An Ecumenical Matter

My, my, where does the time go? It’s hard to imagine that it’s been nearly a thousand years since our own local saint saw his sticky end pretty exactly where his church stands now. I’ve been curious for some time as to how they’ve been planning to mark said sticky end.

There’s not much point going into the story of how St Alfege died – every blog, newsletter, freesheet, mag etc. has been telling the tale. All you really need to know:

  • Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Vikings
  • Bad Stuff
  • Orgy
  • Oxbones
  • Death

With a bunch of bullet points like that it’s hard to think of a collection of commemorations that aren’t exciting. I confess my imagination enjoyed splendid re-enactments involving today’s Archbishop of Canterbury volunteering to be chased through the streets of Greenwich by parishioners dressed in horned helmets and waving polystyrene animal bones.

Well, we do get re-enactments and we do get the Archbish, but sadly not together. But it looks like good stuff so, given there’s only a couple of weeks before the fun, I thought I’d take a look at what’s going on. I’m quite impressed at the number of St Alfege Churches there are – in Britain alone I make it eight with his name in theirs – and they’re getting together with some others that have connections for the – not really sure I can call it ‘celebrations.’

Unusually for a saint, they’re pretty sure of the exact date of Alfege’s death – 19th April. On that day there’s a rather interesting-sounding river pageant going on. The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, will be taking Eucharist at Southwark Cathedral at midday, then St Olaf’s Pier and London Bridge before a Festival Procession goes back, mainly by river, to Greenwich, where the Archbish will also hold a service  at St Alfege’s Church.

The service is at 5.00 and is tickets only, but when a bunch of us went to hear Spem in Alium last Saturday, they said a few tickets were still available. I assume your best bet is to ask at the church. If you can’t get one, you might want to go to the vigil service the night before at 7.30pm which is open to all.

According to the St Alfege Millennium website the 20th, will see a cycle pilgrimage from Canterbury to Greenwich (an unusual way round, given that Chaucer’s medieval pilgrims took the trip in the opposite direction…) but sadly it’s fully subscribed.

The real fun for me is Regia Anglorum though. A little-known fact: I’m crazy for re-enactors. They utterly fascinate me. I like re-enactments, but I love re-enactors. This living history group, whose claim to be “The best re-enactment society in the world – probably”  I have no reason to dispute (even if their scary and fairly unenforceable copyright notice on the website leaves a bad taste in the mouth), are going to be in town between 19th and 22nd April with a full replica Viking longship and everything.  Once again none of the press releases I’ve been said  actually say where they’re going to be but it’s a pretty easy guess that the ‘living history encampment’ is going to be in St Alfege Park. Count me in.

I can’t find anything more about the Mystery Play with an Alfege theme that’s going on in Greenwich on the weekend of 4th May, but it sounds intriguing.

Finally, on 9th June, there will be an ecumenical pilgrimage to Canterbury, the day following the feast of the translation of Alfege.

I’m really looking forward to it. It’s Marathon weekend and though I would have loved to have seen at least some runners dressed as vikings chasing Rowan Williams in 11th Century Bishop costume waving bones, what with the runners, the long ship and the slightly younger Cutty Sark finally ready for a run-around, I think that, for Greenwich at least, the 19th April is going to see 2012′s crazy year really starting in earnest.

4 Comments to “An Ecumenical Matter”

  1. Capability Bowes says:

    19th April? According to which calendar? Julian or Gregorian?

  2. Jacky says:

    Just in case we might feel this is just a bit of historical fun .. David Mitchell makes some sobering points on his “soapbox”

  3. Kate says:

    lovely image to have The Arch chased through the streets by horned helmeted re-enactor Vikings. Sorry to break the hugely disappointing news, gleaned from a very sad Norwegian friend, who took me to the Viking Ship museum in Oslo, that Vikings didn’t have any horns on their helmets. He claims that’s a Danish football fan invention.
    Do you know what time the re-enactment gets going? I presume they aren’t going to kill and re-kill poor old St A all day.

  4. Actually, it appears to be a re-enacted Viking encampment. I don’t think Alf gets a look in :-(