Saturday, 21 February 2009

Shrewsbury Abbey.

The largest church in Shrewsbury, and the one which attracts the largest congregation, is the Church of the Holy Cross, otherwise known as Shrewsbury Abbey (which has a sister church nearby). The church maintains an excellent choir, with Tallis, Byrd and Victoria making up a sufficient part of the repertoire to stir up a little envy in me. It was a 'real' abbey - the Benedictine Abbey of Ss Peter and Paul, before the Reformation, but let us gloss over that and assume that we are all, now, five hundred years on, able to purge our hearts of any bad feeling which this sad period in English history may bring about within us. Another blog linked to the last post about Shrewsbury, discussing the Church of Saint Mary, which brought comments about the desirability of returning Roman Catholicism to that church - as the church is in the care of a non-denominational trust which offered it to other denominations and was turned down as nobody had a cat in hells chance of filling it (the RC Cathedral is very small and the other denominations are, as elsewhere, dwindling), I would suggest that it is better as it is now than anything else I can imagine, the other alternatives being apartments or a shopping centre.

Anyway, back to Shrewsbury Abbey. In the 1870's it became clear that the building required major renovation. JL Pearson was employed, a couple of decades later, to provide the work. The Sanctuary and associated parts were completed, but the First World War put an end to the work which was, as is a common refrain of those financially desperate times, never completed. The result is stunning - a beautiful sanctuary with an altar and reredos which dominates the space from its elevated position - and a suitably medieval nave.

I would be the first to agree that from the outside, the Abbey is not a thing of beauty, but the inside is another matter. Once upon a time this church was home to the relics of Saint Winifriede, which now reside, I think, in her Well nearby.

What a remarkable mixture of architectural styles, set off by the wooden roof.

This vast and imposing altar arrests your view as soon as you enter the Church. Apart from the suggestion given by 'Solemn Eucharist' and 'Choral Evensong', I have no real idea about the worship in this church - but how perfect a setting it is for High Mass. The church attracts a very large congregation, it would be interesting to know something of the style of worship.

The Lady Chapel brings the arcades into the Sanctuary, with this altar used for the daily Eucharist giving way to the Sanctuary at the side. I would not be queuing up to look at the statue of Our Lady on the left, but I suppose it's better than nothing!

Pearson's work went as far as rebuilding and reordering the sanctuary, this picture repays being expanded to get a glimpse of the awe it inspires on the casual visitor like your scribe.

This altar frontal also repays being looked at in closer detail. I am told it is in use for the greater feasts, although the longer it is left out in the sun, the less it will be used at all. The rest of the walls had hatchings and memorials of varying quality.

You can see some of the memorials over the nave in this picture, in between the wonderful, wide Norman pillars.

And, finally, another glimpse of the glory of a church with a clear run to the altar, without distracting tables placed in the nave or Sanctuary for the use of those who are too proud to face the same way as everyone else, who, in looking to the risen Lord in the East, see their pastor standing in the way, looking at them. What a badly thought out practice Westward facing celebration is.