Sunday, 27 February 2011

A weekend of prayer and reflection in Lichfield

Lichfield Cathedral, seen from the entrance to The Close (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

On my way to a three-day Interfaith conference in Leicester, I spent the weekend in Lichfield, my favourite cathedral city in England. For years now I have found time regularly to come here to relax, to pray and to contemplate for a few days, following no particular agenda but being present for the daily cycle of offices and the Eucharist in Lichfield Cathedral.

On Saturday I was present in the cathedral for the mid-day Eucharist, celebrated in the Lady Chapel, which has just been reopened after some years of restoration work. The great East Windows are still being repaired and the subject of major conservation work, so the temporary plain glass in their space filled the Lady Chapel with bright light and made this a very joyous Eucharistic celebration.

Later in the day, at Choral Evensong, six new prebendaries were installed as members of the cathedral chapter, and Bishop Jonathan Gledhill preached.

I was staying in Pauline Duval’s bed and breakfast, ‘The Bogey Hole,’ in Dam Street. This is a Grade II Listed building, lovingly restored by Pauline and her architect husband Derek, a former Mayor of Lichfield, and my room looked across Minster Pool to the cathedral and its three spires.

After dinner last night in Ego, which also has breath-taking views out onto Minster Pool and across to the cathedral, I took a slow amble around the Cathedral Close. When the lights are out, and the sky is clear, this is one of the most peaceful, contemplative places I know.

I was back in the cathedral this morning for the Eucharist, which celebrated the Patronal Festival of Saint Chad. Dean Adrian Dorber preached, and it was truly wonderful to see the Lichfield Gospel being carried in the procession and being used by Canon Pete Wilcox at the Gospel reading.

In between, there was tome to visit the King’s Head in Bore Street and the Queen’s Head in Sandford Street.Bujt I also took a few hours out in the countryside, taking the bus from Lichfield to Tamworth, which passes through fields and farms in the gently rolling countryside of south Staffordshire.

On these narrow country roads, the only oncoming traffic were small groups of people on horseback out for an easy-going afternoon’s canter. I passed Freeford Manor, the centuries-old home of the Dyott family, and Ellfield House before arriving in Whittington Village, with its old-world pubs and church spire.

Whittington Heath is a vast open area of countryside and woodlands. The bus then goes through Whittington Barracks, and joins the main road again at Packington Hall Farm, famous for its free-range pigs.

Afternoon spring sunshine on the banks of the River Tame near the Moat House in Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The fields turn into woods again at Hopwas Hays Wood, and in the village of Hopwas the road first crosses the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, brimming with boats in the sunshine, before crossing the River Tame and following its backs along Lichfield Road into Tamworth.

On the banks of the River Tame but in the heart of Tamworth stands the Moat House, the Jacobean manor house that was the residence of the Comberford family for generations.

The Comberford name has been restored in the Moat House, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In recent years, the Moat House suffered badly, and was severely in need of maintenance, particularly the Long Gallery where Charles I was entertained when he was still Prince of Wales.

But Ruth McLaren, who has taken over as manager of the Moat House, has started to restore the house in stages, and has renamed the restaurant “Comberford’s.”

It was a pleasant welcome, and a joy to eat there on Saturday afternoon, before dropping in to Saint Edtha’s, to see the Comberford Chapel once again, and into the library before heading out on the road to Comberford village.

A quiet corner in Saint John’s in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Back in Lichfield, before the weekend was over, I also spent some quiet time in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, giving thanks to God for the many blessings I have had in life. It is almost forty years since I had my first truly adult experience of the light and love of God in my life, in this very same chapel in 1971, when I was a 19-year-old.

This morning at the Cathedral Eucharist, I felt Christ taking me by my hand and gently walking with me into the future. If the next forty years are as blessed as the last 40 years they are going to be joyful.

An organist from Lichfield in Dublin

Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Visiting Lichfield and its cathedral this weekend, I was delighted to find an interesting connection between Lichfield Cathedral and one of the high points of musical and cultural life in Victorian Dublin.

Everyone in Dublin knows both the Feis Ceoil and the Culwick Choral Society. But I wonder how many people realise that both were founded within a year of each other by Dr James C Culwick (1845-1907), or that Culwick was a chorister and assistant organist at Lichfield Cathedral before moving to Ireland in 1866.

Lichfield Cathedral ... seen from Darwin House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The English composer and organist held a succession of appointments as organist, first in Birr, Co Offaly, and then in Bray, Co Wicklow, before finally settling in Dublin.

Culwick moved from Saint Ann’s, in Dawson Street, Dublin, in 1881, to take up the prestigious position of organist and choirmaster in the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle.

Meanwhile, he was involved in a number of amateur musical bodies, including the Orpheus Choral Society, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Dublin (Trinity College Dublin) in 1893.

His output as a composer includes church services, anthems, finely-crafted secular songs, and notably the dramatic cantata The Legend of Stauffenberg (1890).

In 1897, Culwick was a co-founder of Feis Ceoil, and a year later, in 1898, he founded the the Orpheus Choral Society. The society was later renamed the Culwick Choral Society in his honour.

The Culwick is an amateur choir with over 100 active members drawn from all over Dublin and the surrounding counties. For 113 years, the Culwick has maintained an unbroken tradition of music-making in Dublin. The skill and musicianship of a succession of conductors has been crucial to its success. The present Musical Director, Bernie Sherlock, assisted by the Chorus Master, David Leigh, follows a long line of distinguished conductors.

The choir offers a major choral performance each Spring and a concert of seasonal music at Christmas. Since 1990, a charity performance of Handel’s Messiah in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral each December has been an established feature of the Dublin musical calendar.

But it was only in the last few days that I learned the connection between this very important treasure in Dublin’s cultural life and the life of Lichfield Cathedral, which I am enjoying this weekend.