Each year to celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Christ (11 Jan this year) two ancient London churches meet in procession in the middle of London Bridge to bless the river Thames. From the South comes a procession from Southwark Cathedral and from the North the crosses of St Magnus the Martyr, another old and very traditional church with great statues situated at the northern end of old London Bridge, a bit lower than the new bridge.
The ceremony thanks God for the river that is such a beautiful part of London, and also prays for the safety of all those who work on it and who will enjoy it, remembering the souls of those who have died in its waters too. “The river makes glad the city of God” was the response to the psalm (46).
Two bishops – Geoffrey Rowell and Nigel Stock – join in throwing a light wooden cross into the river (someone checks no boats are passing underneath) and bless the crowd sprinkling holy water and saying together: “God, who in Christ gives us a spring of water welling up to eternal life, perfect in you the image of his glory.”
St Magnus the Martyr was recorded in 1067AD when a church was standing there but that was later replaced in 1234 and then built again by Sir Christopher Wren after the Fire of London in 1666, in which it was the second church to be destroyed. Its interior includes an impressive statue of a huge saint who looks like a Viking and has a fearsome battleaxe.
Southwark Cathedral stems from a convent established in 606AD near a ferry crossing to the City of London and in 1106 was the site of an Augustine Priory, which also established the Hospital of St Thomas. There is an amusing story on a plaque at the nearby Golden Hinde replica of the greed, deaths and sorrow that led to the founding of the convent.