Stillness in the City
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When you enter Leeds Minster, you are treading a very well-worn path. This is probably the fourth church on this site, the first being built in the seventh century, meaning Christians have been worshipping here for around 1400 years.
The present church was consecrated in 1841 and at that time was the largest new church erected in England since St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The rebuilding was a project led by the energetic vicar, Dr W. F. Hook, widely seen as the country’s greatest parish priest of the nineteenth century. You can see his tomb in the north-east corner (to the left of the high altar).
Hook’s vision was of a ministry that combined dignified and inspiring worship in Church, with committed social and evangelical work amongst the many poor who lived nearby.
The architecture of the exterior of the church is certainly impressive, but the internal arrangements are even more significant. Hook’s interior with a magnificent altar, raised on steps and visible to almost all the huge congregation, and the stalls for a robed choir in the chancel, between the altar and the congregation, were almost unique in a parish church in 1841.
Nevertheless, they very quickly became the norm across the Anglican world, with Leeds leading the way. It is now regarded as the country’s most important church of its date.
The church was built to hold 1,600 people, but Hook’s services regularly attracted congregations of 2,500, rich and poor.
The worship drew on music and beautiful surroundings to inspire faith in a majestic and mysterious God. Hook revived the choir and appointed Samuel Sebastian Wesley, the foremost church musician in the country, to lead the music. Hook’s musical vision has been retained with good music continuing to enrich the worship to this day.
When you enter the main body of the church, you will see ahead of you the imposing edifice of our famous organ, which plays such a central role in our worship.
If you come forward to the middle of the church, and then turn left to face east towards the altar, you can take in the glorious colourings of the glass and mosaic. This was entirely by design.
If you now turn and face the other way (west), you can just about imagine 2,500 people crammed into every pew and standing space, and a preacher addressing them from the raised pulpit just near where you are standing. Sermons were major events and the quality of the preaching here played a large role in attracting these numbers. The Minster retains a justified reputation for good preaching to this day.