Advent at Salisbury Cathedral

ADVENT and Christmas are almost upon us, and Salisbury Cathedral is planning to celebrate in style as usual, with wonderful music, deeply moving services and the beauty of the great building decorated for the festive season.

The programme includes the atmospheric From Darkness to Light services, choral music sung by the Cathedral Choir, Christmas dinners in the Refectory restaurant, a 34ft Christmas tree at the west end of the nave, and a Christmouse trail for kids.

Inside and outside, the Cathedral will be ‘dressed’ for the season – the trees in the Close and Cloister Garth will be covered in fairy lights. Anyone following the Salisbury Christmas Tree Trail will find the first tree by the Bell Tower Tea Rooms on the edge of the North Lawn.

The first major event is a performance of the Monteverdi Vespers on Saturday 20th November at 7pm. Claudio Monteverdi’s masterpiece, the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary, will feature four choirs (including the full Cathedral choir – men, girls and boys – and eight soloists, accompanied by the period orchestra, Florilegium.The singers and musicians will perform at different points in the Cathedral, creating a stunning ‘surround sound’ effect.

Monteverdi’s Vespers lends itself to using the entire Cathedral space because of the variety of musical styles he employs. For this concert, the Salisbury Musical Society and the St John Singers will form the main choir at the Spire crossing, while the Farrant Singers and Salisbury Cathedral Choir will process around the building, performing in different spaces. Some of the soloists and even a few instrumentalists will also be on the move.

The Darkness to Light processions and services, which mark the start of Advent, will be on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th November  at 7pm (doors open at 6) and on Sunday 28th at 5pm (doors open at 4).

Each service begins in total darkness and silence, broken by a lone voice and the lighting of a single candle. Gradually the spectacle builds as the choir and processions make their way around the Cathedral, singing and lighting candles as they go, until the building is illuminated end-to-end by 1300 flickering lights.

Mulled wine and mince pies will be served in the Cloisters ahead of the service.

Pictured: the Cathedral nave lit by candles at the climax of From Darkness To Light; the giant Christmas tree at the west end of the nave; some of the festive lights in the Cathedral Close; photographs by Ash Mills