Sunday, July 14, 2013
A Most Ecclesiastical Day!
Sine today was a Sunday, I suppose it is not surprisingly that my day turned out to be mostly ecclesiastical. I awoke at 4. 10 am, forced myself to go back to sleep; woke again at 5. 15 am and once again psyched myself back to sleep. Eventually it was 6. 45 am when I got out a bed—a virtual Sunday lie-in for Early Bird Me. In bed, I finished blogging, caught up with email and sorted out my day—which was largely unplanned. Sometimes, a bit of spontaneity is called for: and today proved to be one of those unstructured days that bring unexpected delights.
Mass at my Former ‘Parish’ Church:
It felt like old times when I left my Holborn apartment at 8. 45 am to attend Sunday Mass at St. Etheldreda’s Church that is tucked away in a hidden corner of Holborn Circus called Ely Place. Those of you who read my blog regularly might remember this historic church that is considered Britain’s oldest Catholic Church as it was the first one to re-convert to Catholicism after the Reformation. Miraculously, it also survived the Blitz. On the stained glass windows on the side walls, there are names of church worthies dating from the 1100s. I took my seat in its beautiful hushed interior, relieved to see that the small landing leading to the church doors is now brightly lit with a brand-new light fixture. In the days when I worshipped there, it was dark and unwelcoming.
Some things change with the passage of time; and some things remain the same. I was amazed to see so many Sunday ‘regulars’ still there: the lady with the braid who serves as Lector, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday—with no one else serving in this important ministry—I wonder why. There is the overweight lady who needs help moving to the Communion rails—still there in the pew she occupied four years ago. The celebrant was the same too: Fr. Tom Deidun, the Welsh priest, who had welcomed me to the church five years ago. But other priests have left: the Indian priest from Kerala, Fr. Sebu, is no longer there; and neither is the Frenchman, Fr. Dennis. As usual, the church was full of tourists—they probably read about the church on the internet. A large group from America was present this morning—they are en route to Paris. I have always loved the Tudor/Victorian interior of this church and every time I am in London, I try to worship here at least once—not only does it evoke in me the state of mind in which I was when I lived in London but its ambience is profoundly conducive to prayer and reflection.
Home for Brekkie and Another Mass:
I got home to my muesli brekkie and made myself a cup of coffee that I sipped slowly as I watched Saturday Kitchen highlights. Then, at 10. 45 am, I left the flat, jumped into a bus and was at St. Paul’s Cathedral in exactly 10 minutes—just in time to join my friend Cynthia who had reserved a seat for me (“in Row Two”) for the amazing Mass in Angustiis (Nelson Mass) composed by Haydn that is performed once a year at 11.00 am. Here is a word about the Mass from the brochure that was handed out:
“Although Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) would have known very few details of Lord Nelson’s campaign against Napoleon as he was composing the Missa in Angustiis (Mass in Time of Fear), in 1798, the war was very much in the minds of the courtiers at Esterhazy (where the composer was employed) and, following news of the victory at Abukir, the Mass (first performed on 15th September) became known as the Nelson Mass. In 1795, Haydn returned from a trip to London (where he composed his 104th and final symphony, and where he was reportedly moved to tears by the voices of 6,000 children in the Charity Schools Anniversary Service held in St. Paul’s) to find himself commissioned to write a new mass each year in the name of the Princess Esterhazy. The Nelson Mass is the third of the six masses that Haydn completed in response to this request from Prince Esterhazy. It was scored for three trumpets, timpani, strings and solo organ (which Haydn himself would have played), soloists and choir. With its unusually violent outbursts of fortissimo sound, it is a magnificent and stately work, which seems to befit both its original purpose and its adopted sobriquet.”
I was pleasantly surprised to find Mark Hansen from New York who works for St. Paul’s in New York seated next to me. Over the years, he has become a friend and it is always a pleasure to see him. I was also introduced to a female priest from Copenhagen named Ulla. To my immense surprise, my friend Cynthia was wearing the exact same necklace that Llew had bought for me on our cruise—indeed Michael had bought the necklace for Cynthia on a similar Baltic Sea cruise—I just could not get over the sheer coincidence of it. Great minds think alike?
