I've never seen anything quite the same as a carol service in the States, although certainly similar services in the season of Advent. The way it works is that a series of lessons are read, last night there were 9 lessons read starting at Genesis, through prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament and then finally to many of the familiar passages of the Christmas Story. Between each reading, a Christmas carol is sung. At this carol service my choir did a short Musical Interlude halfway through the service where we sang O Holy Night, Be Still My Soul and an Italian carol called Bambino. The rest of the service we just led the congregation in the carols and threw in harmonies where we knew them to fill out the sound.
It was a magnificent service. Sadly I couldn't get any photos inside because it was too dark in there and I don't believe in using flash photography inside 800 year old sacred buildings. Its disrespectful and the light from flashes can damage the frescos, fabrics and other priceless art decorating these buildings which are irreplaceable.
I was really surprised when I entered St. Hilda's that it has been so beautifully kept and fitted with a lot of modern conveniences like beautiful modern lighting and heating. Although there is only so much you can do, the church was still absolutely freezing and while the congregation stayed in their coats and wooly hats, I was wearing this...
A bit of history about St. Hilda's Hartlepool. Although the exact date is unknown, St. Hilda's church was built in the 13th Century by the Brus family. Yes, the same family Robert the Bruce came from and local legend has it that Robert the Bruce was actually born in the Brus family home in Hart Village and not in Scotland as Scottish history books tell us. It would certainly make sense as Robert the Bruce's father was the Lord of Hartness and owned most of Hartlepool. Both the original St. Hilda's church and the Hartlepool Town Wall were built by the Bruce family.
The site of St. Hilda's church is actually home to an even older sacred place dating back to the 7th Century. Before St. Hilda's church was built by the Bruces, St. Hilda's Abbey existed on the Hartlepool Headland and was founded by the Saint in 640 A.D. So the land where St. Hilda's currently stands has been a place of worship for over 1300 years.
Visiting this church is special, but getting the opportunity to sing in this space with a really talented group of musicians was a special Christmas treat for me and something I will never forget and hope to do again next year and in years to come.