Advent has arrived at Salisbury Cathedral and Christmas is in sight. On Sunday after Evensong the lights in the Close were switched on, marking the start of Advent, and behind the scenes work to transform the Cathedral interior has got underway, ready for re-opening on Thursday 3 December.
The Christmas Trail
Thirty flower arrangers, led by Michael Bowyer, the Cathedral’s award-winning Director of Flowers, are preparing a special Christmas trail that includes the Cathedral’s towering Christmas Tree. The twelve-stop trail will explore the Christmas story using seasonal foliage and contemporary as well as traditional arrangements, all linked to festive activities and customs.
There will be an abundance of holly and ivy, and floral designs depicting tales such as St Nicholas and the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh brought by the three Wise Men to the baby Jesus. As a Christmas takeaway, the flower team have created a foliage entwined Christmas selfie frame so that visitors can share the message of Christmas comfort and joy across social media – or even create a picture for their own homemade Christmas cards.
The Christmas Tree
The Christmas tree at the start of the trail is a Norway Spruce grown and felled in Longleat Forest, where trees are managed sustainably, and a new tree will be planted in its place. Norway Spruces grow at around a foot a year - this tree is 32ft high, so an estimated 32 years old, with a 10inch diameter trunk. Weighing in at over 250 kilos, it takes 12 people to move it.
Earlier in the year there were concerns as to how the Cathedral team were going to raise the tree. The hoist that is normally used to lift it is currently supporting Daniel Chadwick’s installation, Somewhere in the Universe, part of the Celebrating 800 years of Spirit and Endeavour exhibition. However, Robert and Alan Siertsema of Gebuwin, a family firm from the Netherlands, came to the Cathedral’s aid and loaned us a hoist for the occasion.
The Christmas tree is lit by 1,000 LED lights, or ten rows of 100 lights, all hung by Richard Pike, the Cathedral’s ecclesiastical joiner, using a cherry picker. Richard also adds the glass baubles and beautiful glass droplets created from an old chandelier, under instruction from members of the Lydian Society, who traditionally supervise the decorations. Good exercise for those upper arms.
Our Christmas trees this year are generously sponsored by The Friends of Salisbury Cathedral.
The magnificent Renaissance style Nativity, created by Jacquiline Creswell and Ash Mills and first exhibited last year, will also be in place for opening. Printed onto enormous voile panels around 10ft (3m) wide by over 35ft (10.5m) long the photographic tableaus hang nearly 50ft (14m) above the ground, at the heart of the Cathedral.
The Nativity is built from a series of individual and group portraits of members of the Cathedral community, including baby Freddie Halliday (now a year old), son of former England rugby player Simon Halliday and grandson of the choir’s counter tenor, Steve Abbott.
The story of the Nativity is one which, for centuries, has been brought to life with the traditional staging of a nativity scene. This installation combines past and present effortlessly, and embodies a sense of warmth, hope and community in difficult times.
Carols in the Cathedral
Throughout December there will also be Carols in the Cathedral sung by a number of choirs, including Salisbury Cathedral School choirs, Salisbury Cathedral Youth Choir, Kate Edgar’s community choirs and the Cathedral Choristers.
14:15 Thursday 10 December Salisbury Cathedral School Choir YR3&4
12:15, 13:30 & 14:15 Saturday 12 December Kate Edgar Singers
12:15, 13:30 & 14:15 Wednesday 16 December Cathedral Chamber Choir
13:30 & 14:15 Thursday 17 December Cathedral Chamber Choir
12:15, 13:30 & 14:15 Friday 18 December Navy Larks Choir
13:30 Saturday 19 December SC Youth Choir
14:15 Saturday 19 December Choristers & Organ
12:15 Monday 21 December Kate Edgar Singers
13:30 & 14:15 Monday 21 December Choristers & Organ
13:30 & 14:15 Tuesday 22 December Choristers & Organ
13:30 & 14:15 Wednesday 23 December Choristers & Organ
To add to the seasonal fun, on 10 December and 17 December from 18.30 – 20.30 (last entry 20.00) there is an festive Open Evening, with music, mulled wine and mince pies. Christmas Canines are welcome, particularly if they are sporting festive outfits. The Cathedral welcomes dogs of any size or shape, just so long as they behave and clear up after themselves!
Refectory and Cathedral Shop
The Refectory and Cathedral shop will be open from Thursday 3 December. Whether it’s Christmas presents or decorations or festive refreshments that you fancy, it’s all on hand with welcoming staff ready to help you.
Special trails will be available online and offline for family visitors. A Children’s Art Tour booklet is available to youngsters visiting the Celebrating 800 Years of Spirit and Endeavour exhibition with their families, and if they wish to continue their art exploration afterwards, a child-friendly Virtual Art tour is available online.