“you’d think dracula arrived” – mum
haha not quite, but if it were him he’d have a wee bit of trouble getting through the church door albeit the cathedral one at that. was so funny to hear mum whisper that to me with a cheeky look on her face. i just smiled, slightly surprised. somehow i’m not suprised she said that but still, i found it rather unexpected when she said it. she knows how much i’d love that comment. for a moment i thought about how we could have more moments like this. two of us side by side in a place so full of memories and history with haunting strains from the oldest pipe organ in the land filling the airy hall of the church, easily drowning out the bustle and the buzz of downtown traffic pressing close to the fence.
i’d never been to the cathedral and for mum this was her first time back in more than 20 over years. the entire compound is so old it feels immediately familiar somehow. when you walk past the gate you think the place seems so small, with a narrow bumpy lane winding around the building; the low perimeter wall dwarfed as modernity pushes skywards in its concrete behemoth swathes of sleek grey on all sides. traffic speeds past in the many wide lanes that wrap round the compound. the current seems to exert such pressure on the old, threatening to swallow it… but still this place stands the most untouched in the neigbourhood. not even the convent and sji have escaped completely unscathed, but at least they are preserved. only the church is still the church. then again maybe only because the archbishop lives on the premises and it remains the home of the archdiocese.
the layout of the cathedral is a hallmark in itself, a classic in western church building. this is what makes the long walk down the aisle so iconic – double doors at the foot of the cross open onto the length of it. the altar directly in front at the head of the cross, arms held up on either side by a series of 3 ionian columns on either side. twin spiral staircases wind up from the entrance to the 2nd floor loft that holds the organ, so huge it takes up almost the entire space pushing toward the already spatial ceiling. high arched windows inlaid with stained glass spaced by dark wood panels of the stations of the cross dimly illuminated from beneath in warm yellow glows. long hexagonal lamps with crowns of crosses reach down from above. the image of christ radiates above the altar, and framed under the roof of a pseudo acropolis, grecian columns in relief help hold up the triangle and the weight of the world. a cultural artifact really because it’s actually odd when you remember that christ wasn’t exactly european.
i hope we never lose this place. bad enough the land transport authority did something blunderous like bowl over one of the gateposts to the church and without permission from the preservation of monuments board. this relic of a place isn’t gazetted as a national heritage site for nothing, religious or not. such a boo boo for the public service too.
was nice to see mum reminicising about the cathedral and her old school across the road. she kept saying nothing's changed at all as if she thought the church would have at least moved on like she did or even, contradictorily, moved faster than her. nothing about the place seemed different to her at all although she hadn’t seen it since she received communion as a kid or attended masses as a young adult.
for me i was amazed that some things about it were just what i remember from when i was a kid although i’ve spent my time in a totally different church. the mosaic tile floors with their specific pattern of alternating oblongs and squares, layered cantilever windows, old varnished wood benches with plank kneelers and the row for well-thumbed paperback missals, old ceiling fans coupled with newer ones mounted on the side walls… exactly like those in the parish i've spent most of my life growing up in – before it was given a facelift to keep up with modernity. i’d almost forgotten about these till i sat down in the cathedral and felt like i was back in church when i was 6 again. i was so struck that i was shocked i’d almost forgotten. for once i didn’t complain there wasn’t any air-conditioning either.
the organ is history itself and the organist for the unprecedented performance was as old as some of the pipes, which dated back to the 1930s and still not the oldest ones yet. built by bevington & sons and installed since 1912, i didn’t even know we have a working pipe organ open to the public. it’s so old that arthur had to play it with the help of an assistant as some parts had to be tweaked manually as he played.
the hall was crowded with all sorts of people old and young. spotted a teacher from my primary school who led us in musicals. spied an old friend who had an arm round a girl as they sat in the pew. so happy he’s finally attached.
as for arthur lamirande, he didn’t quite manage to pull off a seamless performance despite his international repute. but then again it was also the organ’s first real public flaunt since its repair. pretty cool to be able to watch him as he played it too. needs real dexterity which he had enough of for someone beyond his 70s. brought back times of practising bach trying to get all the chords and pedals right on an electronic organ when i was a kid. now we just need a harpsichord.
later as mum and me sat outside on the lawn towards the end, i was surprised how loud the organ was. it seemed to bellow from inside the hall and it’s only when you’re outside that you hear the difference. cars were all double-parked along the narrow lane uneven from old tree roots comfortably extending themselves underneath. it was cooler outside. i told mum about the time harry and i tried to take a peek inside the church when we passed by late one night only to find it locked and with a chubb alarm over the door. i thought churches are always open, i said. she laughed. historical treasure you know, she replied. that reminded me of someone telling us that the organ which cost more than 5000 pounds in those days when it was first made is worth millions today.
as we drove off afterward the concrete jungle seemed to envelop and absorb us back into the mechanical hum of modern traffic, twinkling electric lights and fluidity of progress. the cathedral remained where it’s always been; it’ll be good to see it and hear its voice again.