The Gothic-style building is the third structure on this site. The first was begun in 1853, with services being held in the messroom of Fort Victoria and aboard visiting ships pending its completion. That building was destroyed by fire in 1869, and the congregation used a vacant Presbyterian church while a replacement was under construction; it was consecrated in 1872. By 1891 the congregation had outgrown that building, and plans were laid for a third cathedral. But lack of funds delayed the start of construction until 1923, when the cornerstone was laid. The nave was completed in 1929; the two western towers were completed in 1957 twelve feet shorter than originally planned; and a temporary wooden east wall was finally replaced in 1991 by a stone-clad addition containing a chapel, vestries, a chapter room, washrooms and other ancillary spaces. Even so, Christ Church Cathedral is one of Canada's largest and features some rather splendid appointments and a ring of ten bells.
The service of choral evensong, which I attended, is held weekly. Renowned concert pianist Stephen Hough has described evensong as a "totally nonthreatening ... service into which all can stumble without censure ... to sit and think, to listen with half-attention, trailing a few absentminded fingers of faith or doubt."
The cathedral is located at the end of Rockland Avenue on Quadra Street, to the east of downtown Victoria. On the other side of Rockland Avenue is Pioneer Square and the Old Burying Ground, said to be haunted by at least two spirits, one of whom is the ghost of R.B. Johnson, one of Victoria’s founding fathers.
The service was led by Ed Hayley, lay assistant. Although the order of service identified the conductor of the choir, the St Christopher Singers, as Madeleine Humer, the role was actually filled by a gentleman. We assumed it was Donald Hunt, director of music, who was identified in the order of service as the organist.
What was the name of the service?Choral Evensong.
How full was the building?
A congregation of around 40. The service took place with the choir singing from the St Christopher chapel while the congregation sat in the south aisle of the cathedral.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
None. We picked up our own order of service as we entered.
Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden pew with a thin cushion; not that uncomfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good afternoon and welcome to Christ Church Cathedral for this service of Choral Evensong."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Order of service provided, which included preces and responses, hymns, and words of the introit and anthems. The Canadian Book of Common Prayer (1962) was provided in the pews, and page references to it appeared in the order of service.
What musical instruments were played?
Chamber organ located in the St Christopher chapel.
Did anything distract you?
The choir wore clip-on lights, the power cords of which draped down to distribution blocks. Also, on each side, two members of the choir sat in the front row, but moved to the back row when standing to sing.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Pretty standard formal choral evensong. The music was impressive, especially as noted below. However, the order of service listed a "commentary" to be given after the welcome. This lasted around 10 minutes and was a description of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. I could not determine if this was the "commentary" that was given at every evensong, or if it varied from week to week, or if it was unique to this particular service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were from the Childrey Service of British organist and composer Malcolm Pearce. These were new to me and I will be suggesting them to the director of music of my own choir.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The commentary at the beginning was really distracting. Choral evensong regulars would, I think, find it very distracting.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The atmosphere was not conducive to hanging around.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I might attend occasionally but would not make it my regular church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I do have a liking for choral evensong.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The Childrey Service canticles.