I’ve blogged a few times now about my relationship with Gloucester cathedral – while there’s no Christianity in my religious mix, it remains a powerful place for me. This is a building made with love and determination and remade and developed over many centuries by my ancestors of place, and probably a fair few blood ancestors as well. I go there to honour them. The stone has come from the hills – it is a sort of forest/cave made of stone and as such is works well as a dry place in which to commune with the wider landscape and its history. I also love the way sound is transformed by the space so that mundane human conversations sound a bit like a choir.
I haven’t been outside of Stroud since the start of the year. The small train journey to Gloucester was a big consideration. The county isn’t doing as badly with the virus as some places, but it remains an issue. I don’t want to spread it and I certainly don’t want to catch it. Balancing virus issues against emotional and mental health needs remains tricky. It was, however, really good to have some quiet, contemplative time in the cathedral.
I have a favourite chapel, and I’ve frequented it since my late teens. I first started going to the Cathedral when I was studying in Cheltenham, and sometimes my journey back from there gave me time for a visit. I’ve been sitting in contemplation, and lighting candles in the cathedral on and off throughout my adult life.
Yesterday, my adult son and I sat together in the blue chapel. Some of it was quiet contemplation, some of it was talking quietly about the stained glass and what it means. There were very few people in the cathedral, and I took the decision to do something I have always wanted to. I hummed, quietly. After a while, my son joined in and then we got a bit more deliberate about it. We’re both Pagan, but have had plenty of exposure to Christian music along the way. We picked Christian tunes that we like – slower and stranger tunes – the older ones that seem to resonate more in that space. We pondered whether the space had been made to fit the music or the music had been written for cathedral acoustics.
It was a very powerful thing for me – our two voices humming in harmony, filling the small chapel and getting glorious acoustic resonance from the building itself. No one bothered us or told us to stop. We were singing in a chapel where the modern stained glass is two thirds devoted to representing the natural world. It felt like a very Druid thing to do.
It also struck me that visitors to the cathedral were making all kinds of irreverent noise. We were the only ones doing something audibly reverent, and still I was anxious that someone might get cross with us or tell us off. But they didn’t, so maybe I will do it again.