At The Blessing Of The River
Contributing Photographer Colin O’Brien & I arrived at St Magnus the Martyr yesterday morning to encounter the Bishop of London illuminated by shafts of winter sunlight as he emerged from a cloud of incense to bless a bowl of chalk, thus enabling the parishioners to mark their houses in advance of the imminent arrival of the three kings. Yet this exercise of spiritual power was a mere prelude to the main event – the annual blessing of the river, as a celebration of the baptism of Jesus.
The lavish brocade robes of the priests gleamed as they processed along Lower Thames St and up through the gloomy underpass – where the incense conveniently masked a noxious smell – before they emerged onto London Bridge in splendour. From the other side, the Bishop of Southwark led another procession and the two parties met in the centre to exchange greetings and declaim prayers.
Invoking Noah and the waters of Jordan, the Bishop of London blessed the Thames and then – after checking no boat was passing underneath – the bishops tossed a wooden cross off the parapet into the river and the congregation was sprinkled with holy water. As I watched the crucifix float away across the swollen muddy waters, it seemed to me that – after the recent catastrophic deluge – perhaps this year the ceremony acquired additional significance as a plea for respite from flooding.
Photographs copyright © Colin O’Brien
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