Winchester Cathedral, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Winchester Cathedral
Location: England
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 September 2020, 3:30pm

The building

The Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity and of St Peter and St Paul and of St Swithun has a Saxon foundation, rebuilt and added to throughout the middle ages, most relevantly by Bishop William of Wykeham in the 14th and early 15th centuries. The nave with its spectacular vaulting contains his chantry chapel.

The church

It is an active cathedral with many local and international connections, featured on its website.

The neighborhood

Winchester is a nightmare in terms of traffic, but if you do win through to the cathedral and unspoilt area to its south, it is possible to see some remaining beauty. North of the cathedral, the city thrives.

The cast

After a welcome from the dean, the service was led by a canon and expertly sung by the men of the choir. The chaplain of the school preached on the eve of the obit of William of Wykeham.

What was the name of the service?

Festal Evensong.

How full was the building?

With discreet social distancing, there were about forty or fifty congregation members in the quire, along with ten members of the choir, four clergy, and two vergers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A masked sidesman explained the procedure. Another showed me where to sit.

Was your pew comfortable?

Very. It was a stall at the back of the quire (all books removed).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Organ music and much beauty.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Beloved, we are come together in the presence of God ...’ Before that a sung antiphon (David Hill’s ‘O How Amiable Are Thy Dwellings’) and the dean's welcome.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Printed service sheet only. (You took your own out of a disinfected box.)

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

Large flat screens all over the cathedral (one in the quire) on which the live service was being shown.

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

Completely traditional.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 — Exceptionally brilliant sermon, quietly delivered. I felt philosophy was going on.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

William of Wykeham's tomb in the nave (which had been censed during the service) has monks at his feet and angels at his head. His legacy to us is the school, the college in Oxford, the nave of the cathedral, Windsor Castle (on one of whose walls he carved HOC FECIT WYKEHAM. – he was a shrewd politician, explaining to the king that this meant ‘this made Wykeham’ as well as ‘Wykeham made this.’ Both are true.) This palindromic interpretation also works for ‘Manners Maketh Man,’ his motto for the school. It works for angels too. Angels are messengers but they are also the message. Proclaim the good message and you will become the good message. Conversely, if you write off angels, man becomes the centre of all things. It is high time for a revival of angels. The monks on the tomb remind us that William (who was immensely rich and powerful) put prayer before property and power. His motto is deliberately ambiguous. Here's another paradox: William is dead, yet he lives on in his works. We have a duty to make the most of what we have.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The chanted psalm (84) and all the singing. The rest was 20th century, so well-sung that it fitted the cathedral.

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

The enormous video screens. There was one beside me in the quire. On it, in excruciating detail, you saw what you were already seeing live. The organ voluntary at the end (Norman Cocker, brilliantly played) showed pictures of all four keyboards, the organist's hands, and his name.

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

All the clergy were available to talk, and the congregation were allowed to peer at (and photograph) William of Wykeham.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Social distancing forbade this.

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

10 — I can't wait.

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

I got the exciting feeling that a beautiful tradition was being handed on and that philosophy is still a living subject.

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

The sermon. But the singing was equally accomplished.

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