About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

What is the difference between a prebend and a prebendary?

You can’t wash your hands in a prebendary. I got that out of a Christmas cracker. It was an Anglican cracker. It had a paper mitre in it and a little plastic novelty tea urn. According to my dictionary, a prebend is either a) the stipend assigned by a cathedral to a canon or member of the chapter or b) the land, tithe or other source of such a stipend.

The word ‘stipend’ in this context means ‘a fixed or regular amount paid as to a clergyman, of completely imaginary money.’ A prebendary is the recipient of such an imaginary stipend. In some cathedrals there are 'honorary canons'. Same thing. It is an honorary post awarded to long standing clergy of the diocese for being a good egg. Or eggess, in these modern days of ours.

Lichfield cathedral has many prebends. These are named after the various places in Staffordshire where the prebend lands were once situated. Places like 'Gaia Major' (pronounced, rather thrillingly, gayer major, and source of many quip.) Each prebend has its own prebendal stall in the cathedral in the choir chancel. This is where the prebendaries sit. The Prebendary of Curborough sits in the Curborough Stall, for example. These rights are fiercely guarded. I’ve learnt that proper etiquette and formal ritual is hugely important in cathedral life. Prebendaries must each sit in their own designated stall.

The only exception is the stall of the Prebendary of Freeford, which is next to the chancellor’s stall. The Freeford Stall is reserved for Mrs Chancellor (as I am known around the Close), and she asserts her ancient historic right to punch anyone who tries to sit there in evensong. Unless of course, the Prebendary of Freeford turns up, in which case he may assert his right to punch the chancellor’s wife. He in turn will immediately be punched by the chancellor.

After this, the precentor, in his role as first canon of the cathedral, may if he chooses, punch the chancellor. Obviously, the dean may punch anyone he feels like punching, up to and including the bishop—unless they stray outside the cathedral precincts, in which case the bishop’s own punching rights come into force and he may punch the dean. In fact the bishop of Lichfield may punch anyone anywhere within the boundaries of the Lichfield diocese, apart from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, or the queen. Finally, every few years the leaders of entire Anglican Communion world-wide gather at the Lambeth Conference for a mass punch-up. I hope this is helpful in clarifying Anglican protocol.

To be honest, I just made all that up. I don’t go around punching people. I prefer to strangle them. But that’s just me, I’m a judo player. I actually have to be quite careful to keep judo and the cathedral in separate mental compartments. There is a lot of bowing in the cathedral, just as there is in martial arts. If someone bows at you on the judo mat, it’s a signal that they are about to attack you. This is not the case when people bow in the cathedral. In the cathedral they generally attack without warning. That is the Anglican way.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Close is Foreign Country...

...they do things differently there. They speak a foreign language. Even those fluent in Anglican-speak need to get their ear in to understand the local dialect of a Cathedral Close. Firstly there are the bits of technical jargon, often abbreviated to make them even more impenetrable to the outsider. ‘Mag & nunc’, ‘can and dec’, ‘volly’.

Before I go any further, a little disclaimer: I am naught but an ignorant Nonconformist in origins, daughter of the Baptist Manse. It is possible that one or two errors may creep in to this blog. I have already been informed that it would have been the Royalists trying to climb into my back garden via the moat, as the Parliamentarians mainly attacked from the south. Yes, yes. I'm a novelist, not a historian. AN historian, I should say, to head off any more nit-pickers. Pedants seem to thrive in the eccentric conditions of your typical Cathedral Close. They don't watch 'Doctor Who', round here, they watch 'Doctor Whom'. I get a bit fed up with pedanticism, to be honest. (Ooh, nearly got you.)

The terms mentioned above are concerned with the Choral Foundation (music stuff), and mean ‘Magnificat and nunc dimittis’ (the two anthems sung at Choral Evensong, i.e. ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’ and ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace’.) ‘Can and dec’ refer to the two opposite sides of the choir aisle, and by extension, the two halves of the choir who sit facing across the chancel (top bit nearest high altar). This is a historic arrangement which enables the lay clerks (choir men) to smirk at each other when the Psalm for the evening contains the verse ‘Neither doth he delight in any man’s legs.’

‘Can’ is the precentor’s side (the precentor being the canon in charge of music stuff) and ‘dec’ the dean’s side (the dean being the one in charge of everything). There is some Latin explanation for can and dec, but you’ll have to google it. (It will ask if you mean Ant and Dec.) If I'm not careful I will end up with parentheses within parentheses, like Russian nesting dolls, and you will get bored and start looking at porn instead. I daresay you can buy an iPhone cathedral phrasebook app to help you navigate your way round the linguistic labyrinth.

A ‘volly’ is an organ ‘voluntary’ played at the close of a service; a strange term my sons think, as it is involuntary from their perspective. ‘I have wasted hours of my life waiting for the voluntary to end,’ lamented my younger son at the end of one (long) piece. He went on to compose his own volly on his computer software, capturing perfectly the tedium and discord of the French style, and the well-known 'False Dawn Syndrome', in which the piece appears to end several times… but no, another movement. This work came to an abrupt stop with the sound of a gun-shot, followed by a final thunderous discord as the organist slumped dead on the keyboard. Or manual, I should say. My sons have not learnt to love the Cathedral Choral Tradition in all the four years we have lived on the Close. But then, other residents of the Close have perhaps not learnt to love their drumming and electric guitars, so fair dinkum.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Lichfield Dash 2010

In my last post I described the Close as looking 'like a running track'. And on Saturday 17th July, that's what it became for the Lichfield Cathedral Dash 2010. The Cathedral Close has hosted this ‘Chariots of Fire’ style race for 13 years now. You may remember from the film how Abrahams was the first athlete to complete the Trinity College Great Court Run successfully, getting round the quad and beating the noonday chimes. This was the inspiration behind the Cathedral Dash.

The Dash itself, at 12 noon, is entered by elite athletes, all trying to get round the 430m lap in under the 58 seconds it takes the cathedral clock to chime midday. Before this event there is a range of other races. I probably should have said that the Close looks 'a bit like a running track'. The first few yards are uphill. Then comes a long gentle straight stretch slightly down hill, a sharp steep downhill bend round the Lady Chapel, and then a long 'gentle' uphill straight into the strong wind that whistles round Kilcanon Corner (as it's known), before the final lung-bursting sprint uphill again to the finish line. The race is also run clockwise, which for professional 400m runners must feel like wearing your running spikes on the wrong feet. But maybe there's some old superstition about it being bad luck to run widdershins round a church?

This year I and a team of other Catherines entered the ‘Fun’ relay. ‘Catherines for the Choir’—raising funds, as you will have surmised, for the cathedral choir. The inspiration for this came from the very common sight of our cathedral assistant organist, Cathy Lamb, running around the Close, late for meetings. You will see from the photo of Team Catherine--from left to right: Kathy Coombs, Cathy Lamb, me and Catherine Day--that we decided to run in surplices. (Thanks to the Lichfield Blog http://thelichfieldblog.co.uk/for the pic) A surplice is a church-related garment. It goes over a cassock, and is probably best described as a long white nightie. Imagine a double bed-sheet with hole cut out for your head. Perfect for running in high winds. Simply take a reef in the side and tack.

The canon precentor (in charge of things choral) was not pleased by our choice of running strip. It was 'Bad'. Whether he meant bad as in 'sinful', or bad as in 'a poor choice aerodynamically', he didn't say. He did, however, graciously lend his trainers to Catherine Day who doesn't own a pair of her own.

Our training for the event consisted of intending vaguely to have a trot round the Close to see what it felt like. That would be organised enough for a Fun Relay, surely? But on the day, pressure of time meant that the ‘Fun’ relay was hideously merged with the Club Relay event. This meant we ended up racing against a team from Birchfield Harriers and other hard-core nutters. I mean athletes. Quite what they made of it, I don't know. Maybe they have never been so insulted in their professional lives. Still, we gave it our best shot, cheered on by the crowds that filled the Close. Early on in my lap I came over all strange, and experienced a blur in my peripheral vision. This turned out to be a Birchfield Harrier scorching past me. It was tempting to nip down the steps to the north door and take a short cut through the cathedral. But I pictured the headlines: 'Canon's Wife in Dash Disqualification Shame.'

And of course, we didn't need to cheat. I’m proud to say that of the teams composed entirely of women called Catherine wearing surplices, we came first. In all other respects we came last. But as the Bible says, ‘The first shall be last, and the last first.’ So maybe when Gabriel is dishing out prizes in the heavenly Olympics, Team Catherine will be on the gold medal podium.

