Sunday, December 27, 2009

Workaday Carols

St Dunstan's, situated where the Strand becomes Fleet Street, survived the Great Fire of London. Forty Westminster choristers were roused to throw water on the flames when they came to within three doors of the church.

Originally built between 988 and 1070 AD, centuries of wear and tear led to extensive reparations in 1831.

You could be forgiven for walking past the narrow facade and doorway without noticing it, unless you happened to look up at the splendid tower, rebuilt after the original was damaged by German bombs in 1944.

Although outwardly Neo-Gothic, an octagonal space inside lined in dark wood, like the dining hall of an Elizabethan manor, embraces a short aisle and
seating. The traditional pews are accessed by small end-doors with brass latches. The pulpit, raised to the right of the pews, has an attractive overhead canopy.

Once again, friend and Westminster Guide J. was the source of information about a lunchtime carol service on the 22nd, although I'd also attended one of the regular midweek concerts, timed to fit the lunch hours of local office workers.

The service was much more traditional than the one at St Pauls of the week before. No poems, but readings from an older version of the gospels had the virtue of decorous language that was also clearly understood. A contemporary note was struck when Rev William Gulliford drew parallels between the Christmas story and the plot of a film currently showing in London: 'Where the Wild Things Are'. Both, he said, involved' a malevolent Empire, cynical Kings and dark things lurking'.
Hymns were traditional, and included my favourite', We Three Kings of Orient Are', as well as a sonorous arrangement of the medieval 'Adam lay ybounden'. From this, and the vibrancy of the descants in the other hymns, I suspected that they were professionals. Sure enough, J. enquired and confirmed, they were a group called Chantage.
Here were no stewards in official coats, but clergy and lay helpers to point the way to 'seasonal' refreshments', laid out on tables in an area to the side. . Of course, it's easier to offer hospitality of this kind in a church with a small congregation, and most of these were hurrying back to work.
The fact that St Dunstan's is a 'Guild Church' intrigued me, as a native of Preston, which celebrates a 'Guild Merchant' or trades festival once every 22 years. It reflects the church's particular ministry to the daytime working population around Fleet Street, hence the lunchtime concerts lasting 45 minutes, when workers are welcome to eat their sandwiches. On this occasion J had time to sample Christmas cake and wine before returning to her office in nearby Fetter Lane.

J's blog about Westminster and her walks:

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