Bruce in the Packet
142. The Caritas Consort at Llandaff Cathedral

Andrew collected me from the usual place, the bottom of the Boer War Memorial, a bronze angel atop a tall plinth between the old City Hall and the Crown Court. I decided on this site because it prevents Andrew from having to descend into the messy chaos of City Centre.

This Angel of Peace beckons us to remember Welsh dead warriors. In every nation, monuments beg us to remember, but we learn nothing. We forget that more warriors and civilians will come to die because not enough of us learn from history. Still, she is a very beautiful angel and I can always admire her while waiting.

There was a sprinkle from the sky, but I didn’t have to wait long. Andrew arrived early, with Diane and Malcolm already on board. My in-laws. When Ms Keogh, my cherished companion of thirty-five years, died, my in-laws absorbed this expatriate into their family and concerned themselves with my welfare. From the Angel of Peace, we were off to Llandaff Cathedral for a concert of the Caritas Consort (sometimes Choir depending on the number of singers).

Founded by Lindsay Gray at the start of 2013, the Caritas Consort is made up of professional and semi-professional singers who volunteer. In addition to having exceptional voices, it requires a talent for sight-reading so the pieces can be learnt quickly. They often have other careers. Caritas Consort is fitted into the available gaps. The talent is mostly local and the performances are mainly at venues in or near to Cardiff, usually churches. Their purpose is to raise money for good causes and charities, ergo caritas, the Latin for "charity".

This beautiful cathedral, concealed in a hillside depression, yet was still found by a Nazi bomb. The 2nd January 1941, about 100 bombers attacked Cardiff for ten hours beginning around 6:30 in the evening. A luftmine cylinder bomb attached to a parachute fell on the grounds near to the cathedral. The resulting explosion collapsed the roof onto the precious contents, blew out windows, and weakened walls. The blitz killed 165 people, injuring 427, in Cardiff, but the cathedral blast killed no one.

This cathedral has had a hard life. Christians have been praying on this site since the Sixth Century. Evidence of the oldest churches linger, but the cathedral we see today dates from 1120, although it needed to be rebuilt several times. In the 15th Century, Owain Glyndŵr burned the cathedral, it fell into disrepair during the reign of Henry VIII, was ransacked by Parliamentarian forces in the 17th century, and damaged by The Great Storm of 1703. Rebuilt and restored many times, it contained elements of every age, a museum of Welsh Christianity, when the Nazi bomb picked it out.

Restored again, it is again beautiful. Well, depending on your aesthetics. The Majestas is a point of contention. I can be counted among those who feel the hideous Majestas spoiled the interior. Not the Christ statue itself, but it is held aloft at the end of the nave by incongruous slabs of two reinforced concrete arches that form a wishbone, on which has been placed a concrete barrel. On the side of the barrel facing the congregation hangs a lean, aluminium Christ. I’ll come back to him in a moment.

The monstrous, featureless arcing legs of concrete that lift the huge barrel, almost to the attractive wood paneled ceiling, would have better served a Bauhaus Bridge, not a chamber of medieval relics. It is an oversized obstacle in bad taste that obliterates the vast space that gives any other cathedral its majesty. It almost touches the flat ceiling, which no pulpitum would have done.

And why a flat ceiling? True, it is beautiful woodwork, but gone is the towering scope to make people feel small and to know their place in God’s vast domain. A congregation is first humbled by vaulted ceilings and then their spirits are lifted heavenward. The spirit is constrained by a flat ceiling. This atheist thinks his own parish church, Saint John the Baptist in Cardiff City Centre, to be the more beautiful.

The sculpted Jesus is stretched long and fits well into the style of the antiquities that enrich this ancient church. This particular Jesus hangs from above, his feet suspended in air and not supporting him. He longingly stares out the clear glass windows over the entrance. The original stained glass had been blown out by the bomb. Outside, all there is to see is a steep staircase. Perhaps Jesus wishes to climb those steps. Had he been suspended on wires, the interior space would have been preserved.

I came for the music. This was not music to bond patriots or march heroes off to battle. This was music begging for peace. This was music of heartache, except when the music was providing happiness. The cathedral has a fantastic modern organ that comfortably fills the air. I closed my eyes and the space was washed clean by the beautiful voices of the Caritas Consort. The Caritas Consort made everything right. The music made me appreciate being alive.

The concert was on Saturday, 18th November. Every Sunday, my friend Robert in New Mexico and I do a swap of music videos via email. I could not wait until midnight – even though it was five o’clock in the evening in New Mexico - to send Robert my choice for this week. You can find the Caritas Consort on YouTube. He summed it up better than I could. My friend described Caritas Consort as “ethereal”.

Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions,
he would be pleased to hear from you. 

You can find his several books at Enshrined Inside Me, his second collection of essays, is now available to purchase.