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Cathedral, Kent, England
and Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury, Kent,
Church of England, Diocese
What can be said about Canterbury Cathedral? Is it vast, awe-inspiring,
and beautiful, the third most-visited religious building in
the country (after St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey). The present
building is 12th century, with additions in the 14th and major
repairs following the Restoration in 1660. The reader is respectfully
referred to the many websites, including the
Wikipedia entry and the cathedral's own website, that describe
the history and architecture of the cathedral in detail and
include some splendid photos. There is currently a life-sized
empty rock tomb set up on the precinct grass surrounded by flowers
and containing a folded white cloth. The cathedral (along with
St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church) is a UNESCO World
Heritage site. The tourist entrance fee is waived if you are
a pilgrim attending a service, or ask nicely. On the day I visited,
the chairs had been removed from the nave and preparations were
being made for a youth service the following day – a stage with
banners and serious mixing desk were being set up.
As the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the cathedral stands
at the head of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican
communion. The cathedral’s mission statement is "to show
people Jesus." Communion, matins and evensong (choral or
said) are offered daily, along with numerous special services
and events such as organ recitals and art exhibitions. There
is also a highly active educational department providing resources
for teachers and youth groups, as well as adult retreats and
theological study programmes. The Friends of the Cathedral organise
fundraising events and provide services ranging from flower
arrangers to "holy dusters."
The area where Canterbury lies has been inhabited since prehistoric
times. The Celts and the Romans knew the place well. Chaucer
and Christopher Marlowe wrote of it. During the 14th century
Canterbury was decimated by bubonic plague, and during World
War II it suffered damage from over 10,000 German bombs. But
it has survived all adversity, and today's Canterbury, about
an hour and a half's drive southeast of London, is a city of
44,000 with a modern centre and two universities. The cathedral
sits in a precinct comprising a study and educational centre,
chapter house, gift shop, garden, library and archives, and
parts of the King’s School.
The Most Revd and Rt Hon. Rowan Douglas Williams, 104th Archbishop
of Canterbury, gave the blessing. Presiding at the service was
the Very Revd Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury. Altogether
there were eight clergy in the procession. The cathedral choir
of 16 boy choristers and 12 lay clerks (adults) was led by David
Flood, cathedral organist and master of the choristers.
The date & time:
Easter Sunday, 4 April 2010, 3.15pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The service was held (as it is every day) in the quire, which
I estimate seats around 300, and it was jam-packed. I was directed
to a bench in front of the front row of choir stalls – making
it impossible to take surreptitious notes!
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. The gate to the cathedral precinct was open, as it always
is on Sundays. As mentioned, most of the nave was roped off
for preparations for the following day, but if I hadn’t known
where to go, I imagine that I could have found someone to ask
fairly easily. At the steps up to the quire, a lady was filtering
out tourists from those wishing to attend the service. I’ve
no idea how gently it was done, as a man in front of me engaged
her in conversation so I snuck around. A gentleman asked me
if I was a choir parent; I was tempted to ask just how old he
thought I was! He directed me to the aforementioned bench, facing
the opposite side. For the next ten minutes or so, he went back
and forth bringing things to my neighbours and myself: first
a service sheet, then a hymn book, etc.
Was your pew comfortable?
The bench had a long cushion, but it was only a 45-minute service
and we stood for the majority of it. A lady with an assistance
dog was seated just behind me. Before the service, a verger
came up and enquired whether the dog was comfortable!
How would you describe the pre-service
Fairly reserved, with the organ playing quietly and people being
directed to seats.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good evening on this Easter Sunday, and may I wish you
a very happy Easter."
What books did the congregation use during the
The New English Hymnal and a slightly tatty laminated
Guide to Evensong (Book of Common Prayer). There was
also a printed service sheet giving the words of the introit
What musical instruments were played?
The cathedral organ, an 1886 Henry Willis three-manual instrument
rebuilt in the late 1970s.
Did anything distract you?
I was very conscious of sitting too far to the front to be entirely comfortable.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Very formal, but fittingly so. There was one congregational
hymn, during which a collection was taken. The organ voluntary
was Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D (the "Little"),
BWV 532, which received applause. I was facing the choir director,
who was wonderfully expressive. The smile he gave the choristers
at the end of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" said "Well
done, boys" better than anything I’ve heard said.
Exactly how long was the
There was no sermon.
Which part of the service was like being in
A lone choirboy’s voice brings tears to my eyes. The beauty of the harmonies in the choir’s praise will stay with me for a good long time.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A lady sitting directly opposite me (i.e., on the other side
of the quire) said, "Oh, isn’t it bay-oo-diful!" several
times during the organ voluntary despite the instruction to
keep silence. I noticed after the service that she’d left her
umbrella behind, which I was guiltily glad about. I hope she
gets rained on!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing much. I get the impression that the vergers and guides
would not deliberately approach you unless you were in some
sort of distress! I therefore made the effort and approached
one, who was very knowledgeable and answered all my questions
(mostly about the organ, starting with "Where on earth
How would you describe the after-service
There was none directly, although an outside stall was serving
in the precinct. The cathedral shop advertises that its products
are fairly traded.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 You could certainly attend every Sunday, but this is
not a church with a congregation as such. However, for the occasional
visit, it is spectacular.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Most definitely. There’s something to be said for taking a step
out of your own church (particularly if you are heavily involved
in committees, rotas, etc!) and seeing the bigger picture once
in a while. This is it.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The hauntingly beautiful and prayerful singing of the choir.
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