Tuesday 11 January 2011

Blessing of the Thames 2011

The Blessing of the Waters that is performed on the Feast of the Theophany in the East is well known. In the Old Roman rite, water was also blessed by dipping a cross into it (symbolic of Christ's Baptism) on the Eve of the Epiphany. At S. Magnus the Martyr, this ancient practice manifests itself as the Blessing of the Thames on the Sunday after the Epiphany, celebrated as the "satellite" Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, using the propers of the Epiphany Octave.

Above, you can see the Procession to the bridge forming outside S. Magnus.

Here, the Ministers leave the Church. Celebrant, Assistant Priest and an acting Subdeacon.

I have included this photo to illustrate that the Celebrant's cope features an image of the Holy Family. In the pre-Pius XII calender, this Sunday would have been the Feast of the Holy Family. All of these Liturgical observances, however, are inextricably linked in the history of the celebration of the Epiphany, and historically many different "epiphanies" or "manifestations" of Christ have been celebrated around this feast; the nativity, the angeli ad pastores episode in the Gospel, the coming of the Magi (as has developed in the West), the Baptism of Christ and finally the Wedding at Cana. While in the West these epiphanies have, to varying degrees, split off into different observances, the Armenians keep the Feast of the Theophany as the Nativity and the "Epiphanies" in one.

The Procession is led up onto London Bridge by the Verger of the Church. The Parish of S. Magnus, like many English churches, maintains the tradition of the Verger leading processions. An Icon of the Epiphany that is normally venerated in the Baptistery of S. Magnus was also borne in Procession.

The Solemn Blessing of the River has, like many other solemn blessings including that of palms on Palm Sunday, a structure rather like an abbreviated Mass. It starts with readings from the Old and New Testament, followed by a "Gradual" hymn of S. Ephrem, culminating in a Preface, Prayer of Blessing forming the "Canon" of the rite and followed by a Collect-like prayer and dismissal. Above you can see the Cardinal Rector of S. Magnus blessing the River while Canon Andrew Nunn of Southwark Cathedral holds the megaphone. This Blessing is a joint venture with Southwark, and the place of Blessing is the point at which the Parish boundaries of S. Magnus and S. Saviour's (now the Cathedral) meet, pretty much in the middle of the Bridge.

While the Old Roman Rite tamely dips a Cross into the Waters, the S. Magnus version, in common with Eastern Practices, involves a cross being thrown into the River Thames to bless it. Needless to say, no one is expected to jump in and retrieve it, as is common in Russia.....

After the Cross is thrown into the River, the people are aspersed with lustral water. Just as this ceremony of Blessing is a reminder of the sinless Christ submiting himself to Baptism at the hand of the Forerunner, so this sprinkling is a reminder of our Baptism, and our duty to witness to it always.


  1. UHM... is that a woman in a cope???

  2. Yes. She is Canon Andrew's Succentor in Southwark Cathedral.

  3. It is so nice to see a women in a cope, just as it was when the Pope visited Westminster Abbey. It seems so natural and somehow as if we are more complete.

  4. Manocan,

    I'm glad the pictures have had such a positive effect on you! Next year you should join us if you can.

    Needless to say, there were no women in Copes processing from the S. Magnus side. You're frankly more likely to see a scarf, or indeed a mantilla, flapping in the wind!

  5. Thank you for your kind words. Your comments and articles, especially your "history" of Anglo-Catholic liturgical views have been excellent. I appreciated your remarks about the Ordinariate and those who do not wish to go. Very helpful. I was in fact in London in September (I am a Canadian), but on the one Sunday I was there I decided to go to St. Bartholomew's because of its architecture and history, espcially Prior Rahere. The music was wonderful with two of my favourites: Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli and Bairstow's Let All Mortal Flesh. It was the first time I experienced a silent Canon with bells and genuflections while the choir sang the Sanctus and Benedictus. A bit difficult to get used to, but still lovely. Next time St. Magnus. Thanks again.

  6. Hi Joseph,
    If my memory serves me, and it often does not, you have celebrated a birthday recently. Many happy returns of the day, or ad multos annos, which seems more appropriate to this blog!
    Great to see photographs of the Blessing of the Thames - you are the Anglo-Catholic pin-up boy par excellence,(there's no need to publish that!!!).

  7. The Pimpernel don't mean to be unduly provocative, but it genuinely interests him as to how you can join in liturgical rites with ladies dressed as priests? That is one feature that certainly was not part of the pre-Pius XII rite!

  8. Pimpernel,

    The Blessing itself was certainly not pre-Pius XII....we're not Anglican Sedevacantists!

    A willingness to cooperate with ordained women in a public witness to our faith is not indicative of an acceptance of women's ordination, and she would certainly not be invited to celebrate at the Altar in S. Magnus. Nonetheless, she is a fellow baptised member of the Church and is employed by the Church of England. To refuse to cooperate with her, or any other member of the staff of Southwark Cathedral, would be ludicrous.

    Or, in RC terms, "the service was non-Sacramental and so the blessing was not invalidated by her presence."

  9. It was great to be part of the ceremony this year. I do like the S. Magnus acolyte torches with glass covers for shelter them from the wind. Unfortunately the Southwark Cathedral torches do not have covers, so they went out as soon as we got outside.

    The facebook pictures of your procession fill in the gaps for those of us who were in the Southwark procession.

    Plus point was the sun was shining for the Blessing of the Thames.

  10. I hope you resume blogging soon ex fide!