The Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist is a particularly compact cathedral (largely due to becoming a cathedral relatively recently, in 1923), though no less wonderful than many of its larger cousins. Internally the whitewashed chancel and sanctuary contrast with the beautifully plain Gothic nave, whilst externally the red sandstone of the cathedral nestles cosily into its green surroundings.
The cathedral was originally a Benedictine priory (1093-1538), and some of the original priory buildings now form the only cathedral close in Wales, some of which now form the heritage centre, cafe and gift shop.
Brecon is a relatively small market town, though its population can swell immensely with tourists during the summer months. The town has strong historical military connections, for example being home to the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh.
Evensong led by the residentiary canon (both readings and the intercessions), whilst the priest vicar acted as cantor.
What was the name of the service?Evensong.
How full was the building?
About 20 in the congregation (divided between nave seats and the stalls at the crossing/transept).
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We walked past the residentiary canon in the cathedral grounds whilst we were exploring the local area prior to the service. In the cathedral itself, we were welcomed very warmly by the cathedral verger – even advised of which seats were likely to be the comfiest!
Was your pew comfortable?
Stalls at the crossing/transept – I favour being near the choir to being comfortable. More than comfortable enough for the evensong, though not a huge amount of foot space for those of us with flippers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
We arrived as the choir were nearing the end of their pre-service rehearsal. Three people were making a recording of the rehearsal (audio and video) but they left at the end of the rehearsal. After this, the atmosphere became very reflective, with some gentle organ accompaniment prior to the start of the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Standard Prayer Book opening responses – glorious.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer and New English Hymnal. Readings from the New Revised Standard Version (I think).
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, an opus of Percy Daniel & Co. of Clevedon, Somerset, England, dating from 1973. It was rebuilt in 1995 and augmented at various times since then.
Did anything distract you?
Sorry to say that the only distractions during the service were courtesy of our not-quite-four-month-old baby – feed times and teething conspired against us, as she usually loves evensong. Sorry! On a side note, I was initially not the biggest fan of the crossing's crucifix, though it grew on me immensely during the course of our visit.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Quite difficult to pin down, but unmistakably Anglican! Liturgy adhered to the Prayer Book, hymn left until the end of the service, and intercessions that (mostly successfully) trod a fine line between stilted and conversational. A bit of confusion, though, when the cantor asked which psalm should be announced.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
No sermon, though well-crafted and timed intercessions – long enough without being too long.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Generally good standard of hearty singing (later told that a number of the regular back row were absent and were being filled in for). Wonderful to hear a fresh set of responses. Excellent quality of cantor too, which unfortunately is not universally true. Additionally, wonderful to see/hear one of the choristers play the recessional – very important to support young musicians!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Unfortunately the aforementioned lack of regular singers (and accompanying lack of rehearsal time) showed, with the odd duff chord and some balance issues during antiphonal passages. Nowhere near the level of ‘the other place’ in fairness, but knocked off some of the service's lustre.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We stayed until the end of the organ recessional, after which we were met at the west end by both clerics – very pleasant and easy conversation and didn't feel that either was itching to leave, which was much appreciated.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 — Will definitely be back again –- would be nice to hear the choir on top form, as an aside.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes – evensong is always a wonderful service, and we feel that the cathedral ticked all the boxes here.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The cantor asking which psalm to announce, and the support given to the organ-playing chorister.