Stavanger Cathedral, Norway

The Cathedral church of Stavanger was started early in the 12th century and completed under the direction of Bishop Reinald between 1125 and 1135. Bishop Reinald is thought to have come from Winchester but, even if he did not, certainly the Cathedral’s most important relic, St Swithun’s arm, did. It is for this reason that the church is dedicated to "The Holy Trinity and St Swithun of Winchester". The Reformation was used as an excuse to plunder the church by the Danish king; he had the shrine with St Swithun’s arm, the 12 or 13 altars, pictures of the saints and the bells removed to be melted down in Copenhagen. The ship sailing to Copenhagen sank off Hastein and the bells are said to lie on the sea bed to this present day giving the name of the spot "Klokkeskjær" or Bell Skerries.

In 1272 a fire in the town of Stavanger damaged part of the church. It was rebuilt under the direction of Bishop Arne and essentially reached the form we see today. The nave is the Norman original and a feast to the eyes of those who delight in the detail of Norman architecture. If the Nave is English Norman in style, then the Choir is very reminiscent of Scottish Gothic. Stavanger was of course always a trading port; indeed, the Bishop of Stavanger had at one time his own merchant ships trading with, amongst other places, England.

Stavanger Cathedral's Organ Pipes

The music of Stavanger Cathedral is of more than passing interest and is in fact a trend one sees generally in Norway. Much of the sort of music we associate with Cathedrals and Oxbridge colleges in particular is standard repertoire and sung in English. Sung canticles and responses are so similar to the more traditional Church of England rites that one could almost follow the service in English. Their relatively new hymnal contains almost 1000 hymns (with music so the musical ones who don’t know the tune can sing it!), a large proportion of them from our own hymn books, at least the better ones. One cannot help but wonder. A quick look at the large selection of hymns from all over Europe demonstrated the wealth of excellent material already available.

One could be very sparing in writing new hymns for the sake of it and reserve inclusion for the occasional outstanding example. It made the sort of hymnal we find in our own churches these days look very thin and sad. Here they were singing our best hymns and with gusto. "Well trained", said the organist when I remarked on it.

"Well motivated", I thought when I looked at the hymn book! It had to be. What congregation of 300-400 have you heard singing a hymn really well during the administration of the Sacrament, led by a one-manual organ of eight stops in the Chancel and even completely unaccompanied whilst the organist takes Communion?

For Sunday by Sunday worship, the organ sits in its corner on the South side of the Choir between the Bishop's Door and the wall of the Chancel arch, accompanying the choir (whichever one of the five, or combination of them is singing) in the liturgy and leading the singing for some of the hymns. From here, the organ will also accompany smaller services for modest congregations concentrated at the front of the Nave or in the Choir itself. For concerts it is wheeled out to stand at the top of the Chancel steps where it might accompany a choir, with or without an orchestra, or act as a continuo instrument, a solo instrument with an orchestra or even as an organ in its own right. All of which it was called on to do during the concert to a packed Cathedral on the evening following its dedication.

After the concert there was a banquet given for the Organ Committee and others associated with the organ and Stavanger Cathedral. The Dean made a speech in which he drew attention to the similarities in their Norwegian Lutheran Liturgy to our own Anglican tradition. Although Lutheran, this leaning towards English traditions is entirely conscious. It is encouraged by the music staff and the clergy and very clearly commands considerable support from within the congregation. Why Because there is an embracing of new traditions as well as a continuation of the old rather than an abandoning of the old. A refreshing broad mindedness rather than either modern got-to-be-up-to-date dogma or stick-in-the-mud conservatism.

Perhaps the most interesting manifestation of the attitude was the presence of a thurible in the Sacristy of this Lutheran Cathedral. Not used very often but there for when it is needed. Working with Stavanger Cathedral proved to be quite an eye-and ear-opener and was an altogether most enjoyable experience.

Stavanger Cathedral's Organ Console
Stavanger Cathedral's Organ Console
Stavanger Cathedral's Organ Console
Stavanger Cathedral's Organ Console

Project Leader Geoff McMahon
Technical Design Geoff McMahon
Case Design Stephen Bicknell
Construction Harry Austin, Mike Smith,
Kevin Rutterford (Workshop Foremen)
Site Assembly John Mander, David Woolveridge
Scaling John Mander
Tonal Preparation Michael Blighton
Tonal Finishing John Mander, David Woolveridge