Bristol Cathedral, Bristol, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Bristol Cathedral
Location: Bristol, England
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 July 2019, 3:30pm

The building

The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity was founded in 1140 as St Augustine's Abbey by Robert Fitzharding, a wealthy local landowner and royal official who later became Lord Berkeley. Only fragments of that building remain today. The present church dates from the 14th to 16th centuries and was extensively rebuilt in the 19th century to the designs of some of the greatest ecclesiastical architects of the day. The cathedral has a medieval chancel, two Lady chapels, side aisles with spectacular vaulting, stellate tombs, and the Berkeley Chapel. The whole nave is Victorian (Street), quite a good copy but no need to spend time on it.

The church

The cathedral is very much into discussion groups, community meetings, coffee hours and lunches, and pastoral care. Volunteers are welcome to assist with numerous activities. The choir consists of 28 choristers (14 boys and 14 girls), all of whom are educated at Bristol Cathedral Choir School. Visiting choirs are also welcome. Morning prayer, a lunchtime eucharist, and evening prayer take place daily. Spoken matins, spoken holy communion, choral eucharist, and choral evensong are offered each Sunday.

The neighborhood

This is inner city Bristol, very lively with students, tourists, and local government. There is much music, street theatre, leisure, shopping. A good mix of cultures.

The cast

The dean led the service and preached. A very good enthusiastic visiting choir provided the music.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

Choir fullish.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The person I sat next to. Vastly civil.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. It was a stall.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Restrained but friendly conversation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

'Dearly beloved brethren ...'

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Book of Common Prayer; English Hymnal .

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. The original instrument dates back to 1685 and is an opus of Renatus Harris, one of the most prominent organ builders of the day. It was augmented during the 19th century and rebuilt in 1907 by JW Walker & Sons, and again in 1989 by Mander Organs. Minor restoration work has taken place since then.

Did anything distract you?

The cathedral was being used for University degree ceremonies but most of the photographic equipment was discreetly stored in the side aisles for the service, so tourism was more disrupted than worship.

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

Traditional cathedral evensong, very well done considering the choir were unfamiliar with building and liturgy. This is the Anglican Church at its best. Neither heaven nor hell.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

So sorry. I have no watch or mobile phone and my travelling clock objects to travel. Just off to buy a watch.

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

6 — The dean will be off to Westminster in November to succeed their retiring dean – a job that should suit him well. To be honest, I found his sermon quite unexciting but in an acceptable way. He is not an original thinker but probably can be relied on keep the show on the road at his new calling.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The next day being St Mary Magdalen Day, he spoke of the Magdalen (which he pronounced Maudlin to acknowledge his Cambridge background) and her joy at the Resurrection. He began with an anecdote about a mock-marriage ceremony he performed for his infant daughter calculated to raise a smile at the Athenaeum.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The organ prelude reached the suburbs of heaven. And the bloke in front of me sang in a lovely tenor voice.

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

The stained glass window at the end of the south aisle is as close to hell as Bristol Cathedral gets.

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

People were talking to each other but I didn't feel excluded. My friendly neighbour made a point of saying good-bye. It was entirely my fault, and not the dean's, that I didn't talk to him about his sermon.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

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

10 — I enjoy cathedrals and Prayer Book evensong and sermons and, specially, Anglican music. This has all these ingredients even if it didn't excel.

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

Did I say I was a Christian? It made me glad and very grateful to live at a time when all this still goes on. I feel I've only just caught it.

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

Probably the Dean's embarrassing anecdote but I'll tell you in seven days’ time.

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