The Priory and Parish Church of St Mary is a rather gaunt weather-beaten edifice, reached on foot by a steep climb up many steps from the city below. Dating back to Saxon times, it is known that the Benedictine Abbey of St Martin of Seez in Normandy owned the priory. In 1430, a vicar was installed and henceforth it was used as a parish church. It was dissolved in 1539, and then most of it was rebuilt in the perpendicular style. It has glorious windows, fine monuments and beautiful hand-embroidered tapestries, but its greatest treasure is the superb set of choir stalls dating from about 1340 with rich woodcarving and carved misericords. The tower was rebuilt in the 18th century, and the regimental chapel was erected in 1903. It is the home of the Duke of Lancasters Regiment, and it houses three Coptic crosses as well as one of the countrys finest collections of military colours dating from the 18th century.
Services are held every day in the Priory, the mother church of Lancaster. There are many societies such as the Mothers Union, Priory Youth Group, and Over 60s. The Priory is regularly used by local organisations and schools for concerts and carol services, and it hosts frequent choral and orchestral events.
Taking its name from the Latin castrum, Lancaster is an ancient city in northwest England. The priory church and the nearby castle enjoy a commanding hilltop position overlooking the city and the River Lune. The castle has housed a court and a prison almost from the time of its foundation until quite recent times, and it was here that the notorious trials of the Lancashire witches took place. The magnificent shire hall in the castle houses one of the largest collections of shields in the world, the first ones dating from the 12th century. The main gate to the castle, the John OGaunt Gate, is named after the founder of the House of Lancaster, whose descendants include many Tudor monarchs.
The Revd Chris Newlands, Vicar of Lancaster, preached and conducted the service. He was assisted by two other priests, who unfortunately were not named in the programme. One of them, a lady priest, led the prayers of intercession. Pupils from Ripley St Thomas Academy and Dallas Road Primary School sang several pieces, and boys from Lancaster Royal Grammar School delivered a dialogue. The Right Worshipful Paul Woodruff, Mayor of Lancaster, was the guest of honour.
What was the name of the service?Accession Day Civic Service. This is a celebration of the beginning of the Diamond Jubilee year of HM Queen Elizabeth
How full was the building?
Quite full. Most of the seats in the body of the church were occupied.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. I was greeted by a sidesman who handed me a souvenir programme, which contained the service.
Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden pew seat was lined with a thick cushion and the hassock was deeply padded, so it was comfortable to sit and kneel.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet with an air of expectancy.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We meet in the presence of God, in thanksgiving for all the good we have known in this land through the reign of our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A special booklet titled Accession Day Service.
What musical instruments were played?
The Priory is in the process of installing two new organs, so I assume the one used today is soon to be replaced. It sounded fine to me! The organist and the magnificent Priory choir treated us to Handels coronation anthem "Zadok the Priest", and Vaughan Williams "O Taste and See", written for the Queens coronation in 1953.
Did anything distract you?
The exquisite light and airy chancel with its magnificent east window has much to feast the eyes on, but I couldnt help looking at a colourful icon situated above the lectern. I later discovered it had been recently commissioned from the Romanian iconographer Cristinel Covrig. It depicts Christ standing with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John, with two lower panels representing St George and St Anne. I was also distracted when singing the National Anthem! You tend not to read the words when you know them or at least you think you do! In the second line, "Long live our noble Queen" had been replaced by "Long live our noble Duke". Of course, the explanation is that the Queen is also the Duke of Lancaster. So that is what is sung when you are in Lancaster!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was ceremonial and dignified, as befitting a service celebrating Her Majesty's reign of 60 years. A crucifer led a large procession of a robed choir of gentlemen, ladies and children, followed by the immaculately vested clergy. At various times, choirs from local schools assembled on the chancel steps to sing items that were appropriate and quite moving. Boys from the grammar school compared the future hopes of children in 1952 with aspirations of children today, and this illustrated the advances in science and technology that have been made over the last 60 years.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The vicar spoke clearly from prepared notes, reminiscing how his mother, who had lived through two world wars, was saddened at the death of King George VI.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was a homily to the Queen, who began her reign at the age of 25 on the death of her father, King George VI. During the last 60 years, the Queen has devoted herself to our country and other lands where she is head of state. She is a believer in forgiveness, which can heal broken families, restore friendship, and reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of Gods love. How will historians remember the last 60 years of the second Elizabethan age? It was an age where technology took a great leap forward, but yet there were conflicts, economic crises, and global poverty. But if we trust in God, we can look to the future in confidence.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sun shone through the colourful stained glass windows throughout the service, and the stunning interior was resplendent and magnificent in its glory. This heavenly experience was enhanced by the ceremonial dress of the participants and the wonderful music we heard.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The only slight thing that marred my complete happiness was the rather uncomfortable back of the pew, which seemed to be rather knobbly. Ill have to bring a cushion with me if I come here again!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It was a general chatty time where people met up with friends and families, with a slow mass exodus toward the doors.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Nothing was announced about refreshments and I didnt see anything.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I lived in or near Lancaster I would definitely want to worship in this beautiful church and would like to investigate its style of worship on a Sunday.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so. I felt the glory of God all around me.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
A resplendent pageant in a stunning location, well suited to herald the start of the Diamond Jubilee Year.