Once the Mass started, I was simply enthralled from Note One. There is nothing quite awe-inspiring, I think, that a sung mass in the splendid confines of a Baroque Christopher Wren Cathedral under a ceiling painted by James Thornhill which creates brilliant acoustics. Every note resounds in the space—so much so that the soprano soloist who stole the show and had a voice of such clarity it evoked a crystal bell. The little boy choristers did as grand a job as they always do. The sermon preached by Rev. Mark Oakley was stirring (no one can preach like the Anglicans—well, maybe the Catholic Redemptorists!) Despite the fact that the Mass took over an hour and a half to end, not a single second dragged. I was so glad I attended because it is only rarely that I have the opportunity to experience so fine an audio treat.
Cynthia insisted I return to Amen Court for lunch—which I did. It was simple but good: just fish cakes, a salad that I helped prepare with arugula, strawberries, melon, tomatoes, cucumber, dried cranberries and pistachios with a balsamic vinaigrette and a fruit salad for dessert.
Off to Celebrate Bastille Day at Borough Market:
After lunch, Cynthia decided to join me at Borough Market on the South Bank of the Thames to celebrate Bastille Day—Le Quartorze Juillet—a national holiday in France that recalls the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the French Republic. Borough Market was converted into a French village market with every conceivable purveyor of fine French food showing off his wares. As Cynthia and I made the rounds of the stalls, we were treated to a variety of cheese, brownies, spreads, even Turkish delight. At a cookery demonstration where Blanquette de Veau was prepared and offered for sampling, I was appalled to discover that the lady had completely forgotten to season the stew—it was completely saltless! I had to actually spit it out!
The most gruesome part of the afternoon was one of the ‘games’ set up in Jubilee Park which included a Mock Guillotine. A guy with white painted face and wearing the costume of a monk invited people (for small payment) to place their heads on the stand. He shouted’ Three Two One”—which made it think “Trois, Deux, Un” would have been more appropriate—and then pulled the rope to bring down the steel blade of the guillotine to chop their heads off. Needless to say, it fell into a slot leaving the head intact—although the sporting participants playacted rather well by getting their tongues to loll out on cue! Not surprising that I heard little ones crying with terror on viewing the sport!
Cynthia bought some Comte cheese and some sausages and then we were making our way towards the Globe Theater to cross Wobbly Bridge once again and return to Amen Court for a nice cuppa and a slice of Victoria Sandwich (sponge cake filled with strawberry jam and cream).
At 4. 45 pm, I said goodbye to Cynthia and returned alone to the Cathedral for a free organ recital by Edward Picton-Turberville of St. John’s College, Cambridge. It was wonderful again, as expected. I stayed for the entire first work: Prelude and Fugue in C Minor by J.S. Bach; but soon I felt as if I had subjected myself to an overdose of church music and I left on my next mission.
Off to St. John’s Wood on a Mission of Mercy:
Cynthia lent me a small suitcase with which I can move around London more conveniently in the next month. I picked it up from her place, then caught the bus home to drop it off. I was back on the Tube again in a few minutes only to get off at Oxford Circus which was winding up for the day—it was 5. 45 pm when I entered Marks and Spencer to buy some Coffee Walnut Cake and Lemon Sponge Roll for my tea. And then I was on the 139 bus from Marble Arch, heading to St. Johns’ Wood, to water balcony plants for my friend Raquel and Chris who have left for the States. I was there, 20 minutes later and the plants were duly watered. It was a mission of mercy for the day had been very toasty indeed— mercury climbing all the way to 88 degrees which is sizzling for Londoners—although without any humidity in the air, I was rarely uncomfortable. The tourists were still there at the Beatles’ crossing—I think I shall have some entertaining moments when I move into the flat next week just watching their antics as they try to get the Fab Four’s pose exactly right! Then I was on the bus back to Marble Arch from where I took the Tube back home at 7. 30 pm.
Catching up on email and this blog took me all of the next hour when I paused for dinner: Quiche, Salad, Cake while watching something on TV called “Mock the Week”. At 11. 00 pm, it was Lights Out for me after what had been a long and unexpectedly fun Bastille Day spent largely in the company of my friend Cynthia.
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Until tomorrow, Cheerio!