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Chancel Vault: Advent Doors 2018

Written by Sarah Meyrick, posted on Monday, December 24, 2018

At last! It's Christmas Eve. So gather round. We've got a special Christmassy story for you.

Tonight is the night Baby Jesus finally takes his place in our crib scene. Piece by piece our figures have arrived in the new stable, which was designed and created specially for us by the Clerk of Works department.

Whatever door you choose to enter the Cathedral, when you come in take a moment to raise your eyes heavenwards and feast your eyes upon the glorious Chancel Vault. It’s a beautiful and complex work of architecture. Gravity defying – almost. The secret lies in the 12th century Norman pillars which support it.

Hidden away above this beautiful stone ceiling is a loft space. In fact, if you linger for a moment at the West end, you might just catch a glimpse of the door into that loft, high up in the central tower.

During the 19th century, William Francis, the Dean’s Verger, ventured up into this space. What do you think he found there? To his great surprise, a vast quantity of hay.

‘I brought a sample down with me and took it to the Dean,’ he writes. ‘He at first said it was impossible; he could not see the use of hay being there: then he suddenly remembered a tradition that in the time of Charles I was shut up in Oxford, a great deal of hay was stored in Christ Church somewhere for the King’s use.’

It turns out that the King had stored hay above the Chancel to feed his cattle out in the Meadow, where cattle still graze today.

Speaking of things that seem impossible, we remember the birth of another King tonight. Not a King in an earthly sense, like Charles I, but a heavenly and eternal King. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Who remarkably, for all his might, was born in a stable. ‘The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay’, as the old carol goes.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Christ Church!

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2.6,7