In the tropics it’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit. But we’ve managed it thanks to last night’s extraordinary Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Trinity College chapel in Kandy. Now I’m a devout atheist, but I do like a good sing and since leaving England (and the choir I was in) I haven’t had much of a chance.
The setting itself is magical. The chapel was built in the 1930s and is architecturally unique in that it is set out like a large church but instead of stone walls and flying buttresses the sides are colonnaded with a forest of pillars reflecting ancient Sinhalese temple architecture. It is a building which is entirely in tune with its architectural and cultural environment despite catering to a minority religion. I didn’t take my camera – seemed inappropriate – so no photos but you can search it under Trinity College Kandy if you want to see what the building looks like.
For the service it was packed. White-suited college boys show you to your pews and when everyone is seated the lights are turned off. On a hill above the chapel a queue of candles flickers and slowly moves down and round to enter the building. The choir arrives singing the opening verses of Once in Royal David’s City. Then we all get the chance to open our throats. Seeing a choir composed of brown-skinned boys from eight to eighteen all be-cassocked and hearing them perform not only the standards but Sinhalese and Tamil carols, medieval Irish ones, gospel and a beautiful old French carol en ronde on a tropical evening was very moving even for an old non-believer.
Sally was confirmed in this church in 1070 and hadn’t been back since (we couldn’t go last year as the date clashed with something) so for her it was doubly moving. Thanks to everyone!