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|1787: St Wilfrid's,
Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England
Wilfrid's, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England.
Church of England, Diocese
of Ripon and Leeds.
Without a shadow of doubt, this is one of the most beautiful
parish churches I have ever visited. The building was made possible
through the generosity of two wealthy sisters who happened to
stop at a hotel in Harrogate one night in 1902. One of the sisters
died during the night, and her body was discovered the next
morning in an attitude of prayer. The other sister championed
a major fund raising campaign for the new church, contributing
handsomely from her own resources in memory of her sister. The
building was designed by Temple Moore, the noted architect of
many churches. Alas, Moore did not live to see the completion
of St Wilfrid's. His son-in-law, Leslie Moore, supervised the
work to its completion in 1935. The exterior, constructed in
mellow honey-colored Tadcaster stone, has a minster-like appearance.
It is truly Gothic Revival at its finest. In every possible
detail, St Wilfrid's is a tribute to the intentions of the Oxford
Movement, and whether viewed overall or examined detail by detail,
it is simply awesome – breathtaking even! But I should mention
the baptismal font, as I regarded it as a distraction (see below).
It is set on a stepped plinth over which hover flames and a
descending dove. Eye-catching but, I think, somewhat out of
character with the rest of the building.
They sponsor numerous organisations
all documented on their website. They celebrate two masses each
Sunday, along with morning and evening prayer and a vigil mass
on Saturday evening. In addition, morning and evening prayer
and one celebration of mass take place each weekday.
Harrogate is a popular tourist destination for people seeking
to "take the waters" of its spa, rich in iron, sulphur
and salt; to enjoy its mild, dry climate; or to sip Yorkshire
tea at the elegantly traditional Bettys Tea Room. St Wilfrid's
is located in a fairly up-market part of town. The immediate
neighbourhood is characterised by large houses – villas almost
– with well-kept lawns and flower gardens.
There were five priests at the altar. The celebrant was the
Revd Mark Sowerby, team rector (who two weeks later would become
the next Bishop of Horsham). The Revd Tim Burrell, assistant
curate, preached. The organist was Timothy Gray, and the choirmaster
The date & time:
Sunday, 12 July 2009, 10.00am.
What was the name of the
Sung Parish Mass with Baptism.
How full was the building?
Pretty full – 150 or so. There seemed to be a goodly representation
of humanity in the congregation, all fairly well-heeled and
familiar with all the trappings of traditional catholic worship.
Did anyone welcome you
Yes, and with an excellent 20-page service book.
Was your pew comfortable?
Perfectly fine old-style church chairs, joined to one another
in rows, with a comfortable straw/raffia covered seat. Kneelers
were hung on hooks on the seats in front of us.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
We barely made it on time, but based on the service book's directions,
I suspect it was very quiet. There are detailed instructions
on "the need for preparation", which end with the words
"silence for reflection" and suggestions for private
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
Everyone recited the collect for purity: "Almighty God,
to whom all hearts are open..."
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
The aforementioned service book and the English Hymnal.
What musical instruments
The magnificent organ, an opus of the Harrison and Harrison
firm of Durham. Installed in 1928, it has been certified by
the British Institute of Organ Studies as an "instrument
of historic importance."
Did anything distract
The baptismal font, although fortunately our backs were to it
most of the time. The other eye-catching distraction was the
enormous series of bas-relief stations of the cross on the north
and south aisles. Designed by the early 20th century sculptress
Frances Darlington, who also designed the frieze in the foyer
of the Harrogate Theatre, they are said to be modelled on church
members of that day.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Traditional catholic worship at its ultimate best, and with
very good music. Father Sowerby intoned beautifully. The choir
of men, boys and girls sang the Stanford mass setting very well.
And the organist, Mr Gray, led the congregational singing from
the organ with plenty of drive and colour. The building is also
blessed with an excellent sound system.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
8 Father Burrell preached well, though it's a pity he
hadn’t memorised the sermon. Looking down at his text took away
from direct eye contact, which was a pity.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
His subject was "The Mission of the Twelve," in which
he described how Our Lord had concluded that the apostles needed
a short period of practical training. Their mission was not
only a spiritual one, but also to bring about physical and mental
healing. It shows the importance of being open to the word of
God, and of being active, not passive, followers. The Twelve
were called away from their ordinary work; only a few of us
are literally called to preach the gospel. The rector, soon
to be Bishop of Horsham, is one who is so called. No matter
how full our lives may be, there is always room for more
just as there is room in a jar full of golf balls for some pebbles,
and then for some sand, and then for some wine. Pay attention
to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time
with your family. Ensure there is time to meet your friends.
Take your partner out to dinner. Have time for hobbies and outside
interests. Make sure there is time for relaxation and holidays.
There will always be time to clean the house, polish the car,
or do the gardening. And no matter how full our lives may seem,
there's always room for a couple of glasses of wine with a friend.
This is true no less for the Bishop of Horsham and his wife
Ruth than for the average man in the pew.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
One really high spot, in a generally heavenly service, was the
Gloria in Excelsis, which was a congregational setting by Peter
Jones. It was quite new to me, but with the benefit of the music
in the service book, it was easy to pick up. I also enjoyed
the very end of the mass, when we sang a rather upbeat Salve
Regina facing the shrine of Our Lady in the north aisle.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
One of the lectors missed his cue. There was an awkward prolonged
silence between the psalm and the second lesson. Finally a lady
from the congregation made her way up to the lectern, at which
point the gentleman who was supposed to give the reading suddenly
materialised. The lady gave him a nod and discreetly withdrew.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn’t have to look lost for long. We were invited to the
church hall and were introduced to the rector en route.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
Coffee was served in proper cups. We had plenty of good conversation
about the history of St Wilfrid's and its traditions.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you
remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sheer unexpectedness of it all. We had "discovered"
St Wilfrid's from their website. But we had not anticipated
the architectural size and beauty of a place which verged on
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