Archbishop follows in the footsteps of a saint

The crowd at the ceremony at the the Holy Well at Holystone.
The crowd at the ceremony at the the Holy Well at Holystone.

SOME might say there was a touch of divine intervention as blue skies and a warm sun welcomed the Archbishop of York to north Northumberland, where he followed in the footsteps of a seventh-century saint.

Around 100 parishioners gathered in the shady grove surrounding the ancient Lady’s Well at Holystone last Thursday, to witness Dr John Sentamu give a special service in which he renewed baptismal vows by blessing the congregation with water drawn from the venerable Coquetdale pool.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu enjoys lunch with pupils at Dr Thomlinson's C of E Middle School in Rothbury.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu enjoys lunch with pupils at Dr Thomlinson's C of E Middle School in Rothbury.

Among them were children from Netherton Northside First and Harbottle First schools, who formed a procession, led by the Archbishop and preceded by his Chaplain, up to the sacred site.

This followed his visit to the school in Harbottle where the children showed off their banners and asked questions on everything from the Archbishop of Canterbury to what he wore when not in robes.

The Archbishop had spent lunchtime with pupils at Dr Thomlinson’s C of E Middle School in Rothbury.

The procession to Lady’s Well was also joined by Martin Wharton, Bishop of Newcastle, and backed by a choir and orchestra of local people with accordion, flute, fiddle and Northumbrian pipes.

Harbottle C of E First School and Netherton Northside First School pupils with the Archbishop outside the school in Harbottle.

Harbottle C of E First School and Netherton Northside First School pupils with the Archbishop outside the school in Harbottle.

And the visit to the well carried a further special significance, as it was in the same waters that St Paulinus – himself the first Bishop of York – is reputed to have baptised 3,000 pagan Northumbrians, possibly including King Edwin, in the year 627.

Originally from Uganda, Dr Sentamu told how he had first heard about Christianity through English missionaries, joking: “You can tell those English I have understood and accepted the message.”

He went on to lead the service and to preach, supported by Michael Boag, the Rector of Upper Coquetdale, recently-appointed from his former post at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

The Rector scooped water from the well to pass to the Archbishop, who then walked among the congregation sprinkling them to renew their baptismal vows.

The youngest pupils from Harbottle C of E First School, Nicholas Sharman (left) and Netherton Northside First School, Oliver Smith, present the Archbishop with a gift - a photo of the children with their banners.

The youngest pupils from Harbottle C of E First School, Nicholas Sharman (left) and Netherton Northside First School, Oliver Smith, present the Archbishop with a gift - a photo of the children with their banners.

At the end of the service, the Archbishop drank water from the well before chatting informally with all who had come. He was flanked by Northumbrian pipers David Medd and Nigel Jenkins.

He said: “It has been marvellous, we could not have asked for anything better.

“It is also remarkable to have walked in the footsteps of a predecessor, St Paulinus, who was the Bishop of York and is said to have baptised 3,000 people at this very special place.”

Rev Boag said: “It has been a very special day.

Archbishop John Sentamu leads the procession to the ceremony at the the Holy Well at Holystone.

Archbishop John Sentamu leads the procession to the ceremony at the the Holy Well at Holystone.

“We had no idea of how many people would come and they turned out in force, with a good number of children among them.

“It shows that the Archbishop is a great symbol of unity in the church.

“When we started planning this visit earlier this year, I did ask the churchwardens what the plan would be if it rained.

“They said ‘wear a coat’. Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary today.”

Dr Sentamu began his visit last Wednesday at Newcastle University and also visited the Northumberland Church of England Academy, while on Thursday morning he was at County Hall in Morpeth.

Next up was his visit to Dr Thomlinson’s in Rothbury where he explained the significance of his robes and mitre and showed off his drumming skills, before eating lunch with some of the pupils.

At Harbottle First School, he was grilled by the youngsters, where he revealed among other things that Aslan was his favourite Narnia character, that he didn’t believe in ghosts, that he used to be a ‘very bad organist’ and that he was ‘very sad’ that the Archbishop of Canterbury was retiring.

Dr Sentamu is the second-most senior cleric of the Anglican church, after the Archbishop of Canterbury.