Monday 7 December 2020
Address: His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is the greatest privilege to be present with you in this sacred place as you celebrate your 800th anniversary.
As we gather here, we are profoundly aware of all those who have gone before us, who have bequeathed us the magnificent legacy of this glorious building, and who have maintained the spiritual community which has kept the flame of faith alive here for so many centuries.
Over the years, that faith has sustained this city and this land through many trials, and has done so through the many months of the pandemic we are currently experiencing. Over the years, each challenge in turn has been overcome, and that is the case today when, thanks to the inspiring work of all those who have been involved in providing vaccines, we can now look forward with renewed hope.
When my wife and I visited Salisbury in 2018, we saw your community spirit very much in evidence, as people met challenges they had never thought they would encounter with resources they never knew they had.
In your response to the pandemic too, it is clear from all I have seen and heard that you have met every hardship with an even greater resolve. No-one who contemplates this almost impossibly beautiful building can be in any doubt that those who raised it, in the face of every difficulty, have found successors who are their equal in determination.
That continuity, it seems to me, is crucial. There is a sense in which this cathedral was not completed in 1258 - and has never been completed. Work on it has continued ever since. A campaign, of which I was immensely proud to be the Patron, was launched in the late 1980s to save the spire – clearly successfully! That campaign developed into the Major Repair Programme, which itself is now nearing its end. Work to restore and refurbish every external elevation of the Cathedral will conclude by 2022, by which time the fabric of the building will be in better condition than it has been since the thirteenth century.
Visitors who believe their view is marred by scaffolding are experiencing what every age has experienced. The work of building, of maintaining and of protecting for the future is for us all to take forward, in each generation - as you have done so splendidly here. This is a living building; these are living stones, just as the Church of Christ, whose coming we remember at this Advent time, is always meant to be.
Homily: The Very Revd Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury
The pandemic has a city in its grip. Reports of danger circulate. Fear rises among the population. The doors of their Cathedral are closed.
It sounds eerily familiar. But the year is 1627. Bubonic plague has returned to Salisbury and the clergy have locked the gates of the Close to prevent its entry. One Sunday, one gate is unlocked, and the people surge in with what the histories describe as “irresistible impetuosity”. The clergy, their self-isolation violated, slam the doors of the Cathedral in the face of the crowd, and suspend worship for nearly twelve months.
“A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall” writes St Peter. Our most precious gift will be our undoing if we do not recognize it, cherish it, and use it aright. Eight hundred years ago this Cathedral began its life in a bid for liberty from the royal fortress of Old Sarum. The gracious columns which surround us were raised in an outpouring of prodigious creativity. The worship offered here, the Sarum Rite, brought the Church throughout these islands into a new relationship with eternity.
Yet four hundred years later these stones made their keepers stumble, for when the plague threatened, they were turned into a fortress. The wellspring of numinous creativity was stoppered up. The Cathedral that gave liturgical expression to eternity paused its heartbeat of prayer.
It is true that the Chapter of 1627 had fewer options then than we have had in the pandemic of 2020. We have learned that worship can be webcast and livestreamed; that the Chapter’s business can be conducted remotely; and that even guided tours can happen online. I thank all my colleagues unreservedly for their resilience and readiness throughout this year of trials.
But the visceral discomfort that we feel with the actions taken in 1627 - shutting the people out and halting the rhythm of prayer - points us clearly to our continuing vocation. This is the church of St Osmund, who ordered its community’s life, and of Richard Poore, who began it. It is also the church of Ela of Salisbury, present at its foundation; and of the first girls’ choir, making music here on equal terms with the boys for nearly thirty years. It is the church of Elias of Dereham, who entrusted Magna Carta to it; and of Sydney Evans, who placed Christ the Prisoner of Conscience at its east end.
Our vocation is to honour the liberty, creativity and eternity that are etched into these stones; to honour them by praying, by offering hospitality, and by seeking justice; by being a holy place in which all belong; undeterred by pestilence, by civil strife, by war, by poisoning. Such praying, such offering, such seeking is the spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
For the stones of Salisbury Cathedral, to which we are about to add, were raised to honour the one who is humankind’s most precious gift, the one who is the cornerstone; and they were raised to serve the living stones of this city, these counties, and this nation.
“Though built by kings, a place for all to share” wrote Henry of Avranches, marvelling at the new Cathedral. It is to this service that we recommit ourselves today.