Our Lady’s Dowry: Ely, 4.1

So after another busy day I’m exhausted, yet exhilarated!  But as a result this will be a short post.  As I said this morning, I started the day with an early morning visit to the cathedral before our usual rehearsal.  Rehearsal went very well, we extended it to 10 a.m. as we have a lot to cover every day.  Right after rehearsal we hopped onto the coach (bus, in America) which took us to the Farmland Museum and Denny Abbey.

The museum was out in the Fens and had exhibits on the history of life in farms and villages in England.  They had set up replicas of a blacksmith shop, a basket weaver, and other tradesmen as well as a general store and a few other interesting bits and bobs.  There was also a small farm house set up to how it would have looked at the turn of the last century.  Neat stuff all around.  The other attraction here is a set of monastic buildings dating from the 11th and 14th centuries.

The “abbey” was actually a Benedictine priory of the great monastery at Ely.  The difference between the two is that the abbey is headed by an abbot who reports to no one but the ruling bishop, while a priory has a prior who reports to an abbot at an abbey.  It is a common misunderstanding.  Anyway, the Benedictines eventually left and the property was taken over by the Knights Templar who built a larger, more elaborate church in the site.  In 1309 the Knights Templar were rounded up, arrested, and sent to the Tower of London as a result of their falling out of favor with the king.  The property then fell into the hands of the Countess of Pembroke who founded a Franciscan convent there, which housed the Poor Clares.  She converted the Templar church into lodgings and built a larger church and more building which, sadly, have not survived.  At the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII the buildings were passed through many hands and the former church became a farmhouse until the mid 20th century when it was made a museum.

It’s fascinating to step inside and look at all the modifications made to the building over the centuries.  The Norman architectural elements are clearly visible throughout the building with the later changes in evidence as well.  It looks like it would have been a beautiful church, what with the warm colored stone and all.

You can clearly see all of the changes made to the fabric of the building.

After our excursion here we returned to Ely to rest up before singing our second Evensong in the cathedral.  We met at 3:15 p.m. in the hotel foyer before walking over in our “High Church” uniforms (chorister uniform for the kids and assorted dress clothes for the adults).  Rehearsal went quite well, although it did mean that by the end of Evensong at 6:30 we had been standing and singing for over three hours.  My feet ache just at the remembrance of it…  But it was well worth it and the result was wonderful.

We sang a setting of the Preces and Responses by Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) which is, perhaps, my favorite setting that we’ve sung in the Trinity Choir.  The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in F were by Charles Wood, which we also sang on our “send-off” Evensong back in Boston.  Our anthem was also by Wood, “Hail, Gladdening Light” which is a setting of “Gladsome Light” that we, in the Eastern Church, sing or recite at every evening service.  The real test, though, was singing Psalm 18 using Anglican Chant (four part harmony).  We sang 51 verses of the Psalm, plus the Gloria Patri.  Let me tell you, it really brought the Psalms home for many of us, if only because we sang through them so often.  It was truly moving.  And our glorious leader, Richard, said it best (echoing, as he was, the Church Fathers), “Everything you need to know is in the Psalms.”

And with that, dear friends, I will leave you for the evening and wish you a pleasant night.  Keep us in your prayers, as you are in ours.

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