Welcome to my world

Welcome to the weird world of Anglicanism. In particular, welcome to Lichfield Cathedral Close.

I’ve probably picked the wrong moment to launch this blog. This is cathedral summertime. The choir is on holiday, the Lichfield Festival has just finished, everything has gone quiet. Apart from the cathedral clock, which still chimes every quarter, day and night. In our first week here I must have heard every last ding-dong, and was sure I’d never get used to it. But you do, of course. Now if I’m away from home I feel adrift when I wake in the night—where am I? what time is it?

So, the choral year has ended. It will begin again in September, roughly following the English academic year. The church year, however, operates on a different calendar—from Advent Sunday (at the end of November) to Last Sunday before Advent. How many calendars do I inhabit these days? The tax year, the calendar year, the choral year, the church year, the academic year. Calendar overload. Maybe this is why I sometimes feel adrift in the decades as well.

Lichfield is in Staffordshire. That’s ‘North’ to Londoners, ‘South’ to Geordies, and ‘bang in the middle of the country’ to anyone looking at a map. People tend not to have heard of Lichfield. It floats around, gets located in Leicestershire or Norwich. In former centuries Staffordshire was part of the old Kingdom of Mercia, and is currently best known as Land of the Staffordshire Hoard (or the Lichfield Loot as we prefer to call it round here). The Dean was all for having the entire cathedral floor up to see what we could find. We discovered an Anglo-Saxon stone angel under the nave a few years back, possibly part of St Chad’s tomb chest. The angel is displayed int he cathedral chapter house, alongside the Chad Gospel. This is an illuminated Anglo-Saxon manuscript, older than the Book of Kells. (How can people not have heard of Lichfield?)

This blog is my unofficial take on the Close. Here’s how it was today: I went out on my usual run this morning, more slowly that usual, after Saturday’s Lichfield Cathedral Dash (more on this in my next posting). Big lorries had drawn up on the paved area at the West front ready to cart off sound equipment and staging after the Festival. The wine tent was being dismantled. Putting up the wine tent is an ancient Lichfield rain-making ceremony. It ensures that the entire ten days of the Festival will be wash-out. Somebody seems to have cocked up this year, tangled some guy ropes, maybe—there were a couple of dry days.

As I rounded the fenced-off East end, dust from the masons’ site drifted like smoke. I could hear hammering and the whine of stone cutting machinery. Blocks of different sized pinkish sandstone lay in piles waiting to be crafted. The Lady Chapel, currently bristling with scaffolding, is shrink-wrapped in white plastic while essential renovation work goes on.

I headed off the Close along Reeve Lane towards Stowe Pool. New broods of ducklings bobbed among the lily pads, and baby coots screeched. On the far side of the pool stands St Chad's church, with St Chad's Well. St Chad himself used to walk this route. It was humid and bright and windy. Sunlight came blinding off the ripples. I plodded on, past Minster Pool (which used to be the Bishop’s fish pond in days of yore), then headed into Beacon Park, (undergoing renovation as well), and from there, back onto the Close via the road entrance. This is a three mile route. My husband, who has GPS on his iPhone, informs me that it's only 2.9 miles, actually. Normal people refer to this as 'a three mile run', however.

In medieval times the Close was heavily fortified. There would have been a gatehouse where cars now drive in and out. At the bottom of our garden lies the old dry moat, where Cromwell’s soldiers tried to break in when the cathedral was under siege in the Civil War. The cathedral with its three spires stands on an island of grass. A road loops round, like a running track, and buildings from different eras line the sides of the Close.

When I reached our house I sat on the wall in the hot sun, face a glamorous shade of tomato, feeling that life was good. Running defrags the mind. So does brisk walking. Worries are a cloud of gnats. If you keep moving they can't settle on you. There is also something important about sticking to the same route. I have run and walked those three miles alone and in company, in all weathers, in all frames of mind. This consoles me, somehow. I feel echoes of the same thing in the round of the church year, in going week after week to choral evensong. It accumulates associations and resonances. There is also that sense of being part of something bigger than yourself, of walking in pathways carved out by generations of feet, paths that will still be there when we are long gone.

For more about the Lichfield Cathedral, visit http://lichfield-cathedral.org/
To get a feel of the city of Lichfield, visit http://thelichfieldblog.co.uk/