Friday, 4 October 2019

52. Truro Cathedral

I’ve been collecting cathedrals for decades. We’re blessed with many fine and splendid examples in this country and it’s been a slow process of ticking them off one by one when I get the chance.

I think I could trace my fascination with these massive structures back to a school trip to Bristol cathedral sometime in the early 70s. I loved the calm, I loved the jaw-dropping space and - perhaps most of all - I fell in love with all the hidden galleries and tiny high walkways and the secret doors, steps and passageways you’d have to use to get to them. Since then I’ve made it a welcome addition to any journey to take in a visit to another of these wonderful places.

I’ve always tried to go at a time when I could take part in a service. This is not solely so I can legitimately avoid the hefty entrance charges not becoming more often levied than not. I’ve always wanted to see - and hear - the cathedral in action. 

The midlands has provided a decent base for getting round many cathedrals but there are quite a few that defy the chance visit, they’re just too far away. So it’s a bonus, on a trip down to see Millie in Falmouth, to be able to pause in Truro long enough to visit the town’s fabulous cathedral (I have tentative plans to cross Exeter off my list on the way back). 

It’s an impressive sight. It still dominates the town (a city really, I know) mainly as a result of its height - the chance of finding a viewing point far enough away to take in its bulk having long been lost to the small streets and buildings which have sprung up to surround it.

Holy communion this morning is in St Mary’s Aisle. It’s a small side chapel still large enough to make the twenty-odd people in attendance look a little sparse. It’s a short service with very little other than the business of getting things done.

The service is quiet in volume too, perhaps it’s a case of trying not to intrude on the steady stream of visitors making their way round the cathedral’s advertised highlights - the fine terra cotta relief sculpture, the golden eagle lectern, the wealth of genuinely stunning Victorian stained glass and the well-renowned pipe organ. A working church it may well be, but it would be a brave cathedral indeed which halted the flow of cash coming through the door  (or into the tills of the burgeoning gift shop) just for the purposes of worship.

This service being a small affair tucked away at the side of the cathedral, there was obviously no chance to hear the mighty Father Willis organ in full flow. But as luck would have it there was an organ recital scheduled to start an hour later. 

As you might fear, the two dozen people for holy communion had ballooned to well over a hundred for the recital. Whether that’s down to the instrument, the Australian guest organist or the opportunity to sit somewhere quiet, dry and gale free to eat your lunch, I couldn’t say, but there’s probably a lesson in there somewhere.

The instrument, for all the fanfares given it, was impressive; less so the recital itself which seemed to have been programmed more with the cinema organ in mind rather than the bone-shaking seriousness this fabulous pipework deserves. I enjoyed, however, the TV relay of cameras in the organ loft showing hands speeding round the four manuals and highly-polished shoes clattering the pedals. 

The slight disappointment at the programme was mitigated by the discovery in the air ambulance shop down the road of a CD of Bach’s thunderous music  from Truro Cathedral. Mysterious ways, I suppose.