Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Lichfield's Papal Audience (1987)

reproduced from 'Choir Schools Today', the magazine of the Choir Schools' Association, Issue 2 1998, following the Cathedral Choir's tour to Rome during Easter Week in April 1987:

Lichfield's Papal Audience

On a blistering hot April morning we set off in our cassocks for the Vatican, clutching folders in sweaty palms. Arriving at St Peter's Square via a maze of dusty Roman streets we pushed through a crowd of waiting people to our places by the Basilica steps, where a temporary stage had been erected.

After a long, hot, ninety minutes' wait, in which time the number of spectators increased considerably, a loud cheer went up as the 'Pope-mobile' approached. We stood on our chairs hoping to catch a glimpse of the Pope as the car twisted its way through the crowd of onlookers.

Taking the stage, the Pope greeted the visitors in Italian, German, English, French and Spanish A short lesson followed before each individual group was welcomed in its respective tongue. 

Soon it was our turn to sing and we performed Stanford's Coelos ascendit hodie to which the Pope signalled his gratitude. Shortly afterwards he came over to nmeet us. As the uniformed guards directed him towards our party the press photographers closed in. His Holiness greeted us warmly and chatted freely to several choristers. One of our number, namely Jeremy Parker, the Head Chorister, received more than his fair share of attention. That evening, when he was spotted at our convent lodgings wearing a white night-shirt, he earned the nickname 'Boy Pope'!

The following morning, St George's Day, the choir was invited to sing at the Pilgrim's Mass in St Peter's. We performed Byrd's Mass for Four Voices before 800 people. In th evening, we took part in a Festal Evensong to celebrate the centenary of All Saints', the Anglican Church in Rome. This church is linked with Lichfield Cathedral

The remainder of the tour was spent giving concerts, attending a reception at the home of the British Ambassador, eating pizza and sight-seeing. We just about managed to dash to the Trevi Fountain to make a wish. 

Six exhausting days later we returned home, sunburnt and tired. It will be a long time before we forget the shake of that Papal hand. 

This report was written by three 13 year-old choristers:
Andrew Gardner, Joshua Hunt and William Towers. 

The Pope meets choristers from Lichfield Cathedral

Lichfield's link with Rome 

All Saints' Church, Rome, was rebuilt in the nineteenth century and completed in 1887, but not without considerable difficulty in finding sufficient funds. The Lichfield diocese gave substantial sums towards its completion and a window in the porch shows St Chad holding the three-spired Lichfield Cathedral in his arms. 

While on holiday in Rome, a Lichfield choirman's wife spotted the window and plans were made to help them celebrate their centenary. Another coincidence is that the Chaplain of All Saints' is the Reverend Bevan Wardrobe, until two years ago Headmaster of the York Minster School, and before that the Priest Vicar at Lichfield. 

Plans are now underway for next year's tour to America. In 1985 the choir went up the eastern seaboard, while this time they will be travelling down it. They hope to be performing in Litchfield, Connecticut this time.