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Behind The Scenes Part 1

Written by Jacob Downey, posted on Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Organ Case Door


Welcome to the first instalment of Behind the Scenes, a new series of blogs in which I unhook the red ropes, fumble with enormous bunches of keys and unlock a lot of doors marked ‘Private’ all in the aim of showing you bits of Christ Church Cathedral that you can’t normally see as a visitor. To this end the editor (otherwise known as me) will be climbing umpteen flights of unforgiving stairs, squeezing into far too many small and dusty places and fumbling with endless bundles of keys whilst muttering something about none of them being the right one.

First a quick disclaimer, all the places in this blog are not accessible to visitors. They're up high, cramped and generally not somewhere you should wonder around. So if you do come and visit us please don't try and sneak into them, we'd rather not have to come and rescue you. With that out of the way on with the first instalment…

This week’s door is in one of the most looked at and photographed bits of the Cathedral, the mighty Reiger, the organ. Despite this I feel pretty confident in saying that most people will not have seen it from this angle nor opened this door. That’s because it’s a door in the back of the organ case.

View from Organ LoftBut we’re jumping ahead, to get here was relatively painless, compared against those coming in future blogs at least… There’s just one quite narrow iron staircase, although it is quite difficult to negotiate with a camera bag as I found out. The view from the organ loft is quite spectacular, you can see the entire Cathedral Stretched out before you through the Nave to the Chancel and finishing in the beautiful East End. But this is all tangential to today’s door.

I arrived in the organ loft equipped with a large bundle of miscellaneous keys helpfully labelled ‘Organ Case’ this seemed too easy, and indeed it was, after a good few minutes of trying them all  none of them seemed to fit. Then I looked at the next door along. It had a key in it. Yes, of course it was the right one. Keys 1, verger 0. Having found said key I did actually manage to open the door, which is good because had I been unable to open it I’d have started to doubt if I was qualified to write a blog centred around opening doors. Organ Case Key

I have to be honest when I decided to pick the organ case for a behind the scenes post I wasn’t actually sure what was behind the door I had in mind, I was fully prepared for it to be a bit naff and for me to have to find another door. Happily I was pleasantly wrong.

The Organ at Christ Church is an odd beast, bits of it date from the original ‘Father Smith’ instrument of 1680, bits of the screen might even be older than that, possibly 1635(ish). Most of the internals are from when the Organ was rebuilt by Reiger of Austria in the 1970s. And as opening this door shows, they are quite some internals. There are 3,300 pipes in total, varying from huge ones that are feet tall and chimney-like and other tiny ones that look more like a drinking straw. Opening up the back of the organ case lets you see all of this and it’s kind of impossible not to marvel at how all of these parts can come together to make not just a coherent sound, but one that is quite beautiful. The Reiger is often a little bit underappreciated, much of it dates from the decade that brought you Sea Monkeys and Angel Delight and as such it can get a bit looked down on compared to some other Cathedral Organs. But open the door and look in the back and I challenge you to not be amazed by the amazing craftsmanship, and the way that so many bits of such a huge instrument can come together and thunderously belt out O God our Help in Ages Past.

So, that’s it for this door, but no fear Behind the Scenes will return, where I will no doubt be in another small space wondering which key is the right one…



Claustrophobia: 2/10 Other than sticking my head in a quite small space to photograph the pipes this one was pretty painless
Stairs: 4/10 Not all that many of them, but they are narrow spindly and a little bit wobbly…
Key Fumbling: 5/10 I got deceived by overly logical key labelling, but at least the right one was nearby.
Red Ropes Removed/Private Signs Passed: 1


About the Author

Jacob works for Christ Church Cathedral as an Events assistant and Verger and can normally be found either in the Cathedral office trying desperately to remember the extension number for the porters’ lodge or in the sacristy scratching his head whilst looking at the key safe. He enjoys exploring and is the smallest of the verger team, which might be how he ended up writing this blog series.