St Fin Barre's Cathedral, Cork (Exterior)

St Fin Barre's Cathedral, Cork, Republic of Ireland


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Fin Barre's Cathedral
Location: Cork, Republic of Ireland
Date of visit: Sunday, 2 March 2014, 7:00pm

The building

The present French Gothic Revival cathedral was designed by the architect William Burges, who won a competition for the commission of a new cathedral in 1863 to replace an earlier medieval building. The ornate cathedral is built of Cork limestone, and the massive exterior boasts three tall towers topped with graceful spires. Inside, the eye is drawn upward, where the light and colour are to be found. The interior walls of the nave are of Bath stone covered in red Cork marble, which seemed dark and brooding in the vespers light.

The church

The church community enjoys a rich choral tradition, with a choral eucharist every Sunday and choral evensong on Fridays and Sundays. The daily office is read morning and evening on other days. In addition to the adult choir, there is a boys choir, a girls choir and Cathedral Kidz (sic), a less formal junior choir.

The neighborhood

St Fin Barre established a church and a monastery on the limestone cliffs above the River Lee in 606AD, and there has been a worshipping Christian community at this location ever since – a nearly overwhelming thought to an American. Cork is a city of some 120,000 in the south of Ireland. It's a vibrant community with many fine restaurants and pubs and schools, including University College, Cork.

The cast

The Very Revd Nigel Dunne, dean of Cork, served as officiant, and the Revd Ted Ardis was cantor. I believe that Malcom Wisner and James Taylor served as choirmaster and organist for the office, but they were not mentioned by name in the service leaflet.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Evensong

How full was the building?

I counted 19 in the surpliced choir and 20 people in the nave. With the clergy, 41 were present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A friendly usher greeted me quietly in the back of the nave as she handed me a prayer book and a hymnal.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a pew. It was a rather plain unpadded bench with a kneeling rail permanently attached a few inches off the floor. There were small cushions marked "Kneel to pray" hanging from the back of the pew ahead. Serviceable enough for a service of an hour or less.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverent. Expectant, too.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Book of Common Prayer for the Church of Ireland (2000) and the Church Hymnal 5th Edition (2000).

What musical instruments were played?

A pipe organ, very expertly played.

Did anything distract you?

I rather wished I had taken a seat closer to front and centre so that I could have better seen the choir. The singers on the north side of the chancel were hidden by the pulpit, but I thought that to move around like the tourist I was would have been disruptive.

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

"Stiff upper lip" sounds rather negative, but the worship was quite positively and affirmingly so. Everything was done beautifully and with great decorum. I was particularly delighted that the people in the congregation were not passive spectators, but actively joined in the prayers, the creed, and two hymns. I was particularly pleased with the congregational singing of Gwalchmai.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The high points were the canticles, both the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (Moeran in D) sung by the choir, and also the anthem, Stanford's O for a closer walk with God.

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

The nave itself wasnt particularly hellish, but it wasnt inviting. The skeleton of a pew in a rather cold building, surrounded by brownish dark walls and hymn-boards set with numbers left from a previous service, let me know I was in the cheap seats.

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

The friendly usher who handed me a prayer book and hymnal before the service told me that I could take photographs now that the service had ended.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

None was offered.

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

8 – If I lived near Cork, I could imagine myself attending the office a few times a month. If I lived in Cork, I would audition for the choir!

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

Oh, yes.

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

The friendliness and welcoming smile of the usher.

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