I remember a conversation a couple of years ago with our then Cathedral Dean, Canon Geoffrey Hunton, who admitted it was a dream of his that one year the Cathedral Choir would join the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes. I was very much interested in the idea and 2019 felt like the right time to do it – celebrating the joint 175th anniversaries of both our Cathedral Church and the birth of St Bernadette. Once Ellie Martin had joined the music department, it became clear that opening up the opportunity to our Youth Choir members was a vital part of the trip, and so began a long period of planning, organising and, ultimately, a huge amount of fundraising, in order to make the trip happen.
Followers of our work will be well aware of the range of events that have taken place specifically to raise funds for the trip – from our Hymnathon in May (a logistical minefield in itself!) and our Cabaret Evening in June, to a whole host of cake sales, tombolas, recitals, carolling, and more concerts. The support from the Cathedral community has been incredibly heart-warming, and knowing we had such support from the home team as we made our journey to Lourdes was a huge relief. We’d like to extend a huge thank you to all those who donated towards the costs of this trip and we hope that the accounts from those who were there and experienced it first hand will be a testament to how
important this trip was for so many people.
Putting a tour together like this doesn’t come without a lot of hard work, energy, patience and teamwork. The support of Pilgrimage Director, Fr Gregory Tobin, and Assistant Director, Fr Simon Gillespie, was integral to the success of the liturgies in Lourdes. I spent a lot of time with Fr Simon to work through the musical choices, compose new psalm settings, and select a huge variety of music. The support of the Diocesan Safeguarding Team and the tireless efforts of Ellie Martin in ensuring the safety of all on the trip cannot be overstated. We are grateful too for the support of Lisa Mackenzie and Hannah Whelan throughout the tour in helping to look after our tour members.
We are particularly grateful for the support of John-Charles Tanner, a relatively new parishioner to the Cathedral, who just happened to be close friends with Alain Cherel, the celebrated trumpeter of the Sanctuary at Lourdes. John-Charles was able to act as a conduit between Alex (who speaks very little French) and Alain (who speaks very little English), to facilitate showcasing the choir at the Marian Procession, Eucharistic Procession and International Mass. He was also responsible for arranging our concerts in Abbatiale de Saint-Savin and l'Eglise Saint Jean, Tarbes, for saving the day after hearing the news about Notre-Dame and enabling us to sing Mass at La Madeleine. His support and encouragement throughout the process (including shaking our blue donation buckets at Sunday Recitals) has been crucial to the tour and we are so grateful for all his help.
As Director of Music, it’s always good to see that the choir’s work is being recognised as an integral part of the Cathedral and wider Diocesan mission. The relationship between the two seemed to be so intrinsically linked throughout the Pilgrimage. To see members of the Cathedral congregation, wider Diocesan pilgrims, and pilgrims from all over the world visibly moved by what we were doing (such as singing hymns for pilgrims outside the Baths), beaming with pride (as we sang Bruckner’s Ave Maria at the Marian Procession, or singing throughout the International Mass), or in quiet contemplation (during the Reconciliation Service), felt like a huge validation for the work we do, not just as part of the Lourdes experience, but back at home on a weekly basis. The support of Bishop Patrick throughout the trip, alongside other Nottingham pilgrims, at our concert in l'Eglise Saint Jean, Tarbes, was a particular highlight.
We are blessed by such a wonderful community, which has been enriched, and relationships deepened, as a result of this experience. I cannot thank you all enough for the role you’ve played in making it happen.
There is always some sense of trepidation before embarking on the mammoth task of organising, fundraising and going on any choir tour, and our tour to Lourdes and Paris was no different. This was heightened even further by the fact that this year was the Cathedral’s 175th anniversary and the first time that the Choir has visited Lourdes. For me, however, it was the perfect way to round off my first year at university and my first year as a choral scholar at St Barnabas.
A few hours before flying to Lourdes we embarked on learning some of the varied and often technically challenging music. We constantly refreshed and revisited this music throughout the week, meaning that by the end it felt much more familiar than it had at the start. Musically, the highlights for me included Tavener’s ‘Mother of God Here I Stand’ and Durufle’s ‘Ubi Caritas’. It was also very
special to sing the ‘Mass of St Barnabas’ which was written specially for the Cathedral’s 175th anniversary by our Director of Music, Alex Patterson, and felt like we were bringing a piece of Nottingham over the channel to Lourdes.
