Brecon Cathedral, Wales (Exterior)

Brecon Cathedral, Brecon, Powys, Wales


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Brecon Cathedral
Location: Brecon, Powys, Wales
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 April 2012, 12:00am

The building

This building has been a cathedral only since 1923, and as a result is rather more modestly conceived than is the norm with cathedrals. The exterior is constructed from red sandstone, with a squat tower. The interior is divided into the whitewashed Early English chancel and sanctuary and a Decorated period nave. The sanctuary is particularly beautiful, with a stunning east window that extends its full width.

The church

The Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist was originally a Benedictine priory, and some of the original priory buildings now form the only cathedral close in Wales. Some of these have been recently converted into a heritage centre, shop and restaurant. There is also a cathedral choir who perform at concerts locally and elsewhere.

The neighborhood

Brecon is a small market town, the former county town of Breconshire. South of the town is the Brecon Beacons National Park, and as a result the town is geared towards tourism. The town also has military connections, and is home to the museum of the Royal Welsh Regiment.

The cast

Evensong was sung in the presence of the Rt Revd John Davies, Bishop of Swansea and Brecon, who pronounced the absolution. Officiating was the Very Revd Geoffrey Marshall, dean of the cathedral.

What was the name of the service?

Festal Evensong and Procession to the Easter Garden.

How full was the building?

There were about 40 worshippers in the congregation. dotted around the nave rather sparsely. However, there was a full choir and clergy contingent.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I entered the cathedral about 10 minutes early, along with several others, only to be stopped in our tracks by a procession of choir members. The director of music quickly assured us with: "Carry on; they're just rehearsing." Otherwise I was not greeted, and had to help myself to a service booklet.

Was your pew comfortable?

Very comfortable – it was a red padded chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Once the choir had finished rehearsing, the atmosphere became peaceful and reverent, with the organ playing and just a gentle buzz of chatter.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome. Good afternoon, and a very happy Easter to you and yours."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A printed service booklet.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, an opus of William Hill and Son dating from 1886, rebuilt in 1931 and again in 1973, with digital stops added in 2006.

Did anything distract you?

To begin with, I was distracted by the crucifix that hangs over the crossing. It was sculpted by an acquaintance (one of the reasons I had come to the cathedral). It appears to float there. Later, during the service, I noted a few people wandering around the south aisle, presumably sightseers. In all fairness, though, they did not make any noise. And then there was the incense (see below) ...

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Very stiff upper lip. We followed the usual liturgy for evensong, with only two congregational hymns. I think the congregation were singing – I could see lips moving, but they were very much drowned by the choir and organ. The choir were well drilled, but had one or two dodgy moments (a particularly painful chord, and a muffed top note). However, it did feel more like a concert than an act of worship to this worshipper who wanted to rejoice loudly and at length at the resurrection of our Saviour. I also found the procession to the Easter Garden very disappointing; this involved only the choir and clergy processing to the back of the church while the final hymn was sung.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

No sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Before the service I sat and contemplated the beauty of the sanctuary, full of light with plenty of candles, and I was filled with joy at the Resurrection.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

I've always had a problem with incense; I knew I was going to have a difficult time as soon as I saw the thurifer. After a vigorous series of swings of the thurible after the lesson, my throat became very tickly, and during the choir singing the Nunc dimittis I struggled to restrain my coughing. A few discreet swigs of water helped.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Cathedrals are not usually good places to get attention at the end of the service. And so it was on this occasion. I have to confess, though, that I did not hang around long, as I was keen to see the Easter Garden (disappointing) and other points of interest in the building.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There were no refreshments on offer.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

1 – This mark is based mainly on the use of incense. I do appreciate that many people find this style of worship brings them close to God, though it does not really work for me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Not really. I wanted to rejoice at the Resurrection and the service was too restrained for me.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The sensation of choking during the Nunc dimittis.

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