One of the suggestions I had for this Sabbatical was to visit all 42 English Cathedrals by local bus. I had plans to start at Newcastle and end at Carlisle, working down the east side, then along the south coast until we reached Truro, then returning north. Julie has a disabled bus pass (pass for disabled buses), but NO, she does not want to do this marathon trip, and NO I can’t go by myself. There are three Anglican Cathedrals I have not been to – Bradford, Blackburn and Wakefield – so I’ll try and do those (by car or train). Watch this space!
Blackburn has been on my list to do ever since Shaun, our former organist, got a job there as Assistant Director of Music. We wanted to go and hear his choirs, see his Cathedral, and he can buy us lunch (he did! – a superb lunch at http://www.stanleyhouse.co.uk). It was lovely seeing how proud he was of his Cathedral.
Sunday 18 May 2014 – we’d had a night at a nearby Premier Inn, so didn’t manage the Parish Eucharist at 0900, but were there in plenty of time for the Cathedral Eucharist at 1030. We had fun circulating the one way system, and found the Cathedral (which is opposite the station, and surrounded by a lot of building work). We found a car park, then had an amble round – some interesting sculpture and good Victorian architecture. The Doomsday Book (1086) records a church on this site, and Saxon chronicles put a church here in 596. There was a C14 and a Tudor church, then one was built from 1820-26 as Blackburn was growing in the Industrial Revolution. There was a fire in 1831 which destroyed much of it, though some remains in the western tower, nave and side aisles. (This is one of the sculptures by Siegfried Pietsch on the outside of the west end). Blackburn became a Cathedral in 1926 and an extension scheme was planned, led by William Adam Forsyth. Work started in 1938, halted for the War, began again to a reduced budget in 1951 but was never finished to Forsyth’s plan, which included a central tower of dominating Gothic proportions. In 1962 Laurence King was appointed architect – this led to the central corona, and the cathedral was consecrated in 1977. The lights around the corona were wonderful, especially in the evening (we were watching them during Evensong, and photographing them afterwards).
Inside the Cathedral is stunning. Beautifully decorated, light and airy, with some amazing art. The top photo is standing at the west end looking east (at the end of the morning service), the bottom is standing at the east end looking west.
The corona, the crown of thorns above the altar, was designed by John Hayward. It emphasises the pain of the cross, but is also encrusted with large jewels. The place of suffering and pain is also the place of hope and new possibilities.
High on the west wall is John Hayward’s sculpture “Christ the worker” – it is set on a loom, a reminder of Lancashire’s famed textile industry. I liked the Jesus Chapel, with another Hayward work of art, and the St Martin Chapel with a Hayward window. There are many other nice windows. This is a special Madonna and child, and the Font, with Jesus and John the Baptist.
This Virgin and Child by Josefina de Vasconcellos was made in memory of Helen Dex, the Diocesan MU president. Mary is bathing her son, but he seems anxious to get out and get busy. His hands are stretched as they will be on the cross. From the front Mary looks a happy mother, from the left she is adoring, from the right she is sorrowful.
They have a very exciting building project under way – building through towards the railway station, with new offices, accommodation, and a hotel. Guess who will be running the hotel! We must book a room as soon as it opens.
The Cathedral is obviously a busy place and a place with a lot happening – and a lot of resources that make it happen. The worship was excellent – good numbers there too. For the Morning Service we had a new setting by David Bednall, well sung, setting by David Cooper of “Come my way” as a motet (it is on the choir’s latest cd http://www.lammas.co.uk/thy-word-is-a-lantern), excellent organ playing (we expected nothing less). Choral Evensong – Stanford in A, one of my favourites.
The Cathedral guidebook includes the Cathedral’s Mission Statement (or whatever you call it). This must have taken some work:
- We exist to celebrate the Christian story through worship, prayer and praise,
- We are the focus of the Church of England in Lancashire and the seat of its bishop,
- We seek to champion excellence through the arts, and especially music,
- We are committed to assisting the disadvantaged and the marginalised,
- We are delighted to engage with Christians of different denominations, people of all faiths and world views,
- We are working to regenerate our community, its buildings and its people,
- We are here for you.
We summarise this in a one-liner we hope and trust will represent your experience of us:
Blackburn Cathedral: good news for Lancashire
Personally, I find (5) quite difficult – delighting in engaging with people who are different …, that’s a challenge (most of us do it because we know we ought to, and certainly don’t delight in it!). It has to be said the Cathedral found it a challenge to cope with my wife in a wheelchair when it came to communion (see number 4), though they came to us with the sacrament (and a smile) it is still not the same as being able to go to the communion rail – there are too many steps in this Cathedral! (We would have struggled to get to post-service coffee too, though the building project will sort that).
How many churches and cathedrals write “we are here for you”, but actually want to be here for us … rather than you. Here endeth the sermon! Thank you Blackburn (and Shaun) for a lovely day.