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Church Cathedral, Oxford, England
Worshipper: Orthodox Mutt.
Church Cathedral, Oxford, England.
of England, Diocese
Christ Church is one of the smallest Norman Gothic cathedrals,
and its layout is strange to say the least. The chancel is longer
than the nave. The pulpit points diagonally toward the former,
and the lectern has been erected in the center aisle, thereby
blocking the procession. On the other hand, the nave is a self-contained
collegiate chapel. The daily offices are said facing west toward
the precentor, while the eucharist is celebrated facing east
toward the altar. The choir are seated in stalls at the rear
of the cathedral the perfect place for the daily office
and the worst for the eucharist directly in front of
the screen between the nave and the ante-chapel. The organ sits
atop the screen.
This is the only church in the world that serves both as a collegiate
chapel and as a cathedral. As such, there is a great deal of
fuss between the cathedral chapter and the college authorities.
As to whether it is the bishop or the dean who holds ultimate
authority, no one quite knows. But there it is, and it has stood
there since 1546.
Christ Church sits on St Aldates in central Oxford, a very busy
thoroughfare. It is surrounded primarily by other Oxford colleges
and halls (of which there are 46). It has few direct neighbours
because it backs up to Christ Church Meadow, but among them
are Corpus Christi, Merton, Oriel, University, and Pembroke
Colleges, Campion Hall, and the Faculty of Music.
Evensong was sung in the presence of the Very Revd Christopher
Lewis, dean. The officiant was the Revd John Paton, precentor
and cathedral chaplain. As this was the final service of the
cathedral choir's term, there were a number of clergy in attendance,
including two canons whose names were not provided. The choir
was conducted by Stephen Darlington, cathedral organist.
The date & time:
7 July 2013, 6.00pm.
We have received a comment on this report.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
It was quite full given the number of parents in attendance. I would estimate 150 people. The cathedral is very small by English standards.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was a large crowd of people rushing in all at once. The
sign outside said that the building would open to worshippers
at 5.30, but either the backup of people or some function inside
kept me waiting until 5.50 to enter. As I did, an usher handed
me a leaflet.
Was your pew comfortable?
In the past I have been able to sit in the rear of the nave
nearest the choir stalls. These stalls are among the most uncomfortable
I have ever experienced. But as they are the closest seating
to the choir, they were reserved for family members on this
occasion, so I sought seating elsewhere. I finally settled in
the chancel, directly next to the two canons. These stalls are
the style with individual seats and cushions, which were quite
comfortable. My only complaint would be the kneelers, which
were simply tall blocks of wood with a cushion on top.
How would you describe the pre-service
Most people were outside chatting until a mere ten minutes before
the service. Once people moved inside and got shuffled about
properly, things quieted down, but I wouldn't call it contemplative
at any point.
What were the exact opening words of the
The precentor began with "Welcome to Christ Church." The service
proper began with the confession.
What books did the congregation use during the
There seemed to be an endless pile of books in the stalls. In
addition to the leaflet, which provided only the ordinary, the
congregation used Common Praise (hymnal), the Book
of Common Prayer (1662), and the Christ Church Anthem
What musical instruments
Pipe organ, an opus of Rieger Orgelbau, Vorarlberg, Austria,
installed in 1978-1979. To call it ill-suited to its environment
would be an understatement. Though excellent for playing Bach
and Buxtehude, the only word I can use for its accompaniment
of the Stanford Evening Service in A Major is dreadful!
Despite its size, none of its stops fit the piece, or any other
piece in the English repertoire. In particular, the vox humana
stop made me cringe! The instrument should be promptly dismantled
and sold to a German church.
Did anything distract
The gentleman next to me appeared to be ill. Perhaps the vox
humana had gotten to him too. Or perhaps he had been sickened
by how badly the Stanford Magnificat in A was mangled.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
By its very nature, non-participatory, although I would not
call it particularly austere. Nor would I call it high church,
though. The organist, Dr Darlington, had a peculiar way of introducing
rubato into each verse of the psalm a practice I have
not heard elsewhere. Also, I have discovered (perhaps generally
in England) that the brand of high churchmanship to which I
subscribe, a brand that came from Oxford actually, is almost
totally lost on the modern congregation. When bowing at the
Gloria Patri, for example, I was bowing alone. Even the clergy
seemed to find it rather odd.
Exactly how long was the
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Setting the Stanford aside, the choir did a superb job with
Kenneth Leighton's setting of the preces and responses. It is
worth noting that those are always sung unaccompanied, so the
organ cannot and did not ruin them.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The organ. Not only was the program itself quite English, but
the postlude was the well-known Toccata from Widor's
Fifth Symphony for Organ. It was practically a crime to butcher
it as was done.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There were many final good-byes taking place near the exit and
in the main quad of the college. For several of the choristers
and lay clerks, this was their last service at Christ Church.
Otherwise the vergers went about their business to close up
shop and the canons were stationed by the door to shake hands
as people exited. A few stragglers were milling about taking
How would you describe the after-service
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 I couldn't listen to English repertoire on that organ
week after week.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
The beauty of the texts in the service spoke for themselves. There is nothing better than a good old 1662 service. It is definitely a matter of pride for an Anglican, and a treasure of Christianity.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The dreadful rendition of the Stanford Magnificat in A.
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