Beautiful organ music soothes people having COVID-19 vaccination at Salisbury Cathedral

18 January 2021, 11:54 | Updated: 18 January 2021, 18:12

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Coronavirus vaccines at Salisbury Cathedral are being accompanied by an unexpected Bach-ing track…

As the coronavirus vaccine rolls out across the UK, vaccination centres have been popping up in a few unexpected places – including the historic Salisbury Cathedral.

And to calm those having their jab, the cathedral’s organists have been playing out some beautiful music.

John Challenger said in a tweet he “would be playing Handel’s Largo and much more great organ music” as the 800-year-old building became a vaccination hub.

His colleague David Halls, who has been playing at the cathedral since 1985, told The Times he had been playing Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’. He said: “We’ve tried to provide something serene and soothing, and it’s been a privilege to take part. People have been really listening. We’ve even had applause.”

In the video above, posted by the cathedral on Twitter and filmed by Ash Mills, Challenger can be heard “pulling out the stops” on the cathedral’s 19th-century Father Willis organ, helping to make the experience feel less daunting for over-80s receiving the vaccine.

“This is the place where day by day prayer is offered for the healing of the city, for the healing of the nation. To be able to come here today to receive these lifesaving vaccinations, I’m just overjoyed that we can play our part in this,” the Very Rev Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury, told ITV News.

Read more: Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ played on Asia’s largest pipe organ is life-affirming musical experience >

Those receiving the vaccine at Salisbury Cathedral were in the over-80s priority group, booked in by their local GP to have their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

As of today, in the UK, more than 3.8 million people have been vaccinated with either the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine.

The government’s target is to give the first dose to 15 million people – priority being given to the over-70s, the clinically vulnerable and frontline healthcare workers – by mid-February.

Lichfield Cathedral and Blackburn Cathedral are among other places of worship to be used as COVID-19 vaccination centres.

Salisbury’s Dean added in a press statement: “We are proud to be playing our part in the life-saving vaccination programme, which offers real hope in these difficult times.

“Staff of our local NHS and their patients will receive a warm welcome to their cathedral, and we assure them of our constant prayer.”

Read more: German COVID-19 study finds concert halls are safe ‘at half capacity’ >

One of the first to get their jab at the cathedral was Louis Godwin, a former WW2 RAF tail gunner. He said, quoted in a tweet by Salisbury Hospital: “It’s so easy. Anybody who can, should get it as soon as they can.”

The building was also used as the ground for a singing safety test in June last year, as Salisbury Cathedral singers took part in a ‘spray and spittle’ test to determine the safety of singing as lockdown measures began to ease.

While places of worship are staying open for communal services in some areas of the UK, singing is only allowed by one person, who must either be facing away from worshippers or behind a plexiglass screen.