Skip to content

Palm Sunday In Stepney

April 9, 2017
by the gentle author

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

You may also like to read about

Nativity Procession In Spitalfields

Vera Hullyer At St Dunstan’s

Easter Flowers At St Dunstan’s

At St Dunstan’s Harvest Festival

A Stepney Remembrance

5 Responses leave one →
  1. Jim McDermott permalink
    April 9, 2017

    Takes me right back to when I participated in my own parish’s processions, though it’s a sign of how things have changed, even in my lifetime, that the crowds that once lined the routes have gone. The Churches of Sleeping In or B&Q have the flocks these days.

    And George and Dunstan are beautiful!

  2. Robin permalink
    April 9, 2017

    Curate Morgan looks quite a bit like Sir Elton. I bet he gets a lot of “double takes” as he is leading the procession.

  3. April 9, 2017

    The traditions here at St Dunstan’s are ageless and will go on to eternity. The congregation is bold and are taking that Easter message on to the streets. The donkey is part the Christian scene, its support team has to be thanked for a good donkey turnout on the day. Keep going happy church you are doing fine. Poet John PS Keep the Whitechapel Bell Foundry survival flag flying it needs all the support it can get from us. It also has to be saved for eternity

  4. Helen Breen permalink
    April 9, 2017

    Greetings from chilly Boston,

    GA, lovely piece. Nice to see such an old tradition continuing with the participation of young and old too …

  5. April 9, 2017

    A lovely post – how great to begin the Easter week with this procession, with real donkeys!!

Leave a Reply

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

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS