Sunday, 6 July 2008

Mediaeval Fun and Games in Lichfield

Roger the Ratcatcher and the jousting knights at the west door of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrck Comerford, 2008)

Patrick Comerford

Having spent three engrossing, satisfying but hard-working days in Swanwick at the annual conference of USPG – Anglicans in World Mission, it was a spiritually, intellectually and physically happy experience to drop off in Tamworth for a few hours and then to return to Lichfield, where I stayed overnight in the Cathedral Close.

The other board members of USPG Ireland dropped me off in Tamworth, where I paid another brief visit to the Moat House, built by the Comberford family in the 16th century, and to Saint Editha’s Parish Church, where the Comberford Chapel can be found in the North Transept.

Lichfield has always been special to me because it was here I began my journey in faith and towards ministry, and it was here that I first began working as freelance journalist. It was refreshing to return once again to Saint John’s in John Street, where that journey of faith began, and to attend the mid-day Eucharist on Saturday in Lichfield Cathedral, where that journey towards ministry received its first prompting and encouragement 37 years ago, when I was only 19.

Initially, when I planned to stay over in Lichfield this time, I did not realise I would be there for part of the Lichfield Festival and for the Mediaeval Fayre and Market, which takes over the Cathedral Close for a full day. From about 5.30 in the morning the Cathedral Close was a-buzz as stall holders in mock-mediaeval costumes set up their stalls, many of them to raise funds for local charities, voluntary organisations and community and arts groups.

By 9, the heavy rain was failing to dampen spirits, and over 130 stalls had spilled over from the Cathedral Close into the grounds of the Deanery, the Cathedral School, Saint Michael’s House and down into Dam Street.

By the time the civic procession made its way from the Guildhall up to the Close, Roger the Ratcatcher was certainly having his work cut for him.

When one little boy blurted out that Roger wasn’t holding a real rat, Roger confessed but then told us that none of us would be there if it was a real rat. Many of the sideshows were fun mediaeval rather than serious efforts to recreate anything authentic.

They included the mediaeval Fruit Machine from Whittington, the Mediaeval Puppet Shows, the Poor Cnights of Saint Chad, and the Dark Ages Educational Trust. And as for Ferret Roulette … well really.

But the revival of the Mediaeval Mystery Plays was an interesting contribution, and one I’d like to see more of. They are at: http://www.lichfieldmysteries.co.uk/.

The Lichfield Mysteries outside the Guildhall on Saturday (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2008)

It was all good fun, and although the Irish dancers outside the Guildhall were young and shy, they certainly reflected the confidence felt throughout the Irish community in England these days.

The 27th Lichfield Festival continues until 13 July, with a full programme that includes 400 artists from Denmark, Mexico, Russia, Sweden, France, Germany, America and from across the UK, and the Firework Finale in beacon park on 12 July promises to be spectacular. The Lichfield Festival Office is at 01543-412121 or log onto http://www.lichfieldfestival.org/.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College