dean Mann pointed out a number of features in the cathedral that I had missed earlier in the afternoon. By then, the sun was lowering in the west, and its rays were shining brightly through the West Door, filling this modern cathedral with light.

Light fills Saint Anne’s Cathedral Belfast through the West Door                               (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)


I have enjoyed reading about Patrick Comerford’s  travels in Italy, particularly his blog on “Three weddings and some cathedrals on the Amalfi coast”. I visited many of the same places last year including the Duomo at Amalfi itself. He also made the journey up the mountain to Ravello, where there are some lovely villas and where you get a great view across towards Sorrento and looking down on Maiori (where we stayed) and the Bay of Salerno. He has some nice photographs as well, including the local liqueur, limoncello:

Looking down on the Amalfi coast from Ravello (Photograph: Patrick Comerford (2013)

Patrick Comerford

I spent Saturday [6 July 2013] along the Amalfi Coast, which stretches along the southern coast of the peninsula east of Sorrento. With its steep shoreline, towering cliffs, rocky outcrops, hairpin bends, with the shimmering blue sea below and one pretty coastal town or pastel-coloured village after another, the Amalfi Coast is a popular location for motor advertising shots and the weekend traffic also showed how this a popular destination for both Italians and the thousands of tourists staying in the Naples and Sorrento area. I had no mid-life-crisis, open-topped red sports car for today’s journey. Instead, I travelled by coach with the four dozen or so people in our group along the only land route on the Amalfi Coast – the 40 km stretch along the Strada Statale 163, running along the coastline from Positano in the west to Vietri sul Mare in the east.

The rocks of Sirenuse … home to the Sirens who may have given their name to Sorrento (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Below us in the blue sea for the most part of the journey we could see the tiny islands that form Li Galli Archipelago. United the 19th century there were known as Sirenuse and the said to be the home of the mythical Sirens who lured sailors unto the rocks and who may have given their name to Surrentum or Sorrento. In the 10th and 11th centuries, the Duchy of Amalfi was an independent statelet based on the town of Amalfi. This coastline was part of the Principality of Salerno, until Amalfi was sacked by the Republic of Pisa in 1137.

The Amalfi Coast is known for limoncello, a liqueur produced from locally-grown lemons (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

In 1997, the Amalfi Coast was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site and as a cultural landscape. This area is also known for limoncello, a liqueur produced from lemons grown between February and October in the terraced gardens along the coast. After the unification of Italy, the Amalfi coast has enjoyed a huge economic revival, boosted in the late 20th century by international tourism. Our first stop was in Positano, a village and commune , mainly in an enclave in the hills leading down to the coast. It was a port in the mediaeval Amalfi Republic. The church of Santa Maria Assunta has a dome made of majolica tiles and a 13th century Byzantine icon of a black Madonna. According to local legend, the icon was stolen in Byzantium and was being shipped across the Mediterranean by pirates when a terrible storm blew up in the sea near Positano. The frightened sailors heard a voice on board saying: “Posa, posa!” (“Put down! Put down!”) The sacred icon was taken off the boat and carried to the fishing village, and only then the storm abated. Positano prospered in the 16th and 17th centuries. However, by the mid-19th century, the town had fallen on hard times, and more than half the population emigrated, mostly to Australia. By the first half of the 20th century, Positano was a relatively poor fishing village. It began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950s, especially after John Steinbeck published his short story ‘Positano’ in Harper’s Bazaar in May, 1953. “Positano bites deep,” he wrote. “It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” After we gone through Positano and stopped briefly on the eastern edge of the town for the panoramic view and freshly squeezed orange juice and once again at a ceramic shop at Grotta dello Smeraldo before continuing on to the harbour town of Amalfi. I had an internal debate between boats and architecture: would I go on a boat trip with the others out into the Bay of Salerno? Or would I visit the Duomo in Amalfi on my own?

The portico of the Duomo di Sant’Andrea looks down onto the Piazza Duomo below (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

I plan to visit Capri on Monday, so architecture won the day today, and I climbed the broad steep steps to the Duomo di Sant’ndrea. And I was just in time too, for a wedding was about to begin, and by the time the boat-trippers returned the bride had arrived and the cathedral was closed to visitors.

