I’d like to start today’s post by thanking Hieromonk Peter Preble for giving my blog a little shot in the arm today on his own blog. Thanks, Father!
So, on to pressing business! Today was a day I will remember for the rest of my life, and I say that with all honesty. Actually, I will probably remember most of this trip with great fondness for the rest of my days. Let’s examine why, shall we?
The day started out normally, rising around 6:45 and heading to breakfast around 7:10. After that I made my morning pilgrimage to St. Etheldreda’s shrine in the cathedral to light a few candles and pray a bit before launching into the day. It is shocking to my American sensibilities to be able to walk into such a large building and have such complete silence, and it is probably what I will miss most when we must leave. It was a sunny day, as well, so I decided to take some more pictures (I’m sure all of you must be getting quite bored with all of these pictures) of the building in the glorious morning light. Some came out quite well, some didn’t, but I didn’t have time to dwell on it because it wasn’t too long later that my fellow choir members entered the cathedral, shattering the blessed silence and calm.
Our rehearsal went well and we broke at 10 a.m. to get on the coach to head to Cambridge where we would be spending part of our day. On the way, though, we took a detour to drive by the Cambridge American Cemetery in which are buried nearly 4,000 American servicemen who died in WWII. It was a sobering reminder of the realities of war to see row upon row upon row of headstones. It was then that I kicked myself for not bringing my breviary along as it has the Office of the Dead in the back and I would have liked to say part of it on behalf of those buried there. But I think I will just incorporate it into my pre-bed prayers instead.
We arrived in Cambridge and parked right near King’s College on the river side (so the rear of the campus) and had ate our lunches under the trees. We split into 3 groups, done by combining two of our “houses” together to form one larger group. Hmm, I don’t think I’d mentioned that we are divided into houses with some adults, some teens, and some of the younger kids in each group. Think, Harry Potter. Anyway, my group (Roetzel’s Pretzels) joined up with another house (Wood House) and went off with our fantastic tour guide, Hilary, into the grounds of King’s College. (As an amusing aside, cows graze on the land in back of King’s College so we got to hear the lovely strains of much “mooing” throughout our visit there)
It really is an amazing feeling to be walking around on the sit of one of the oldest operational universities in the world. We talked much about the rivalry between Cambridge and Oxford as we strolled over the Cam River and up towards the chapel. One of the odd customs of King’s College, and indeed of the entire University of Cambridge, is that no one is allowed to walk on the grass in the Court (known as the “Quad” at Oxford) except the faculty. It is one of the various privileges one gets from attaining such a coveted teaching position. It really reminded me of the wizard’s Unseen University in Terry Pratchett’s books where the old, odd wizards had a ridiculous number of bizarre and sometimes useful privileges. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pratchett didn’t base his “UU” off of Cambridge or Oxford. Also, something of note, the students at Cambridge have people called “bedders” that come and tidy their rooms. I think that perhaps HC/HC should perhaps take a hint… 😉
We entered the Court and peered up at the chapel, which is really a very large church but as it is a private church it is considered a “chapel.” Very silly, indeed. But the chapel is absolutely stunning in every way imaginable. The stained glass windows are original to the building, which took 100 years to build from start to finish. The fan vaulting of the ceiling is probably the finest in all of England and is really quite stunning. The church has a large wooden choir screen which is more of a “wall” than a “screen” and was built during the reign of King Henry VIII, and is dated to when he was only on his 2nd wife. Also, our tour guide provided us with a handy way to remember how his wives ended up. It goes like this, “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” We have incorporated it into our “tour chant” which I will talk about in another post sometime. I also suggest that you go to that repository of all world knowledge, Wikipedia, if you’d like to know more about the chapel and the college in general as there is just too much for me to recount here.
After our tour we had a bit of free time so I picked up a few things at the King’s College gift shop and then headed over to Ede & Ravenscroft (Founded 1689) to pick up a few of their highly regarded dress shirts and a bow tie. Yes, I have now joined the ranks of bow tie wearing organists (which is quite a large number, for some bizarre reason). Unfortunately, I was pressed for time and was not able to try on the shirts before I had to go, so now I have learned that they do not quite fit and must go back tomorrow and return them. Let me tell you, I was not a happy camper when I discovered this when I was dressing for Evensong. Oh well, good thing we’re going back to Cambridge tomorrow!
After all that I made my way back to the bus and we headed back to Ely so that we could get ready for our afternoon rehearsal before Choral Evensong at 5:30. Now, let me tell you why I will remember this day forever. The Lady Chapel here at Ely Cathedral is the largest in England, as I’ve mentioned before, and is made entirely of stone with huge walls of glass windows. What this has done is create an acoustic environment that gives us a solid 9 seconds of reverberation. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced before and I only pray God brings me back here again sometime to have another experience like it, singing in the chapel dedicated to the Most Holy Theotokos (Mother of God) and Ever-Virgin, Mary.
At Evensong we sang Sir John Tavener’s setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis that is based off of Orthodox Byzantine Chant melodies that are blended with the most ethereal and sonorous harmonies to create musical works of art that pack an enormous spiritual punch. You can imagine, then, how amazing such a piece would be when sung in a space like the Lady Chapel. One of the people in attendance took video from it so I will be sharing that sometime soon. We also sang a piece by our own choir director, Richard Webster, the text of which is taken from Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love (you remember Julian from a previous post, don’t you?) and which Richard wrote and dedicated in memory of one of the choristers in one of his choirs that passed away quite suddenly, and before her time. And that was our day. A glorious day, which was truly one I will not forget.
Well, it is getting late and tomorrow will be another long day so I will bid you a good night!