Sunday 21 December 2014

Christmas Carols 2014

As is the habit of my tribe, along the valley to the 13th Century Church of the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem we went again, in that Doomsday village that was home to Waleran the Hunter in Saxon times and, after the Norman conquest, Payne de Turberville (mentioned with transliteration by Thomas Hardy in Tess of the d’Urbevilles) for traditional Christmas carols and lessons. All the lesson were well read, with pride of place to an enthusiastic 8 year old boy, who looked as if he enjoyed spreading good news. “He practised several times yesterday” his proud father confided afterwards, latter adding that he lived in Winchester, which was the only town not in Doomsday, because it was written there “and if you wanted to know how many houses it had, you looked out of the window”.

In keeping with tradition, the opening soprano solo of “Once in Royal David’s City” was sung with the singer hiding modestly behind the South transept. Last year’s wantonness of having the singer face the audience had been an aberration to be avoided, it appears.

The Choir were 10 strong, and sang “The Lord at first did Adam make” and then later the canticle “Nunc Dimittis” in sparkling unaccompanied plainsong: 

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

Then four of them took up their instruments again (violin, flute, oboe, and cello) and the service resumed its Carol progress.

In strict conformity with stochastic tradition, the organist adventitiously omitted the culminating last verse of one carol, leading to the usual surprise and pre-orgasmic disappointment among those who had saved their breath to the last and had intended to launch into a transcendental descant.

At the end the priest intoned: Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom we for evermore are one.

An image of my parents came unbidden to my mind. They knew their psychology, the ancient scribes: how well soothing words play to ever-present anxieties, and the certainties of incanted repetition and confident blithe optimism.

Then the contemporary Eucharist: red wine and mince pies, conversations with choristers; the new Lords of the Manor who arrived on Friday paying their respects to all and sundry, and being introduced to the former Lords of the Manor who still return for the Christmas services;  some forty five souls chattering in the tiny church, with a charitable truce even among estranged neighbours, and then out down the winding path past the chest tombs into a grey and wintry day.

Depart in peace.

Merry Christmas.

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