Thursday, 4 March 2010

A candlelight tour of Lichfield Cathedral

Candles light up the chapter and choir stalls in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Last night [3 March 2010] I went on a candlelight tour of Lichfield Cathedral. For the past six weeks, the cathedral has been offering these candlelight tours during which expert guides give visitors the opportunity to experience Lichfield Cathedral as mediaeval people must have seen it in the dark – at night-time and in the depths of winter – by candlelight.

Our guide, David, and two other volunteer guides, Pat and Anne, introduced about two dozen of us to the wonders of the mediaeval cathedral, and some of the later architectural additions and embellishments.

After gathering in the Cathedral Book Shop, we were brought across the Cathedral Close in the dark, in through the Great West Door, into a cathedral that was in darkness, apart from the glimmer of candlelight throughout the whole building, and to the sound of plainchant.

I have been through the cathedral countless times since the early 1970s, but last night I was surprised, delighted, impressed, entertained, and opened to new wonders. Details and aspects I had often passed by in the daylight were seen in a new light last night. A hood-stop here, a carving of foliage there, a detail of a mediaeval face ... a smiling woman here, a boy bishop over there, a cat chasing a mouse or a hoarding squirrel gathering nuts.

Earlier this year, Canon Pete Wilcox, Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral, told the Lichfield Blog: “For hundreds of years, at night time and in winter months, people were only able to see our extraordinary cathedral by candlelight. A tour of this holy place is an inspiring experience under any circumstances. The atmosphere of a candlelit tour is never to be forgotten.”

However, the Lady Chapel in the cathedral has been sealed off as the East End and the Herkenrode Windows are being conserved and restored. Last night’s tour, therefore, did not include the Lady Chapel, the splendid screen behind the altar, or the tomb of Bishop George Selwyn, who was a key figure in introducing synodical government to the Anglican tradition at provincial level in New Zealand and at diocesan level in Lichfield.

The Herkenrode Windows ... among the finest surviving mediaeval stained glass in England (Photograph © the Dean and Chapter of Lichfield Cathedral)

The Herkenrode Windows are among the finest surviving mediaeval stained glass in England. They date from the 1530s, and were acquired in Belgium for Lichfield Cathedral by Sir Brooke Boothby in 1803.

On a future visit I also hope to see the windows originally commissioned for Rathfarnham Castle but now in Lichfield Cathedral.

After our tour, we were entertained in the former Lichfield Theological College, before I headed off to the Queen’ s Head for a night cap, and then back to St John’ s House.

Lichfield Cathedral after dark (Photograph: Greg Tonks, from the Welcome to Lichfield page on Facebook)

These candlelight tours resumed on 19 January, and since then there have been two further tours in January, and five tours in February. The candlelight tour last night [3 March] was over-subscribed. These tours have been so popular that another, extra tour has been organised for next Wednesday night [10 March]. Nor is this the last of the tours. Two further tours are being offered this month – on 19 and 24 March.

Each tour begins at 7.30 p.m. and visitors are asked to meet in the Bookshop at No 9 The Close from 7 p.m. Tickets, at £10 each, include refreshments after the tour in the Cathedral Visitors’ Centre. Tickets can be bought at the Bookshop or by calling 01543 306150 to make a credit card booking. I would advise early booking ... I got in by my clerical coat-tails last night, through the kind consideration of the staff in the cathedral bookshop.

Lenten lectures

Meanwhile, Lichfield Cathedral is also holding a series of inspiring, free Lenten lectures in the run-up to the general election. The lunch-times lectures have been arranged in partnership with the Lichfield Centre for Christian Studies as part of a programme of community education and outreach.

The speakers are being asked to do a “taster session” at Speakers’ Corner near the cathedral before their main lecture in the cathedral.

Canon Wilcox said these lectures “provide the perfect opportunity for us to consider some of the most pressing issues facing the world today, guided by some extraordinarily inspiring and well-placed speakers.”

Last month, the Revd Peter Holiday, Chief Executive, St Giles Hospice, spoke about “Assisted Dying,” and Commander Charlie Bagot-Jewit, a retired naval commander and general manager of the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, spoke about the “Armed Forces and International Peace Today.”

Today [4 March], Mr Andy Brookes, chief executive and general secretary for the Diocese of London, asks: “Do Bankers Deserve Bonuses?

Next week, the Revd Dave Bookless, founder and national director of A Rocha UK, looks at the “Challenge of Climate Change,” and the week after [18 March], Dr Christine King, Vice-Chancellor of Staffordshire University, asks: “What Does it mean to be British?”

Canon Wilcox says: “Lively followers of Jesus know that they are obliged to think seriously about the moral and ethical questions that these sessions will provide the perfect opportunity for us to consider some of the most pressing issues facing the world today guided by some extraordinary and inspiring and well placed speakers.”

Dam Street, Lichfield (left), and Lichfield Cathedral (right)

Canon Wilcox has also been involved in promoting Lichfield’s Speakers’ Corner, which a leading national travel guide recently included among the best free events in Britain. It was named in Sky Travel’s list of the ten best free weekends to beat the January blues.

The report said: “It’s not often that Lichfield inspires such cultured climes as Prague – however (in turn inspired by the original one in Hyde Park) the relatively new Lichfield Speakers’ Corner has done just that. Occupying a designated space near the cathedral this is the pilot project of a charity aiming to create new opportunities for people to air their opinions in public. Head down there now to watch history in the making as potential future world leaders try to win friends and influence people.”

The lunchtime lecture series is free to attend. The lectures are taking place in the Cathedral Nave. For more information call 01543 306100 or visit

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin