After an absence of a year caused by the 2015 floods, this year’s traditional Boxing Day Pilgrimage from Ripon Cathedral to Fountains Abbey was back, stronger and more popular than ever.
Hundreds of ‘pilgrims’ gathered outside the West Front of Ripon Cathedral at 10am so that by the time the Bishop of Ripon, James Bell and the Dean of Ripon, John Dobson emerged from the Cathedral into the bright sunlight at 10.15am following the Boxing Day Holy Communion service they could barely be seen among the crowds of walkers and assorted dogs.
There they were joined by the Bishop of Huddersfield, Jonathan Gibbs, and young cross carrier, Harry Dean. Following a word of prayer and blessing from Bishop James, an estimated 1200 or more walkers streamed up Ripon’s famous Kirkgate and on through the Market Square.
Their route followed in the footsteps of a group of Cistercian monks who set out the day after Christmas, 1132 AD to found a new Cistercian monastery at Fountains on the banks of the River Skell. The walkers were swelled in numbers at the village of Studley Royal, walking across the Studley Royal Deer Park and on to the National Trust site at Fountains Abbey.
More joined at the Studley Royal Water Gardens so that an estimated 2000 pilgrims crowded into the spectacular vaulted and floodlit ceilings of the Abbey Cellarium, where mulled wine and mince pies were served.
There, the pilgrimage culminated with a service of carols and prayers led by Bishop James and Dean John Dobson with music led by the Stray Brass Ensemble.
For Bishop James, retiring in April, it was the final Boxing Day Pilgrimage. “Ripon has a very good special place in my heart, and it was brilliant to join in this most Ripon of activities!" he commented.