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Holy river

04 October 2013

IT RAINED on and off, and people on the riverbank were almost as wet as those being baptised by the Bishop of Knaresborough, the Rt Revd James Bell, in the Holy River of St Paulinus, otherwise the River Swale, in Ripon & Leeds diocese.

It was the culmination of a weekend of heritage events in the four churches where the Revd Yvonne Callaghan is assistant curate: Easby with Skeeby, Brompton on Swale and Bolton on Swale. They together joined forces with St Anne's, Catterick Village, just across the Swale, where the Revd Lindsay Southern is curate. The two donned wetsuits - as, one suspects, Bishop Bell did under his robes.

He began by blessing the river. He said that he was not sure whether he was blessing the whole river, or only part of it, but "God knows." "Everyone was so wet," Mrs Southern said, "he might as well have blessed the rain clouds."

Nine people, of various ages, were baptised - some by total immersion, others by standing in the river and having water poured over their heads. Many more renewed their baptismal vows, some choosing to be in water up to their knees.

It all happened close to the spot where, the Venerable Bede says, in the seventh century, St Paulinus, Bishop of York, baptised "in the River Swale which runs by the village of Cataract, for as yet oratories, or fonts, could not be made in the early infancy of the Church in those parts".

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