St Mary's, Lastingham, North Yorkshire, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary's
Location: Lastingham, North Yorkshire, England
Date of visit: Wednesday, 2 October 2019, 9:30am

The building

Founded by St Cedd in the 7th century, the present church is Norman/Saxon, with a very impressive crypt where the service was held. The crypt, with walls three feet thick, is said to be the only crypt in England – perhaps in the world – that has a nave, apse and side aisles. It is believed not to have been altered since Norman times. A staircase descending from the nave of the church leads one into the crypt, which is ventilated via a piscina. During the 18th century, cock-fighting was said to have taken place there – whether or not the clergy and churchwardens knew about it is uncertain.

The church

The Lastingham benefice includes four other churches: Christ Church, Appleton-le-Moors; St Gregory, Cropton; St Chad, Hutton-le-Hole; and St Mary & St Lawrence, Rosedale Abbey. They regularly host events such as concerts by visiting choral groups (a Russian choir is scheduled to make a return appearance in November), lectures, and fundraising suppers. Religious groups of all denominations are invited to hold services in the crypt by special arrangement with the parish priest. There is one eucharist celebrated at St Mary’s, Lastingham, each Sunday, and one celebrated in the crypt on Wednesdays.

The neighborhood

The North Yorkshire moors are very beautiful, with unfenced roads and sheep everywhere (recently both black and white). Tourists are welcome, but if you don't know a lot about sheep, it's better to keep quiet. Lastingham is a farming community, very friendly and welcoming to pilgrims who have been coming here since the days of St Cedd. Now part of the vicarage is converted to offer them (us) refreshments..

The cast

The vicar took the service.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?

16 people, which made the crypt feel pretty full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

All very friendly and interested in us.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes – wooden chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Friendly and inclusive conversation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Service sheet (printed) for Wednesdays.

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

The psalm was No. 137 (‘By the waters of Babylon, there we sat us down and wept’) with the nasty bit at the end omitted – a bit of a cop-out that distracted me enough for a slight grin.

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

It was in traditional style, although the wording was slightly modernized – but very genuine. At one point, we sang alleluias unaccompanied. The service was very well done, with colourful vestments (green with lace), and much reverence. There was a peace ceremony but not prolonged.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

6 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 — The vicar included the Old Testament reading from Nehemiah 2 (Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem despite opposition), the psalm, and the New Testament reading from Luke 9:58 (‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head’) to make the point that total commitment to our calling is essential.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The agony of exile (stressed also by the psalm), the urgency of abandoning everything to follow Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The place, and the feeling we were doing something that has been done here for more than a millennium.

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

It was all a bit personal. Electric light and mats to sit on were unwelcome concessions – but well-meant.

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

We were cordially invited back to the St Cedd Centre in the vicarage for tea and biscuits. There were two dogs and several parishioners and the talk was all of sheep.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Very good Yorkshire tea.

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

10 — I am not often in North Yorkshire, but if I were, I would go to anything in that crypt.

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

Delighted to be a part of such an ancient and hallowed tradition.

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

The vaulting, the absurdly chunky columns, the feeling of primitive devotion.

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