A couple of the boy choristers are struggling to hide yawns. Immaculately pressed and with perfectly-combed hair they’re failing to hide that it’s an early start this morning. I wonder if anyone else had to scrape the car at -4 before driving the two and a half hours to get here. Still it was a relatively easy drive and I’m rewarded with one of those winter early mornings when the air seems clearer than ever and the low sun makes buildings like this sharpen and glow.
Some cathedrals - Ely, Guildford, Lincoln, Liverpool - can be seen for miles around dominating the landscape. Others - Truro, Leicester, Exeter - tend to creep up on you and, depending on which way you approach, can be almost hidden from view until the last moment. Working my way from the car park to the entrance here is much like that, but the sudden appearance round the corner is still stunning.
As a collector of cathedrals I always experience a sense of excitement when I come to a new one on my list. I expect pilgrims in the early years felt much the same way although their concerns on the journey were probably different from my worries about the never-ending nature of the roadworks on the M27.
Mattins this morning is well-attended given that it’s the relatively intimate setting of the choir which needs to be filled. It being January and an early start, it’s a gathering more of regulars than tourists.
There’s superb singing to be enjoyed - matins (however you choose to spell it) is a service requiring little of the worshipper other than attentiveness. Chichester’s organ is also fabulous, quartered in a sort of towering wooden house of its own, sitting detached within the majestic stonework all round. It’s hard at times to concentrate on what’s being said or sung when you’re trying to count the seconds of the phenomenal reverb the cathedral offers. I make a point of trying to track down CDs recorded here if the shop is open.
Following a sermon on the gospels that was more academic than inspirational we have one hymn and we’re done. There’s a chance to look round briefly, although I’m conscious of steering clear of the stewards setting up for the next set of arrivals. I’ve always been more interested in seeing (an crucially hearing) a cathedral at work than standing in front of a set of highlights. It’s the atmosphere that I try to absorb rather than the history or the connections to great figures. Those sort of things I can get from books; the feeling that this is a light, open space still very much at the heart of this place only comes from a visit while it’s in action.
As I leave through the side door, there are plenty of people arriving at the main entrance for the communion service which follows on. The choir look like they’re grabbing a quick break and there’s a hasty re-positioning of a few chairs and guide ropes as the larger family service will be in the main body of the cathedral. It has all the visible efficiency of a roll-on-roll-off ferry operation. Clearly a cathedral very much at work and, pleasingly, having to cope with a good volume of worshippers, whatever their state of wakefulness.