At sometime over Christmas many people will visit their local church for a service. But what were the Christmas services of the past like? In the cathedral’s archives are scattered notes of the Christmas services held in the Cathedral in the 1920's and 1930's which offer some interesting reports from a broken musical instrument, the first performance of an Elgar carol, and charitable gifts and concerts.
|The cover of the 1920 Carol Service for Worcester Cathedral. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)|
What sort of music and carols were sung?
There are two copies of a carol service that was often used between 1920 and at least 1931. Some of the carols sung may be unfamiliar to you. A processional hymn Christe Redemptor Omnium, the words of which were written in the sixth century and the melody composed in the eleventh were sung first, followed by the bidding prayer and the hymn O Come all ye Faithful. The carol From Jesse’s stock up-springing followed, which is an ancient melody arranged by M. Praetorius (1571-1621), and the carol In Dulci Jubilo arranged by R. L. De Pearsall (1795-1856), followed by A Carol for Christmas Day from William Byrd’s Song of Sundry Natures dating to 1589.
The Cathedral choir then sang In the bleak Mid Winter by Gustav Holst, words by Christina Rossetti, and then everyone sang The First Noel the angel did say, followed by a 15th century carol from the Processional of the Nuns of Chester - Qui creavit coelum, and then three carols: The Babe in Bethlehem’s manger laid, and Three Kings have come from the eastern land, and A babe is born of maiden pure, with the recessional hymn being While shepherds watch’d their flocks by night.
|The 1934 Worcester Cathedral programme for its Christmas Nativity play. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)|
Notable events in the Christmas services
In 1921 the cathedral’s new organ broke down at Evensong on Christmas Eve, whilst the Bishop of Worcester and the Countess of Beauchamp were attending. Thankfully, the services continued smoothly without it.
In 1928, the Cathedral’s Christmas time music was interesting for two reasons. Between 16th and 23rd December the Advent Antiphons, copied down in the Worcester Antiphoner were sung again in the cathedral. The Antiphoner dates to c.1230 but the music is from an earlier time. Boxing Day 1928 also saw the first performance in Worcester of Sir Edward Elgar’s Christmas carol I sing the birth. On Boxing Day 1930 Sir Edward was present in the Cathedral to hear another performance of his carol.
In Christmas 1931 a special music concert organized by Sir Ivor Atkins was held in College Hall to raise money for the building of an extension onto the Worcester Royal Infirmary. At that time, Christmas fundraising concerts were unusual at Worcester Cathedral, and had only happened on two other occasions- once in 1923 to raise funds for the organ and another in 1917 to help the Red Cross Depots in Worcester.
In January 1934, for the first time since the monastic era, a nativity play was performed in the cathedral entitled The Christmas Mystery. This included carols, readings from the Gospels, and tableaux of ‘actors’ in elaborate costumes.
|Dean William Moore Ede who urged the congregation to donate to help German refugees. Photograph Copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)|
Collections for Charity and Good Causes
The collection on Christmas Day in the Cathedral in 1920 was for the Save the Children Fund, and in 1931 it was for the St. Lawrence’s home (Church of England’s Waifs and Strays Society). In December 1933 or 1st January 1934 the Dean William Moore Ede made an urgent appeal to the congregation for a collection to help refugees who had escaped to England from Germany.
Have a very Happy Christmas from everyone at Worcester Cathedral Library and archive.