The Dean’s Reflection with the Very Rev John Dobson

St Wilfrid and his monks parade in the Market Square
St Wilfrid and his monks parade in the Market Square

Great preparations are underway for the annual St Wilfrid’s Procession in Ripon this weekend.

This is a tremendous community event that brings people together in a festive spirit, celebrating the life and heritage of this district’s ancient city.

The floats that make their way through the streets are created by organisations that make vital contributions to the life of the community.

The festive atmosphere gives a fitting opportunity to honour those contributions.

One thing that pleases me is that the procession comes to its climax in the cathedral, the ancient church of St Wilfrid.

And what a celebration it is, with St Wilfrid enthroned in splendour and a couple of supportive monks sitting either side of him.

This is lively community drama and pageant, and it makes the important point that the cathedral is here to serve the people of the city: it is their cathedral.

An equally important point is that the very person who is at the heart of this annual celebration is the saint who encourages Ripon to look out to the wider region and world.

Wilfrid campaigned against an insular mindset with great courage and determination.

It cost him some friends in high places, but it resulted in his influence transcending the centuries.

Wilfrid was the one who caused the church in this region to be open to broader influences.

It didn’t bring him universal popularity.

A community of monks had been sent to Ripon in about 650AD, they stood well within the Celtic tradition that had come to Northumbria from Iona and Ireland.

Wilfrid himself was a product of this, he had been educated at Lindisfarne, the island off the North East coast.

But he became influenced by the sites and ways of Rome; and returned determined to establish them in Ripon.

He did, on an amazing scale and endowed with unimaginable riches - it’s a shame that we have lost those.

As Bishop and Abbot, he brought the Benedictine Rule for his monks, and built the first complete stone church in the north of England.

The crypt of that church is part of today’s cathedral, thus Ripon has the oldest built fabric of any cathedral in the country - it is remarkable. And people can visit it free of charge.

But the point is that Wilfrid would not want us to be insular.

A few weeks ago I was both amused and bemused to receive a call asking me to comment on a report that the cathedral was to be renamed Harrogate Borough Cathedral.

It was a media story that would have been worthy of April 1.

Ripon Cathedral is not going to change its name; it doesn’t need to do so.

In the spirit of Wilfrid, it is a cathedral that looks outward.

It exists to serve the whole region, and many beyond who visit and worship with us.

It is already the cathedral for the Harrogate Borough, in the same way that it is for the Richmond District, and for parts of Hambleton, and Skipton, and Leeds and so on.

There is no community within the new large Diocese of Leeds that cannot think of Ripon Cathedral as its cathedral. Though I would hope that all the people of Harrogate Borough take some pride from the fact that the cathedral is in their district.

This is why I am looking forward to welcoming the Mayor of Harrogate and those attending his civic service in the cathedral on Sunday, September 25, at 10.30am. Everyone is very welcome.

In the spirit of Wilfrid, this also encourages the people of Harrogate town and others within the district to look out beyond their local boundaries.

I suspect that Wilfrid would also have something to say to counter insular thinking following the EU referendum.

Some have described Wilfrid as a European Anglo-Saxon.

Of course, we cannot be sure of what he would say. But the way in which he countered insularity can certainly be an inspiration to us.

This challenges us as a nation not to look inwards out of fear.

It does suggest approval of those voices that are now united in stressing that the UK is not leaving Europe.

I suspect also that our seventh century Anglo-Saxon saint, who had the wisdom to discover what was going on at the far side of Europe, would in the 21st century be encouraging a global perspective.

Would Wilfrid have been a great enthusiast for the Commonwealth? We can only speculate.

But I would like to think that Wilfrid would be encouraging 21st century Britain to play its part on the global stage and, with the support of the Commonwealth as well as European friends, do its best for the flourishing of all.