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Monday, 23 April 2012

Porvoo with a twist: Millennium Celebration of St Alfege's Martyrdom

St Alfege's Schoolchildren leading the last part of the pilgrimage. Photo: Southwark Diocese
The opening hymn in Southwark Cathedral had a startling verse:
Lo, a thousand years before us,
barb'rous Danes assailed this land:
homesteads, boroughs, churches, abbeys,
pillaged by a plundering band;
and the people suffered deeply
from the cruel heathen hand.
The occasion was the start of a pilgrimage to mark the millennium of the martyrdom of St Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, whose feast day was last Thursday 19 April. Alphege (or Alfege) was a much loved and revered man who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1005. In 1011 the Danes invaded south-east England and took Alphege prisoner. They put a ransom on his head, £3000, an astronomical amount in that day. Alphege refused to pay it and forbade anyone from doing so as he did not want to impoverish his people even more. He also never threatened his hostage takers with retaliation and thus became a a symbol of reconciliation. He was murdered by his captors on 19 April 1012.

The pilgrimage left Southwark Cathedral, led by St Alphege's successor, Archbishop Rowan Williams, and made its way to Greenwich where the parish Church dedicated to him now stands on the site of his martyrdom.  On the way a stop was made at St Alfege's School in Greenwich, where the Archbishop addressed the children about his predecessor and how enemies of 1000 years ago are now our friends, pointing out the many descendants of the Vikings who were present with us on the pilgrimage from our Porvoo partner Churches of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The Archbishop emphasised how reconciliation must always be our work and our goal.

The Revd Else Hviid, London's Danish Chaplain, enters St Alfege's Church with Metropolitan Seraphim of the Coptic Orthodox Church
In St Alfege's Church, the Bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun, and the Bishop of Bergen, Halvor Nordhaug, from another Viking land, Norway, signed a twinning agreement between the dioceses, inspired by the Porvoo Agreement.

Bishop Halvor signs the twinning agreement
History enthusiasts Regia Anglorum re-enacted scenes from St Alfege's life in the Churchyard where an entire Saxon village was reconstructed along with a replica Viking boat.

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