02 August 2009

Enjoy your local history and culture - St Wilfrid's day

Enjoy your local history and culture - St Wilfrid's day

Yesterday (1 August) was Yorkshire Day and also the day of the St Wilfrid’s Day Pageant in Ripon.  

We have just come back from 2 weeks holiday in Dumfries & Galloway near Kirkcudbright.  It was our first full 2 weeks of holiday since we started Steenbergs back in 2003, so that’s some form of progress.  We did still get phone calls from work for help with a daily list of queries, but when we returned everything was in good order.

DSC_0146While we were there, we enjoyed visiting various ruined castles such as Caerlaverock Castle, MacLellan’s Castle and Threve Castle.  But what we really enjoyed was a number of events held in the centre of Kirkcudbright, where they have a series of Scottish events over 8 weeks called The Summer Festivities.  There we watched pipe bands – Kirkcudbright and District Pipe Band – and Highland Dancing as well as the Riding of the Marches, where 80 riders on horseback rode the boundaries of the original declaration of the Royal (Scottish Royal) Burgh from 1485 by King James II of Scotland.

Whenever we go on holiday, we always come back thinking how wonderful that place was, but everything that seems so great on holiday is also available back at home in Yorkshire, or wherever you live.  However, we never really find the time to go and see all the things on offer locally, or even anywhere near enough of what there is, whether it’s music, plays, historic monuments or just plain gorgeous countryside.

So Sophie and I have made a resolution that we will go out of our way over the next few years to be a bit of a grockle and visit all the local historic sites, learn something about our local history and enjoy some of the culture that is on offer.  Now, I know we don’t live in London, Edinburgh, Leeds, Paris or New York, but I am happy with our rougher, more rural history and culture, as it comes from the heart and soul of the local people.

And that’s important.  We are all taught national and international history.  We all read about national and international politics.  However, we relate in our day-to-day life on a much more personal level with our family, our neighbours, our work colleagues and other local people. 

National politics hardly even ripples the surface of our lives here and while many people may think how sad that it is for us I am very happy about that.  It is these smaller, closer and more local human connections that drive our lives, support us and keep us happy.

As a start, I enjoyed yesterday’s St Wilfrid’s Parade, which supposedly traces itself back to 1108 when King Henry I granted permission for a Feast of St Wilfrid.  St Wilfrid was one of the founders of modern English Christianity when he founded Ripon Cathedral, became Archbishop of York and persuaded the English Christians at the Synod of Whitby in 664 to switch from the Celtic tradition and move to the Roman Church.  St Wilfrid is our local Saint, coming originally from north Northumbria and being very connected with this area.  He is probably also buried in Ripon.

The pageant comprised about 20 different groups of people, ranging from 2 brass bands (1 at the beginning of the procession and 1 at the end), the Mayor in his chauffeur driven car, 2 Canons from the Cathedral, the Wakeman, a steel band, the ubiquitous group of Morris Dancers (about 30 of them), the Fire Service and floats and dancers with themes such as: “Money – the Root of All Evil” dancing to Abba’s “Money, Money, Money”; Bollywood; Willy Wonker’s Chocolate Factory; Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat;  Dad’s Army and WW2 for Help for Heroes; puppets, St Wilfrid and his travels; and Party Time from the team at Wolseley Centers.

DSC_0198Snuck somewhere towards the front was the star attraction of the pageant - St Wilfrid in his finery coming back into his City seated on his horse accompanied by his faithful 5 monks.

The Pageant started at 2pm prompt in the Market Place, processing down North Street and then back up Magdalens Road, up All Hallowgate etc until reaching back to the Minster for a service at about 4pm. 

It was all done in great spirit and with a great deal of enthusiasm and fun.  I know it’s not the Notting Hill Carnival, but it is good, honest, local fun.

Every 20-25 minutes the procession needed to stop for some liquid sustenance.  So after a 10 minute pub break that stretched to 20 minutes, the Pageant would move on, getting a little bit more ragged at the edges after every stop.  Supposedly there used to be superstition (of course no longer) that it was unlucky for St Wilfrid to pass a pub without a drink!

Although it may seem that the only piece of religion is the fact that the Pageant needed religiously to stop and have a pint every 20-25 minutes, it seems important to link us today all the way back to the founding of the City by St Wilfrid when he completed building the original church of St Peter in 672.  He links us back to Lindisfarne, St Aidan and later St Cuthbert, whose body rested here for a few years before ending at a hastily built church at Durham.

My final thoughts are for my 2 main memories of the pageant other than it’s sheer glorious fun:

  1. DSC_0207A huge bouquet of a headdress on one of the male Morris Dancers;
  2. The sight of St Wilfrid and his faithful monks enjoying a hasty pint of bitter under a tree across the road from The Magdalens pub.  St Wilfrid was there with his mitre off and his false beard pushed down around his neck enjoying a quickly smoked tab, with a pint in his other hand. 

But wasn't it was ever thus on high days and holy days. 

Anyway God must have been looking on with a wry smile and been happy with the expression of faith from the Ripon populace, as the rain stopped just before the show (after days and days of raining) and it has turned into a glorious Sunday.

Go on: go and explore your local area, revel in your local culture and enjoy being English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish.  We have great history and culture, but we seem almost to be embarrassed about it all. 

Don’t be, be proud as there is lots to be proud of, and don’t always worry about offence and don’t focus always on those things that are bad in our history – every country has blemishes. 

In fact, every person has really embarrassing moments in our lives and we should just say "sorry" and move on and look to the good in us all.