By Mary J O’Rourke, Clayton-le-Moors
Many years ago most towns and villages had religious processions of witness, and what spectacular events they were, thousands of people lined the streets to watch them.
The day was usually warm and sunny, the sort of weather the congregation had been praying for.
On the appointed time the bands of musicians turned up and tuned up – what a cacophony.
The children that were taking part were practising their May-time hymns as May is traditionally the month of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus. There was an air of great anticipation among the children until the call to take up their positions was announced. Banners were unfurled and raised aloft by male trusty members of the congregation, the statue of the Virgin Mary surrounded by white lilies and roses, symbols of purity and love, was borne on high by four Knights of St Columba with another four alongside to take over at intervals.
The children were chivvied into their places clasping their posies and ribbons, veils fluttering in the gentle breeze, and the boys very smart in their satin and velvet suits and carrying Rosary beads,
enough to bring a tear to the eyes of the proud parents and grandparents. The bigger boys and girls followed. They, too, were dressed in white with veils for the girls and white shirts with black short trousers for the boys.
The brass band and the Boys Brigade lead off playing Oh Mary We Crown Thee With Blossoms Today. The Parish Priest follows holding a prayer book and Rosary beads smiling and nodding benignly at the people in the crowd, and making the sign of the cross to them. Next came the small children to loud cheers and much clapping. Some of the little ones were overwhelmed and started to cry, and mums rushed forward to hold their hands until their confidence was restored. The small boys marched along behind singing with gusto and looking like little angels. They were closely followed by the statue bearers, the banners and finally the Crucifix held aloft for all to see and respectfully bow to.
Behind this followed the ladies of the parish young and old all smartly dressed in their Sunday best, pretty hats and smart court shoes praying or singing as they trotted daintily over the cobbles. The local pipe band followed on looking very impressive in their tartan dress uniforms – they always raised a cheer from the crowd and got the onlookers singing with their lively music and the pipe major expertly tossing the mace. What a spectacular sight to behold! And so the procession wound on its way until it reached the Ellison’s Tenement where it would finally disband for welcome refreshments and photographs for the family album.
I particularly remember the May processions around the church on the first Sunday in May for the crowning of the May Queen and also the Virgin Mary. We always carried five tulips which inevitably drooped before the walk had ended.
Another well-remembered procession was on the feast day of Corpus Christi which was held in the grounds of Paddock House in Oswaldtwistle. This took place in June and that was always a sunny day too.
We practised for weeks beforehand for these processions, learning the hymns and tunes was serious stuff and we had to be word-perfect! The days of spectacular church processions are now long-gone. Sad but true.