On Sunday evening, Hampton Court was looking unusually psychedelic (pictured) and for good measure, an ice rink had appeared outside, with cups of hot chocolate and marshmallows being genially proffered. This didn’t seem quite right though, as we were en route to the Chapel Royal to attend a solemn mass following the Sarum Rite, the form of Catholic worship in use in England up to the reign of Queen Mary I. We should probably have been fasting all day (although penance had been done on our journey there, in the form of replacement bus services on Southwestern Trains.)
Underneath the beautiful Chapel ceiling, the benches were packed, more than I’ve ever seen them before, for this fascinating historical reconstruction, into which so much thought and organisation had obviously been put. The Chapel is generally economically served by one Chaplain, but for this event he was joined by five other clergy, bedecked in beautiful robes and many other complicated items of clothing bearing religious significance. Likewise, the Choir’s usual group of six lay clerks were faced by another group of six singers, the Schola, who performed the extremely extensive plainsong which made up the majority of the service (all in Latin, of course.)
The extremely intricate ritual, particularly the preparation of the many sacred objects being used for communion, was described minutely in a service pamphlet for which I grew increasingly grateful. Especially as the actions were being largely performed by a huddle of clergy with their backs to us, focusing entirely, but invisibly to the laity, on the altar. While the service was austerely beautiful, it also prompted me to reflect on why the Reformation came about, offering simpler, folk-based forms of worship. However, interspersed through this evening's celebration was a rich musical treat for all present, Missa Puer Natus by Thomas Tallis; written for a 7-part choir, two altos, two tenors, a baritone, two basses. How did TT manage to squeeze all those people, singing contrapuntally, into a space of no more than two and a half octaves ? What a genius!