I visited Manchester Cathedral today. You might be surprised that I should write a blog post about it, especially as it is my “home” cathedral and I have visited and worshipped (and indeed performed) there many times before. But today was a different experience for me.
You see, whenever I have been to the cathedral in my city before it has been to take part in something – a service, a concert etc – but I have never been as a visitor before. It was interesting to see the place as a visitor would and to experience the atmosphere when it was practically empty. I was on my way to a meeting further up Deansgate and I had deliberately set out early so I could visit the cathedral on my way there. I can’t explain in simple terms why I felt the need to do that, but I did feel pulled to go today.
I don’t usually go out during the day – no, I’m not a vampire! – and unless I have a specific reason to go somewhere or to be somewhere I sometimes find it hugely difficult to get through that brick wall at my door. I’m sure I’m not alone in that, and I’m also sure that I’m not alone in feeling guilty about not pushing myself harder to just get out there and enjoy being away from my home. It’s an issue that comes and goes, and with the coming and going of it, the difficulty in stepping out gets easier and harder too. So today, when I knew I had the meeting at 2pm, I decided that I would push myself and not be simply content with arriving in good time. With that decision came the pull to go to the cathedral. I like to think that God spoke to me – or at the very least he gave me a great big shove in the back with the words “get out there girl!” whispered in my ear.
And so I found myself walking into the cathedral at just after 1 o’clock this afternoon. A communion service had just begun in the choir, but I didn’t want to join that today and I just wanted to sit and enjoy the atmosphere, the peace and the prayerful air in there on my own for a little while.
It was lovely.
I did pray for some time whilst I was there and I did spend some time simply being in God’s presence. I could hear the service and although I couldn’t pick out the individual words, I could feel my soul stirring to the cadences and the patterns of them. They were saying a service that I have taken part in many times since childhood and it was good to feel connected to it in some way.
The cathedral itself has undergone some work recently and there is a brand new floor in place. It used to be dark slabs of slate on the floor which aided the gloomy and sad feeling inside, but today I was taken with the new lighter grey marble flooring which reflected the sunlight streaming in through the stained glass and the clear windows. The effect was wonderful.
I don’t know if you know much about Manchester’s Christian heritage, but briefly, there has been a worship centre of some sort on or around the site of the current cathedral since about 700AD – that’s about 300 years after the Romans left. What we see today is the result of about 800 years of building and remodelling and additions to a church built by the lords of the manor, the Grelleys in 1215. There was a huge political dispute and it was only in the middle of the 19th Century that the collegiate church as it was then was given the privilege of being called a cathedral. Manchester itself has been around for more than 2000 years, and yet we have only had a cathedral for the last 150 of them. Remarkable!
Anyway, if you ever get the chance to visit Manchester Cathedral, I urge you to go when it is quiet and you have some time to soak up the atmosphere and to pray in peace. It will be a most rewarding experience, I promise you.