|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
Cathedral, Ripon, Yorkshire, England
Photo: Alastair Moore
Church of St Wilfrid and St Peter, Ripon, Yorkshire, England.
Church of England, Diocese of Ripon
On this site in the 7th century St Wilfrid built one of England’s
first stone churches, of which the crypt is the only surviving
remnant. Altogether there have been four churches here, the
present structure displaying architectural features from across
the range of the medieval period. The rebuilding programme necessitated
by a structural collapse in 1450 was interrupted by the Reformation,
leaving the church with a combination of earlier rounded arches
and rebuilt Gothic pointed arches and columns. The church houses
many items of historical and artistic interest, from the choir
stalls completed in 1494 by Ripon woodcarvers, to the Art Nouveau
pulpit and an array of memorial tablets covering more than 700
years of local history. It is believed that a carving on one
of the misericords, depicting a griffon chasing a rabbit down
a rabbit hole, may have inspired Lewis Carroll when he wrote
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Carroll's father
was a canon at the cathedral from 1852 to 1868.
This is a parish church as well as a cathedral. It works with
the community and plays host to a variety of artistic events,
from the calligraphy exhibition currently on view, to concerts,
jazz eucharists and charity fairs. Fair trade is in evidence,
though I didn't spot it in the coffee provision after the service.
Ripon is a market town with a thriving local economy. The Thursday
market attracts visitors from a wide surrounding area. There
is still a wakeman, who sounds a horn every evening at 9.00
in the market square to show that all is well.
The Venerable Janet Henderson, member of the cathedral clergy
and Archdeacon of Richmond, presided and preached. She was supported
by two unnamed clergy.
The date & time:
Sunday, 25 October 2009, 9.30am.
What was the name of the service?
Sung Eucharist with the Boy Choristers and Lay Clerks.
How full was the building?
This is a small cathedral; I would guess that the normal pew
provision would seat 200, and maybe 350 could be fitted in for
large concerts. I estimated there to be about 150 people present,
so it was pretty full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I arrived half an hour early, hoping to take some photos. The
gentlemen handing out hymn books, service sheets and booklets
said hello. I asked about taking photos, and was told I would
need a permit, but to go ahead and they would organise it. They
asked if I was staying for the service. People around me shook
hands willingly at the peace, but there was no hello or questioning.
Was your pew comfortable?
There is new seating of wooden framed, rush bottomed interlocking
chairs. These were generously proportioned and comfortable.
They had shelves beneath the seats to accommodate kneeling pads.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
The cathedral was quite echoey, and there were people praying,
but others chatting, and some quite loud commentaries coming
from the direction of the calligraphy exhibition. I had time
to look round, and was charmed to see exhibits of quotations,
including Muhammad Ali's famous quote from his book The
Soul of a Butterfly: Reflections on Life's Journey: "It's
just a job. Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I
beat people up." This in addition to the usual biblical
quotes and statements about peace. The cathedral has recently
had new lighting installed, and on a dull rainy day, with the
usual wind whipping round the church door, the atmosphere inside
was light and bright. I thought at first it was natural sunlight,
until I realised that it couldn't be! One of the clergy tried
to give out announcements over the sound of the bells, with
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
"Good morning, and welcome to the cathedral today."
What books did the congregation use during the
Service book, with alternative texts and Latin for the mass
sections. Congregational responses were musically notated. There
was also a service sheet with the readings of the day, and the
New English Hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. I was told afterwards that the instrument is in need of attention, and this will be the subject of the next appeal. The choir of men and boy was good, with the treble voices extremely good.
Photo: Jaap Jongejan
Did anything distract you?
Thirty-five years ago I attended a performance of Handel's Israel
in Egypt here. It was cold, even on a summer evening. On
a rainy October Sunday it was still cold! There is a considerable
draught at floor level, and the stone flags exude chill. Compared
to my last visit, I noticed that the altar and choir seating
had been brought forward of the crossing, and slightly raised.
This left the boys rather exposed to public view. As a professional
chorister, I don't like being on view to quite this extent,
and it was obviously hard for the boys to remain entirely decorous.
One was seen to hoist his foot so that he could scratch his
ankle. I'm not sure he didn't also use the hem of his cassock
to polish his shoe.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
This was the fully robed version, clergy in triplicate, dalmatics,
candles, and offstage chanting before and after the service.
Very well done, and like all well rehearsed liturgy, accessible.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Archdeacon Henderson spoke clearly, making allowance
for the resonance of the building, as indeed everyone did. But
she looked alternately at her script and at the congregation,
giving a bobbing effect that slightly detracted from the effect
of a good sermon. The bells striking ten o'clock part way through
the sermon didn't help.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
The archdeacon spoke on the gospel reading for the day, Mark
10:46-52 (Jesus restores sight to blind Bartemaeus). She told
the story of Anne Ayscough (1521-1546), the only woman ever
to be tortured on the rack in the Tower of London, where she
was put on trial for preaching and distributing
Protestant books. Each of us should engage with the word of
God, and each in his own way try to interpret the truth. As
an extension of vision, if we bring our concerns to God, we
will see our true desires more clearly. Ideally, we should,
like Bartemaeus, move from need to gratitude to loyalty.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
This is a lovely church, and being able to see clearly (a tribute
to the lighting rather than the sermon) really enhanced the
enjoyment of being there. The music was the real thing: a great
Byrd motet and a really gorgeous sound from those boys. Three
out of four hymns were well known to me.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The cold rising up through my feet! Also, whenever I see a New
English Hymnal, I know that the melodies will probably
be too high for me, though not for the boys, and I descend to
harmony. One of the hymns was completely unknown to me and,
I suspect, to the congregation, and the melody didn't come over
at all clearly from the organ. This is where the over-resonance
of the acoustic was a disadvantage.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Other members of the congregation didn't speak to me, but the
kindly sidesman who had offered to get me the permit for photography
approached and said that he had let me off since I stayed for
the service! So I took a few more photos of the altar screen.
I followed the crowd to the side chapel, where coffee, tea,
juice and biscuits were being served. I caught the eye of one
member of the clergy, who said hello and moved on hurriedly.
Then I approached a gentleman with a white stick, who told me
he used to be a sidesman before he lost his sight. He told me
about the old appeal for the lighting, and the proposed new
appeal for the organ upgrade. I then asked another of the clergy
about his dalmatic, and he reassured me that that was the right
term. Anyone I approached responded willingly (except for the
clergyman in a hurry), but only the sidesmen made an overture.
How would you describe the after-service
Disposable cups of tea, coffee or squash. Biscuits. No idea
if it was fair trade or not, but there were fair trade cards
on sale, so I should imagine it was.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 This comes across as a parish community, and very attractive.
It would be hard, though, to face a future of non-stop harmony
because the hymns are pitched so high.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The wonderful treble voices in such a vibrantly lit church interior.
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.