Saturday, 3 April 2010


I sing in the Spring. Always have. Always will. It scares the children and alarms the neighbours, but frankly, that’s just tough. It’s a terrible affliction to have to admit, but I do not feel normal unless I have a decent sing most days. And in the Spring, I’m afraid the joy of the season increases the output. Can’t help’s nature.

This Easter we will all be singing, of course. And since it’s Easter, I have a great excuse to mention the fantastic building that is Stavanger Cathedral, the Domkirke.

Several hundred years ago, the Norwegian King Sigurd the Crusader was fed up with his wife, Queen Malmfrid. Not only that, but he had fallen for a beautiful young lady in Stavanger (this kind of thing is always happening around here). But Sigurd the Crusader couldn’t marry the pretty little Cecily because, even though he was a King as well as a first-class crusader, he was also a Catholic and the Pope said ‘nope’ to divorce.

Crusaders are of course famous for having bees in their bonnets, so Sigurd was not one for giving in. He nipped along to the Bishop of Christiania, said, ‘please’ but was told it was a big no-no. So he crossed Norway and tried the Bishop of Bergen. This Bishop also said ‘no, and go away.’ The love-sick Crusader pressed on and arrived in Stavanger to visit the Bishop of Stavanger, Bishop Reinald. (He also dropped in on Cecily for a quick glass of mead).

Reinald, formerly known as Reginald, had been brought over from Winchester Cathedral in England to build a brand spanking new version of his former work-place in Stavanger. But he had a problem. It cost an absolute bomb to build a Cathedral, and, what with builders coming and going, delays and shortages, these things always went over-budget and over-time. Reinald didn’t have any lolly. But he was a canny man, so instead of saying ‘nope’ to Sigurd’s request, he said, ‘Yup if you give me the cash.’

By 1125 the tiny little collection of fishing huts that represented Stavanger at the time had a ‘new-build’ right behind them. On the hill overlooking the harbour, just so that any boat-bound visitors would be absolutely certain the place was in the hands of the Catholic Church, the most enormous stone cathedral was built, a design along the same lines as Winchester. It towered over the little wooden houses of the time, and to this day, represents the very heart of the city.

Stavanger Domkirke remains the oldest Cathedral in Norway to have been a continual place of worship. After the Reformation in 1536, it became a Lutheran church, and today it is as busy as ever. So imagine my delight on discovering I might get a chance to sing in it. I have often sung in cathedrals in Scotland, Glasgow, Paisley and St Giles in Edinburgh, so to sing in a Norwegian one was always going to be a thrill.

The Norwegians are extremely keen on choirs. As singing in a choir seems as natural to me as breathing, I can’t imagine not being in one so I pretended I could understand enough Norsk to follow the choir master and joined a couple. Yikes, they’re good. Really good. You have to keep your wits about you if you don’t want to show yourself up as a total eejit.

Every Christmas a choir is pulled together to sing for an ecumenical service in Stavanger Domkirke for the large international community of this city. It is a great occasion with a palpable sense of history. The congregation is awash with people from around the world, mostly expat employees and their families, but some of us are refugees and asylum seekers. We are brought together in a manner that only displacement, whether chosen or forced, can do. And we are not all Christians either...there are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, agnostics and atheists there, all under one roof that was built almost 900 years ago when the people of this land could still feel Viking blood running through their veins.

Such events are enough to fill the most despondent of hearts with hope. So while I deafen the neighbours with a quick rendition of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, like Sigurd and Reinald, I’ll continue to dare to dream. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I hope you have a peaceful and blessed Easter.

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