I found that one of the best things about the tour in Lourdes was the variety of locations and services we had the opportunity to sing at - from the International Mass, where thousands of people from all over the world joined together and we heard mass sung in six different languages, to singing for only a few people at the Baths. The reception everywhere we sang in the Sanctuary of Lourdes was excellent and I felt really lucky to positively impact people’s time of worship in Lourdes. Every place we sang offered its own unique atmosphere, but the Marian Procession was unlike anywhere I’ve ever sung before. Thousands of people processing with their candles made it extremely atmospheric, especially when hearing everyone sing the Ave Maria.
We were lucky enough to do two concerts during our time in Lourdes, as well as singing all day within the Sanctuary. The two venues for our concerts, Abbatiale de Saint-Savin and l'Eglise Saint Jean, could not have been more juxtaposed from one another. Nevertheless, receiving a brilliant reception in both places made the hard work worth it. Furthermore, the support from members of the Nottingham Diocese who were on the pilgrimage really added to the tour experience. It was great to add something extra to their experience of Lourdes and it was lovely to hear how much it had influenced them.
After a long train journey on the Friday we had a definite change of pace when we arrived in Paris. Having never been to Paris before I was really excited to explore the city and to sing in some incredible venues. La Madeleine and St Eustache both lived up to and exceeded expectations, and were very different from the more intimate venues in Lourdes. We also had the chance to go and see the Notre-Dame Cathedral and to sing outside. Whilst tinged with sadness, I felt so lucky to be able to see a world landmark and sing the French ‘Hymne à la Vierge’ outside. We rounded off the tour with a group meal; it was lovely to have the whole choir together and reflect on what had been a jam-packed but unforgettable week.
Although the music was the focal point of this tour, the chance to spend time with the friends I’ve made from the Cathedral Choir this year and to get to know the Youth Choir better was also a massive highlight. I’m really pleased to be coming back next year and can’t wait for more tours in the future. Thank you to Alex and Ellie for organising such a fantastic tour!
Our son Benjamin is a new member of the Youth Choir, joining in January 2019. Everyone has been very welcoming, and we were really pleased when Benjamin was invited on the Lourdes-Paris trip. Benjamin was keen to go, as the choir were going to sing at Notre-Dame and we thought it would be a lovely opportunity for us to visit Paris ahead of the choir and do some sightseeing. Then on 15th April, we all received the tragic news that Notre-Dame was on fire. Singing in Notre-Dame was off, but the Choir would still sing in Paris.
The 14th July arrived quickly, and we waved the choir bon voyage on their journey to Lourdes. It was great to see and hear the choir on the Lourdes YouTube channel. They sounded fantastic. We arrived in Paris on 17th July. Our apartment was in the 5th Arondissement, near Rue Moffetard, which is full of food shops, cafes and restaurants.We bought a Paris museum pass and visited lots of art galleries. We love our son, but it was refreshing not to have a 15-year-old with us saying how bored he was!
The choir arrived on Friday 19th July. We had a couple of hours with Benjamin and heard all about singing in the International Mass in front of 5,000 people and how well the choir had been received at a couple of concerts outside of Lourdes. On the Saturday morning we met up with the choir near Notre-Dame. They may not have been able to sing in Notre-Dame, but they performed two songs outside it and were well received by all the tourists (including a good number of parents who had also decided to visit Paris).
The choir sang at two masses over the weekend, firstly, on Saturday evening at Saint Eustache, which is a very impressive gothic style church. It houses the largest organ in France and Mozart held his mother’s funeral here. The choir sang really well, but due to the height of the church their sound was slightly lost. The second mass, on Sunday morning, was at La Madeleine. This church was originally built as a temple of glory for Napoleon’s armies. At one point it was going to be a railway station and finally in 1842 it was consecrated as a church. The acoustics here were great and the choir sounded fantastic. They were accompanied by a countertenor cantor who had a very unique voice. La Madeleine also has a famous organ, and Gabriel Fauré was an organist here. The organ was very loud and electrifying.
