Monday 4 December 2023


 Yesterday evening I attended my first Advent service in the cathedral (last year I was at St Oswald's, Ashbourne). It was an extraordinarily beautiful service, beginning, in customary fashion, in darkness, then gradually lit up by candles along the length of the nave and into the quire. The effect was glorious, as was the music that accompanied all this – Bach, Byrd, Palestrina, Weelkes and more, including the Great 'O' Antiphons (O Sapientia, O Adonai, etc). There were the usual Advent readings, and the traditional Advent carols. The choir were on brilliant form, divided between the west gallery and the quire, and as I listened I wondered once again how a Church with so much to offer in the way of beautiful music (and words), beautiful buildings and rich tradition should be in such a state of decline. No doubt there are all manner of reasons – the current rush into managerialism being one of them – but I wonder if the dear old C of E might be wiser to make the most of its rich heritage rather than strive for novelty and 'outreach'. I suspect beauty, spirituality and tradition might prove to have much stronger appeal than lame attempts to follow secular trends or reduce worship to happy-clappy simplicity: there might be more life in Larkin's 'moth-eaten musical brocade' than the Church itself suspects. Certainly the cathedral was packed full last night – so full that I had to sit against the wall of the south aisle (all the chairs were arranged facing the nave aisle, as there was a good deal of processing). The down side of this was that I became much colder than I realised, and I was unable to read the order of service, being too far from the nearest rank of candles. But it was a wonderful service, one of the best I have ever attended. And one of the musical highlights was this glorious piece by James MacMillan, a true modern classic...


  1. Spot on Nige. I wish I could experience this Church. Our Church in Lincoln, Illinois has traditional and contemporary services. The latter is painful for me to sit through with the drums and electric guitars. All of the music in that service is amplified. The traditional service is holy and a thing of beauty. This Sunday will be a combined service but it will be in the style of the contemporary service. I will not attend.

  2. Which cathedral? In the mid-1940s I walked past St Oswald's every day on my way from Ashbourne station to school. I held breath because I had been told about the mass grave of victims of the black death in the churchyard, in case the infectious miasma was still hovering about. I was back there last year for a funeral in nearby Clifton and enjoyed exploring the church (without holding breath).

    1. Lichfield, Foke. I did enjoy the Ashbourne service too (and it was equally moving, if in a different way). I guess mass graves of black death victims must be everywhere, in view of the death toll, but it still seems a chilling thought. Mass graves as such were nothing new though – only the better off could afford an individual burial. I find it oddly comforting to think of the legions of the dead lying all around (as at the end of Philip Larkin's Church Going).