Hymns Ancient & Modern was the name of the hymn book I sang from in my chorister days, so-called because the 500 plus songs it held included traditional (though hardly ancient) and more contemporary melodies. It occurred to me while I was in Ripon Cathedral that the descriptor was perhaps more appropriately applied to the contents of this church.
The crypt of St Wilfrid’s church clearly counts as ancient being over 13 centuries old, but let’s start at the other extreme. The Modern.
The cathedral is clearly a vibrant contributor to the life of the Ripon community. On the morning that I visited and area was given over to running a coffee shop in one of the transepts, and a number of children were completing a treasure trail around the building accompanied by parents displaying varying degrees of patience and interest. This is important, because so long as people value the cathedral for what it offers to them, then they will support its upkeep and development.
The great west end doorways for example have changed enormously since I first visited. After 45 years or so I can’t remember exactly how you entered the church, but I suspect it was through huge heavy wooden doors blackened by centuries. The stone remains much the same (this is a Grade I listed building after all) but is augmented by a glass porch that allows light to penetrate but not the vicissitudes of Yorkshire weather. Added only a few years ago it features beautiful engravings from the life of the saint who founded the cathedral.
Step back a few decades to the 1920’s and we have another screen (ambitious to design such a piece in a building already famed for its medieval version.
This one, behind the altar, is a magnificent memorial to townsfolk killed in the Great War and was designed by Ninian Cooper, a gothic revivalist who specialised in such work. Though installed in 1922 it recalls a much earlier period and depicts contemporaries of Wilfrid.
As does the pulpit, though the style here is very different. A few years earlier and it would have been Arts & Crafts, or Art Nouveau but those styles were losing momentum in 1913 when this was constructed here. The coming war would shake things up in the art world but for now there was no clear direction, which is not in anyway to diminish the impact of this fantastic work. Featuring green marble pillars, bronze sculpture and a polished wooden canopy it depicts more Anglo-Saxon celebrity; St Chad, St Cuthbert, St Hilda and St Etheldreda.
Leave the 20th century and you’ll find all manner of memorials and ephemera from earlier times, including an internal gargoyle, the beast having failed to make its escape when the building acquired an extension.
For me though it’s still hard to beat the medieval original; the soaring arches of the cathedral itself… at least until I reveal a final treasure in my next Ripon posting!