Walking across the darkened close to the Salisbury Cathedral, I’m transported back almost 800 years to the mid-13th century when this building was constructed. The church bells would ring (but not from this present tower and spire, now the largest in England, which was built in 1320). People came from their homes within the Cathedral Close or just outside the walls in the little village. They were drawn to worship, to offer prayers and song within the magnificent walls of this dominating structure. And as Christians have been doing for 800 years, Dan and I join the informal procession.
As we enter the building, the nave towers 90 feet above us. The vaulted ceiling is lost in darkness. In the quire space, at the west end of the Cathedral, candles have been lit, awaiting the congregation, worship leaders and choir. In this quiet atmosphere, we, the congregation, take our places in the ancient wooden choir stalls, surrounded at our shoulders and under our arms, by carved angels blowing trumpets and playing harps, and fierce animals keeping guard against any evil that might come near.
The liturgy unfolds as it has for hundreds of years. The order of worship is the same each night, with psalms sung, Old Testament and New Testament readings interspersed with Biblical songs — the Magnificat (Luke 1.46-55) and the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2.29-32). The choir, consisting of children (usually boys although here at Salisbury girls get a chance to learn the ancient tradition of sacred music) and a few men, sing an anthem. Their crystal clear, unaccompanied voices pierce the semi-darkness, reverberating through the stone vaulting.
Dan and I have had the privilege of attending evensong at four different locations now — St. Patrick’s in Dublin, St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, All Saints College Chapel in Cambridge, and twice here in Salisbury. This is one of the memories I know I will cherish when I return to my comfortable routine in St. Paul.
Evensong ends with prayers for peace, as it has for centuries. But how much more fervent and strangely relevant are the prayers since the terrorist attacks in Paris two weeks ago now:
“O Lord, save thy people. and bless thine inheritance. Give peace in our time, O Lord, because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou, O God.
O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed: give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give….”
As the service ends, we head out into the night darkness, praying for England, praying for Europe, praying for every place where peace is needed.