Christmas Hereford Cathedral

PUBLISHED: 16:07 16 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:10 20 February 2013

Hereford Cathedral Choir

Hereford Cathedral Choir

At the heart of Hereford's festive celebration is the cathedral, with a wide variety of services, free concerts and events. Rachel Crow spoke to some of those who work to make this a special time

Christmas in the cathedral

At the heart of Herefords festive celebration is the cathedral, with a wide variety of services, free concerts and events. Rachel Crow spoke to some of those who work to make this a special time

The Very Reverend Michael Tavinor, Dean of Hereford

Increasingly December is the month of Christmas and for us its a time to reach out into the community. But we do have to achieve a delicate balance with the fact there is another story to tell during Advent, which is a fairly solemn period of reflection and be aware of what it is we are celebrating and why.

Preparations start in June when we decide on the design for the cathedral Christmas card. We have had a series designed over the years and this years is by Alison Merry and is based on the Boy Bishop Ceremony.

The crib is kept in the Deanery and when we get that down at the beginning of December you know that Christmas is beginning. The crib is a life size model, made over four years by various local schools and for me this represents that Christmas is for everybody.

We have tried to involve more people in the community in other ways, so have Carols for Shoppers which is held along with the Advent Fair. Years ago churches and cathedrals would have market stalls because there wasnt a marked division between sacred and secular and for me thats symbolic.

We have a large army of about 300 volunteers doing all sorts of things throughout the year that we rely on and we all get together on the 16th of December and have a party in the cathedral.

It doesnt all finish after Christmas Day, either, because Christmas goes on for the 12 days until Epiphany when we have a very big carol service by candlelight. After this we have an Epiphany party for about 100 people, where the clergy and chapter perform a pantomime. This is our opportunity to have a bit of fun.

Christmas does take a lot of work and there is pressure on our staff but we all want it to succeed. Every year the message at Christmas is the same but also different. We look back over the year and there will have been happiness and sadness. We use Christmas to try and make sense of it. There is a sense of joy in a sometimes dark world.

Rachael Jenkins, Chief Flower Arranger

There is a lot of talent; some have been arranging for more than 20 years.

The cathedral has a team of about 40 volunteer flower arrangers who come from all over the archdeaconry. We are all ladies of a certain age and there is a lot of talent; some have been arranging for more than 20 years.

We generally prepare 14 flower arrangements every Friday for the cathedral but for Christmas this rises to 40 and we also dress the tombs. Its a big job.

The preparations and recruiting for the Christmas displays starts in September. We strip the cathedral of all decoration for Advent, which is the tradition, and then on St Andrews Day (November 30) Ill sit down with the team leaders and allocate each of the ladies a place where they will be doing their arrangements. I have lists for everything and its like a military operation.

On the 21st of December I take delivery of over 500 flowers from the Hereford wholesaler, Just Flowers. We have carnations and chrysanthemums, a few lilies and roses, lots of reds, scarlet and gold. Its like a flower market. These are supplemented by cuttings of holly and seasonal foliage that the volunteers bring in. We also work closely with the cathedral gardeners. There is a cutting garden where they plant things specifically for the arrangements.

On 22nd of December the ladies start to arrive from 8am onwards to make the Christmas displays. We will have already prepared 45 buckets of flowers, and as they arrive they take their bucket and go to their spot to arrange. The arrangements follow a similar style each year but each one is individual and very often you can tell who has done it. Thats the beauty of it, that they arent all identical. Our Dean loves the flowers and decorations, which means the ladies really enjoy coming because they know he appreciates what we are doing.

Its a lot of hard work, with plenty of lifting and carrying and getting things in place, so the most special part for me is from coffee time onwards on 22 December when we can see the cathedral looking very beautiful.

Tim Pryse-Davies, Deans Verger

The smell of the trees always cheers me up no end

The logistics for the festive season starts at Advent with the Advent Carol Service on November 28th and it is pretty much non-stop from there.

