“Last night a cathedral burned”

The following notes were provided at the performance of Membra Jesu Nostri (Buxtehude), on 16th April 2019, the day after the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral

Last night a cathedral burned, and the heart of a nation broke. Tonight, The Fitzhardinge Consort comes together in grief and stands with the people of France. During this time of Passiontide especially, one cannot help but call to mind the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem 1,400 years ago. The distance at which we stand from this catastrophic event makes it difficult to comprehend its enormous significance to those who had come to invest so much of their faith and national identity in the foundations of that building. The events of last night provide us with a modicum of understanding.

The reason, however, that we are so sad is not that irreplaceable objects have been lost, tragic though this is. We are sad because we thought Notre Dame would always be there. In the face of our own frailty we build our faith and our identity into great monuments of stone, to stand for ever. Small wonder that when these temples to our own immortality come crashing down, our world shakes. Everything becomes more fragile than we ever thought it could be.

Consider, then, how the followers of Christ might have felt when, in a series of terrifyingly swift events, the man in whom they had put all their faith, whom they had followed through destitution and travail, and who had promised them immortality, was ignominiously mocked, beaten, and brutally murdered.

the moving trio Ad Cor, sung before a silence held for Notre Dame Cathedral

Dieterich Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri is the story of this pain. In a journey across the body of Christ – that seemingly imperishable temple in which the disciples had invested everything – we hear odes to his feet, knees, hands, side, chest, heart and face. The remarkable text – a mixture of scripture and poetry – has been printed and translated for you, to enhance your experience. But the experience is more than the words on the page. Look up; watch the musicians; take in this beautiful chapel; close your eyes. Do whatever you can to allow this extraordinary music to reach beyond your head and touch your heart. After Cantata VI: Ad Cor, we will keep a moment of silence as we remember those people whose world came crashing down last night.

Peter Wagstaff, 16 April 2019