Marian Meditations: A service for the birth of the Virgin Mary
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Choir of New College Oxford

The view from the alto stalls

Lewis Hammond, one of our 3rd year undergraduates scholars, reflects on the tranquility of our wonderful Chapel

As we prepare to start a new term in Oxford, and re-enter the hectic pace of undergraduate life that comes with it, it is important to find a place where we can lay down our busyness and take a moment’s pause. In my case, I find this moment at the close of each day in the gothic splendour that is New College’s chapel. The building in which we sing has the capacity for both grandeur and intimacy; particularly at this time of year, when the winter evenings creep in the chapel is shrouded in a cold cloak of darkness, its candlelit interior offering only a few specks of gentle light in the gloom.

On paper, and sometimes in practice, such conditions are not always the easiest to negotiate, but I would have it no other way. This darkened atmosphere is full of wonder and reverence. It encourages people to hush their voices as they enter beneath the distant hammer-beamed roof. At each evensong we turn east to say the creed, and each time we do so I never fail to be inspired by the sight of our reredos - the iconic east wall of our chapel, filled with a towering panoply of the saints.

Having recently celebrated the Christmas period, we are reminded of the Christian tradition in which we stand. This tradition being something we can see in the architecture which surrounds us. It can be seen in the chapel’s fourteenth-century misericords and the medieval stained glass dating from the foundation of the chapel; the depiction of Saint James the Great by one of the great masters of the Spanish Renaissance, El Greco, to be found on the north-side of chapel; and not forgetting, to return to the antechapel, Jacob Epstein’s 1940s stone Lazarus, framed by Sir Joshua Reynold’s glorious west window dating from the eighteenth-century.

Looking out from the alto stalls, I am thankful for the beauty of this space and the foresight of previous generations in creating it.