Christ Church Cathedral

Unique in the world insofar as it is both a collegiate chapel and a diocesan cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral is certainly one of the must see-sights in Oxford.  I only wish that one could say the same of hearing it.  Although the choir is quite solid under Dr. Stephen Darlington, and the organ (1978  Rieger) is charming, the acoustic and the layout of the space make it an auditory nightmare.  It is as though the space was designed to serve both of its functions, but each in its traditional form.  The nave is essentially a self-contained, hall-style collegiate chapel.  The choir stalls are just beneath the organ, with the precentor’s desk behind them.  The daily offices are, in fact, led from the west end.  This is perfectly sensible in itself.  But the Eucharist is celebrated at the east end (where it belongs).  Although in its proper place, the choir and organ are now substantially separated.  The chancel, for reasons unknown, is actually longer than the nave, making the space supremely awkward as worshipers torn back and forth from left to right in order to face whatever is happening at the time.  The pulpit only complicates matters as it faces northeast diagonally across the crossing in the direction of the chancel.  The lectern, a modern movable piece of furniture, is perched dead center in the aisle at the top of the chancel steps.

I also must lament the use of Common Worship in place of the Book of Common Prayer for the celebration of the Eucharist.  For a cathedral church, it is simply not appropriate.  The contemporary language is awkward, and it is totally lost against the backdrop of the Latin mass settings sung by the choir.  In short, this space is well worth seeing, but I would suggest attending either matins or evensong rather than one of the Eucharist services.

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