Friday, 2nd December 2016
Upon entering our beautiful lobby one will now notice the flaming red of a cardinal’s robes. Opposite the well-known features of King Henry VIII now sits a large portrait of the founder of Cardinal College, the precursor of Christ Church, the great Thomas Wolsey. His well-known and corpulent features, betraying his origins in a butcher’s shop in Ipswich, dominate the room, his quiet poise a reminder of his extraordinary power. The portrait, pictured in this newsletter, is a gift to the School by the artist and friend of the School, Michael Valentine, who has copied the famous picture in the National Portrait Gallery. The image is beautifully framed at cost by Paul Lee, a parent at the School, in a beautiful wood finish, which is very much in keeping with the dignity of the College. Two great men face one another; two men who whilst they had so much power in the country, both placed particular emphasis on this Foundation. I am thrilled with the portrait. We were able to celebrate its arrival when we had a drink for all those who had been most intimately involved with the redecoration of the main building. The painting was the last piece of the jigsaw and I feel very happy that No 3 is now looking so well cared for and like a person who is genuinely loved, it seems to be so much more itself.
Our choirs have been much in action over the past two weeks with the onset of Advent. The Worcester Choir has sung twice to a chapel packed full of people. Meanwhile in the Cathedral there were more than 800 people at Advent services on both Saturday and Sunday. The draw of top quality choirs seems extremely powerful. The week before, the Worcester Choir had travelled to Worcester Cathedral itself to sing Evensong. This was a lovely experience in a building which is everything which Worcester College Chapel is not. Worcester Cathedral is of considerable size and, in every direction at this time of year when Evensong is being sung, there are huge areas of darkness into which the singing is flung, disappearing into the unknown only to remerge in echoed form. Just to the east of where the choir was singing was the tomb of King John, the signatory of the Magna Carta, while beyond him in a tomb of unrivalled magnificence, the tomb of the eldest son of King Henry VII, Prince Arthur, whose insignia, the three feathers of the Prince of Wales, has been carved upon almost every surface. Had Arthur not died, of course, he would have succeeded his father rather than his younger brother, Henry VIII, and we would probably not have had the portrait of Henry in our lobby! The boys adapted their singing to a building which must be at least ten times the size of the one they are used to singing in and gave the denizens of Worcester a lovely weekday Evensong. One member of the congregation remarked upon how much the Choir clearly enjoyed singing. Tomorrow the Cathedral Choir will be singing the first in their series of concerts for Music at Oxford, a concert at 2.30 pm for families, and on Monday the Worcester Choir will be singing at a lunchtime concert at St Michael in the Northgate, Oxford’s oldest building, from 12 noon to 2.00 pm. I really hope that if you haven’t heard one of the Choirs recently you might consider doing so soon.
Today in the Cathedral we heard from one of our governors, Griselda Hamway. As Griselda Keppel she is the author of children’s fiction and she will be visiting us soon to talk about her books. When I asked her to speak at our assembly, she said she was terrified of speaking in the Cathedral but bravely said that she would do so. The reading which I had selected for her was the Annunciation, when Mary is told that she is to have a child who is God’s Son. She used this reading to talk about the importance of taking on challenges, which in her case were her belief that she couldn’t ever write a book – she has now written two best-selling works - and then her fear about talking to the School in the Cathedral. As it happened the speech was self-fulfilling as it illustrated perfectly the importance of taking on challenges about which one was nervous because it was a beautifully delivered and moving sermon.
All the boys were told that they should not be put off taking on challenges about which they were nervous. Like Mary, it was those things about which one was most nervous that sometimes were the most important and which had the biggest impact. In Mary’s case, of course, her son changed the world.