Last night I attended the Advent Service in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge. The service, which commemorates the events leading up to the birth of Christ, has a simple and irresistible narrative. At the beginning, the chapel is in darkness. Approaching from the west end, the choir pauses at various places in the great building to sing anthems and hymns.
As they progress towards the east end and the altar, the chapel is illuminated bit by bit. It’s a kind of son et lumière with a solemn purpose. It was glorious to see the intricate tracery of the fan vaulting come alive with a subtle golden glow (see photo). As ever, the voices of the choir rose powerfully into the air, filling the space.
Last year, when I was unable to attend the advent service, I understand that the whole congregation had to wear face masks. This year, there were only a few face masks visible in an audience of hundreds. I had a mask in my pocket but didn’t put it on. I reckon that many must have been wondering, as I was, whether it was wise to discard our masks in such a large gathering, but on the other hand it was impossible not to relish the sense of near-normality.
During lockdown, my husband and I had to have a stone chimney rebuilt. It was such a palaver that now when I look up at the 15th century stone vaulting of King’s College Chapel my brain just refuses to compute what it must have taken to build it. How on earth ….?
The original stonemasons would be proud to know that nearly 600 years later, people are still gazing up every day with awe at their handiwork. Would they have been surprised? Perhaps not. Their work was made to last.