Mystery Worshipper: Thannoise
Location: Évian-les-Bains, France
Date of visit: Thursday, 9 August 2007, 9:30am
The church dates from the 13th century and is in the early Savoyard Gothic style, with extensive renovations occurring during the 14th and 15th centuries. Further renovations were done in the ensuing centuries, culminating in a major extension of the nave in 1926. The exterior is rather sober despite an impressive tower and gives no hint of the superbly decorated vaulted interior. The Chapel of the Rosary is home to one of the treasures of the building: a 15th century bas-relief of the Madonna with Child in gilt and polychrome wood. The choir stalls, featuring carved images of the apostles and prophets, are a masterpiece of flamboyant Gothic.
The fact that they permit an Anglican service indicates their ecumenical spirit. Because of its location, the population of Évian is a mixed international one that comes and goes with the skiing season or the summer holidays, and the makeup of the congregation fluctuates accordingly.
Évian-les-Bains, beautifully situated on the shore of Lake Geneva at the French-Swiss border, is a world famous tourist attraction and spa. Its lakeside promenade, lined with trees and lawns, has been fashionable since the 19th century. Once the haunt of the very rich, the spa, promenade and casino today attract a broader range of guests. In 1789, as the story goes, the Marquis de Lessertas fell thirsty on one of his walks about the village, and stopped to drink from a spring on the property of a certain Monsieur Cachat. Finding the water to his liking, the marquis made a habit of drinking from the spring and noticed that a variety of kidney and liver ailments from which he suffered began to show improvement. The news spread, and about 100 years later the French Academy of Medicine officially recognised the water's curative properties. The rest is history. Today the pricey Evian water is sold all over the world, along with a line of cosmetics.
The Revd David Miller.
What was the name of the service?Holy Communion
How full was the building?
The Lady Chapel was about half full with 20 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one greeted us. However, we were with friends who live nearby and for whom this is their regular church. The books were at the entrance, and we helped ourselves.
Was your pew comfortable?
As I wanted to be inconspicuous whilst note-taking, and the only vacant pew was at the front, I found a chair and sat at the back. It was wooden, but reasonably comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Everyone was chatting away amongst themselves.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to all, especially those here for the first time."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Hymnal, Common Worship Holy Communion Order One.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
There was some sort of service going on in the main church, and the main organ could clearly be heard in the chapel. The priest first sent someone out to see if things could be quieted down a bit, and when that didn't have the desired effect he went out himself.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stiff-upper-lip, definitely. And at mad dash speed, to boot. I've never sung hymns or read responses so fast in my entire life. There was no feeling that we had come together to worship.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 – He preached at 19 to the dozen.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His subject was humility. Taking as his text Luke 14:7-11, where Christ admonishes his disciples to take the lowest place at table, he drew parallels between the style of the memorial service for the Princess of Wales and the story of the wedding feast in Luke's gospel. Humility was one of Christ's principal teachings, he said.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The communion wine was a white vintage, not at all standard C of E stuff.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But for some reason the celebrant seemed not to want us to have any wine. He kept tight hold of the chalice and barely permitted us more than to touch it with our top lip. And the breakneck speed of the service! Finally, I thought it rather cheeky of him to ask the other congregation to quiet things down after he had just finished preaching on humility.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't hang around – about eight of us ended up across the road in a caf.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Proper French coffee.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – I suppose if I were desperate and had no French, I might go here until I'd learned enough of the language to find the local Protestant church.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No. I should have felt at home – I didn't.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The feeling of alienation among fellow anglophones.