Muted choir sings Ding Dong Warily on High

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IF YOU go to the 14th-century Church of St Mary the Virgin in the village of Broughton, Oxfordshire, this Christmas, you might notice something odd about the choir.

The 14 men and women may spend an unusual amount of time staring up towards heaven and they will be unusually restrained in their singing of some of the more rousing carols.

The problem is that the spire at St Mary's was struck by lightning last month. As a result the church organist, Rhys Williams, has been told to avoid low notes at all costs, because the church has been warned that notes of low resonance could cause damaging vibration in the already shaky spire.

'I'm afraid large lumps of masonry have been falling from the steeple on the west side of the church, where the organ and choir perform,' said the Rev Ivan Meads, Rector of St Mary's. 'We have had to rope off part of that side of the churchyard to keep the congregation away. Advice from architects has been that the steeple probably won't topple, but there is just a little bit of anxiety among some members of the choir.

'It is usual for them to look up to heaven, but perhaps they are doing it a little more than usual at the moment.'

The church, built in 1306, was struck by lightning on 7 October at precisely the time that Mr Meads's daughter, Deborah Webster, was giving birth to his granddaughter, Sarah, at Horton Hospital three miles away.

'My daughter says that presages the birth of a bishop, so perhaps Sarah will become one,' Mr Meads said. 'It was a very powerful thunderbolt. Deborah felt it from three miles away and architects who examined it said it caused quite extraordinary damage. It was a once-in-a-lifetime strike.'

The architects have told Mr Meads that the top 15 feet of the spire will have to be removed, repaired and replaced at a cost of up to pounds 40,000, although insurance should cover most of the cost. 'In the meantime,' the Rector said, 'the Dong has had to go from 'Ding Dong Merrily on High' and everything is being sung just that little bit higher.'