published 1999 chapter 14
The high-soaring nave resounded with the triumphant processional hymn as a double file of red-robed choirboys and adult male choristers, headed by a golden cross, began slowly pacing the central aisle. Behind, led by a gowned sidesman, came the clergy, followed in turn by the portly form of Simcocks, bearing his ornate vesturer’s staff and moving with ponderous solemnity as he conducted a thoughtful-looking dean towards where, ahead of the advancing column, a sombre-clad altar gleamed with festive light.
The unusually large numbers attending matins that morning were partly a result of the weather, the clouds and rain of the preceding 24 hours having given way to blue skies and bright sunshine. Nevertheless, the size of the congregation was, in the main, due to factors beyond the merely meteorlogical, the first Sunday in Advent being traditionally marked by the attendance at the cathedral of all the master and pupils of the King’s School. As a result, some 800 grey-suited youngsters stood in packed rows immediately facing the pulpit, their juvenile voices adding a slightly shrill note to the singing of those gathered to celebrate the official start of the new Christian year.
observations: Advent is a religious season only really of great importance to Christians – eating chocolate every day from an Advent calendar doesn’t count, and really isn’t in the spirit of Advent (a period of watching and waiting), though anyone trying to convince modern children of that is going to have a hard time. It is the start of the new church year, as stated above, and has its own atmosphere: new year, new hopes, and Christmas coming soon.
This book has a strong feel for time and place, and is very good on the rhythms of the church year – it is set in Canterbury cathedral in the south of England, the senior place of worship of the Church of England. An earlier entry on the book, which should be read with this one, gives more details, and this entry on another book in the series explains more about Canterbury.
When we looked at this book earlier, we poked the most gentle fun at Michael David Anthony’s reluctance to use the word ‘said’ – characters remark, and continue, and add, and exclaim, and murmur. They all sound so fidgety.
There is also an odd form of would-be-elegant variation whereby when a character speaks for the second time, it comes out like this:
‘That’s right’ said the other, nodding.The other? It’s a weird little construction.
But as we said before, that does not spoil the book, which is an easy and interesting read, with an atmosphere very much of its time.
It may be too soon to be nostalgic for the 1990s, but the atmosphere of the Cold War in the earlier book (entry should be read for a bit more info on Colonel Harrison) comes out nicely, and – at the other end of the scale – this time there is a cheerful party at the Dean’s house, with vol-au-vents, sausage rolls, and
a modest Riesling and a highly economical Bulgarian red.-- ah yes, budget 1990s entertaining. Glad that’s done and gone.
The pictures are of a service (vespers not matins) and procession at Taos in New Mexico in 1941. It is listed as an Advent service, but more likely celebrates the Fiesta of Guadalipe on December 12th, which is always within Advent. The images come from the National Archives and Records Administration.