The Cloisters of Paradise with their ornate Moorish-style colonnades (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The cathedral doors were cast in bronze in Constantinople in the 11th century. But the entrance to the cathedral is through the beautifully named Chiostro del Paradiso or Cloisters of Paradise, with its ornate Moorish-style colonnades of white-washed, interlaced arches, palm trees, and inner garden. The cloisters lead into the museum in the former Basilica di Crocifissio, with bare walls and an eclectic collection of ecclesiastical artefacts, including a bishop’s sedan chair made in Macao in the 18th century, along with paintings, mitres and vestments.

The richly decorated ceiling of the crypt below the Duomo in Amalfi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Steps lead down to the crypt, with its richly decorated baroque ceiling and a shrine containing the body of Saint Andrew, who gives his name to the cathedral above. The apostle’s body was brought to Amalfi by the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, who brought it here in 1204, having plundered it in Constantinople which contains. The body is buried deep beneath the shrine – although the saint’s head is in Patras in Greece – but the shrine includes a small vessel placed above the coffin to catch a miraculous fluid that is said to flow from the saint’s body ever since the 14th century. Away from the bustle of the square in the front of the cathedral and back from the busy beach and harbour, the back streets and the stepped side streets were quiet and cool in the mid-day sun. From Amalfi, we climbed up through the cultivated terraced mountainside and the hairpin bends to Scala, where we had lunch in the Margheritta Hotel, in a balcony looking down on the road we had had climbed in our two small buses.

The ornate Gospel pulpit in the Duomo in Ravello (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

From Scala, we travelled back down to Ravello, once an independent city state. This was also the setting for part of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, and here DH Lawrence wrote part of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The Duomo, dedicated to Saint Pantaleone, was being prepared for a wedding, but once again I had arrived in time to see the inside of the cathedral and its museum. The duomo has two ornately decorated pulpits – an Epistle pulpit and a Gospel pulpit. The Gospel pulpit has twisted columns patterned with mosaics resting on six carved lions. There was time to look inside the tropical gardens of the Villa Rufolo, which inspired Klingsor’s magic garden and the stage design of Wagner’s Parsifal. Although we could see it from the balconies of Ravello, we never got as far as Salerno. As we sat to dinner back in the Grand Hotel Moon Valley, a wedding was taking place by the pool, and some of us joined the happy families until late in the evening.

The bride dances at the third wedding in a day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)


Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius

Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius: Photo © Michael Fisher 2012

Patrick Comerford’s blog today from Vesuvius and Pompeii reminded me of my visit there last August. I wrote about it in April, mentioning the exhibition that is running in the British Museum on “Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum”

Patrick Comerford: Walking beneath the clouds of Mount Vesuvius:

Looking into the crater on the top of Mount Vesuvius (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

For most of Thursday [4 July] Mount Vesuvius was wrapped in rain clouds, pouring rain down intermittently on Pompeii below. The clouds spread out over the Bay of Naples, and this afternoon blocked the view across the bay as we climbed Mount Vesuvius.

But we began the day with a morning walking through the streets, houses, theatres, temples, baths, the forum, the markets and the open areas of Pompeii, the city destroyed – and preserved – by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on the afternoon 24 August 79 AD.

Walking through the paved streets of Pompeii (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Pompeii attracts about 5,000 visitors a day, or about 2.5 million visitors each year. There almost 50 people on this tour group, and for some it was an interesting reminder that Pompeii too was a holiday or weekend destination for many wealthy Romans almost 2,000 years ago until the city was buried under 4 to 6 metres of ash and pumice that fatal day.

Time has stood still in Pompeii ever since. It was good to be reminded too that apart from some modern inventions such as the internal combustion engine, the railway, electricity and the internet, many of the 20,000 residents of Pompeii lived very much like us, with two-storey houses, a clean water system – and a problem with producing too much domestic waste.

