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|1587: St George's
Cathedral, Southwark, London
Photo by C Ford
George's Cathedral, Southwark, London.
Roman Catholic, Archdiocese
The original 1848 building, the work of the noted architect
Augustus Welby Pugin, was reduced to a smouldering ruin by German
bombing during World War II. Restoration began in 1953 according
to plans by Romilly Bernard Craze, author of several post-war
restoration projects. Pugin's original grand design was never
fully realised either in the old cathedral or in the new
the spire, for example, was never built. The cathedral is nevertheless
a stunning example of the Gothic revival style. The exterior
is rather austere, with some stone faces but no gargoyles. Inside,
the Blessed Sacrament chapel, with its wrought iron gates and
intricately carved altarpiece, survived the bombing, as did
a few other fixtures. There are varied shrines to saints, all
very tasteful – avoiding the excessive while fostering
devotion. There is a very impressive virtual tour of the building
on the cathedral's website – a brief description would
not do it justice.
In 1842 Pope Pius IX restored the English hierarchy, and St
George's was chosen as the cathedral church of the new diocese
of Southwark. Few churches anywhere have as rich and varied
a history, and the parish clearly has a mission of tending to
those in need, as was evident from announcements and bulletin
listings. They sponsor chapters of the Union of Catholic Mothers
and Association for the Propagation of the Faith, and an ecumenical
liaison group, as well as Bible study and religious education
for both children and adults.
One could write volumes on the history of Southwark, and indeed
books have been written about the cathedral itself. Currently,
Southwark has a blend of exclusive restaurants and shops, particularly
at the nearby South Bank, alternating with the working class
bustle of the Lower Marsh Market. It is an interesting blend
of yuppie and council housing. As is true of many London neighbourhoods,
Southwark, once a very depressed area, now has a number of exclusive
buildings, though the more modest housing and businesses fortunately
have not been completely replaced.
The names of the four clergy who are assigned to the cathedral
were listed in the leaflet – but there was no indication
of who conducted the service. (I regret this, because I'd love
to cite the name of a preacher of such high quality.)
The date & time:
Observance of the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 May
What was the name of the
How full was the building?
The pews were absolutely packed with people of all ages –
though families with children naturally were predominant. It
was a fascinating group: Missionaries of Charity (the congregation
founded by Mother Teresa); women in magnificent African garb;
even a few older ladies who resembled Miss Marple (and those
are the rarest of all to view today).
Did anyone welcome you
I was impressed by the hospitality and helpfulness of the cathedral
staff. I had not known the observance of the Ascension had been
transferred to Sunday, and had rung the church office on the
previous Thursday to enquire whether there was an evening eucharist.
I was told merely that the observance had been transferred.
Within minutes, though, someone called me back to give me a
full schedule. On the day of the service, I had arrived very
early and no greeters were yet on duty, but once they arrived,
one of them brought me a leaflet and hymnal.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, quite standard.
How would you describe the pre-service
I have no addiction whatever to children and would most likely
have attended a later service had I known beforehand that this
was to be a family mass. However, I found it impressive that
the general atmosphere was reverent and dignified, not only
before the service but also for the duration. This is hardly
universal where masses aimed at children are concerned.
What were the exact opening words of the
Those of the entrance hymn: "Hail the day that sees him rise."
What books did the congregation use during the
Hymnal and leaflet containing the mass propers.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. A fair to middling children's choir sang.
Did anything distract you?
As an Anglican, I am accustomed to singing hymns full voice.
And so it surprised me that, for all the overall sense of warmth
and involvement, barely anyone sang a note – and those who
did so affected the standard RC "no singularisation"
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Casual, standard RC Mass with hymns.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 The homilist was exceptionally gifted, and managed
to include various critical points related to the Ascension
and our own journey toward heaven. He had the rare talent for
including strong theological points while keeping his presentation
simple enough for even young children to understand easily.
For example, there was a light-hearted reference to the Ascension
as "our ticket to heaven."
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
He began by asking the children how it feels when we are parted
from friends. He quickly connected this with a consideration
of Jesus' telling the disciples, "I am in your midst," then
commissioning them to teach all nations. Life is perfected in
living the gospel; the Word lives in us.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Sorry to repeat myself, but I was extraordinarily impressed
with the sermon. There were varied references to scripture,
doctrine, and current topical issues (this was the week, for
example, of the disasters in China and Burma). I have rarely
heard such richness of expression in eight minutes – and certainly
never at a family Mass.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
The unthinkable (for a Mystery Worshipper, so accustomed to
being in churches) happened: my mobile phone rang toward the
end of the service. I tried to slip out quietly and at once,
and was very embarrassed to see that a number of clergy were
standing right outside the door ready to greet the worshippers
after the final blessing and hymn, from which I was playing
truant. The ghost of the RC schoolgirl I once was made me feel
so naughty that I stumbled.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
I dearly wanted not only to look lost but to disappear!
How would you describe the after-service
I don't believe there was any coffee hour.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 Were I Roman Catholic, I have to admit that I'd take
the brief bus ride to Westminster Cathedral, where the music
and liturgy are outstanding and more to my taste.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, indeed. The packed pews and seemingly strong involvement
of clergy and laity gave me a heartening impression of a church
which is concerned with all needs of the flock, not only common
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Hearing the first family mass sermon that captured the true
theology of the Ascension while keeping the attention of children.
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