January 11, 2006
Epiphany at the Abbey
A sense of deja vu crept over me on Sunday as I gazed upon this years displays for the candlelight layouts that accompany our annual Epiphany Carol Service. The team that do this always keep their designs under tight wraps until the day they lay them out in the Ambulatory Chapels, Presbytery and the Lady Chapel - so I had no hint that they would be attempting to illustrate the carol I wrote about only a few days ago!
To do this, they use around 2,500 coloured "votive" candles - rather like big tea-lights in coloured plastic tubes - and several dozen ordinary candles of various sizes and shapes. These last are laid out in niches, on ledges, on corbels once graced by statues of saints or angels, in the tomb alcoves and among the effigies and on candelabra stands around the Abbey.
This year the Presbytery held the start point - the Partridge in the Pear tree, from there you had to go through the Beauchamp Chantry and round to St Edmond's Chapel for the Two Turtle Doves, then St Dunstan for the Three French Hens, St Faith for the four Calling Birds and the six Geese, Edward Despenser's Chantry of the Holy Trinity held the five Golden Rings, St Catherine and St John, the seven Swans and the eight Maids, with the floor of the South Transept Lady Chapel holding the nine Ladies, ten Lords, eleven Pipers and the twelve Drummers. Huge fun and a very much appreciated display for the congregation who came from all over Gloucestershire and from all sections of the Christian community.
The partridge in a pear tree - the centre piece in the Presbytery as seen from the Milton Organ's playing loft.
This year the Lord Abbot had made sure that this service was widely advertised on local and regional radio - and the size of the congregation certainly showed the result as we had filled every seat by the time the service started with the choir singing an ancient carol from the East end of the Ambulatory. With the nave and the aisles full to capacity and the Quire seating in the Presbytery filled with visitng clergy - again representing the full spectrum of denominations and the Diocesan heirarchy - an estimated 800 people joined in the worship. Our Bishop graced the service with his leadership and we processed and sang so that every part of the congregation had, at some point, the focus of the music and the worship.
Three French Hens strut their stuff in St Dunstan's chapel.
One element which still surprises some of our visitors is the blessing and use of chalk at the end of the service. The Blessed chalk is used to inscribe the threshold of the church door with C*M*B 2006 and four crosses. The initials stand for the medieval names of the "three" wise men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar - whose supposed remains are contained in an elaborate reliquary on display at Cologne Cathedral - the year since their visit to the stable in Bethlehem and the crosses mark the traditional emblems of consecration for a church or any sacramental furnishings. The custom comes from the Eastern Orthodox hurch and is one the Lord Abbot likes to include. After the service everyone is offered a piece of chalk to mark their own entrance doors in this way - a tradition again from the East to show that God is welcomed into our homes and visitors will be treated with Christian hospitality.
Fantastic music, great fellowship with all our congregation and a wonderful period of worship and renewal. What more can anyone ask? Now all we have to do, is retain this spirit of unity through the coming year.
Posted by The Gray Monk at January 11, 2006 02:07 PM
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