Salisbury Cathedral offers a deeply hospitable place for pilgrimage, whether it be to celebrate its centuries of prayerful worship, to walk the way of Holy Week, or as a tourist in search of history. I’ve had the blessing to experience all three, beginning in 2008 for the 750th anniversary celebrations, in company with a large delegation of Sudanese bishops and their spouses.
This year was the first time in many years that I was able to observe the full round of observances and liturgies of Holy Week in the same setting, and to do so with the Salisbury Cathedral community was a profound blessing. The hospitality of the many people committed to the life of the Cathedral was warm, gracious, and enlightening. The beauty of this place, in its natural, sacred, and human environments, is filled with grace and continual surprise.
Upspringing bulbs, flowering trees, green lawns and watermeadows, the calling birds long before dawn, ducks nesting in the gardens and wandering the Cathedral Cloisters – all proclaim God’s eternal creativity. Human beings take their place in the diverse riot of life around the Cathedral, as children run and play, dogs lead their best-beloveds around to explore curious smells, lovers converse peaceably, and families frolic on the expanse of lawns. Enter the sacred precincts and discover the hallowed work of centuries, both ancient and recent. The remarkable font by William Pye dates from the celebration year marking 750 years of the new Cathedral’s existence, and invites reflection literal and deep.
The many tombs and memorials make one ponder both the shortness of life and the length of human presence here for sacred purposes. The founder of the first Sarum Cathedral, Osmund, has a cracked grave marker in the eastmost Trinity chapel, an enduring monument to memory and survival. The effigies in the nave range from austere skeletons – memento mori – to formal court dress to the tender image of a knight’s dog curled beneath his feet. In the candlelight of early Easter they are luminous presences – the communion of saints gathered with the living as witnesses to resurrection.
God’s praises are hymned by the faithful, and led and sustained by musicians of great accomplishment. Choirs of angels – celestial and human, girls, boys, and men – alternate and combine to lift up the hearts of all, offering unceasing praise to God: Creator, Savior, and Sustainer. Worship life in this place evokes the tradition of centuries and invites encounter with the newest of sacred inspiration.
I had a delightful encounter on Easter Day with a man who told me of his relation to Catherine Winkworth, translator of many of Luther’s hymns, including one we sang on Good Friday. He was overjoyed that his great-great-aunt’s work was part of the fabric of our worship. The continuity of a foundation like Salisbury reminds us all of our small part in the web of life as Christ’s beloved community. The Lord of Creation is risen! Alleluia!
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA