This was an interesting one. Technically All Souls College doesn’t do an Evensong as it doesn’t have a choir. It’s also a very prestigious post-grad/research/I’m-not-really-sure-what-they-do-there college. Plus, their main (?) evening service is on a Wednesday which is a little random, although handy because Will couldn’t do this particular Sunday. For these reasons, Will phoned them up beforehand and made sure that we were actually allowed to go. Spoiler alert… we were.
Because Will was getting a bit paranoid, we both suited up to varying degrees. He was – I’m fairly sure – in a full suit. I went for a suit too, but with a bit of a hipster twist. All things considered, I’m quite proud of my clothing choices, so you’re getting a full account.
– sorry –
On the top, I wore my long black blazer. Long in that it comes down to mid-bum level I’d say. It has a fancy lining and is a truly excellent suit jacket. To match that, I wore my regular suit trousers. For a black tie event I would generally wear this suit with a white shirt and black heels (which go well with the ankle-grazing trouser look). For this particular event, one where I wasn’t entirely sure suits were necessary, but also didn’t want to be under-dressed, I got inventive. I started out with the white shirt, then switched it out for my denim one. It rained on the way to All Souls so by the time we got there it was quite a dark denim, but it started out a light blue. For shoes I wore my tan (hopefully faux although I’m not sure) leather brogues. These are probably my favourite shoes, I’ve always been a fan of brogues, and they really brought the outfit together.
Now you have a very detailed idea of what I looked like on this particular occasion (apart from my face because I’m such a woman of mystery), you can imagine what fools we looked like in our college cafeteria before the event. I did get a few compliments though, pushing the fashion boat out is always good for that. We also went to a few pubs after the event to both catch up, waste time, and because we (well… I) wanted to show off my suited up appearance. The rain meant All Souls didn’t get the full effect, but at least the porter’s instruction to: “just push the door” worked. Funnily enough, I’ve walked past that door quite a lot, and was convinced it was either always locked, or just one of those doors Oxford has because they look fancy, but no one ever uses them. Apparently All Souls isn’t as mysterious as I thought.
Walking into the chapel is an experience in itself. You don’t walk though the door and see the length of the chapel, no. You walk through the door, turn 90 degrees left, walk 5 or so paces, turn 90 degrees right, and then you see the length. It’s a little small (as in, if you were to use it as a run way you wouldn’t get very far) and Da Vinci Code-esque. The ceiling is massively high, though. In fact, if you weren’t as oblivious as both Will and me, on turning 90 degrees to the right, you would see a massive wall of marble (?) statues, stretching for miles into the sky.
– Okay, so not miles, but a decent way up. The ceiling really is high. –
This awe-inspiring chapel, for what it was, had a tiny congregation. I think there were three of us who didn’t do readings, and three who did. Maybe people are scared of All Souls? I definitely was a little bit before I actually experienced it for myself. It’s quite sad that there weren’t more people, actually. Granted there’s no choir to draw them in, the Nunc Dimittis and the Magnificat were said rather than sung, and there was a lot of audience participation. Still, it was enjoyable and I quite liked the vibes given off. Also the main churchy-guy was really delightful. He told us what to do, where the psalm was in the book (although we both somehow messed this bit up), and was very interested when we told him about our little Evensong mission. Churchy people are lovely in this way. They’re very accommodating, much like All Souls is if you ignore the scary reputation and ceiling heights.
There were two readings followed by the main man doing all of his stuff. If I hadn’t been focussed on trying to figure out what accent both of the speakers had, I may have retained more. In fairness, the readings are never my favourite bit. How good the service was cannot be judged on my attention span during them. I was also busily trying not to get anything wrong during the sermon, so didn’t pay much attention there either. That’s more to do with my being unfamiliar with the service-style though.
I may have been tense pretty much the entire time, and I often didn’t know what was going on, but I still enjoyed the service. The chanting was calming, and I enjoyed saying the words I’ve only ever sung in a choir before. It brought a new meaning to the pieces and I could look more deeply into them. I’m just glad and relieved that they weren’t in Latin. Had they been, I would have turned tail and run away. After the service we stayed to chat to the little congregation and the main churchy guy. As I’ve said, he was lovely. We now don’t stop for long afterwards, however, as Will says we can’t make friends with all the churchy men in Oxford. He probably used the actual word for them, but since I don’t know what it is, you’ll have to interpret ‘churchy men’.
All Souls was different, but it wasn’t wholly bad. Sometimes it’s good to have a little variety. And also to go into colleges that scare you. As long as you phone them up first to settle the paranoia.
Beautiful in its uniqueness, but 6/10 stars.