How amazing would it be to celebrate Easter at King’s College, Cambridge? We’ve listened to recordings by that choir ever since a penny on the needle arm was the latest in technology! (C’mon, you’ve done that – or heard of it – haven’t you?) I had goosebumps when I realized we would be in the neighbourhood on April 4th!
But the goosies faded to normal when my Anglophile friend John said it was no use to go to Cambridge during Holy Week because of the crazy crowds. Sarah said the same thing, and she should know as she used to work with the music director at Cambridge.
So it was we sat in Ely Cathedral on Easter Sunday, in the Presbytery. That’s the area between where the choir sits, and where the altar is. (Yeah, I’ve been an Anglican for over 30 years and I didn’t know that either.) We had a good view of both. The service was being recorded for BBC radio. The choristers were wearing red cassocks and white surplices (the underskirts and the over-aprons, for those of you who are still pondering how an Anglican church manages to get a Presbytery). And Barry and I were pretty excited!
The music and service of evensong was rich in history, tradition and solemnity. But I noticed right from the opening responses that as the congregation intoned, “Christ is risen. Alleluia,” there was not a single smile on a single face. We might have been at a funeral. The Bible reading told of two men meeting the post-resurrection Jesus, and after they realized who he was, turning to each other and exclaiming, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us when we were talking to him!” and I wondered if anyone there had ever experienced a burning heart – or just heartburn. It was more than solemn: it was grave and sepulchral. Puns intended.
But Ely Cathedral itself is beautiful – huge and imposing. It is called “The Ship of the Fens” because it is the one landmark rising above the surrounding flat fields. It’s visible from miles and miles away. And the interior is likewise filled with beauty – and inspiration for quilters.
We noticed a plaque commemorating Etheldreda, daughter of the king of East Anglia, who founded Ely in 673 A.D. She always wanted to be a nun, but agreed to marry the 15-year-old king of Northumbria (several years younger than she was) on the condition that she could remain a virgin. Twelve years later, as you might expect, her husband was all grown up and wanted to make a more traditional arrangement. Etheldreda said no. He offered bribes and gifts. Etheldreda said no. He got the local bishop to try to persuade her. Etheldreda left him, finally became a nun, and a year later founded a monastery at Ely. So I guess that taught him to mess with a Saxon princess, and queen in her own right!
And Sarah asked one of the church officials (he was wearing a name tag, anyways) if he knew whether there was any medieval graffiti at Ely. He didn’t, but called over someone “who would know.” She said there was some Victorian-era graffiti in one of the chapels, and mason’s marks in some places, but nothing else. We didn’t believe this for a single moment, so we started looking.
Now strictly speaking, what we found is not medieval, because the middle ages go from the 5th to the 15th centuries, but let me tell you, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries are good enough for me!
My very first graffiti! Goosebumps came back with a vengeance!