Titanic Service at Belfast Cathedral
A special service last Sunday (15th April) in Belfast Cathedral, on the anniversary of the loss of the Belfast-built Titanic, held in tension commemoration and celebration, remembrance and thanksgiving.
The service included elements of the original memorial service held in the Cathedral in 1912, the Sunday after the liner sank. A ‘Titanic Funeral Pall’ was dedicated (see earlier report, Gazette, 30th March).
In his address, the Dean of Belfast, the Very Revd John Mann, recalled how on that night 100 years ago the Titanic had “slipped into the icy waters of the north Atlantic, leaving more than 1,500 people dead and the dream of opulent travel in complete safety, or the excitement of the opportunity for a new start, or simply a prestigious maritime job, gone”.
The tragic loss of the Titanic one hundred years ago has been widely remembered, not least with the special service last Sunday at Belfast Cathedral (report, page 1). What was the largest and most opulent ship in the world at the time, making its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, striking an iceberg approximately 375 miles south of Newfoundland, went down in under three hours. The vessel, which was built in Belfast and was considered unsinkable, sank. The horror for those on board is unimaginable. There were 713 survivors, but more than twice that number – 1,512 – lost their lives to the freezing ocean. Yet, despite the tragedy, the suffering and the loss, the Titanic has now given its name to a rejuvenated Belfast Quarter, a sign that loss can be remembered in a way that stirs the human spirit to new heights.
The tragedy has brought much reflection on different aspects of the events and on the lessons to be learnt. An especially salient, but very basic, point has been voiced by an expert on the subject, Greg Ward, writing last week in the News Letter: “All the talk of bravery and self-sacrifice obscured such simple facts as that if the ship had carried enough lifeboats and a fully trained crew, everyone would have been saved.” A statistical table also published by the newspaper revealed, disturbingly, how the class in which passengers were travelling had a direct bearing on the chances of them losing their lives: 38.2% of first class, 58.5% of second class and 74.9% of third class perished, alongside 76.2% of crew members.
The events in the North Atlantic on the terrible night of 14th-15th April, 1912 remind each and every one of us that, as the Prayer Book phrases it in unsurpassed fashion: “In the midst of life we are in death”. This is a world both of joy and tragedy, a world in which an unexpected encounter of two people can lead to their lifelong happiness in each other’s company, and a world in which a fatal accident can always happen, to any of us, at any time. While our human bodies can be of great strength, they remain mortal and, in that sense, frail no matter how strong. The Titanic disaster reminds us of many things, teaches us many things, but that is doubtlessly one of the fundamental truths with which we are left after all is said. It is a hard truth but, more happily, it surely turns our eyes to the eternal realms and to the very Saviour of the world.
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