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Reverend Caitlin: Sermon on the Blessed Virgin Mary

In our service today, we have listened to a revolutionary piece of political writing, a piece of writing so explosive that, during British rule in India, it was prohibited from being sung in church. It was banned by the military Junta of Argentina in the 1970s and by the military dictatorship of Guatemala in the 1980s. People feared it would incite rebellion and could be a danger to the state.
I’m talking about the Magnificat, the Song of Mary.

To be completely honest, a dangerous revolutionary was hardly the way I perceived Mary growing up. In my search for biblical heroines, I was rather more focussed on stories with a bit more violence — Judith slaying Holofernes, Deborah leading her people into war. If I had to restrict myself to the (duller) new testament I turned to the intellectual Mary of Bethany and the subversive Mary Magdalen receiving the news of the resurrection before any of the male disciples. By contrast, the Virgin Mary stood as a submissive figure, demure, eyes downcast. And as I got older I worried that the focus on her came at the expense of all the other women mentioned in the Bible. I suspected it was precisely her submissiveness that was so attractive to the church — she appeared easily controllable in a way Deborah, Judith, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany could never be. And there was a reason I saw Mary in this way. In paintings of her she is often depicted as passive rather than active, demure rather than dangerous.

And there is therefore a jarring disjunction between my perception of Mary, unsurprisingly similar to the one seen in much of Western art, and the Mary whose words were so subversive that she had to be silenced by multiple repressive regimes. In 1933, just after the Nazis had seized power in Germany ending democracy, perpetuating terror and violence, it was Mary to whom the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer turned. He preached that her song is ‘at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings’. So perhaps the Guatemalan regime was right where I was wrong — Mary is a revolutionary.

So I think that there are two main things we need to learn about Mary — first, her yes to God is not simply a passive submission to his will but an active participation in his plan. Second, in the Magnificat we see a wild and powerful reordering of the world which remains provocative and vitally necessary today.

The Magnificat opens with the words ‘my soul doth magnify the Lord’. The word ‘magnify’ doesn’t initially seem to communicate very much, it simply means what a magnifying glass does – making things look bigger. Perhaps this isn’t such a bad place to start — when Mary sings the Magnificat, she wants to make God look bigger, to draw attention to his greatness. But when this word is used in the ancient languages, it means actually making something bigger, not just making it look bigger. At first, this seems to be impossible — we cannot make God bigger, we cannot make God more than God is. So why does Mary choose this word? Maybe it is that, when we truly praise someone, ‘we make them bigger in the sense of giving them more room: we step back, we put our preoccupations and goals and plans aside’.
But this doesn’t mean that Mary is simply a passive incubator for the plans and salvation of God. For Mary says too that ‘he that is mighty hath magnified me’. As she gives room to God, God makes her greater. We cannot see God and human as oppositional — the more God, the less Mary. When Mary gives room to God, God gives room to her: ‘her humanity blossoms into its fullest glory’. The history of God which Mary refers to in her song, ‘He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever’ is a history of God’s involvement with people, his connection to and relationship with human beings. Mary, who unites the divine and human in Jesus Christ, understands this very clearly — God is a God who is with us. We are at our most human when we align our will with his. And so it is unsurprising that as Mary accepts God’s will her response is not to fall passively silent but to begin to speak, and then to speak some more.

Mary represents the humblest people of Israel: the underclass, losers and victims. When she takes her baby to be presented at the Temple, the offering she makes is the offering of the poor — a pair of turtledoves. And as far as the world saw her, she was the mother of an illegitimate son (a fact that the Pharisees sarcastically remind Jesus of in John’s gospel). That would have been a tough thing to bear in first century Palestine. So it is this poor, disgraced woman, who by all the standards of decent society should have been silent, who tells us what God’s salvation looks like, what it means to love and cooperate with God. Scattering the proud, bringing down the powerful from their thrones, filling the hungry with good things.

