December 23, 2000 & January 3, 2001
It's the special little places and events discovered by chance that seem to conjure up the romantic visions of what getting out there is all about! Ely was one of those places.
We had to change trains here and heard a bit of history about this place. A bump of land stuck out in the marshy fens hundreds of years ago (now the land has been reclaimed by constant pumping the water out to sea). It took skill to navigate to, making it isolated enough to escape religious persecution. And so it was.
"If we spot something of interest, let's take some time to check it out," I told my flatmates. Looking across the now dark landscape we spotted what looked like the top of a lighted castle tower. It was, of course, the cathedral, high atop the once-island hill.
Navigating by the light from above, not unlike the Christmas star, we approached, ducking into the interesting garden on the way up. "Ah, look! I path through the field up to the side of the cathedral!" This was the way to go… literally through the back door.
The rusty hinges opened easy enough and the leather-coated doors squeaked open. We emerged from behind a curtain just in time to catch the boy's choir. The last musical treat of the year radiated from a circle of small boys like the glow of a campfire on a chilly night warming all fortunate enough to simply be there.
Have you ever heard a boy's choir? It is an experience, and this one was complete in 14th and 15th century English and Latin(?). I saved some program notes to share with you, but lost them.
I brought my brother up a week later to share the experience. May the massive over-1000-year old structure that held the crystal clear voices stood, just as impressive by daylight as well, on it's giant lump of clay.
I've come across the lost notes that should have been the Ely report. For the sake of a complete archive, here they are:
The chaplain spoke with the voice of a friendly god, praying for those in the wars of the world today, even those forgotten by the media, the sick and dead of the parish and the story of Christmas. Then the choral evensong began. Choir voices spiralled and the organ billowed inward.
Some lines I have not heard in church before: "O Lord, save the Queen." "...Because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou, O God."
And the old 14th C English told this familiar story, no doubt cryptic
to my Asian travel partners:
"Adam lay i-bounden, bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter thought he not to long.
And all was for an appil, an appil that he tok.
As Clerkes finden written in their book."
For closing recession down the center isle, our boys came near, then past us. Their voices to fade away moving out of the cathedral. "Hodie exsultant justi dicentes: Gloria in excelsis Deo. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia..."