The walls of a house in Pompeii Pompeii (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The mosaics, frescoes, gardens, rooms and domestic shrines could only begin to tease our imaginations about life in Pompeii. Everyone says a morning there does not do it justice.

Throughout the morning, as we walked through the town, Vesuvius, wrapped in clouds, loomed above us in the distant background.

After lunch below the town in Lucullus, we continued on to the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. From the car park it was a 20-minute climb to the rim of the crater at the top, and most of us managed the steep ascent in about 20 or 30 minutes, but the clouds still blocked a complete view of the Bay of Naples and the islands.

It was quicker coming back down the mountain path. There were no burns or injured limbs.

Back at the Grand Hotel Moon Valley, the pool also has a perfect view of Mount Vesuvius, the only active volcano in Europe. They say Vesuvius should erupt every 30 years – but it has not done so since 1944.  PATRICK COMERFORD


Haydon the Womble: AFC Wimbledon mascot

Haydon the Womble: AFC Wimbledon mascot

While I was writing yesterday about the Church of Ireland, one of its clergy the Reverend Patrick Comerford was blogging about a favourite subject of mine, the London Undeground: Mind the Gap, Avoid eye contact and Move along the Platform! He even mentioned my beloved Wombles of Wimbledon Common, a place where I used to go for walks around “Caesar’s Camp“, Cannizaro Park and the windmill (1817) near the golf course.

I think that title sums up well many of the features of tube travel, particularly during rush hour. He made the point that the largest part of the underground is in fact overground. Certainly many sections of the various lines run out into the suburbs. Even the original Metropolitan Line running from Baker Street and Aldgate now serves places like Amersham and Chesham in Buckinghamshire, Watford in Hertfordshire and Uxbridge. The section of the District line from Wimbledon as far as West Brompton (the stop for Chelsea FC at Stamford Bridge) is overground and crosses the River Thames at Putney.

There is now a London Overground network, interconnecting with many of the stations on the Underground. Construction is also proceeding on the £14.8 billion Crossrail project. In his blog Patrick also mentions one of my favourite London termini, namely Waterloo station, which serves Wimbledon and is the starting point for the South West routes to the Coast including Southampton and Portsmouth.


Patrick Comerford

Mind the Gap, avoid eye contact,  and move along the platform

Harry Beck’s map of the Underground, first produced in 1931, was inspired by electrical circuit diagrams

For a few days recently, I took part in a number of meetings at the London offices of Us, the Anglican mission agency previously known as USPG (the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel), including a planning meeting for the annual conference of Us at the High Leigh Conference Centre later this month.

The offices of Us are on the top floor of a former factory building in Great Suffolk Street, Southwark. On one side, we were looking out at the London Eye; on the other side was the Gherkin, a modern iconic building in the financial heart of the City of London; below us, trains were trundling away into the Tube station at Southwark.

During that week, I made a number of cross-London journeys on the Underground between the stations at Southwark and Westbourne Park for the Anglican Communion Office at Tavistock Crescent.

My mild colour-blindness and short-sightedness make it difficult for me to read the Tube maps in the heave-ho of rush-hour commuting (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The map of the Underground is so familiar to many people, that even if they never visit London they easily associate the primary colours with different lines: Red (Central), Yellow (Circle), Green (District), Blue (Victoria), and so on.

Constantly, though, my mild colour-blindness and short-sightedness make it difficult for me to read the Tube maps, particularly in the heave-ho of rush-hour commuting, at times unable to distinguish between Northern Black and Piccadilly Dark Blue, between Victoria Blue and Piccadilly Dark Blue, and Metropolitan Dark Red and Central Red. But then, colour-blindness and ham-fisted efforts to use my pidgin Italian recently left me boarding the wrong train, on the wrong platform, at the wrong time in Tuscany.

Mapping the Underground

There are 426 escalators on the Underground and with 23 Waterloo has the most (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I suppose most of us who use the London Underground on a regular basis just keep our heads down, avoid eye contact and get into “auto-drive” mode as we work our way between stations and change lines. We never really get to appreciate where we are or where we are going.

At Southwark station one afternoon, a woman asked the cheapest way to her destination. “By walking” was the witty reply. “But it’s much slower.”

