Called by some the most beautiful church in the north-west, the priory looms over the small village of Cartmel. The tower is unique in England in that the upper section is placed at an angle of 45 degrees to the lower section. It is thought this was done to prevent interior arches in the church from breaking outwards. It was built as the centre of a 12th century Augustinian community. At the time of the Dissolution it was stripped of its valuables but kept open as a parish church. The great east window was erected in the 15th century, but all that is left of the medieval glass following the Dissolution and Cromwellian ravages are the figures of an archbishop of York, the Blessed Virgin Mary holding Jesus, and St John the Baptist. Apart from the medieval glass, other windows are 19th century and show a remarkable variety of style. The font, pulpit and organ were also installed in the 19th century. The reredos above the high altar is a 20th century depiction of scenes from the life of Christ. A magnificent 17th century oak screen separates the nave from the chancel and a quire outfitted with misericords. There are two side chapels. At the west end is the enormous beautiful Magnificat window, under which are boards with the words of the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments. In more recent times the priory has acquired four interesting sculptures by the world famous sculptress Josefina de Vasconcellos.
The priory holds daily services and hosts various types of concerts and organ recitals. Full details of services can be found on their website.
Often described as a cathedral city in miniature, Cartmel is a picturesque village in the hills to the south of the Lake District National Park. The priory dominates a village containing a few shops, pubs, cafs, and a tear-jerkingly expensive restaurant. It is also famous for its racecourse and its sticky toffee pudding.
The preacher was the Revd Canon Peter McEvitt and the celebrant was the Revd Mark Brackley. They were assisted by the Revd Paul McMurray and the Revd Andrew Teather.
What was the name of the service?High Mass with Procession of the Blessed Sacrament and Solemn Benediction.
How full was the building?
Fairly empty! However, it must be remembered it was a Saturday afternoon. The service was conducted in the quire, where I counted 30 people in the congregation. A handful of tourists wandered around the nave.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
We were sitting in the quire misericords, which were about as comfortable as you would expect them to be. I was horrified at the absence of kneelers attempting to kneel on the wooden floor between the high pews would have been like getting into a strait-jacket so I did not attempt it. The service was one where reverence needed to be shown by kneeling, and I felt extremely uncomfortable at having to crouch down where I would normally kneel.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and expectant, whilst the organ was being played quietly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New English Hymnal. It would have been most helpful if we had been provided with an order of service.
What musical instruments were played?
Two organists took it in turns to play a rather splendid organ, built in 1969 by Rushworth and Dreaper of Liverpool.
Did anything distract you?
The lack of an order of service meant the congregation struggled with the responses. When the celebrant said, "The Lord be with you," some replied, "And with thy Spirit" and others replied "And also with you." The lack of direction meant that some stood and some sat or attempted to squat where they would normally kneel. At the distribution of communion, the absence of direction and the unwillingness of the people at the end of the pews to make the first move meant that others became impatient and the whole thing ended up rather like a rugby scrum.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was definitely at the stiff-upper-lip end! The four sumptuously vested clergy, complete with birettas, brought up a procession of thurifer, crucifer, acolytes and servers. The altar was censed and there was appropriate bowing and genuflecting. The exposition of the Blessed Sacrament was carried out with reverence, but the procession around an empty church entertained the only tourists present: a mother, father and child!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – I thought Canon McEvitt spoke rather fast. The lady sitting next to me said she couldn't catch a word of it. This service had been organised by the Guild of Servants of the Sanctuary (GSS), and Canon McEvitt spoke of his early days as a priest when he thought he was addressing a Gilbert and Sullivan (G&S) gathering. He couldn't understand why his witty quotes from the Mikado were frowned upon!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Basically his message was that we should follow the example of Bernard, who was forced by his obedience to his calling to do those things he didn't really want to do instead of what he would rather do. We should look to the saints for our inspiration, call on them in our need, and seek their prayers. He concluded by quoting some of Bernard's writings.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Sitting in the quire and looking at the medieval glass in the window over the high altar reminded me that this beautiful church has been a site of praise to God for over 800 years.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the benediction, the priest said the words so fast that it was impossible to make them out. I know we must have said "Have mercy on us" about 50 times! The Divine Praises were also terribly rushed. And I wasn't the only one who noticed! The priest chanted, or rather wailed, something so untuneful and so unintelligible that a retired priest sitting behind me complained loudly, "That's terrible!"
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was a short interval between the mass and benediction where we sampled refreshments, engaged in convivial conversation, and had a good opportunity to look around this fascinating church. After the conclusion of the benediction, everyone departed rapidly. We ran towards our cars when we discovered the weather had changed from lovely sunshine to a deluge of rain.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We were served tea together with a selection of biscuits and small cakes. I had hoped there might have been some sticky toffee pudding on offer!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – This service would not give me a clue about regular worship in this church because it was a one-off event organized by the GSS. However, in my days before becoming a Mystery Worshipper, I did worship here on an extremely well attended Palm Sunday when there was a procession through the village, and I am basing my score on that visit.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
If anything, I felt rather apologetic towards the lady who sat next to me. She had never been to a benediction service like this before and I think she found it to be a rather terrifying experience! I wonder if she will ever set a foot in a church again? The provision of a printed order of service would have made such a difference and would certainly have helped people unfamiliar with it.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Running out of breath as we intoned "Have mercy on us" as breakneck speed.