Monday 29 December 2014

Evensong and procession to the Martyrdom - Canterbury Cathedral

Congregation on the high altar steps at Canterbury Cathedral, awaiting the start of the service
Congregation on the high altar steps at Canterbury Cathedral,
awaiting the start of the service
In Canterbury for a few days we were disappointed that Evensong on Sunday (28 December 2014) wasn't sung so were pleased to be able to attend the service on Monday (29 December 2014). This turned out to be a commemoration for the Feast of the Martyrdom of Thomas of Canterbury. A simply remarkable number of people crammed into the quire of the Cathedral, we ended up sitting on the altar steps. 

Each person was given a candle and as the service started, we lit them; a highly evocative and symbolic gesture. The service was fascinating, a shortened version of Vespers leading directly to a fragment of Compline; thus, though the Office Hymns, Psalms, Antiphons and Canticles were sung in Latin, we still had the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (and thus was the original Evensong service born). The service was led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral and a number of other senior clergy. The 12 lay clerks of the Cathedral Choir sang the plainchant in Latin; Responses: Deus in Adjutorium, Psalms 61 and 130, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, each with its own Antiphon the texts of which were all themed on St Thomas.

During the Office Hymns (A solus ortus cardine and Deus tuorum militum), we all moved from the quire to the martyrdom (the scene of the original martyrdom) and during Psalm 130 we further moved down to the undercroft, finishing the service in the nave with a hymn. Rather impressively the music was virtually seamless, with the long Latin hymns and psalms serving as stunning accompaniment to our wanderings, still carrying our lit candles. Once in the undercroft after prayers there was a Palestrina motet Opem nobis. Throughout, in addition to the two readings from the Bible, there were readings from TS Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral which became quite dramatic at times. 

It was lovely to hear the superbly sung plainchant, the choir giving us a finely seamless line even when on the move. But perhaps it was doubly moving to hear it in the cathedral on such an occasion. The whole service became a stirring blending of the old and the new.

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