Our time in Paris was over. We said our goodbyes and raced back to Nottingham via the Eurostar ahead of the Choir. Huge thanks needs to be given to Alex, Ellie, Hannah and Lisa for leading the Choir and looking after everyone. I’m sure it was very tiring for them, but they enabled all the young people to have experiences that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Benjamin had a great time and is still talking about the music, all the places where the choir performed and the people he sang with.
My tour to Lourdes and Paris was fabulous. Apart from all the late nights and then waking up early, it was so fun and a great experience. My favourite parts of the trip to Lourdes were the international mass, the garden party, and the concerts.
In Paris, we mainly only had free time, and I enjoyed visiting the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame and the Louvre Museum. We took many pictures and got a small tan.
I hope we can fundraise enough to go every year. As well as us enjoying the trip, the people who got the experience of listening to us appreciated it thoroughly as well. We even had a couple who put in 20 euros and then swapped it with 50 euros at our concert.
As well as having this experience, I also got to know everyone more and grow stronger faithfully.
A reflection on the Cathedral Choirs' role on the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes from former Cathedral Dean, Canon Geoffrey Hunton
The annual pilgrimage to Lourdes is a significant event in the life of the Diocese of Nottingham.
This year as usual three hundred people from across the Diocese made the pilgrimage by air, coach and train.
Lourdes can and does evoke several emotions; this year was no exception.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy five-day pilgrimage there was I felt amongst our pilgrims a great sense of calm and an entering into of the spirit of Lourdes – of oneness with each other, the Lord and his Blessed Mother.
Why was that? I will leave the reader to come to their own conclusion.
A reflection on the Cathedral Choirs' role on the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes from Pilgrimage Director, Fr Gregory Tobin
Music is vital in our lives.
It can set the mood, raise morale and draw people together. On our Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes, we rely heavily on musicians to assist all pilgrims as we journey through life with the pains and loads that are ours.
This year we were blessed on our pilgrimage to have with us the Cathedral Choir of St Barnabas under the leadership of Alex Patterson.
During the preparation for this years pilgrimage Alex went to Lourdes with the Directorate to visit the Churches, Basilicas and the sacred Grotto where the choir would be singing. These few days during February, which coincided with the Feast day (February 11th) of Our Lady of Lourdes, also gave Alex the opportunity to meet the Sanctuary leads on liturgy and music, including the trumpet player who dovetails beautifully with the organ for the big occasions. In a previous life Fr Simon Gillespie spent a lot of time at the Cathedral, and so is very familiar with the personnel, including the Cathedral Choir. He was therefore able to co-ordinate the travel arrangements, accommodation and programme, together with the endless paperwork and T-shirts, which are a must for a journey of this kind.
Our first Mass was outside in the autel de l’esplanade adjacent to the rosary square, so very difficult with the acoustics, but we knew the choir would attract a lot of attention as people crossing the square were drawn over by the quality of the singing.
The following day (Tuesday) a certain sensitivity was needed with the anointing of the sick and the reconciliation service.
Every Wednesday in Lourdes we have an international Mass in the underground basilica (capacity 25,000) with all the pilgrimages in Lourdes at that time from the world over, coming together liturgically. The choir were resplendent as part of the larger Basilica choir and were given the opportunity to sing a motet. All 269 pilgrims from Nottingham were bursting with pride!
Each evening at 9pm there is torchlight procession for an hour. It is a spectacular occasion with the candles, thousands of people and of course the music, which is amplified around the domain. During our pilgrimage we participated twice in the torchlight procession and led it on the Wednesday. The choir took a lead with the Sanctuary leads, and again were give the opportunity to sing an impressive solo piece.
Our garden party gave everyone the opportunity to share their party piece in a sunny relaxed venue. How lovely to see and hear the choir sing some witty ditties to great effect. A nice change from the formal fare.
A concert in a local abbey was enjoyed by all who made the journey up the mountain and was an ideal foretaste for what was to come in Paris.
You expect the Cathedral Choir to be technically perfect and professional in their delivery. What I enjoyed was the moments between the musical performances when the members were just part of the Nottingham pilgrimage engaging with the sick and lifting their spirits.
Music is indeed vital to our lives. The presence of the Cathedral Choir on this year’s Diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes brought musical perfection and beauty in a place that challenges us all to excel in all that we do.