Carlisle Cathedral, Carlisle, Cumbria, England

Carlisle Cathedral, Carlisle, Cumbria, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Carlisle Cathedral
Location: Carlisle, Cumbria, England
Date of visit: Friday, 5 March 2010, 12:30pm

The building

Begun in 1123 as an Augustinian priory, the church was elevated to the status of cathedral in 1133. Renovation and rebuilding took place over the ages, but during the English Civil War (1641-51), most of the nave was demolished and its stone used to fortify Carlisle Castle. As a result, apart from some 12th century ruins in the grounds, the cathedral today at first glance has more of a look of a substantial parish church about it. Upon closer inspection, though, one cannot doubt that one is standing inside a cathedral of considerable beauty. From the stunning blue vaulted ceiling with gold stars through which peeks a tiny face thought to be that of Mary, to the side chapels, to the organ case, to the carved misericords scorched by candles perhaps dropped by sleepy-eyed monks, to the high altar beneath a spectacular baldacchino, to the magnificent east window – it's all wonderful! I'm afraid your Mystery Worshipper simply can't do it justice in the space allowed.

The church

Comprehensive details of the cathedrals services, the three choirs, and a timetable of concerts are detailed on the website.

The neighborhood

Carlisle is a northern city of England, close to the Scottish border, and is the gateway to the western stretch of the ancient Roman ruin known as Hadrians Wall. It has been dominated by Romans, Celts, Saxons and Vikings, as well as surviving skirmishes with the Scots during its turbulent history! Prominent landmarks are the castle, which has been a constantly updated working fortress until recent times, and the cathedral. Now Carlisle is a small bustling modern city with predominantly pedestrianised shopping areas.

The cast

The Revd Barry Etherington, a retired priest, was the celebrant. The organ was played by the resident cathedral organist, Mr Jeremy Suter.

What was the name of the service?

Eucharist. This was a special service in Lent of eucharist with organ accompaniment

How full was the building?

There were 12 of us in the congregation.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We were greeted by a pleasant lady who directed us to the quire and gave us a service booklet.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, it was a comfortable chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very quiet and meditative. Just before the service began, the organist played Miserere by William Byrd.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good Morning. Welcome to our Friday Lent Service. Praise, mercy and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A service booklet entitled The Eucharist in the Seasons of Lent and Advent.

What musical instruments were played?

Pipe organ, a magnificent opus dating from 1856 by the venerable old firm of Henry Willis & Sons Ltd. It was rebuilt in 1902 by Harrison & Harrison Ltd. A major redesign was completed in 1962 by J W Walker & Sons, and the organ was completely refurbished in 1997 by the Liverpool firm of David Wells Organ Builders Ltd.

Did anything distract you?

The service was taking place in the quire, and although there must have been restricted access to the rest of the cathedral during this service, a toddler managed to run backwards and forwards across the high altar.

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

Very dignified and reverential. A simple table supporting a brass cross and two candles had been placed between the choir stalls. A black robed verger led the entrance procession, brought up by the priest vested in a purple chasuble. Although the priest crossed himself at appropriate times, there was no genuflection, so I thought it was very middle of the road.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The immense feeling of spirituality in that wonderful setting.

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

I dont think I was anywhere near the other place, but I remember a sense of irritation when it came to reciting the Lords Prayer. I had just recited the second line when I realised others were reading the awful modern version, and by the time I found it in the service booklet, it was half over.

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

Ethereal music wafted down from the organ; it was Fantasia in C minor by JS Bach. Most people had departed, so we had a pleasant chat with the priest, who told us he was retired.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was nothing provided here and we didnt really expect it. We went to the Priors Kitchen, a restaurant in the vaulted undercroft of the medieval fratry, where we enjoyed a bowl of soup.

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

10 – You would have a hard job keeping me away if I lived in Carlisle!

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

Very much so.

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

I have visited many cathedrals that are grand or awe inspiring, but the beauty of this small cathedral really took my breath away, and I shall remember it for a long time.

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