Skip to content

At The Blessing Of The River

January 11, 2016
by the gentle author

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

You may also like to read about

Beating the Bounds at the Tower of London

Hot Cross Buns at St Bartholomew the Great

At the Lion Sermon

The Oldest Ceremony in the World

A New Quill for Old John Stow

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Debra permalink
    January 11, 2016

    Another fascinating event I knew nothing about! I always enjoy reading these – but would love to know about some of the events in advance – would it be possible to publish some kind of calendar?

  2. Sketcher permalink
    January 11, 2016

    Why are they all men? I can’t see one woman.

  3. January 11, 2016

    I am pleased you have recorded this ancient ceremony first time for me. I see it was multi faith which is good. A brilliant set of pics. We are more used to seeing the Bishop on the tele in November at the Cenotaph. John B a Londoner at heart.

  4. January 11, 2016

    Beautiful photographs, for the light, the costume, the storytelling

  5. January 11, 2016

    You’d think the reformation was all in vain.

    Where’s Oliver Cromwell when you need him!

  6. Cornish Cockney permalink
    January 11, 2016

    The final picture of the richly robed churchmen walking unnoticingly past a homeless person speaks volumes.

  7. pauline taylor permalink
    January 11, 2016

    All show and superstition to me. I agree with Graham Moss and Cornish Cockney on this one.

  8. January 11, 2016

    DAVID BOWIE (8.1.1947 – 10.1.2016) ★ R.I.P.

    Love & Peace

  9. Michael Knight permalink
    January 11, 2016

    Cornish Cockney’s comment poses a very interesting question, but I hope that this photograph, taken by itself, is misleading. Can you tell us, GA, whether or not there was at least one Samaritan amongst ‘the robed churchmen’?

  10. Alder Carr permalink
    January 13, 2016

    Another sad leftover ritual that just looks completely ill at ease in the foul air of Lower Thames Street, that is until the clerics of the City & the Liberty of Southwark meet in the middle of a not so sweet Thames to toss the cabre of the cross onto the tumescent waters – quite a powerful image that one.

  11. Southwark Bloke permalink
    January 13, 2016

    Firstly, I should correct the writer, it is the Bishop of Woolwich, on behalf of the Southwark Diocese in the pictures.

    Secondly, for Sketcher – it was a woman who organised the event, the Precentor of Southwark Cathedral who was present on the bridge, alas, but the photos do not show her.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS