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National Carol Service Ely 2016

It drizzled all the way on the journey to the National Carol Service, on Thursday, 8th December in Ely,but stopped just as we spied the Cathedral which does as it says in the guide books and dominates the surrounding landscape.

It is known locally as "the ship of the Fens" and has a prominent position on the highest land in the fens, on what was an island before the fen lands were drained. In AD 672 St Etheldreda built an abbey church here but the present Cathedral dates from 1081 and is the only UK building to be listed as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages”. Walking inside, we were struck by the history, beauty and size of the building. The nave is the third longest in the UK, and the same length as Ely High Street. Its most famous feature is the central octagonal tower, with the wood, lead and glass lantern above. It is called a lantern because it lets light in through tall windows at each side. Had it not been damp and we were not suitably dressed and shod, we could have climbed the 165 steps to view this from the top. But instead we admired the large space which the tower provided inside the Cathedral, which held the staging that the choir and readers would use during the service.

A bell rang in the Cathedral as a signal for the start of the service and Pauline Benton, Choir Master of the South Staffordshire Choir, read the first reading. The National Chairman, Jenny Rideout, led in the current National Trustees, who were all able to attend, and four former National Chairmen, Margaret Key, Pauline Myers, Iris Shanahan MBE and Sue Smith OBE. They were accompanied by the Mayor and Mayoress of Ely, Councillor Ian Lindsay and his wife Suzanne.

After we were welcomed by the Dean of Ely, The Very Reverend Mark Bonney, the service continued with the Christmas story being told in familiar readings and modern versions focusing on the hands of the main people in the story read by some of the current National Trustees and past Chairmen. The South Staffordshire Choir sang modern and tradition Christmas songs and led the members in singing well known carols to provide the traditional musical part of the service. Members sang 'I am a small part of the world' and I found this and the holding of hands at the end of the song a spine tingling moment.

The Dean of Ely gave his address which included references to light and the importance of light in the Christmas story and at this time of the year. It was beautifully illustrated by a magnificent Christmas tree which shone beneath the lantern.

The National Trustees enjoyed having a chance to catch up with old and new friends after the service, wish them season's greetings and were pleased to hear that the televisions in the Cathedral had given good views of the service. They were also glad that the weather had been much milder than usual, at 12°C, and no-one would need hot water bottles on the journey home.

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