An embroidered alphabet: letter U and Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral, London

Embroidered U after the illuminated letter found in The Carmina Burana MS housed in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich (taken from Christopher de Hamel’s Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts; allen Lane, 2016)

Back home to the serenity of Cheltenham after nearly a week of helping the nanny with the two small people while their parents criss crossed the country to report on Brexit.  I’ve returned exhausted – but gloriously so – as I managed some jobs which should help to make the house function just a little bit better. The former study is now a bit nearer to becoming the small person’s bedroom and four nice William Nicholson prints are now hanging on a wall, their glass frames at last out of danger from uncontrolled physicality at floor level. Much washing has been done, including hand washing the hand knitting which is saved for my visits. (I know fellow knitters who insist on this before handing over the results of their loving labours! Understandable, we too have grieved over felted jerseys.) Finally, we snatched an early Saturday morning trip to the council dump with a half filled Zip van whose contents will no longer either languish beneath the basement window and distract from the overall neatness of the front of the house nor moulder away in a dampish coal cellar, out of sight but never really out of mind. We nearly sobbed when we got to the dump with our ever so slightly too high van and were told we should have booked. Managing to keep calm and polite, we prodded gently at what we hoped was an inherently good nature. Good nature triumphed and greatly relieved we proceeded  beyond the barrier – where there were only two other cars (one with what looked suspiciously like builders’ rubble) and lots of empty spaces – thank goodness we had set off early.

Illuminated letter U found in The Carmina Burana MS housed in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich (taken from Christopher de Hamel’s Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts; allen Lane, 2016)

All week, knitting lay inert in my suitcase and the only sewing I managed to do was letting down a pair of school trousers! But, being a great list maker, ticking things off brings its own quiet pleasure. Anyway, now I’m home, embroidery and catch up listening on iPlayer offer me more enjoyment than almost anything else I can think of. (Though it probably wouldn’t feel like this if I hadn’t had the contrast of the hurly burly of the week before.)

Embroidered letter U after the illuminated letter found in The Carmina Burana MS housed in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich (taken from Christopher de Hamel’s Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts; allen Lane, 2016)

To be fair (and the small person is very hot on fairness at the moment) life wasn’t all chores and tasks, it also had sparkling high points. On Wednesday the small person and I attended our first Evensong in St Paul’s Cathedral. As the Cathedral School comes out at about 3.30, we had an hour or so before the service began so we retired to a nearly café for apple juice, toasted cheese sandwiches and a protracted game of I Spy – oh, yes and chocolate wafer biscuits. (I think we even read his school reading book). The rain was heavy as we dashed from café to cathedral and the steps up to the west front door were dark. For Evensong an open door leads straight into the cathedral with no horrible turnstile to go through and quite suddenly and unexpectedly you tumble into a most wonderful cavernous space lit only by racks of votive candles, a series of glittering glass chandeliers (candlelit?), whose cut surfaces reflected the colours of the mosaics above and around, while far away at the east end, casting a yellow glow, were the little shaded lamps on the choir stalls.

Sketches of various Us found online

Arriving at the space beneath the dome, we were about to sit down when one of the vergers announced that there were a few seats available in the choir itself. Surprisingly few people took up this offer so there was no unseemly rush as we slipped silently into the vacant choir stalls. With 15 minutes to go before the service started, the small person found much to wonder about. Mosaics, wood carving above the pews, the architecture itself – had Christopher Wren done everything himself? Why was everything so ornate? Who was it for? Surrounded by the work of so many unknown hands, I pointed out the carving of Grinling Gibbons whose swags of flowers, fruit and putti decorated the tops of the choir stalls opposite and behind us. Curious little patches of light, almost white, wood were randomly distributed like white chocolate buttons scattered on milk chocolate, – repairs by modern craftsmen where  the original had rotted away or been eaten by woodworm which reminded us that nothing stays the same for ever.

Sketches of various Us found online

I think we had William Byrd’s Versicles and Responses – they certainly had that spine tingling wonderful way of pulling something in you upwards and outwards while at the same time wrapping you in a melodious blanket of wellbeing. The small person jiggled a bit standing on his rather unstable wooden kneeler and I felt a bit of a twinge from the man next to him, but as my 5 year old was the only small person in the congregation I was inclined to be indulgent and tried not to shush him too much. While the unaided choir voices were brilliant, unfortunately the sound system for the lessons was dreadful. I could hardly make out a word, so goodness alone knows what my small companion thought. For me Evensong is a service that washes over and through, energising and vivifying. The small person was contemplative and not especially talkative so I left him with his own thoughts as we plunged into a nearby M&S for food shopping. He wants to go again, so we shall.

Christopher de Hamel’s Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts; allen Lane, 2016

Back to the alphabet, I couldn’t resist this U which comes from The Carmina Burana, an early and unique C13th MS lodged in the state library in Munich and the source of Carl Orff’s exuberant and crazily wonderful cantata of 1936. The original MS contains about 350 poems and songs – only about 20 pieces or extracts of which were set to music by Orff – and includes some of the oldest surviving vernacular songs, mostly in Latin but also in various European languages, including important pieces in High German. Cliché of all clichés I was introduced to this during my first term at Oxford and it gave a lonely ex-grammar school girl a lot of pleasure as I lurked in my college room summoning up the courage to go out into a very different world.

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  1. Posted January 22, 2019 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    You may have sparked a lifelong love of Byrd in the small person – and possibly of St Paul’s, too!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted January 22, 2019 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      Hope so.

  2. Posted January 22, 2019 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Lovely story. Thank you.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted January 23, 2019 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Glad you enjoyed it, Katie.

  3. Anne Hill
    Posted January 26, 2019 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I thought this initial would be good on a child’s monogram. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Lucky grandson. Chocolate biscuits and evensong at St Paul’s

    • Mary Addison
      Posted January 27, 2019 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Glad to hear this has inspired you to adapt this into a child’s monogram.
      We are lucky to have easy access to a cathedral choir. I used to catch my bus home from just a stone’s throw from Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford and now I marvel that I never once extended my visit by a couple of hours and dropped in for evensong there – so anxious was I to be home and relaxing! Dreadful laziness!

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