The middle of December the Christmas trees arrive. The smell of the trees always cheers me up no end. Its a balancing act between not bringing them in too early because Christmas doesnt start until Christmas Eve but wanting the carol services to be as Christmassy as possible. We have eight trees that come from a forest in Wales. There is a huge 30-footer that goes at the west end and is the first to go up. We get the stone masons in to help and there is a team of seven or eight of us hauling it up with ropes and pulleys. I like decorating trees but when youre balancing on a ladder at 12 feet high or more its not easy.

In December there is a lot of work moving pews, putting out and taking down chairs and staging. Each school has different needs for their carol concerts, so we try to accommodate them as best we can. We work more evenings in the run up to Christmas because at least one of us has to be here for the carol services. They are lovely once they get going, although the build up can be a bit fraught sometimes. Once everyone is sat down, we can sit back and relax and enjoy it.

Geraint Bowen, Director of Music and Master of Choristers

There is a very traditional feel to the carol service. It starts in dark with the choir procession carrying candles and a lone chorister singing the first verse.

Its a very demanding term for the Cathedral Choir because they are effectively singing from September until 4.30pm on Christmas Day, without much of a break. The choir is made up of 18 boys aged between seven and 14 and 12 men.

Our Christmas season kicks off with our Advent Carol Service and we start rehearsing for that a week before. The next is the Boy Bishop Ceremony on the 6th of December. We start rehearsing in earnest for the Christmas carol services and Christmas Day from December the 17th. Until five years ago we had one main carol service on December 23rd but due to increased demand experimented with two and now both are packed out.

There is a very traditional feel to the carol service. It starts in dark with the choir procession carrying candles and a lone chorister singing the first verse. We dont just stay in the same place for the whole service so rehearsal is crucial. We have a selection of congregational carols, such as Come All Ye Faithful and Once in Royal Davids City and the rest are sung by the choir alone. This year we will premiere a piece written by one of my predecessors, Richard Lloyd, in memory of Kevin Mason, a member of our chapter who died earlier this year.

On Christmas Day the boys arrive at 8.50am and we have to try to keep the lid on their excitement somehow because they have a job to do. The first service is at 10am, followed by Matins at 11.30, with scarcely any break. There is then a wonderful Christmas lunch for all of the choristers and their families in College Hall from 12.30pm and at 2.50pm they come back for another brief practice in preparation for Evensong. Finally, the boys and men sing their last note by about 4.20pm and then can go home and collapse into the bosom of their families.

The hardest element to my job is to assemble the pieces of the jigsaw so that we get everything rehearsed for the moment it needs to be sung. I think the carol services fit the bill for Christmas for a huge number of people, including those who dont necessarily normally visit the cathedral.

Lynda Wilshaw, Cathedral Cook

The tea lights are lit as it gets darker and theres choral music piping out and the spicy smells of Christmas

Along with my colleague, Sam, we do the catering for the Cloister Cafe and most of the in-house functions. Christmas is a really nice time because you get the lovely smells in here from baking. We start making mince pies about the second week in November. We try and vary the recipe a bit and also make gluten-free, as well as shortbreads for the Advent Fair in different shapes and designs and fruit cakes. We use locally sourced produce where possible and make a fresh warming soup and scones every day. It is constantly busy and that continues into the New Year.

Theres a lovely atmosphere in the cafe where the tea lights are lit as it gets darker and theres choral music piping out and the spicy smells of Christmas. Its a really comforting place.

Carolyn Harding, Advent Fair Organiser

Its an amazing feeling being part of something so special

The Advent Fair was the Deans idea and this years will be the third. We started off with about 25 stalls of local craftspeople set up around the cathedral selling all sorts from jewellery and pottery to scarves or consumables. This year we will have 40 stalls and combined with the Carols for Shoppers its been really successful. At the same time we are supporting local grass roots artisan businesses. We sponsor a named charity every year and this years is Home-Start Hereford.

The planning starts the day after the previous years fair. My fellow organiser, Elizabeth Evans and I go round and visit crafts people throughout the year to see if what they produce would fit in with our fair and we try and get variety. It is hard work but its an amazing feeling being part of something so special.

Its not commercial, its just Christmas.

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