*** DEBUG END ***

Angela Tilby: Sound the trumpet of Easter hope

29 March 2018


An array of silver trumpet pipes gleam forth from the clerestory on either side of the west door of Portsmouth Cathedral

An array of silver trumpet pipes gleam forth from the clerestory on either side of the west door of Portsmouth Cathedral

HERE at Portsmouth Cathedral last autumn, we dedicated a Trompete de Maris (Trumpet of the Sea) organ stop (News, 29 September 2017). An array of silver trumpet pipes now gleam forth from the clerestory on either side of the west door. The first time I heard them I cried.

This response seemed almost biological, outside my control, as though I am simply programmed to weep when a trumpet sounds. In fact, this first happened to me in Lincoln Cathedral during a performance of Vaughan Williams’s Lord, Thou Hast Been our Refuge, his setting of the 90th Psalm.

There is a stunning moment when the choir has been chanting verses about the brevity of human life. The chant comes to an end, there is a pause, and then, suddenly, the hush is broken by the sound of a single trumpet with the first line of the hymn tune St Anne, “O God, our help in ages past”. The contrast between the grief of our mortality with the call to renewed trust in God was almost unbearable.

Our Portsmouth trumpet stop is truly magnificent. At its dedication, the silver pipes were blessed and censed with due solemnity. They protrude from high in the west end, and you could almost imagine angelic trum­peters blowing into them from outside the cathedral. All eyes turned west as they sounded a stirring Alleluia, commissioned from Neil Cox.

Trumpets are highly scriptural, of course. A trumpet organ stop must be the descendant both of Tubal-Cain (who mined iron and bronze, and worked them into tools) and Jubal, ancestor of those who play the pipe and lyre. Biblical trumpets warn of imminent disaster; they are a call to arms; they mark liturgical time in the worship of the temple. The seer of Revelation heard a voice speaking like a trumpet — which set the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop an interest­ing challenge when it worked on a radio dramatisation of Revelation. Trumpets sound the praises of God and announce the last day, heralding the resurrection of the dead.

To me, they are the sound of Christian defiance and hope. The defiance is important, because trumpets are meant to be not only loud but also slightly vulgar and hooty, even rude. In the light of Easter, this is what we think of death, this is how we defeat the devil: by the sound of brass and silver, by laughter, by disrupting the sleep and apathy of sin.

In our cathedral, the organ pipes face both east and west, and we worship both in the choir and in the nave. The position of our new pipes in the extreme west means that, wherever you hear them from, they are coming from a distance, from somewhere else. “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead. . .”.

So God interrupts our human slumber with the good news of resurrection.

The Revd Angela Tilby is a Canon Emeritus of Christ Church, Oxford.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)