The Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew was built between between 1176 and 1490. Special features are the west front, exhibiting 293 medieval statues; the unique scissor arches, inserted to stabilize the church; the clock, installed about 1390, one of the oldest mediaeval clock faces in the world; and the chapter house, completed in 1306. Today's service was held in the Lady chapel, which predates the chapter house and may have been freestanding at one time and later linked to the cathedral via an extension of the choir. The Lady chapel features slightly asymmetrical vaulting and five windows with reticulated tracery. The Cathedrals of England, by the architectural historian Alec Clifton-Taylor, describes the vaulting that joins the retrochoir to the Lady chapel as "one of the most subtle and entrancing architectural prospects in Europe."
Wells Cathedral offers daily services, concerts, talks and lectures, specialized tours of the cathedral, exhibitions, workshops. Like many English cathedrals it has its own cat, Louis, whom I have seen sleeping in the nave and in the gift shop.
Wells has a population of about 10,000. The name is derived from three wells dedicated to St Andrew, which are all near the cathedral. Stone Age flints and Roman pottery have been found nearby. Wells is an attractive cathedral city, making it popular for tourists. The vicar's close, housing choir men since the 14th century, is claimed to be the oldest continuously inhabited street in Europe.
A retired, unnamed minister led the service.
What was the name of the service?Holy Communion with Healing.
How full was the building?
20 persons, about 25 chairs available.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The person handing out the order of service booklets greeted us.
Was your pew comfortable?
The chair was comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The cathedral was quiet. People came into the chapel unobtrusively. However, three people in front of us talked animatedly, which made it impossible to meditate before the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of Christ we welcome you. We have been called out of darkness into God's marvellous light. Grace and peace be with you."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A liturgy booklet.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
During the communion liturgy, a walking stick, which had been leaned against a chair, banged to the floor; in the quietness of the chapel it sounded like a rifle shot. Also, at one point a tour guide could be heard in the background explaining some feature of the cathedral to his listeners. Another unnerving moment came when the minister tripped on the kneeler and almost fell down.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This liturgical service was calm, perfectly organized and dignified, which is to be expected in a cathedral. A special feature was the opportunity to come forward to the altar and receive a prayer of healing (spoken silently, the text of which was in the booklet) accompanied by the laying on of hands by the minister. The participants were invited to contribute spontaneously to the laying on of hands.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The sermon was appropriate to the occasion. The preacher conveyed integrity.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Hands are expressive. The laying on of hands is a human touch that can express and convey the touch of God in the heart. This promise applies also to the hands that touch the bread and chalice in holy communion.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The focal point of this service was kneeling and feeling the hands of the minister on the head at the silent prayer for healing. At this moment I was not concentrating on any personal medical condition, but on the words of invitation in the liturgy: "Come ... you who feel deeply within yourselves the divisions and injustices of the world." At this moment I thought about the refugee camps in Calais, which we had seen before embarking on our ferry to Dover two weeks ago; and about the atrocities carried out by religious fanatics, which dominate news reports. At this moment I was able to bring all this to God and feel his presence, which was liberating.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I have a personal hang-up. When I am asked to do something with my body during a service, I become very uncomfortable. During the sermon we were asked to look at our hands, make a fist, open the hands, lift up the hands... This was no big deal for the other participants, who went along good-naturedly, but I tried to make myself invisible by becoming immobile and looking at the floor.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Instead of trying to look lost, I was more concerned about obtaining a copy of the liturgy. However, this was not possible, so I went off into a quiet corner and photographed the booklet. The minister and his wife came up to us and engaged us in friendly conversation.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee, and also no collection plate, which is most unusual.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – Cathedral worship in England is a foretaste of heaven for me. The Cathedral of Wells is one of my favourites.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. This service conveyed the message than Christian faith embraces the whole person and the whole of humanity.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The liturgy opened my eyes to a dimension of Christian faith: namely, that prayer for healing performed on an individual, accompanied by the laying on of hands is not merely a personal matter, but something that the recipient does on behalf of others as a form of intercessory prayer. It encompasses the injuries inflicted on people throughout the world. It offers a way to deal with the overwhelming tragedy that one encounters in daily news reports.