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|2008: St Patrick's
Cathedral, Armagh, Northern Ireland
Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh, Northern Ireland.
of Ireland, Diocese
It would require a short essay to describe the building adequately.
It is incredibly beautiful inside and out and is jam-packed
with all kinds of memorials and interesting features. It traces
its origins back to the 5th century and has been destroyed and
rebuilt 17 times! Its present state is largely due to the efforts
of Lewis Nockalls Cottingham, a specialist in medieval Gothic
architecture who championed the restoration and conservation
of existing buildings. It follows the typical Anglican layout.
There is a separate chapel behind the main altar. The north
and south transepts have been designated as regimental chapel
and chapter room respectively. There is also an impressive marble
font at the west entrance to greet any visitors. In the nave
there is a replica of the Book of Kells (the original is housed
in Trinity College, Dublin, I believe). Facing the congregation
from behind the main altar is a striking picture depicting the
Last Supper. Also the belfry houses eight bells. When I stepped
inside, the first thing I discerned was what I can only describe
as a "museum smell."
They host the Centre
for Celtic Spirituality, an inter-church project, and maintain
close relations with the Roman Catholic cathedral, also called
St Patrick's. They celebrate said holy communion and sung eucharist
each Sunday, as well as choral evensong. Said matins and holy
communion are offered each Weekday, with Celtic eucharist the
first Wednesday of each month.
Armagh, granted city status in 1994 by Her Majesty the Queen,
is the smallest city not only in Northern Ireland but on the
entire Irish island! As the seat of both the Anglican and Roman
Catholic archbishops, it is considered Ireland’s spiritual
capital and predates Canterbury as a Christian religious site.
I once heard Armagh described as a city on seven hills (like
Rome, I guess), and the cathedral is perched right on top of
one of them and overlooks most of the city. From this vantage
point Armagh appeared to me a fairly sleepy town but perhaps
this is because it was a holiday weekend and still fairly early
in the morning. Armagh's own website describes the city as "a
vibrant city, with hospitable people and great attractions."
The service was led by the Revd Grace Clunie, director of Celtic
Spirituality and cathedral priest. Mrs Clunie was assisted by
the verger, David Bingham, and Theo Saunders at the organ. The
Revd Campbell Dixon, curate assistant at St Patrick's, Jordanstown,
The date & time:
11 July 2010, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Attendance was decidedly patchy. There were around 30 souls
in this fairly cavernous building. Strangely, though, it didn't
feel as empty as it must have looked.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were warmly welcomed and handed a service sheet. No sooner
had we sat down than Mrs Clunie came by to say hello and make
sure we felt welcome, which we did. She apologised that normally
they would have a robed choir but, because of the holidays,
we would be singing unaccompanied today.
Was your pew comfortable?
There are claret-coloured cushions lining the solid wooden pews;
they felt very tightly packed with stuffing. They were surprisingly
comfortable. I enjoyed the extra-large kneeling cushions, which
I used as a footrest.
How would you describe the pre-service
There was a reverent hush from the moment we entered, punctuated
by the odd whisper here and there and an occasional scuttling
of feet down the aisle. There was also a faint electrical buzz
emanating from somewhere or other. Just before the service started,
the organ kicked in. I felt a little overawed by the surroundings
but was quickly convinced I was in a holy place.
What were the exact opening words of the
The verger headed the procession consisting of officiant and
guest preacher. All reverenced the altar and took their places
in silence as we stood and sang the first hymn. The first words
didn't come until after this. They were: "The Lord be with you"
to which we all replied: "And also with you."
What books did the congregation use during the
None, just the service sheets.
What musical instruments were played?
Only the organ, which was played exceptionally well, I must
Did anything distract you?
Actually, there are so many interesting things inside this church
that it would be so easy to spend the entire time just looking
around. But I noticed something that looked uncannily like a
security camera dangling from an organ pipe; it seemed totally
out of place (although I understand why they might want it there).
Once I had seen it, I found it difficult not to keep checking
on it! Mrs Clunie spoke with a slight case of preacher's voice
syndrome, also known as the stained glass voice or Billy Graham
speak. It started out as a distraction, but once I got accustomed
to it I actually found it quite pleasing.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Traditional morning prayer. After an opening hymn, there was
a confession and absolution. Then we stood and chanted versicles
and responses and recited Psalm 82. In between readings we recited
Urbs fortitudinis (Isaiah 26) and after the second
reading a Benedictus and the Apostle's Creed. Then
there were collects and prayers followed by two more hymns and
the address. There was little ceremony during the service and
no incense, although there were some candles burning which added
some aura. The music selection was impeccably well-suited to
the theme. Unfortunately, though, due to the small number of
faithful gathered for worship, we struggled to raise the roof,
so to speak. However, for what it was, I enjoyed it a lot.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Mr Dixon could do with more variation in pitch and
tone in his voice.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Mr Dixon's text was Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the good Samaritan.
Mankind has always struggled against bigotry and prejudice.
The pious of Jesus' day blamed "sinners" for making
God angry. But God, in Jesus, loves everyone. God looks at not
only what we do, but how we act toward others, especially those
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
One of the hymns was "Won't you let me be your servant."
I had never encountered it before, and I found the sentiments
simple yet profound. Another moment that left a deep impression
was the preacher's mention of an anecdote about the controversial
evangelical pastor Tony Campolo how he threw a birthday
party for a prostitute whom he overheard say that she had never
had a birthday party in her life. I thought it aptly summed
up the theme of the sermon and provided a glimpse of what the
kingdom of God is surely all about. Also, after the service
was over, the organist produced a wonderful flourish that was
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
This will seem like a strange criticism, but it is more reflective
of my mood on the day of my visit than anything else. I do enjoy
a modicum of liturgy, and this particular service had just enough
to please me. My gripe is that while there was so much material
being recited and so many great themes to reflect on, for me
it all went by too quickly. It felt somewhat rushed, and I wish
it could have proceeded more slowly. Perhaps if each item had
been interspersed with some moments of silence, it would have
allowed more time for personal reflection.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone headed for the door, so we followed suit. On the way
out we exchanged some pleasantries and were informed that it
was very nice to have us along.
How would you describe the after-service
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 I would definitely come to a service like this regularly
but not every week; once a month would be adequate.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. I totally connected with the music, the theme, and the
sermon. And the atmosphere was good, numinous even.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That inspiring story about the prostitute and the birthday party.
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