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Noisy, messy mission

09 August 2013

THERE has been a church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin in Willesden, north-west London, since 938, and a holy well still longer. It was a popular place of pilgrimage in medieval times, with its famous image of the Black Virgin. A modern statue, carved from limewood by Catharni Stern, was placed in the church in 1972, and annual pilgrimages have been restored.

This year, the pilgrimage celebrated 1075 years of Christian worship in Willesden. The Vicar, the Revd Andrew Hammond (far left in photo), says it was "noisy, messy, and joyful", which is "what we go in for here, not frowning earnestness".

The pilgrimage was led by the Bishop of Edmonton, the Rt Revd Peter Wheatley, followed by a 13-foot puppet of our Lady, and "a suite of unstoppable teenage drummers making a holy racket round the streets". Many people joined them in what became a joyful mission. There was also a festival mass, summer fair, sprinkling, and Benediction.

The holy well beneath the church still provides fresh pure water for baptisms and mixing with the communion wine, and was generously splashed over those who came for the sprinkling.

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