To Winchester Cathedral for the Liturgy of Good Friday. This service is, for me, the ideal way to observe the Passion of our Lord. Entering at the west end on a damp, drizzly afternoon at the end of the Vigil of Silence, the preceding section of the Three Hours, the Cathedral’s cavernous nave seemed even more awe-inspiring than usual. Stripped of all decoration, it exuded an atmosphere of austere calm.
After Bach’s great hymn O sacred head sore wounded, the Precentor and choir began the Litany from the Book of Common Prayer, set to music by Thomas Tallis. Quiet and distant for the first few responses, the music swelled in volume and intensity as the procession moved slowly and with dignity from the south transept into the nave and, at length, reached the steps beneath the Quire, making tuneful supplication for all men in all conditions. The Litany is indeed one of the treasures of the Anglican Church; it is a pity that nowadays it is sung – or merely said – relatively seldom.
Then followed prayer, readings and Psalm 22 sung unaccompanied. Tómas Luís de Victoria’s setting of The Passion according to St John led up to the heart of the service, when the shroud covering the cross was removed as the choir knelt on the bare flagstones in veneration. Then followed what, for me, was the musical highlight of the service: Dr John Sanders’ setting of The Reproaches. In its haunting and austere harmonies, the piece conveyed a sense of the betrayal of Christ with almost unbearable intensity.
After a period of silence came Pabló Casals’ motet O vos omnes and, at the end of the service, Antonio Lotti’s setting of the Crucifixus. Whilst the former is renowned as one of the great cellists of the Twentieth Century, Lotti is really only really known for this piece; both pieces, however, are finely crafted and deserving of their seasonal place in the repertoire.
Duly humbled, I departed in from the cathedral in silence along with the rest of the congregation. In the town, shoppers went about their business oblivious to the significance of the day. Thus it must also have been in Jerusalem many, many years ago.