Mary articulates very powerfully that there are no spare people — everyone has something to say and an active part to play. And God ’s choice of her as the means by which he will save the world, demonstrates unequivocally that she is right. The Magnificat is a song for all those who are left on the margins, of both society and the church. It should always stand as a powerful reminder that God speaks for and through those whom society has rejected. Mary represents ‘something of the anarchy of God’s love going round behind the rules and the conventions, looking for people who are forgotten’. If God works like this, we should be so much slower to define who is within and who is without.
And salvation is inherently communal — after all our own eternal happiness is dependent on the eternal happiness of those we love and those about whom we worry, theirs on the people they love. And so salvation spans outwards in a never-ending web of relationship and connection. Perhaps the reason Mary’s song is so politically dangerous is that it recognises this — Mary sings of her people, the reordering of her community in the image of God. Mary’s song should always be a revolutionary voice in our head, reminding us of those whom we would prefer to forget. But even more so it should be a revolutionary challenge to society, a reminder that salvation comes through Jesus Christ to a community, not to an individual. And that community must be one in which we exalt the humble and fill the hungry, listening to those modern day Marys who speak as the voice of the rejected.

At the back of the Cathedral there is a statue of Mary holding out her Son in front of her. Here her eyes are not downcast, her attitude is far from demure — instead her head is raised, stare direct, stance challenging. Her challenge is, perhaps, that of the Magnificat and it is one we could do with hearing each time we pass it, pausing for a short moment. Who should you remember whom you would rather forget? How can you bring into our community those who suffer on the margins? How can you help society to feed the hungry, exalt the lowly? So perhaps it is clear why all those repressive regimes sought to silence her. Mary sings a dangerous and challenging song down the generations, she is after all a revolutionary.

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Canon Ailsa: Blogging for St Wilfrid’s Day

St Wilfrid didn’t found the City of Ripon (it is much older than the 7th century) but he did build the first stone church here in the 600s and the citizens of modern-day Ripon still proudly celebrate him as their patron saint, processing through the city on an eclectic collection of floats, led by the brass band. The mayor waves regally from an open-topped car as ‘Wilfrid’ rides his* horse in the midst of a bunch of monks, supported by the Morris dancers.

Dutifully following the Mayor and her consort was a clutch of cathedral clergy. (What is the collective noun for clergy – a confusion of clergy? Or perhaps a chaos of clergy?) One way or another we waved and greeted and walked our way around the 2 hour route somewhat outshone by the Ripon City Morris Dancers behind us who not only completed the route but DANCED their way around. Other sassy participants had pre-ordered pints at certain strategic points along the route and could be seen stepping aside for a quick refresher on the route. The crowds along the way cheered us on.

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As one of Ripon’s newest citizens all this was a marvel to me: the mix of community groups and local businesses joining in celebrating the heritage of their city in a mix of tradition and innovation. Tradition: ‘Abide With Me’ played annually by the band at the point on the route where someone in earlier years died in the procession. Innovation: Wilfrid this year rode HER* horse as Laura Hodgson and her horse Dougie, took the part for the first time. What Wilfrid would have made of that, or indeed any other aspects of the procession I don’t know. But there must be a chance that a woman on a horse would be more understandable to him than either a float of ancient Egyptians (complete with pyramid) or the mayor’s soft-top BMW.

And what Wilfrid and his first monks would have recognised was the ending of the procession in the Cathedral (even if the form of service is quite different). It was so good to see the participants in all their exotic finery filling the nave for hymns and prayers and a celebration of all that the procession represented. Ripon is a great community to live and work in.


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Revd Caitlin’s Blog: Being new in a cathedral is odd

Being new in a cathedral is odd. It seems almost anachronistic because one of the most defining qualities of a Cathedral is its age and continuity. There is a feeling of stumbling awkwardly against tradition, an exhausting concentration on not standing in the wrong place, sitting in the wrong place, saying the right thing in the wrong place, saying the wrong thing in the right place. Of being almost an affront to the dignity of the place.

As I bang the misericord (seat where I sit for evensong) down heavily and accidentally at the beginning of a service, or struggle to find my microphone, or forget the Gospel acclamation (all of which happened last week) it is almost as if the building itself groans in despair at my ineptitude.

Phillip Larkin, never a poet particularly comfortable with modernity, wrote about (a part of) another Cathedral,


Rigidly [it] persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths

Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light

Each summer thronged the grass. A bright

Litter of birdcalls strewed the same

Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths

The endless altered people came.

Washing at [its] identity.

