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Cathedral, Bristol, England
Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Bristol, England.
Church of England, Diocese
Bristol Cathedral is a very large, long, beautiful church, about
1000 years old, although construction and reconstruction of
its various parts has spanned almost that length of time. It
began life as an Augustinian abbey. Although only fragments
of the abbey church survive, the chapter house still remains
and has been called the finest example of a Norman chapter house
in existence today. The cathedral has high square towers, and
both old and new altars. The nave altar is octagonal in shape
– I had never seen that before. The nave itself is unusual
in that the aisles are the same height as the choir, making
it what is called a "hall church." Common in Germany,
this is rare in Britain.
There is a large staff of volunteers who care for the cathedral
and keep it alive, including docents who cheerfully conduct
free tours (although they welcome donations). On our visit we
were impressed by the friendliness of the staff. They are keeping
the cathedral alive. Worship services are open to the public,
and the side chapels are available for private prayer. "Within
the constraints of scheduled services" (as their website
states), the cathedral, chapter house, cloister and garden are
available for hire to host concerts, dinners, receptions, etc.
Bristol historically was a seagoing city, with many departures
for the New World. Unfortunately this included involvement in
the slave trade. The city's prosperity is reflected in its architecture;
many old buildings survive but many others were bombed during
World War II. The Clifton Suspension Bridge, begun in 1831 and
completed in 1864, the work of the noted 19th century civil
and mechanical engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, is still in
use today and is one of Bristol's most recognisable landmarks.
The Rt Revd Michael Arthur Hill, Bishop of Bristol; the Revd
Canon Andrew Tremlett, acting dean; the Revd Canon Wendy Wilby,
The date & time:
Thursday, 24 December 2009, 11.30pm.
What was the name of the service?
Eucharist of Christmas Night.
How full was the building?
Absolutely full, two to three thousand people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. There were several people at the door, smiling and welcoming
us, handing us the service booklet, and pointing where we could
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a seat, comfortable, not very large, and just in front
of a monitor so that we could see everything happening if we
did not view it accurately from where we sat, near the back.
How would you describe the pre-service
It was quiet but not silent, mainly full of adults, many of whom were looking up and around at the beauty in the cathedral.
What were the exact opening words of the
Three bells were rung. Then Canon Wilby spoke from the pulpit:
"It is good to see you all tonight. We remember the mystery
of God in a human baby. A most peaceful and blessed Christmas.
Turn your candles out. (We all had candles and we used them
as the choir and clergy walked in singing.) Welcome to communion.
Keep silent before worship." The Christ Child was carried in
and placed in the crib. The Christmas candle was blessed and
placed on the altar.
What books did the congregation use during the
We all used specially printed booklets, 20 pages.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and a strong choir.
Did anything distract you?
It was a distraction to have such a good view of everything.
What little we couldn't see on our own, we could see on the
monitor. One thing we noticed were golden angels with gold wings,
holding candles, and coloured angels up on the far-away altar.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Traditional and happy. Lots of ceremony. Lots of incense. We
sang carols, and the choir sang in Latin the Messe
de Minuit pour Noel of the French Baroque composer Marc-Antoine
Charpentier. The music was wonderful. The bishop looked resplendent
in his gold mitre.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 The bishop really wished to help us all to feel God's
love for us and always to know and respond to that.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
All the best of the divine was invested in a baby. It was a
vast plan of God. The baby became a bold and brave man. He suffered
crucifixion, the worst form of death, yet prayed for forgiveness
of those who had killed him. In the 2000 years since, countless
human beings have given their lives for him. We inhabit a dark
world: wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; lonely soldiers separated
from their families; people who look to a quick death as an
end to their suffering; parents and grandparents denied access
to their offspring; unbearable poverty; those who seek asylum.
St John wrote that the Light overcomes the darkness. Look in
our mind's eye at that crib; it could transform us from dark
to light. God sent his Son to be our salvation. The message
of Christmas means we are never alone – the God who serves
us is alive with us in this cathedral now. If we receive him,
we become children of God, never alone, always with hope. God
enters our soul and dwells in our hearts. We have no idea how
much God loves us.
Which part of the service was like being in
The wonderful singing and beauty within the cathedral.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The incense that kept whizzing around.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were all trying to leave all at once. The sidesmen, still
pleasant and friendly, were advising people to try to leave
quickly. The bishop shook my hand and wished me good cheer.
How would you describe the after-service
None at all – it was early morning Christmas day.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 Everyone who belonged to the church, whether clergy
or others, were extremely friendly and welcoming. It is also
a beautiful building with a fantastic history.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes – seeing symbols for Christians and hearing the love and
strength of Jesus for us all.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The modern nave altar – wooden and eight sided.
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