What are you doing here …
Something old, something new…. No, I am not really talking about the old wedding line. The words come to me as I spend time in Chichester Cathedral, whose formal name is the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity. People have been praying in this magnificent medieval English Cathedral for 900 years. It is visible for miles, and is the only English Cathedral of that time visible from the sea. The village of Chichester is not large, even today, and it has been said that the whole of the population of the town could be seated within the cathedral.
Her plight has not always been an easy one. There was a fire in 1187, towers have twice fallen (in 1210 and 1635), and the great spire collapsed in on itself in 1861, causing substantial damage, but thankfully no loss of life. In a commitment that may seem odd to many, the cathedral has been committed to rebuilding using the best materials and methods of the current day. From the outside, weather, moss, and so much more, give one the idea they will step back in time. They have … and they have not.
Upon entry, you step into a place both ancient and modern, in pretty much all aspects. There are ancient effigies, a rank of prebend stalls dating back better than five hundred years. There is also a reredos that dates from the late 1960’s, prompting some clergy at the time if its dedication to don sunglasses in a moment of protest. Clergy antics aside, the details intricately tie ancient to modern. In the cross of the new reredos, the bloody wounds of Jesus are depicted in the same swirling pattern as the ironwork proximal to both sides. A sizable font, made of one piece of dark marble with a hammered red copper bowl fused into the stone, reflects the color of the basalt of certain smaller cathedral columns. Even the main doors, all glass with pewter looking pulls, fit with great elegance and profound openness. Lighting and sound are beautifully done, unobtrusive, and very hightech.
I venture to say that there are elements within the cathedral from at least every century; each making an effort to reflect upon their current time, and each connecting with elements of the past, while being fresh, relevant, and even future looking.
What strikes me most by all of this, is that this cathedral, dedicated to the Holy Spirit, honors its past, but does not worship it. Every hour, on the hour, the chaplain of the day speaks (via a very modern sound system) over the tours, the pilgrims, and the curious. A moment of welcome is offered, then are prayed the Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester and the Lord’s Prayer, and the time concludes with a blessing. They know, deep down, that they are a place of prayer and worship above all. Chichester Cathedral is a dynamic place, that expects, and bears witness to, the active and transforming presence of the Holy Spirit to whom it is dedicated. I love that about it.
Its witness to every cathedral, church, diocese, congregation, and person is a living, palpable presence that asks and responds to the ever-present question …
What are you doing here ….
******** The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.