As one of those endless altered people, I can feel a need to tiptoe around the place, a desire not to disturb the quiet tranquility of thousands of years of history. There is beauty in sameness the sameness of the rays of light that stream through the windows, the sameness of the silent simplicity of the saxon crypt, the sameness of the sounds of the birds in the graveyard. The noise of traffic, the mechanised drills of the stonemasons , the chatter of tourists seem to be almost an offence.

But perhaps Isaiah gets rather closer to the truth than Larkin does when he writes,


Thus says the Lord,

who makes a way in the sea,

a path in the mighty waters

Do not remember the former things,

or consider the things of old.

I am about to do a new thing;

now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

and rivers in the desert.

There is an appeal to the past here when he talks about a way in the sea, Isaiah refers to the history of his people when they escaped from slavery in Egypt. It is this history which teaches us about God, and his constancy, faithfulness and presence. Isaiah is remembering even as he writes do not remember the former things.  But, Isaiah insists, God is about to do a new thing, we only have to be ready to perceive it.

And, even after only a fortnight, it is becoming clear to me that there are new things happening here. The Cathedral is grounded in a pattern of worship which has its routes in the monastic offices, which were prayed in the ancient abbey that lies under Ripon, and which span back into the very first centuries of the church. Last Sunday we welcomed another five choristers between the ages of seven and nine into full membership of the choir to participate in these services. And outside this regular pattern of prayer, the cathedral hosted 700 school children from across the diocese for their primary leaversservice and the Distinctive service continued to explore the LordsPrayer with coffee, video and informal music.

And so in the glorious, beautiful continuity of this ancient building, the tourists, stonemasons, visitors, clergy and all who worship here can find a way to ask what new thing is God doing, and a means of perceiving the answer. Besides, the rudeness, humour and liveliness of the misericords, gargoyles and stonework hint that the Cathedral is rather less serious and unyielding than I first imagined. Perhaps it laughs rather than groans at my mistakes.

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Commemoration of centenary of the wartime death of youngest submarine commander

Relatives of the youngest submarine commander in the Royal Navy in World War 1 gathered in Ripon Cathedral this week to mark the centenary of his death.

Lt Ingleby Stuart Jefferson’s submarine was torpedoed by a German U-boat when it partially surfaced in the North Sea – with only its conning tower showing. Of the ship’s company of 19 men, only one, a stoker, survived. Lt Jefferson was just 24 when he died.

The young lieutenant was renowned for his sporting abilities and for his bravery – two years before his death he had been awarded a medal by the Royal Humane Society for saving a soldier from drowning in Immingham Docks.

Lt Jefferson’s family were joined on Friday by the family of his great friend Lt Hanley Hutchinson – with whom he had grown up in Ripon. Lt Hutchinson also lost his life in 1917 – the two friends were to die less than six weeks apart.

Lt Hutchinson was fatally wounded as the 2/5th battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, (the Prince of Wales’ Own), engaged the enemy on the Western Front. He was 26. He is buried at Grevillers, a large war cemetery near Bapaume in France and is remembered in a memorial next but one to that of Lt Jefferson.

The commemoration took place at the foot of the memorials in the cathedral’s North nave aisle and was led by the Dean of Ripon, the Very Rev John Dobson. He said: “The names of some 250 men and choristers from the Ripon area who died in World War 1 are inscribed in tablets near the high altar. In remembering Lt Jefferson and Lt Hanley, we honour their memory too.”

Lt Jefferson’s nephew, Richard Jefferson, who lives in Norfolk, said: “We all feel very proud of him. He was a huge loss to the family and if he had lived he could have had an outstanding career.”

In a roll of honour Lt Jefferson was described as ‘one of the best all round athletes in the fleet.’ A member of Headingley Rugby Club, he played rugby for the navy against the army in March 1914 and at 21 was the youngest player on either side. He also represented the navy against the army in bayonet fighting and was said to excel at boxing, wrestling and ski-ing.

He was the elder son of Dr William Jefferson of North House, Ripon, who for 50 years was the city’s Chief Medical Officer. His grandfather, was a canon at Ripon Cathedral in the 1800s.

Mr Richard Jefferson, whose son and grandson both were given Ingleby as a forename, was joined on Friday by his brother, Ingleby William Jefferson, his wife and other family members including two great great nephews.

Joining them in prayer were Prue Hutchinson, widow of the Ripon solicitor Michael Hutchinson, the nephew of Lt Hutchinson and his great nephew Andrew Hutchinson.

