Thinking Anglicans

Choral Evensong at Armagh

Canon Michael Kennedy has sent us this full report on the service of Evensong which was held in Armagh Cathedral on Tuesday at the second day of the Primates’ Meeting:

A service of Choral Evensong was held in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, on Tuesday 22 February 2005 to mark the visit of the primates of the Anglican Communion at which the preacher was the Archbishop of Canterbury…

The service was attended not only by the primates but by the bishops of the Church of Ireland, ecumenical representatives including the Most Revd Dr Sean Brady (Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland), and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Canon Ken Kearon, and his assistant. The Dean and Chapter and other cathedral clergy were present, together with the members of the clergy of Armagh Diocese and the Diocesan Lay Readers and representatives of the parishes of the Diocese. The large procession concluded impressively with the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr John Neill (Primate of Ireland) preceded by the Metropolitan Cross of Dublin; the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Dr Rowan Williams (Primate of All England) preceded by the Primatial Cross of Canterbury; and the Most Revd Dr Robin Eames (Primate of All Ireland) preceded by the Primatial Cross of Armagh.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Paul Murphy, MP and the representative of the government of the Irish Republic, Mr Noel Tracy, TD, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, were present and seated at the front of the nave.

The service was Evening Prayer Two from the 2004 edition of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland with the psalms and canticles in traditional mode (as permitted within the Prayer Book), and it was intoned by the senior clerical vicar choral, the Revd Canon Michael Kennedy. The organist was Theo Saunders, FRCO who played Siciliano for a High Ceremony by Herbert Howells (before the service) and Resurgam – Fantasy-Prelude by Harvey Grace (after the service). The head chorister, Liam Crangle, a gifted young organist in his first year at the Royal School Armagh, played the Slow Movement from Trio in Eb by J.S. Bach before the service.

The theme of the service (chosen for its relevance to the subject-matter of the Primates’ Meeting) was “The Family or Household of God”, and the strong emphasis on fellowship and praise was well represented by the choice of psalms 133 (“Behold how good and joyful a thing it is: brethren to dwell together in unity”) and 134 “Behold now praise the Lord”. The lessons (read by Archbishop Joseph Marona of the Province of the Sudan and Moderator Peter Sugandhar of the Church of South India) were Exodus 19:1-6 (“a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”) and Ephesians 2:13-22 (“fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God”). In an altogether admirable sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury wove thoughts from both passages into his address, applying these in a relevant and balanced way suitable to the occasion, pausing slightly from time to time to allow the message to sink in.

The choral foundation in Armagh in its modern form dates from a Charter of Charles I given in 1634, but can be traced back through the period of the Reformation to the ancient Culdees who were responsible for the music and the liturgy from the eighth century AD. The former organist Martin White (1968-2002, now a lay canon) managed the difficult transition from a partly paid choir to an all voluntary one. Theo Saunders (organist from 2002) has brought in a number of new choristers. Of the twelve present at the Primates’ Service, five were probationers, and all except the head chorister are comparatively recent recruits. Together with the “Gentlemen of the choir” they rose nobly to the occasion. The versicles and responses were those of Aylward, and the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were sung to Noble in B minor. The anthem was “O Thou the Central Orb” by Charles Wood (who was born on Vicars’ Hill and received his musical foundation in Armagh) who is commemorated by the prestigious “Charles Wood Summer School” at the end of August each year.

An emphasis on the Irish dimension was also evident in the choice of hymns, “Be thou my vision”, and the St Patrick’s Breastplate sung in full to the Stanford accompaniment. The office hymn was “O Christ the same” by Timothy Dudley-Smith to the tune of the Londonderry Air. Other hymns were the processionals “All my hope on God is founded” for the entrance, and “The Church’s one Foundation” (on the way out). The highlight was undoubtedly the Breastplate “I bind unto myself today” sung with tremendous enthusiasm by the entire congregation. The sense of participation was quite extraordinary in a building which, small for a cathedral, has a rare quality of being both intimate and splendid with an atmosphere highly conducive to praise and prayer.

The cathdral itself traces its history back to St Patrick who, in one of the lives is said to have been given the hill on which it stands to him to build his Damhliag Mor or Great Stone Church by Daire, a local chieftain, traditionally in 445 AD. It is estimated that in its history the cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt at least seventeen times — it was destroyed twice by great Irish patriots (Shane O’Neill in 1566 and Sir Phelim O’Neill in 1642). A major renovation took place under Archbishop Lord John George Beresford between 1834 and 1840 with later improvements including the magnificent reredos depicting the Last Supper (with a most villainous looking Judas slipping off with the money bag in the corner) installed in 1913. The organ, a superb instrument, was made by the famous Walker firm in 1840, and was beautifully restored by the Northern Irish firm Wells-Kennedy in 1996. An eleventh century Celtic cross broken in sectarian strife in 1813 was brought into the cathedral by Dean McClintoch in 1916 and stands in the north aisle near a stained glass window which, to the delight of generations of school children includes a boy with two left feet!

During the service (the Archbishop of Armagh occupying the throne on the south side of the chancel) the Archbishop of Canterbury sat on the famous Bramhall chair, given to the Cathedral by Archbishop John Bramhall (1661-3) at the time of the Restoration, and the Archbishop of Dublin sat on the Margetson chair, given by Bramhall’s successor.

Clearly this service took place at a tense and difficult time for the churches of the Anglican Communion. It is hoped that the music and the liturgy in Armagh Cathedral, combined with the Gospel message of reconciliation and peace and common membership of the Church which is the Body of Christ will prove to have been an inspiration for the Primates as they have thought and prayed together about matters of common concern. The occasional prayers, led by the Dean of Armagh, the Very Revd Herbert Cassidy, included a petition to “maintain the bonds of affection between the churches of the Anglican family — our household of faith.

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perry butler
perry butler
19 years ago

I sent my e mail before i had read the remarks of the two members of the C of I re the ACC. It made me think of a comment Dean Eric abbott made to me once–that at the 1948 lambeth conference many bishops thought that the C of I bishops with their deep sense of the authentic spirit of Anglicanism had saved the day!! Perhaps the C of I will come to our rescue again!! perry Butler Bloomsbury

Karen B.
Karen B.
19 years ago

An excellent write-up of the service. All these details are wonderful and MUCH appreciated. What great resources you have been providing us all, Simon. Thank you!

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