Welcome to the Cathedral’s new Head Verger
We are delighted to welcome Carys Underdown as our new Head Verger.
She took up her post on Monday 18 June 2018 and was formally admitted to the role at the end of the Sunday Eucharist on 24 June, using a liturgy provided by the Church of England Guild of Vergers.
Carys has moved around a lot in her life, so is never sure how to answer the question “where are you from?” She was born in Alsager in Cheshire and so has always thought of herself as a Northerner, but admits that she’s right on the southern edge. Aged 7, she moved with her family to Southport, just north of Liverpool and remained there until she went to university in Aberystwyth in 1997. While she was there her parents moved to Dudley in the West Midlands. Having finished in Aberystwyth, including a term spent in Galway, she moved to Cambridge for postgraduate study. Towards the end of her PhD, she moved back in with her parents who by this point had moved to Cardiff – where her father had been born and brought up. After completing her PhD, she got a job working for Plaid Cymru at the National Assembly for Wales for a few years. Sadly she was made redundant in 2010 and had 18 months unemployment until March 2012 when she took up the role of Verger at St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I described this church as the “fairest, goodliest and most famous parish Church in all England.”
The Church and Christian faith has always been part of her life. She was baptised by her grandfather at the church her parents worshipped at in Alsager at two months old. Her grandfather was vicar of Cholsey at this point, but during the 1960s had been Provost of Wakefield Cathedral. Her father and brother sang in the choir at that church and after the move to Southport, she joined them in singing in the choir at St John’s Ainsdale where she was confirmed in 1992. The rhythms of the liturgical year were part of her life and greatly appreciated, particularly the Maundy Thursday liturgy.
She realised this particularly the year she stayed in Aberystwyth for Holy Week and so attended the ecumenical service for Maundy Thursday which ended with the singing of “Here is Love; vast as the ocean”, a hymn she loves but which did not compare to stripping the altar to the singing of psalm 22 for catching the mood of the day. During her time in Cambridge, she became sacristan of her college Chapel (Fitzwilliam) and became an altar server at Little St Mary’s. She took on similar roles at St Teilo’s Church in Cardiff and this experience stood her in good stead as a verger. Her six years at St Mary Redcliffe was a varied time. Her first Christmas featured the BBC broadcasting the Christmas morning Eucharist in 2012 which was quite daunting. The verger’s department were still in the Cathedral at 3am after the Midnight Mass changing light bulbs to make it look its best! Other highlights included a large community event on 4 August 2014 to mark the outbreak of the First World War, installations of a new vicar and a new associate vicar. There are also the non-liturgical parts of the role which can include things like returning to the vestry one Sunday afternoon to find the water heater leaking all over the floor!
Outside of work, one of the highlights of her year is the Riding Lights Summer Theatre School which happens just outside York at a girls boarding school. In this week, a group of around 100 people ranging from 14 to 90 (or older!) get together to put on performances at the end of the week. Doing one show in a week would be taxing, but having five or six courses each putting on a performance can be hair-raising especially fitting in all the tech rehearsals.