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St Catharine’s College, Cambridge to light up the season as Luminaria returns





A light and sound spectacular featuring the girls’ choir at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, is returning – and free tickets are available to see it.

Luminaria: A Ceremony of Light is a festive event held outdoors – providing the weather holds, that is – followed by a concert in the college chapel.

Dr Edward Wickham and Joanna Barrett at the gates of St Catharine’s College. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Edward Wickham and Joanna Barrett at the gates of St Catharine’s College. Picture: Keith Heppell

Beginning with a brass ensemble performing Christmas carols, along with mulled wine and mince pies, Luminaria begins at 6pm on Tuesday, December 13 and lasts approximately 20 minutes.

Donations will be taken on the night for the Arthur Rank Hospice. Entrance to the college’s Main Court will be for ticket-holders only, although some space will be available outside the college gates for those without tickets.

Luminaria started in 2017 and it returns this year for the first time since 2019 – though the pandemic was not the only reason for its two-year absence.

Luminaria: A Celebration of Light at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, in 2018. Picture: Keith Heppell
Luminaria: A Celebration of Light at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, in 2018. Picture: Keith Heppell

Dr Edward Wickham, director of music at St Catharine’s, says: “It was a combination of things. There was always going to be a pause because we had a major building project happening here, but then there was Covid as well.

“The Main Court was actually filled with a big marquee, where the college was dining and had its kitchens, so in a way this is also a celebration of the opening up of the college again, with the new buildings and the Main Court now open again.

“What the event combines is a really nice mix of the old and the new. There’s also something theatrical and engaging, and I did feel that certainly in the last iteration back in 2019 we found a formula, a combination of those things which really worked, so many of the aspects [of this year’s event] will be quite similar. We’ll have candlelight and a lovely concert to go into after the outdoor event.”

St Catharine's College Girls’ Choir will be performing at the concert. Picture: Keith Heppell
St Catharine's College Girls’ Choir will be performing at the concert. Picture: Keith Heppell

The outdoor part of the show, Dr Wickham explains, is a version of a service that the St Catharine’s Girls’ Choir gives every week in the chapel.

“This is a service called ‘Luminaria’,” he notes. “Luminaria is a special service which we devised for the girls’ choir when we created it back in 2008. At that time it was the only children’s girls’ choir in Cambridge or Oxford attached to any of the colleges, and the service will include some carols and some ancient chant from the very earliest periods of Christianity, so it’s both contemporary and old.”

The choir offers a unique musical experience for girls aged eight to 15, with weekly rehearsals and services in the chapel, complemented by singing and theory lessons.

Luminaria: A Celebration of Light at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, in 2018. Picture: Keith Heppell
Luminaria: A Celebration of Light at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, in 2018. Picture: Keith Heppell

“We have many applicants each year,” says Dr Wickham. “We have quite rigorous auditions, and sadly we’re not able to take all the girls who come to us. It’s the only choir of its kind in Cambridge for that age group.”

Joanna Barrett, a member of the choir in 2018, is now on her gap year and is set to study music. “She’s just left school and is on her way to being a student at Oxford next year,” reveals Dr Wickham. “She’s going to be a music student.

“It’s very nice when our choristers, having experienced the choir, really get a taste for music and for singing, and in the case of Joanna this has become a defining part of her life now, which is lovely, and we’ve had several other girls in a similar situation.”

Luminaria: A Celebration of Light at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, in 2018. Picture: Keith Heppell
Luminaria: A Celebration of Light at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, in 2018. Picture: Keith Heppell

[Read more: St Catharine’s Girls’ Choir marks its 10th anniversary year with a spectacular concert at St Catharine’s College]

Encouraging people to take advantage of the free tickets, he added: “It’s both an opportunity to enjoy Christmas in its traditional festive sense, but also to experience something of the solemnity as well.

“The service itself is beautifully atmospheric and solemn, and we have a great fire in the middle of Main Court, which is rather impressive, lit by the chaplain at the beginning of the service.”

Luminaria: A Celebration of Light at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, in 2018. Picture: Keith Heppell
Luminaria: A Celebration of Light at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, in 2018. Picture: Keith Heppell

In the event of rain, on Tuesday, December 13, the outdoor part of the service will not take place and a smaller, invited audience will be in attendance.

For tickets, visit the website at caths.cam.ac.uk/luminaria-2022.



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