St Wilfrid didn’t found the City of Ripon (it is much older than the 7th century) but he did build the first stone church here in the 600s and the citizens of modern-day Ripon still proudly celebrate him as their patron saint, processing through the city on an eclectic collection of floats, led by the brass band. The mayor waves regally from an open-topped car as ‘Wilfrid’ rides his* horse in the midst of a bunch of monks, supported by the Morris dancers.
Dutifully following the Mayor and her consort was a clutch of cathedral clergy. (What is the collective noun for clergy – a confusion of clergy? Or perhaps a chaos of clergy?) One way or another we waved and greeted and walked our way around the 2 hour route somewhat outshone by the Ripon City Morris Dancers behind us who not only completed the route but DANCED their way around. Other sassy participants had pre-ordered pints at certain strategic points along the route and could be seen stepping aside for a quick refresher on the route. The crowds along the way cheered us on.
As one of Ripon’s newest citizens all this was a marvel to me: the mix of community groups and local businesses joining in celebrating the heritage of their city in a mix of tradition and innovation. Tradition: ‘Abide With Me’ played annually by the band at the point on the route where someone in earlier years died in the procession. Innovation: Wilfrid this year rode HER* horse as Laura Hodgson and her horse Dougie, took the part for the first time. What Wilfrid would have made of that, or indeed any other aspects of the procession I don’t know. But there must be a chance that a woman on a horse would be more understandable to him than either a float of ancient Egyptians (complete with pyramid) or the mayor’s soft-top BMW.
And what Wilfrid and his first monks would have recognised was the ending of the procession in the Cathedral (even if the form of service is quite different). It was so good to see the participants in all their exotic finery filling the nave for hymns and prayers and a celebration of all that the procession represented. Ripon is a great community to live and work in.