It is now 45 years since the St. Mungo Singers, the Glasgow Archdiocesan Choir, began. It was set up principally to support the liturgy and to help people to pray, and it has done this in so many
ways over the years, providing support for the music of the liturgy in venues ranging from St. Andrews Cathedral to Bellahouston Park (for Papal masses), from Skye to the Holy Land and hundreds of places inbetween, both large and small. A significant development of the choir’s work has been in support of ecumenical services and working with the city council.
While carrying out its music ministry, the choir has also thoroughly enjoyed itself, developing a great sense of community and celebrating along the way. So it is inevitable that it would mark this anniversary with a series of celebrations, both liturgical and social. Last weekend we started off with a visit to Scarborough. As well as enjoying the beautiful scenery of this seaside town, we managed a day in York, a visit to Whitby and – the icing on the cake – a short call in to the new stunning Stanbrook Abbey on our way home.
In York, we had a short service at the Shrine of St. Margaret Clitherow, a beautiful and simple building which was formerly the house of this Elizabethan martyr. Then there was time for a little therapeutic shopping, some sightseeing and lunch (while avoiding the rain) before returning to Scarborough. York must have heard we were coming as they put on their Pipe Band for us, playing Highland Cathedral!
On the Sunday we joined the parish community of St. Peter’s which was literally round the corner from our hotel for their morning Mass. Mgr Gerry had telephoned the parish priest to ask if we could sing at their Mass and we were warmly welcomed – in fact their bulletin the previous week had advertised the fact that we were coming and it did not seem to have put anyone off! The music chosen was a mix of plainchant, music with a Celtic flavour and music which the parish congregation was likely to know and be able to join in singing (and they did).
Then we were off to Whitby, site of the abbey of the renowned St. Hilda where the famous Synod of Whitby had taken place in 664. We had a short prayer service in the present church of St. Hilda, a church with a lovely acoustic and a welcoming sign indicating the church open to visitors. Again the parish priest, a native of Limerick, was very welcoming. He was slightly taken aback that we had taken a collection for the parish as thanks for the use of the church.
It was now more than time for lunch and everyone set off to decide which of the many restaurants featuring fish and chips – for which Whitby is justly famous – they would try, before looking round the town and checking out the tourist attractions: a climb up to the Abbey (a later Benedictine foundation, not St. Hilda’s) to work off lunch, a 20 minute boat trip , an exploration of the narrow streets of the older part of Whitby or just watching the world (and the boats) go by.
The visit to Stanbrook (or more properly the Benedictine Community of Our Lady of Consolation) on our way back was a bit of serendipity, arising from an article seen in a national newspaper about their new building at Wass which was just off the route back from Scarborough. When we realised that the Mother Abbess was a Glasgwegian, Mother Andrea Savage OSB, and a former member of the St. Mungo Singers, it seemed that this visit was meant to be. Our coach company and the driver were a little less sure of this.
The road to the Abbey is narrow but we were assured that it could take our coach. However when we got to the beginning of it, the weight limit sign suggested we were pushing our luck if we tried. We phoned to the Abbey to explain our problem, and the next minute were rewarded by the sight of the Mother Abbess herself racing along in her car to meet us and persuade the driver that it would be ok. He looked slightly stunned to be met by a nun in full habit but followed her with the comment “Well this is the first time ever……”
The Abbey has been built on the site of a former farm and, as we crept up the narrow winding access, we were met by the sight of beautiful lodges which were built by the farmer to produce additional income and which are continuing to do so for the Abbey community. The Abbey itself was truly stunning – it has just won an RIBA Yorkshire award for its “eco-friendly” architecture- bright and filled with light in a glorious setting.
Mother Abbess was so pleased to be able to welcome fellow Glaswegians to it. She and the community ushered us inside to their chapel for a short service which ended with Mother Andrea intoning the start of the plainsong Salve Regina. She then took us into a meeting room for refreshments and a fascinating presentation on the Stanbrook community from its beginnings in Cambrai in the 17th century to its latest phase of existence on a site in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park close to a number of sites, old and new, linked with the Benedictines – Byland and Rievaulx and Ampleforth.
Each of us was presented with a copy of the commemorative booklet of the dedication of the Abbey church in September 2015, and a calendar. Then we were let loose on the Abbey shop where I am sure we killed off any suggestion that Scots are mean. We took particular pleasure in purchasing the latest Abbey product – chocolates!
Then all too soon it was time to head off and we did so with promises to visit again. As the bus turned into St. Leo’s church at the end of our weekend away, the only complaint heard was the usual “there wasn’t enough time to………..”
The next stage of our celebrations will be a visit to St. Andrews and Falkland in June, followed by a trip to Rothesay to visit our friends in St. Andrew’s Parish in August and then a dinner with friends and colleagues in September. Life is never boring with the St. Mungo Singers.