the blessing of the sea

watercolour and pencil 70cm x 50cm
About two thousand Catholics took part in the annual pilgrimage in honour of St. Felix, the Apostle of East Anglia, which ended with the blessing of the sea at Dunwich, on Sunday, August 20th.The ceremony of blessing was performed by the Very Rev. Mgr. Canon Squirrel, Rector of St. John’s, Norwich, while the Rev. Bruno S. James, Priest and Guardian of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, preached.

After Low Mass in a meadow at Dunwich, said by the Rev. C. M. Davidson, of Newmarket, a procession was formed for the walk to the cliffs. In the remains of the churchyard of All Saints, Rev. Bruno James preached and the sea was then blessed. The pilgrimage closed with Benediction.

(from The Tablet, August 26, 1939)

Exactly sixty years later, in 1999, we found ourselves on Dunwich beach, and saw the strange ritual of the blessing of the sea being re-enacted. This time, instead of a couple of thousand worshippers, there were no more than twenty or so gathered awkwardly at the water’s edge, engaging in what appeared to be a quasi new-age nature ceremony, but with bibles and crosses. It all seemed very quaint, and very irrelevant – after all, no matter how much blessing is bestowed on it, the sea will always return to steal the land away, and nothing is going to stop it.


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