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These 3 old churches offer a virtual Christmas experience

Notre Dame Paris
Christmas Eve at the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral. (photo courtesy of the Sacred Music of Notre-Dame de Paris) |

If there is one good thing to come out of the pandemic that is the coronavirus it has been the ability of so many churches to adapt with services broadcast through social media channels.

Not only has the broadcasting allowed homebound congregants to partake in socially distanced worship and obtain some of the means of grace — holy communion remains a logistical and theological challenge, particularly in sacramental traditions — but it has also created new opportunities for witness through virtual tours of historic churches and cathedrals that would otherwise require a trip halfway around the world.

The following three old churches are offering virtual experiences this Christmas.

Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral

Christmas Eve will be celebrated this year in Notre-Dame de Paris for the first time since a fire devastated the medieval cathedral in April 2019, the archbishop of Paris recently announced.

While there won’t be a Roman Catholic midnight mass, the cathedral’s choristers under the direction of choirmaster Henri Chalet will sing traditional carols. Accompanying the choir will be organist Yves Castagnet and soloists Julie Fuchs and Gautier Capuçon.

The one-hour concert begins at 5:30 p.m. Eastern. It will be streamed live on the website and YouTube channel of KTO, the French language Roman Catholic broadcaster.

Great St. Bart’s

London has many historic churches, but the oldest continuously used house of worship is the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew-the-Great.

Built in the early 12th century in the style of Norman or Romanesque architecture, it was an Augustinian priory until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the aftermath of King Henry VIII’s separation of the English church from Rome. Today, it houses a high church Anglican congregation.

Great St. Bart’s released prerecorded services of, in the words of the Rev. Marcus Walker, “music and holy writ” over the weekend on its website.

Critics would surely agree that the best service is the one of medieval carols and readings in John Wycliffe’s late 14th century vernacular translation of the Bible. Some of the readings from Genesis, Isaiah, Micah, Luke, Matthew and John were filmed at other ancient London landmarks, including the 11th century Westminster Hall inside the U.K. Parliament.

King’s College Chapel

The chapel on the campus of the University of Cambridge isn’t a cathedral, but the perpendicular Gothic edifice otherwise known as the King’s College Choir backdrop rivals many cathedrals in grandeur.

While the choir sings at a variety of concerts and church services it is arguably best known for the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The Anglican service, which first debuted more than a century ago, blends carols with the Christmas Gospel through the language of the King James Bible. This year’s candlelit service will feature empty pews as the pandemic restricts in-person churchgoers.

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast at 10 a.m. Eastern on BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service as well as public radio stations across the United States, including Minnesota Public Radio and North Country Public Radio.

Spires and Crosses is a weekly travel column. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter and Instagram.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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