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The Priory Church,
Edington, Wiltshire, England
The church: The
Priory of St Mary, St Katherine and All Saints,
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese of Salisbury.
The building: A substantial ancient building, with battlements and crockets,
a squat central tower, but with large windows in all the
walls in typical perpendicular style. This gives a light
and spacious feel to the interior. It is thought that
the masons who had transformed the choir at Gloucester
Cathedral built Edington Priory church before going on
to construct the nave at Salisbury. No one is sure, because
the church was first consecrated in 1361 and records are
understandably scarce. It is described as the only perfect
example of a monastic church in Wiltshire (which has plenty
of superb churches, so there is good competition). The
church suffered during the Reformation, with the church
losing statuary and stained glass. The pink and white
plaster ceiling of the nave and transepts dates from this
time. However, by the 19th century, the church fabric
was actually dangerous and a major restoration in the
1880s put things back in order and provided the current
seating. Further major repairs were undertaken over several
The church: Church life is thriving with a normal congregation of around
60 in a village of 270 dwellings. Its main claim to fame
is the week-long Festival
of Music within the Liturgy held in August each year,
held for the 55th time in 2010. The service which is the
subject of this report was part of the second full day
of the festival.
The neighbourhood: The church is the central part of a small village at
the foot of a steep escarpment which leads up to Salisbury Plain. A
small rural road links half a dozen villages just to the east of
Westbury in a deeply rural, picture-postcard-worthy landscape. It isn't
totally peaceful as the main London to Penzance railway line passes
less than a mile from the church and combine harvesters roar around the
arable fields at this time of year.
The cast: Celebrant: the Revd Canon Paul Rose; deacon: the Revd Dr Carolyn
Hammond; sub-deacon: the Revd Dr Graham Southgate (vicar
of the parish); preacher: the Revd Canon Jeremy Davies;
plus crucifer, thurifer, acolytes and a few spare clergy.
The festival has three choirs: a schola cantorum of 12
male voices that specialises in plainsong, whilst the
consort of 17 experienced adult mixed voices and the nave
choir of 18 boy trebles (drawn from a variety of cathedrals
and similar establishments) and 12 men sing in exquisite
harmony. All three choirs were present at this service.
The date & time: Tuesday, 24 August 2010, 11.30am.
What was the
name of the service?
How full was
Packed. The standard pew in the church would hold four in comfort, but
most had five people packed in. There were folding chairs beside every
pew and only a couple of spare seats. The congregation numbered around
welcome you personally?
There was a bustle of people in the porch, with one member
of the congregation in charge of selling the festival
companion booklet that had full details of the week. As
we already had a booklet, we received a happy smile and
a welcome word.
Was your pew
We were lucky in having only four in the pew. Even after a service of
an hour and a quarter (and arriving 50 minutes before the "off" to get
a good seat), it remained comfortable. Many regulars, however, brought
How would you
describe the pre-service
Noisy and bustling. Choir practice for the nave choir
was in progress, so there was plenty to interest the early
arrival. The festival director welcomed everyone and set
the tone for the service with ten minutes to go, asking
people to be silent for the organ prelude, as this is
part of the service. He had a series of amusing ways during
the week of asking people to ensure that that their mobile
phones were turned off for the service (see the final
section of this report).
What were the
exact opening words of the
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
What books did
the congregation use during the
The festival has produced a booklet with the rubric followed
for the four services used during the festival (matins,
eucharist, evensong and compline), with all the stands
and sits marked in. The eucharist service is from Common
Worship. The hymns were from the New
instruments were played?
The organ is adequate for parish use, but the festival makes demands on
it that stretch it beyond fair use and a project is under way to
purchase a new instrument for the building.
The "good" seat I had gave me a view down the centre aisle so I could
see the altar party standing in front of the nave altar. The celebrant
had a sizeable label of what looked like a bar-coded laundry tag on his
alb, just above the hem. Probably only a dozen people in the church
could see it, but once seen, my eyes spotted it every time the
Was the worship
stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Stiff as the brocade on the altar party's vestments. It
was well executed formal liturgy. The alleluia was chanted,
the gospel was chanted. Everything that could be was censed,
but there were no bells during the service.
long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
10 – The festival draws the best in music and liturgical
practice, which includes the preachers for the week. Mr
Davies is precentor of Salisbury Cathedral and was in
similarly exalted company, but his was among the best
we heard. He had comprehensive notes, but did not read
his offering, establishing a good rapport with the congregation.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
The theme of the week was Jesus' seven last words from
the cross, of which Tuesday covered his words to the penitent
thief: "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in
paradise." Interestingly (well, I hadn't noticed it before),
the penitent thief is the only person in the gospels to
call Jesus by his given name – everyone else uses a title:
Master, Lord, Rabbi, etc. The preacher developed this
theme that the "outsiders" (to accepted religious practice)
in the gospel can easily become the favoured "insiders"
who receive God's blessing. Apart from the penitent thief,
the prodigal son and the Roman centurion are other examples.
He used a poem from Monica Furlong to illustrate the opposite
effect: those on the inside of religious practice who
are sure of their status imposing their will on others.
Those who really help are those who just do things naturally.
Which part of
the service was like being in
The choral music, which is not surprising in a festival
of music within the liturgy. The schola sang the plainsong
alleluia and Vos qui secuti estis me as one of
the communion motets. The consort sang the mass to a setting
by Cardosa (Portuguese, 1566-1650) and the nave choir
sang Brahms' How lovely are thy dwellings fair
as the offertory motet and S.S. Wesley's Cast me not
away as a second communion motet.
And which part
was like being in... er... the other place?
The general information part of the festival companion
booklet frowned on two practices in particular: placing
cushions on pews early to keep seats, and people talking
during choir rehearsal. Both still happened, by people
who were obvious regulars to the festival. Talking (at
quite loud volumes and about trivialities) during choir
rehearsal seemed bizarre. People have come to hear good
music and the choirs get little opportunity for rehearsal,
so why distract the musicians and make their task harder?
Why not listen and get an early idea of the shape of the
music that will be used in the liturgy?
when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were ignored, as there were hundreds in church (mostly
strangers to the parish), and people moved slowly.
How would you
describe the after-service
There was no refreshment provided, but there was a church-run coffee
stall in the car park outside. With a late start, we felt it was now
How would you
feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
N/A – This was not a regular service in the church, so
taken as a guide to regular practice. However, the stewards drawn
from the local congregation seemed friendly so the omens are good.
Did the service
make you feel glad to be a
Yes, the festival and this service is a wonderful opportunity to "fill
up" on the best in Anglican music, liturgy and preaching. We heard
someone describe the festival as "a retreat with knobs on", which sums
it up nicely.
What one thing
will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The plea to turn off mobile phones (taken from Gloucester
Cathedral, where the River Severn runs close by). "If
you want to go to hell, let your mobile ring its bell.
If you want to go to heaven, throw your handset in the
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