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Summer of Sound at Ripon Cathedral

Capable of the softest, most exquisite sounds or shaking the glass in the windows, Ripon Cathedral’s organ is to be used to full effect during the Summer Organ Festival.

This year, organists from across the country will be bringing a bit of joie de vivre to Ripon in a French-themed programme of music, celebrating the anniversaries of three composers: Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne and Henri Mulet.

The audience will have the rare opportunity to see the performers up close, as they play the four keyboards, known as manuals, one pedal board and 59 stops – controls which alter the sound to imitate trumpets, clarinets, oboes, flutes, and anything else the performer can ‘cook up’ from the ingredients available.

The earliest pipes in the instrument date from 1695, while the organist controls the instrument from a console using 21st-century technology. The smallest pipes are smaller than a pencil, producing some of the highest sounds audible to the human ear, while the largest are nearly 10 metres in length, sounding so low that they are felt rather than heard!

Although French composers are being celebrated this year, the Summer Organ Festival will feature an international range of music, played by distinguished organists from across the country.

The recitals take place every Tuesday from July 11 to August 22 at 7.30pm. For more information, or to get tickets, please see

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Comms Update

Hello again from comms! This week our content has had a musical theme with articles on this summer’s organ recitals and – at the request of one of the local papers – the planned work to enhance some of our bells – which apparently are not ringing with quite the accuracy that our team of ringers would like!

Joe and Michelle have been helped out by our friend Tony Whiting, a very experienced journalist who has volunteered to help us write some of the many stories our cathedral has to tell. Look out for Tony’s fascinating piece on the youngest submarine commander in WW1, who was just 24 when he was killed as his sub was torpedoed. We’ll be publishing it next week when his family will say commemorative prayers at the memorial in the nave.

Prayers were held on Monday in the Chapel of St Mary Magdalen, one of the smaller foundations under the cathedral’s care. Joe visited during compline, which was led by Canon Paul. Over 20 parishioners were present for compline, filling the pews, with standing room only for Joe! Speaking afterwards, Anne-Marie Tartar declared the day of silent prayer as ‘something totally different’.

“I’ve been on silent retreats but sharing the silence with 20 others, all deep in prayer, was very special. Silent prayer is difficult, the mind wanders and you need to use energy to bring yourself back. It was a beautiful day,” she said.

Efforts are underway at St Mary Magdalen’s to fundraise for urgent restoration works. Joe has been working with Revd. Jackie Fox – they have busily designing the chapel a new website – – you can check it out and let us know your thoughts.

Also this week we continued our research on a piece to support the work that is done in the field of education and Michelle joined primary school children from Sharow who were taken on a tour by Canon Barry. She learned several important lessons including the danger of letting a bunch of six year olds your have your name… “Barry!” “Barry… BARRY!” echoed around the cathedral as our inquisitive visitors conversed with our lovely canon! The children wanted their lunch as soon as they arrived (10.15 am!) but were happily distracted by a trip down into the crypt… We hope they enjoyed their visit!

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Ringing in the Changes at Ripon Cathedral

The bells of Ripon Cathedral have rung out across the city since at least 1354 and today – more than six centuries later, plans are afoot to ensure they are ready for a new generation of ringers.

Charlie Brown, Ripon Cathedral’s Steeple Keeper, takes up the story: “The bells here have an excellent reputation. We receive applications from people all over the country who want to come to Ripon Cathedral specifically to ring a peal here.

“However, our smaller bells are currently a bit unpredictable – it’s difficult to get the accuracy that we want. We are looking to adapt some of the smaller bells to make them easier to handle and a more pleasurable experience to ring.

“This is particularly important as we are currently training six new ringers and we’d love to get them started on these smaller bells. This work will help us all ring better together.”

The sound of bells is synonymous with our English heritage – not only calling us to pray – but ringing in celebration and in mourning and announcing peace – at the end of war.

The Very Rev John Dobson, Dean of Ripon, said: “We are fortunate at Ripon Cathedral in having a great peal of bells and a wonderful team of ringers who are dedicated and determined to sustain the ancient art of change ringing for the benefit of this community and region.

“I am very grateful to those involved in this project as it will help enhance ringing for both new and experienced members of the band.”

