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Cathedral, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England
and Parish Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, Portsmouth,
Church of England, Diocese
The oldest part of the cathedral was built as a chapel for the
Augustinian canons of Southwick Priory at the end of the 12th
century and dedicated to St Thomas à Becket. Only the chancel
and transepts of the original building remain. The old tower
and nave were taken down toward the end of the 17th century
and replaced by new structures. Major restoration work took
place around the turn of the 20th century. The church was enlarged
during the 1930s but this work was interrupted by World War
II, not to resume until 1990. It was finally consecrated in
1991 in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen
Mother. The ring of bells was augmented by a further two bells
in March 2010, making Portsmouth one of the select few churches
in the south of England that boast a ring of twelve. The nave
is very spacious, light and airy. The building contains many
maritime elements; noteworthy among these are the original weathervane,
a barque (sailing ship) of gold dated 1710, and an oak cross
dated 1927 from the HMS Victory, along with memorial windows
and plaques commemorating recent naval disasters.
St Thomas was a parish church serving the needs of a seafaring
community. It became the cathedral of the newly created diocese
of Portsmouth in 1927. There are daily acts of worship. The
cathedral is linked to St Anselm's Cathedral in Sunyani, Ghana,
and supports training of clergy and lay readers there as well
as the Anglican schools. There is a well-stocked shop housed
within the cathedral selling spiritual literature and gifts,
and served by friendly staff.
The cathedral is in old Portsmouth, a delightful area that is
a few minutes' walk from the seafront with its historic fortifications
dating back to Tudor times, the ruined old garrison church,
and the naval dockyard with treasures such as HMS Victory (Lord
Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar), HMS Warrior (the
Royal Navy's first ironclad ocean-going armoured battleship),
and the Mary Rose (King Henry VIII's favourite ship). Also close
by is the town's newest development, Gunwharf Quays, a collection
of shops and waterside restaurants dominated by Spinnaker Tower,
an observation tower in a shape suggesting sails billowing in
The Revd Canon Michael Tristram, pastor.
The date & time:
Trinity Sunday, 30 May 2010, 8.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
Taizé-style Night Prayer.
How full was the building?
The area set aside for this service, the chapel of St Thomas,
was full, with only a few chairs remaining empty. We counted
50 people, surprisingly balanced in gender. However, there were
fewer young people than we had expected, which we put down to
the fact that it was half term.
Did anyone welcome you
The building seemed completely deserted when we arrived, but
a lady was strategically positioned with the song books in the
area where the service was to be held. She was friendly when
we made our way toward her. The canon nodded and smiled, but
made no eye contact and had his face turned away from us.
Was your pew comfortable?
One young man sat on the stone floor in true Taizé style, while
everyone else sat on the shell chairs. In the cathedral proper,
the only permanent seating arrangements are modern choir stalls
in addition to the more traditional ones in the quire. Chairs
are set out in quantity only when required, thus enhancing the
immense sense of space.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
The altar and some surfaces had been set up with lots of candles.
Not many people had arrived yet, and it was so quiet that even
clearing one's throat was almost embarrassing. However, as more
people arrived the atmosphere changed, and there was quiet chatter
in front of us, though on the whole it was a meditative silence.
A recording played a tune from the (latest?) Taizé chants CD
– a little too loud for my taste.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Laudate omnes, laudate Dominum" (Sing praise
all people, sing praise to the Lord), the chant initiated by
the canon and taken up by the congregation. This was followed
by "Welcome to this Taizé-style Night Prayer."
What books did the congregation use during the
The colourfully bound Chants de Taizé 2005/Songs from Taizé
2005 and a service sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
None. The chant was unaccompanied.
Did anything distract
In the silence just before the beginning of the service, a service
sheet fluttered to the floor and remained there for the duration
of the service. During the meditation the clock struck the quarter
hour, but as it was muted by the distance this was quite pleasant.
I found the readings and speaking from the back rather distracting,
possibly for no other reason than that it "came out of
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
It was very dignified, monastic in character, with the quiet
chants permeating the act of worship. No standing up or sitting
down during the service. The canon led the service from the
back of the church. Toward the end, those who wished to do so
filed past the canon, who by then had made it to the front and
was handing out lighted candles that could be placed on the
Peace Globe, based on a similar one in Stockholm (see picture).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The singing voice of the canon and his descant in one of the
chants. The prayer candles almost completely filling the globe.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The immediate and restless breaking up after the final song, people rushing out as though the dinner was burning. It all but destroyed the atmosphere of peace that characterises this style of service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no one left. An offering plate had been placed on
a beautiful cruciform font near the door.
How would you describe the after-service
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 As this was not the regular style of worship and the
congregation possibly not typical, this is hard to comment on.
Personally I'd prefer Taizé-style in the open air or a tent.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
I felt almost like a member of a monastic community, though a novice.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
More than one: the descant of the canon, the chap sitting on
the floor, the peace globe, and the offering plate on the font.
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