Palm Sunday In Stepney
Last year on Palm Sunday, the late Colin O’Brien & I visited St Dunstan’s to witness the procession
Every Easter, George & Dunstan, donkeys at Stepney City Farm enjoy an outing when they join the Parishioners of St Dunstan’s for the annual procession around the vicinity on Palm Sunday – and, last year, Photographer Colin O’Brien & I joined the enthusiastic throng on a cold and grey spring morning.
Walking down from Whitechapel, Colin & I followed Stepney Way, which was once a path across the fields used by worshippers when St Dunstan’s was the parish church for the whole of Tower Hamlets. St Dunstan founded it in 952 and it stands today as earliest surviving building after the Tower on this side of London.
At the old stone church, we discovered the wardens were eager to show us their ancient silver, a mace and a staff, with images of St Dunstan, the Tower and a Galleon referring to the days when this was the parish of seafarers. Once, all those who were born or died at sea were entered here in the parish register.
Curate Chris Morgan led off across the churchyard along the fine avenue of plane trees, swinging incense and followed by church wardens, sidesmen, George & Dunstan the donkeys, members of the parish and a solo trumpeter, with the Rector Trevor Critchlow bringing up the rear.
Anyone still nursing a hangover from Saturday night might have been astounded to be awoken by the sound of a heavenly host, and parted the curtains to discover this rag tag parade. Yet it was a serious commemoration of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem in which the streets of Stepney became transformed into the Via Sacra for a morning.
They marched through the empty terraced streets, past the large development site, turned left at the curry restaurant, passing the pizza takeaway and the beauty parlour, before turning left again at the youth centre to re-enter the churchyard. Then there was just time to pet the donkeys before they filed into the church to warm up again and begin Sunday morning prayers. And this was how Easter began in Stepney.
St Dunstan with his metalworkers’ tongs on top of the seventeenth century mace
A galleon upon an eighteenth century staff is a reminder St Dunstan’s was the parish of seafarers
Tower of London upon the reverse of the staff
Sidesmens’ batons from the era of George IV
Julian Cass, Sidesman
Jenny Ellwood, Sidesperson, and Sarah Smith, Parish Clerk
Trevor Critchlow, Rector of St Dunstan’s
Curate Chris Morgan leads the procession
Photographs copyright © Estate of Colin O’Brien
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