Many of us can read the London Underground map, but few of us would ever be able to follow the route if we had to walk between places more than one or two stations apart.

Mark Mason, in his new book Walk The Lines – The London Underground, Overground. has done precisely that. He has walked the entire length of the London Underground, but has walked it overground, passing every station on the way and flagging up all the sights, sounds and soul of what he claims is “the greatest city on earth.”

Underground mainly means overground … waiting on the platform at Westbourne Park (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Standing at Wetsbourne Park station in warm sunshine recently, I realised the largest part of the London Underground runs overground. I was reminded of ‘The Wombling Song’ from The Wombles:

Underground, overground, wombling free,

The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we.

And, of course, Uncle Bulgaria came to mind too, “with his map of the world” that would take him to Tobermory.

Indeed, almost 60 per cent of the Underground runs overground – 146 miles or 58% of the 253 miles of the tracks run above ground; only 93 miles run in deep tunnels, and a further 20 miles in shallow tunnels. There is a prevalent north/south divide, with less than 10 per cent of stations south of the Thames.

Celebrating a century and a half

Protesters can be found at many stations any day, but since 2003 buskers need a licence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Earlier this year, London Underground marked the 150th anniversary of the first Tube journey on 9 January 1863. The London Underground was the vision of Charles Pearson (1793-1862), who first thought of a Fleet Valley rail tunnel in 1845.

The engineering designs were produced by Sir John Fowler (1817-1898), who also designed the Forth Railway Bridge. Most of the District Line was designed by Sir John Wolfe-Barry (1836-1918), who also designed Tower Bridge. But the first Tube journey did not take place for another 20 years.

The first Tube line was built by the Metropolitan Railway, a private company. It took 21 years to complete the Inner Circle, and when the Circle Line opened in 1884, The Times described travelling on it as “a form of mild torture.”

By then, over 800 trains were running on the Inner Circle each day. A full journey from Stockwell to the City on the City and South London Railway, now part of the Northern Line, took just 18 minutes.

The Waterloo and City Line was the only other line built before the turn of the century. The Great Northern and City Line, between Moorgate and Finsbury Park, was mostly completed by 1902.

The Underground became known as the “Tube” in the early 1900s, when the Central London Railway (now the Central Line) was nicknamed the “Twopenny Tube” by the Daily Mail five days after it opened.

The “Twopenny Tube” line significantly boosted profits for shops around Oxford Street and Regent Street, and in 1909, Selfridges lobbied – unsuccessfully – to have Bond Street station renamed after Selfridges.

War-time shelter

Passenger etiquette often demands “eyes down” and “avoid eye contact” (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Women began to make up staff shortages on the Underground during World War I. When Maida Vale station opened in 1915, it was entirely staffed by women.

Police reports estimate 300,000 people took shelter in Tube stations during the German bombing raids on London in 1917. A memorial at Baker Street commemorates 137 Metropolitan Line workers killed in World War I.

Finding the right line is a problem for anyone who is colour-blind

The Underground expanded rapidly in the 1930s. But this came to an abrupt halt with the outbreak of World War II. Within a few days, the Underground was used to evacuate 600,000 Londoners, mainly children and pregnant women, to the countryside.

During the war, signs at Underground stations warned passengers to carry their gas masks, and .posters warned them not to use the stations as air-raid shelters. However, when the East End suffered the first of many heavy bombing raids on 7 September 1940, there was a rush to the Underground stations.

Many got round the sheltering ban by buying cheap penny travel tickets and then refusing to leave the platforms. Trains continued to run throughout the Blitz, leading to crowded stations. Soon, about 177,000 people were sheltering in the Underground each night. A government U-turn on 8 October 1940 brought an end to the unenforceable ban on sheltering in the Tube.

Between September 1940 and May 1941, 198 people were killed when Tube shelters were hit directly by bombs. In one of the worst incidents, 64 people were killed. When Bank station was hit on 13 January 1941, 56 people were killed, but details were strictly censored. In the worst single incident on 3 March 1943, 173 people were crushed to death in a stairwell at Bethnal Green station – but not one bomb was dropped on London that night.

