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The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Bristol, England.
Church of England, Diocese of Bristol.
The building: This
site has probably had a church on it for over a thousand years.
In 1148 it became the Abbey of St Augustine. When the abbey
was dissolved in 1539, the nave was destroyed. It became a cathedral
church in 1542. In 1868, the nave was rebuilt to its medieval
design by the architect George Edmund Street, and a few years
later John Loughborough Pearson added two towers at the west
end and further reordered the interior. The nave, choir and
aisles are all the same height, making it the best example of
a "hall church" in Great Britain.
The church: Years
ago, this cathedral seemed to some to be as stuffy as an old
museum. But thanks to the present dean and precentor, the services
now have style and grandeur. The congregation has grown considerably
in the past few years. I think people are attracted to good
music, dignified but simple ceremonial, and intelligent preaching.
The neighbourhood: Outside
is College Green, a grassy area loved by sunbathers. Somewhere
beneath the grass lie the relics of St Jordan, who accompanied
St Augustine on his travels but stopped off in Bristol and stayed
here (many of us do it's a lovely city but is known as
"the graveyard of ambition" because people don't move
on). There is an icon of St Jordan in the north quire aisle.
The nearby Lord Mayor's chapel, formerly attached to a hospital
that was pulled down during the dissolution of the monasteries,
is now the only church in Britain owned and controlled by a
local government authority, whose city hall is also in the area.
The Very Revd Dr David Hoyle, dean, was the celebrant. The Revd
Canon Robert Bull was the deacon.
The date & time: Saturday,
30 March 2013, 8.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
Easter Vigil and First Eucharist of Easter with Renewal of Baptismal Vows.
How full was the building?
I counted about 70 people but think a few more joined us during
the procession. The building is huge, but as we were seated
on three sides of the nave altar, it felt full. Someone told
me that in previous years this service had been held early on
Easter Sunday morning as the sun was rising, but that this did
not attract many people. Many churches have experimented with
the timing in the face of an English preoccupation with Easter
morning being the main attraction and not wanting to "jump
the gun" by having holy communion the night before, despite
this being a custom going back to the fourth century.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I approached the main entry somewhat dismayed, as it was
clearly locked. I wondered whether I had arrived at the wrong
time. A steward standing nearby asked me if I had come for the
service and explained that it was starting in the cloister round
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, though we were somewhat tightly packed and it was difficult to take my spectacles out of my pocket without digging my neighbour in the ribs.
How would you describe the pre-service
Fairly quiet. People stamped their feet in an effort to keep
warm, this having been the coldest Easter on record. Then a
bit of movement to avoid sparks and smoke when the new fire
had been lit, and a joke from one corner about barbecuing horse
burgers (a reference to recent scandals in the European meat
What were the exact opening words of the
"Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this holy night when our Lord Jesus Christ passed from death to life..."
What books did the congregation use during the
A specially printed order of service.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ (and hand bells at the start of the Gloria).
Did anything distract you?
Yes, in a positive way. The paschal candle was about five feet
tall and it was processed right round the west end of the cathedral
and through the west door. Its flame was shielded with a glass
sheath to avoid it blowing out. I was distracted by thinking,
"Where can I get one of those glass sheaths for next year?"
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Dignified cathedral liturgy, enabled by vergers unobtrusively
ensuring that everything was in the right place and the lights
came on at the appropriate point. The style was liberal catholic
with incense, bells and holy water.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon. The Easter vigil is the most important
event in the liturgical year and its rich symbolism speaks volumes
for itself. To preach about it is somewhat like explaining the
punch line of a joke instead of letting people work it out for
Which part of the service was like being in
Many things: mostly, the pace of the service. The whole liturgy
was done and dusted within 85 minutes with nothing omitted (except
for the Genesis 1 reading being trimmed). Nothing was hurried;
everything was done decently and in order. Maybe I have a liturgical
form of attention deficit disorder but, frankly, services can
become boring after the novelty wears off. But nothing bored
me about this service. It was the best act of worship I have
attended for many, many years. Although the bishop would be
presiding at baptisms on Easter morning, there was one young
man who was baptised this evening. It's always good to have
an actual baptism during the liturgy of initiation. The lay
clerks sang the psalms beautifully to plainsong and the mass
setting was Herbert Sumsionís rarely performed Leicester
Service. I also enjoyed the singing of "Jesus Christ
is risen today", a hymn that I usually find cheesy but
enjoyed this time round. Lastly, the spirit of generosity shown
by the dean in his manner of presiding spoke of heaven.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The singing of the Exultet. I know this ancient chant note perfect,
having sung it about 30 times down the years. However, the deacon
here used a much simpler chant which, somehow, didn't "feel
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I saw some friends whom I have not seen for a long time, so
we had some catching up to do. However, I spotted a chap all
by himself and was pleased to see that someone went and talked
with him. Some introverts prefer the anonymity of cathedral
congregations, but it is obviously not true that you can slip
in and out without being noticed.
How would you describe the after-service
We had a delicious glass of Prosecco, this being the queen of
feasts. We then went out into the garden where a generous number
of fireworks exploded into the night sky, accompanied by suitable
"aahs" and "oohs."
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 I am already committed to another church, but it is
nice to come to somewhere like this when I have a day off.
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and that is a tonic because I feel somewhat jaded, having
seen and done it all over several years so that I rarely get
moved by anything any more. But I think there is something special
about listening to the Old Testament readings by candlelight
and then to have the lights flood the building as the Gloria
What one thing will you
remember about all this in seven days' time?
The huge candle with its flame protected, and the smart timing.
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