Portsmouth Cathedral hailed as a 'beacon' of solace by those bereaved by Covid-19
AS the city paused to remember the hundreds of residents and the tens of thousands across the country taken by Covid-19, mourners turned to ‘a beacon’ of solace by the sea.
With a simple but unmissable display of remembrance candles in its central nave, Portsmouth Cathedral in Old Portsmouth became a quiet place of contemplation for dozens of residents on the National Day of Reflection.
Providing time and space away from the disruption and uncertainty of the unfolding pandemic has ‘meant the world’ to those who have visited, according to the Dean of Portsmouth, Dr Anthony Cane.
The dean said: ‘The first person who came in today was an elderly woman who had lost her husband to Covid-19. She came in very quietly and lit a candle.
‘She expressed her gratitude to have this prayerful and safe space to perform that simple action that means the world to her.’
Providing a public place for these deeply personal gestures, the cathedral has been a ‘beacon for the city’ during a very dark time, according to one visitor who lit a candle in memory of three friends lost to Covid-19.
The 78-year-old Southsea resident, who asked not to be named, said: ‘One of my friends, we had known each other for 66 years. Another friend I had known for 54 years. I wasn’t able to attend either of their funeral services.
‘Throughout the last year, the cathedral has been rock solid supportive.
‘They have given me a reason to get up in the morning and peace of mind at night when I have been worried about the future.
‘I cannot speak too highly of the ministry team at the cathedral – it’s wonderful.’
Throughout the pandemic, families across Portsmouth and the surrounding towns have turned to The News to describe the heartbreak of funerals disrupted by Covid-19 restrictions, with family and friends unable to attend services and final wishes left in limbo.
For Ian Munro, visiting the cathedral gave him the chance to pay his respects to friend of more than 20 years, who died from Covid-19 and whose funeral Ian was unable to attend.
The Stamshaw resident said: ‘Knowing Portsmouth, I was sure that something would be happening to bring the community together.’
Elaine Law, a verger at the cathedral added: ‘People can look very thoughtful, perhaps thinking about someone’s death.
‘I plan to leave a tribute to a former boss, who lived in London, who died from Covid-19 – she was an inspiring leader.’
The National Day of Reflection saw cathedrals, churches, and organisations across the country mark the anniversary of the first national lockdown – but many visiting Portsmouth Cathedral believe it should become an annual event.
Elaine said: ‘Perhaps we should do this every year. So many people have lost someone important to them. It has had a huge impact worldwide.
Ian added: ‘I think it’s a good idea to do it again.’
The pandemic has brought many new traditions and ways of working across the city, with the cathedral being no exception.
Whereas hardly any services were broadcast online before March 2020, now nearly every service is streamed on the cathedral’s YouTube or Facebook accounts.
Dr Cane said: ‘I can barely remember a time when I didn’t know what Facebook Live was.
‘It has been a year that none of us could have imagined. There has been so much grief and loss, but also so much compassion and imagination.
‘So many positives have gone on in the midst of really trying circumstances.’
Those visiting the cathedral arrived contemplating those unforgettable circumstances – but many left with renewed hope for the future.
Ian said: ‘I only hope that in the future the community support stays strong.
‘I’m thinking about people like Father Bob in Fratton and those here in the cathedral – there’s been so much help that’s been on offer, and I hope we remember to support those who have supported us.’