Maps and designs

The Underground’s red circle logo first appeared in 1908 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the 1860s, there was only basic signage, with the station name and exit. The Underground’s red circle logo first appeared in 1908, although about 60 stations on the Metropolitan line continued to use a red diamond until the 1970s.

One of the first rail maps, produced by the District line in 1892, featured the slogan “Time Is Money.” The first free Underground map was published collaboratively in 1908 by companies running separate lines.

Harry Beck’s map of the Underground, first produced in 1931, was inspired by electrical circuit diagrams. He was paid 10 guineas (£10 10s) for his design. Beck’s map was received enthusiastically, and he remained involved with changes and updates for over 25 years. Eventually, he fell out with London Transport and his name was removed from the map in 1959. But his name reappeared on the map in the 1990s, when he was once again acknowledged as its designer.

In 2006, the London Underground map came second in a BBC competition to find the public’s favourite British design of the 20th century. The angular representation of the River Thames was briefly removed from the map in 2009, but was quickly replaced after a public outcry.

During the three-hour morning peak, the busiest Tube station is Waterloo, with 57,000 people moving through (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Scottish sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi designed the mosaic murals at Tottenham Court Road station, which were completed in 1984. The ceramics on the City and South London Railway, now part of the Northern line, were inspired by the work of William Morris. Charles Holden based his design for Arnos Grove on Stockholm Public Library, while Gants Hill was inspired by the Moscow Metro.

Southwark Station’s blue cone wall, built as part of the Jubilee line extension’s new generation of stations, was inspired by an 1816 stage set for Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Victoria Line commissioned artists to produce original tile motifs for each station, including the seven trees that give Seven Sisters its name. All 46 stations designed by Leslie Green have distinctive tile patterns and all his stations – such as Covent Garden – were steel-clad to allow premises to be built on top of them.

Rush hours and busy hours

Due to a rise in graffiti, the silver tube trains were replaced in the 1990s with the red, white and blue ones seen today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

About 1.1 billion passengers now use the Underground each year. The busiest station is Waterloo, with 57,000 people passing through during the three-hour morning peak and 82 million passengers travelling through each year.

The average speed of a Tube train is 33 kph (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Each year, each Tube train travels 184,269 km, and the average speed is 33 kph. The longest distance between two stations is between Chesham and Chalfont and Latimer on the Metropolitan Line, which are 6.3 km apart. The shortest distance between two stations is from Leicester Square to Covent Garden on the Piccadilly Line, which are 300 metres apart. If you pay the full cash fare between Covent Garden and Leicester Square, a mere 0.16 miles, it works out at the equivalent of over £28 a mile.

Advertising hoardings at Saint Paul’s Underground station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The longest journey you can take without changing is 59.4 km from West Ruislip to Epping on the Central Line. The longest continuous tunnel, between East Finchley and Morden (via Bank), is 27.8 km long. The total number of stations in use today is 270; Waterloo station alone has 23 escalators, and Baker Street has 10 platforms.

In central London, trains cannot drive faster than 30-40mph because of the short distances between stations. But the Victoria Line can reach speeds of up to 50 mph because the stations are further apart. And the Metropolitan line has the fastest speeds, sometimes reaching over 60 mph.

‘Mind the Gap’

Rush-hour traffic and pressure can make it difficult to read maps and find your way (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But wherever you go this summer – underground or overground, slowly or at speed – always remember: “Mind the Gap.”

The original recording of “Mind the Gap” was made in 1968 featuring the voice of Peter Lodge. Most lines still use Peter Lodge’s recording, but others use a recording by voice artist Emma Clarke, and the Piccadilly Line uses the voice of Tim Bentinck, better known as David Archer from The Archers.

● Further reading: David Bownes, Oliver Green and Sam Mullins, Underground: How the Tube Shaped London (Allen Lane, £25); Andrew Martin, Underground Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube (Profile, £8.99); Mark Ovenden, London Underground by Design (Particular, £20).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This essay was first published in the June 2013 editions of the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel and Ossory.