The work, which will cost some £5,000, is currently being explored by Ripon Cathedral’s Fabric Advisory Committee.

If you’re interested in learning the ropes new bell ringers are always welcome and details can be found at

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Women in the Pulpit

A quarter of a century ago a momentous vote was taken in favour of women’s ordination to the priesthood. This Sunday Ripon Cathedral is marking the occasion from the pulpit – with a sermon from one of its newest team members – Canon Ailsa Newby.

It’s part of a national initiative which hopes to see women across the UK take to the pulpit in commemoration of events 25 years ago. It will also be the first sermon at the cathedral by Canon Newby – the former lawyer sought ordination following her work with prisoners for the charity Justice.

The tide of change for women in the church began 50 years ago with the appointment of the first female lay readers – then two decades after that came the ordination of women deacons. Ripon Cathedral welcomed its own female deacon this month as Rev Caitlin Carmichael-Davis began her curacy.

Canon Wendy Wilby, who has been serving as an interim Canon Residentiary in Ripon, was amongst the first women priests to be ordained in 1994 – (it had taken two years for the legislation to work its way through parliament and the church!)

Canon Wilby is also the Chair of the National Association of Diocesan Advisers in Women’s Ministry. She said: “Up and down the country we are hoping that as many women as possible will be preaching in our churches on July 16. We have been privileged to witness a seismic ministerial event of enormous proportions in our generation. We must give thanks to God for all that women are formally bringing to the church.

“We at Ripon Cathedral are rejoicing in the gifts and skills that have been offered by women in ministry over many years. This last 50 years has seen a major transformation within the Church of England. It now provides a wholeness of ministry that represents both the women and men of our congregations and communities.”

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Nigel Allcoat, organ

Summer Organ Festival 2017

Join us for this year’s Summer Organ Festival – a series of seven recitals across Tuesday evenings in July and August showcasing performers from Ripon Cathedral and across the country.  This year, we mark a series of French anniversaries: Louis Vierne and Charles-Marie Widor, who both died 80 years ago, and Henri Mulet, in the 50th year since his death.

Nigel Allcoat, organ

Nigel Allcoat, 15th August

Peter King, organ

Peter King, 11th July

Peter King, Organist Emeritus of Bath Abbey, launches the series on 11th July with a programme of French fantaisies, adding a little international variety with one of the great 19th-century Germanic works: Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm.


The next three recitals are given by the Cathedral’s music department.  On 18th July, Tim Harper explores connections between J. S. Bach and the French school, sandwiched between a brand-new transcription of Willam Walton’s Portsmouth Point and the first major work of Vierne’s favourite pupil: Duruflé’s Prélude, Adagio et Choral Varié sur le thème du Veni Creator.

The  following week, the John Sayer Organ Scholar, Tom Coxhead includes Jehan Alain’s Trois Pièces pour Grand Orgue among pieces from the renaissance and by Howells and Vaughan Williams, before Andrew Bryden sees in the new month by concluding an all-French programme with Duruflé’s Prelude & Fugue sur le nom d’Alain.



David Newsholme, organ

David Pipe, organ

Above: David Pipe, 22nd August Left: David Newsholme, 8th August

David Newsholme (Canterbury Cathedral) plays Bach, Widor, Vierne and Howells as a prelude to Healey Willan’s Introduction, Passacaglia & Fugue, while on 15th August, Nigel Allcoat celebrates the feast of the Assumption as composer, performer and improviser, in a programme spanning Bach, Boulanger, Tournemire and Liszt.

Finally, David Pipe plays Elgar, Wammes, Bach and Bonaventure before exploring Henri Mulet’s Esquisses Byzantines on 22nd August, bringing the series to a close with the famous toccata Tu es Petra.

All recitals take place at 7.30pm in the crossing of the Cathedral, where you can see the performers close up and hear the sheer variety of sounds available from the Ripon instrument to best advantage.  Tickets are available in advance from the Cathedral Shop at £8, on the door at £10 and free for accompanied under 16s.  The ticket price includes a glass of juice or wine after the concert.  Full programmes can be found under each recital’s event listing:

Summer Organ Recitals 2017

11th July             Peter King
18th July            Tim Harper
25th July            Tom Coxhead
1st August          Andrew Bryden
8th August         David Newsholme
15th August       Nigel Allcoat
22nd August      David Pipe

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