David Crabtree on Assignment

Holy Week at Cambridge

Posted April 2, 2010

My ancestors lived not far from here. That was hundreds of years ago. Yet today, in 2010 this descendant of the Krabtris of northern Britain and southern Scotland feels most at home.

Walking the streets of Cambridge, I sense the presence of those who walked before me. They saw some of the same buildings, walked over some of the same cobblestones and looked up to the same sky that drops rain most every day.

This is Cambridge. The ORIGINAL Cambridge. A university town made up of several colleges. Some large, like King's...others small...Jesus College...all remarkably quaint, exquisitely maintained and welcoming. Quietness dominates most days as students are on Easter break.

Quietness is also apparent because walking and cycling are the dominant means of transportation. So encouraging to see the number of bikes here. Parked and locked throughout the town. More evidence of how the Europeans value their environment and their health.

I am here at the invitation of the Divinity School of Duke University. The school is gracious to allow me to study there as a "special student." Often I tell people, "it's what keeps me sane in a business that is trying most everyday." The invitation came for "Holy Week in Cambridge."

The Chapel at King's College is the focal point. A magnificent structure built more than a thousand years ago.

Every evening special music programs are held, many with the hand-print of Duke Divinity School professors.

Wednesday evening we were thoroughly transported in time as seven lead voices, 75 choir members, 32 musicians, and Stephen Cleobury, the long time distinguished director of music at King's College led us through Bach's inspiring St. Matthew's Passion.

The tradition of singing on one of the four gospels in Holy Week is a tradition that dates back to the early days of formation of Christian liturgy.

Written in the early eighteenth century, Bach's interpretation of the Passion is as passionate today as the day it was first performed.

Last evening, maundy Thursday, began with an evensong. The packed, ancient Chapel was bathed in candlelight. The music of the choir of men and boys, pristine.

Before communion and the stripping of the altar, a stirring and brilliant homily was delivered by Dr. Ellen Davis, Amos Regan Kearns Distinguished Professor at Duke Divinity School. we left in silence as night fell over Cambridge.

Later that night, candles once again illumined the Chapel for another extraordinary event - Gethsemane: a sequence of music and poetry programmed by Jeremy Begbie. Dr. Begbie teaches theology through the arts at Duke Divinity School. He splits his time between Cambridge and Durham.

A remarkable musician and artist, Begbie led us through different sequences of the passion narrative in a way few have ever experiences. Whether playing organ or piano, accompanied by a single tenor voice or violin and cello, the power of the music and emotion is difficult to adequately describe.

On the evening of this Good Friday, another unique interpretation. St. Matthew's Passion through the interpretive lens of a young composer James McMillian. His work is a bit controversial and I am looking forward to hearing it. The BBC is here, the Chapel is wired for a worldwide radio broadcast.

More as Easter approaches....for now...I have to take another deep breath and realize what a privilege it is to be here. To listen. To feel. To experience. To step where my ancestors did so long ago.

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  • mbx Apr 5, 2010

    It may be worth pinning down a few facts to spice the listening and feeling:

    1. Rain most every day. Cambridge gets less than half the rainfall of Durham, NC. The idea that it always rains in England is a strange inaccurate myth. It's a little truer for the west coast of Scotland and parts of Wales; but certainly not for Cambridge.

    2. King's College chapel is not 1,000 years old, but only about half that (younger, for example, than the Universities of Oxford and St Andrews). No part of the University in Cambridge is 1,000 years old, although there's a surviving Saxon church tower that's close; and there are Roman archaeological remains.

    3. Made up of several colleges. The town is in fact much bigger than the university. Even though there are about 30 colleges in all (a few more than "several").

    Still, glad to know you're having a good time over there!

  • nancykadams Apr 2, 2010

    I can truly picture the reverence, magnificence, and the power of God from your description on this Good Friday... Thank you David for sharing your experience so vividly...

  • blytle Apr 2, 2010

    Sounds incredible! Wish I was there.

  • maxx Apr 2, 2010

    I like you, David Crabtree, and I look forward to meeting you some day.

About this Blog:

WRAL anchor David Crabtree reports from around the world.