Interesting London Rituals: The Church Service Held In The Middle Of London Bridge

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 6 months ago
Interesting London Rituals: The Church Service Held In The Middle Of London Bridge
The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, holds a wooden cross, ready to thrown it into the Thames below
The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, appearing at a previous river blessing. Image: Bishop of London

As the life source of London, and numerous settlements besides, people have paid spiritual tribute to the Thames for centuries. Part of it even remains named after the Egyptian goddess, Isis.

Such homage continues to this day; early each year, the Blessing of the River Thames takes place in the centre of London Bridge. The short service — held on the first Sunday after 6 January — sees the coming together of the clergy and congregations from Southwark Cathedral and St Magnus the Martyr — churches sitting either side of the river bank.

Two men of the cloth launch a wooden cross into the Thames - with a backdrop of Tower Bridge
As part of the service, a wooden cross is tossed into the Thames. Image: Southwark Cathedral

During the service, the bells of St Magnus peal, while prayers are offered to bridge and river users — including the RNLI and River Police — as well as those who have died in the Thames. A wooden cross is then tossed into the waters, a nod to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

You can almost picture the eccentric ritual taking place long ago, when London bridge was a medieval street, but this particular blessing has only been going since the 21st century. That said, we did discover that in 1964, the Thames was blessed by Archbishop Anthony Bloom at the Victoria Embankment, as part of an annual ceremony then traditionally held in Reading.

clergymen bless the Thames from London Bridge - with Adelaide House in the background
The service takes place on the first Sunday after 6 January. Image: Southwark Cathedral

This year's (2022) blessing take place on Sunday 9 January, and anyone is welcome to take part or simply observe. If you can't make it this time, tribute is also paid to the Thames further upriver at Teddington — that blessing takes place in the summer.  

Blessing of the River Thames, middle of London Bridge, Sunday 9 January 2022, meet at 12.15pm, service begins 12.30pm. It's free.

Last Updated 04 January 2022

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