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||1494: St Benedict's, Glastonbury, Somerset, England
Mystery Worshipper: Chris Churchcrawler.
The church: St
Benedict's, Glastonbury, Somerset, England.
The building: The present building, well off the beaten tourist path,
dates from around 1520 and is thought to have replaced an earlier structure
dating from 1100. It is in the perpendicular style – one of two such
churches in Somerset – with a clerestoried nave and embattled west
tower. Noteworthy are a small window on the north porch once used by lepers
to receive the sacrament, and some fine stained glass dating from 1840.
One window depicts Joseph of Arimathea holding a staff, cuttings from which
are thought to have engendered many of the trees growing in the area. See
below for more on the legend of Joseph of Arimathea having visited Glastonbury.
The church: This is part of a united parish of Glastonbury. I was
very surprised to see that this church still survives. In any other diocese
it would have been made redundant but fortunately there is a small but elderly
congregation that keeps it going.
The neighbourhood: You couldn't get more interesting than Glastonbury.
There is of course the Tor, a 500-foot hill on which rests a tower that
is the only remaining part of a 14th century chapel. There are also the
ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, once England's wealthiest. Joseph of Arimathea
(in whose tomb Jesus was laid, and who is thought by some to have been Jesus'
uncle) is said to have visited the site where Glastonbury now stands, bringing
the young boy Jesus with him a legend that inspired the hymn "And
did those feet in ancient time." He is also said to have returned after
Jesus' death, this time bringing the Holy Grail with him, which he may have
buried somewhere near the foot of the Tor. Biblical legend aside, the present-day
town is full of "hippy" shops and new age type people who often
seem a bit incongruous with their lower-middle-class accents known as Estuary
The cast: Two church wardens – I believe their names were Ruth and
The date & time: 9 September 2007.
What was the name of the service?
Gamanfa ganu (literally "hymn sing"), a celebration of
great Welsh hymns.
How full was the building?
It filled out to about 25, although they were spread across the church.
This seemed fairly reasonable, as church attendance in Glastonbury is said
to be generally low.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, several. One friendly gentleman showed me to a pew, although I think
he was a bit suspicious at first as to why a young newcomer had joined them.
Newcomers in an Anglican church are often shunned, or "sent to Coventry"
as they say. But he introduced me to an elderly lady who made me feel very
welcome indeed. She told me that she was very ecumenical and attended the
United Reformed church sometimes.
Was your pew comfortable?
A standard Victorian pew. I was asked to move to the front.
How would you describe the pre-service
Most people were engaged in conversation. The organist didn't start playing
until the service proper began.
What were the exact opening words of the
Creaso (welcome) in Welsh.
What books did the congregation use during the
We had a printed sheet with all the hymns on it.
What musical instruments were played?
A three manual organ which was fitting for the great Welsh hymns chosen.
Did anything distract you?
It seemed strange having a Welsh service in a Somerset church although the
leader said that Glastonbury had Celtic links. The singing was very loud
and seemed to fill the church, but this is typical for a gamanfa ganu.
This could have been any Capel Cymraeg in Wales.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
As this was a Welsh service, there were some hymns which would have been
suited more to the nonconformist tradition. We sang Ebenezer, which
reminded me of the Presbyterian churches of Wales with their tunes in minor
keys. We also sang "Who is on the Lord's side," "Alleluia sing to Jesus,"
"Love divine" and "Guide me O thou great Jehovah." It made me remember Lampeter
and Llandovery, where I used to live, and the large nonconformist chapels
with their hymns by Williams Pantycelyn, generally regarded as Wales' foremost
hymnodist. Again, these seemed incongruous with the middle of the road Anglicanism
of Somerset. We also sang Aberystwyth, which was ironic as I was
due to stay in Aber a couple of weeks later!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon per se, but rather a short explanation of each hymn
as well as some literary excerpts. About eight minutes altogether.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 Both Richard and Ruth were quite good. They had grown up in Wales
and could speak the language. Richard was very apologetic for his Welsh
but he needn't have been!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
It was a mixture of poems from the Book of Taliesin, named after
the earliest poet of the Welsh language whose works have survived; readings
from Under Milk Wood, the play by Dylan Thomas about the hopes
and dreams of the villagers in a fictitious Welsh town; and explanations
of the hymns.
Which part of the service was like being in
The service had been a lovely experience and I would change nothing. The
sound of the Welsh words of the hymns especially enthralled me. I was transported
back to the Presbyterian church and Annibynwyr (independent) churches
of Wales with their great Welsh singing tradition. It did seem strange,
though, that this celebration was being held in an Anglican church, as the
Church in Wales can't really compare musically to these nonconformist traditions.
However, it is always good to see these hymns embraced!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The only thing I would have liked was to have actually been in Wales. And
I was saddened to think that the empty pews and the elderly congregation
with low numbers may forebode a grim future for this church. The diocese
appears always quick to close a church if it can.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance of that! The elderly lady kindly showed me over to the coffee.
Also I was introduced to the organist and had a quick blast on the three
How would you describe the after-service
Stimulating! I needed it after a long walk around the area earlier in the
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 I like the way this church appears to embrace other traditions.
They have regular songs of praise evenings that are themed. I also like
the way that it appears to be a back street church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
It certainly did. The church made me feel very welcome as a passing stranger,
although I think it should have advertised that the service was going to
be a Welsh hymn service. I had stumbled upon this service quite by chance
and had hesitated before going in. However, since I used to live in Wales,
I would have had no hesitation had I known beforehand that it was going
to be in Welsh.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I will remember those rousing hymns, especially "Guide me O thou great
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