The Day Thou Gavest

A tweet by @jessicaduchen noting that it gets dark in London by 4:30 at this time of year put Miss Mussel in mind of her favourite time of year in Manchester. 200 miles further north and on the same latitude as Minsk, James Bay and Edmonton, the UK’s second city descends into darkness nearer to 4 o’clock.

Seeing as she is not what you would call an early riser *ahem*, it was light when Miss Mussel got up in the morning but for most of the day it was dark. Many people, particularly those from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand found this to be oppressive but for this bivalve, it was an almost magical time.

Most were bustling about getting their Christmas shopping done before leaving town for the day but the darkness seemed to calm people. For some reason [paging evolutionary biologists] there was a sense of getting through this last stretch before the daylight returns together. In daylight, everyone is busy doing their own thing but darkness, in some primeval way, unites. There are streetlights, of course, but the buildings are dark stone and the darkness is heavy. Everyone walks more slowly simply because it is difficult to see others well on the sidewalk.

The very best days were those where Miss Mussel could squeeze in a trip to Manchester Cathedral for Evensong and then meander on down to the Christmas market in St Ann’s Square to meet up with a mate for German sausage and some Gluhwien. Some nights we’d head on to a concert at the Bridgewater or to the Cornerhouse for a film. Done under the cover of the night, very ordinary activities somehow felt like a delicious secret.

Experiencing the dark in this way made the office of Evensong appear in a whole different light. In our permanently-lit urban world total darkness is rare even in the middle of the night and unless you’re a devoted back country camper, it’s easy to forget how frightening real darkness can be. When high infant mortality and unexplainable illnesses are added to the mix, it’s a wonder people slept at all.

With that in mind, the idea of going to church to ask for protection til Matins the next day takes on a kind of wistfulness that is difficult to resist. Evensong is now often attended as a theme-park attraction rather than an act of worship, particularly in the London cathedrals, but for Miss Mussel there is something quite grounding about the liturgy. It is much more intimate than the Eucharist and gently reminds that for all our moaning about the stresses of modern life, most of us, if nothing else, are reasonably sure that we’ll live to see another day.

The Day Thou Gavest is a hymn for Evensong written in 1870 by John Ellerton. The tune, known as St Clement, was written for the text by Clement C Schofield or so it was thought. [SCANDAL ALERT] In 2000, the Telegraph reported that the author was actually Arthur Sullivan.

From the office of Fun Facts You Can Use To Impress Oldsters At Sunday Coffee Hour: This hymn was requested by Queen Victoria for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of her reign in 1894. The implication being therefore, that it must be The Best Thing Ever.

Here’s the Choir Of The Abbey School in Tewkesbury with photographs presumably by Dr Westbury.

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