St Mary’s prepares for crowds


Rye’s 900 year old Norman hilltop abbey-sized church of St Mary’s not only stages Rye Arts Festival events every night in the coming week, but it expects to pack out the town’s car parks this Sunday night, September 18 – with a bishop, multiple clergy from across the Chichester diocese, and an internationally acclaimed choir – in order to collate an archdeacon.

And it is also the thread that links blankets for refugees with an American visitor (and regular Rye News reader) who has been coming to Rye since the first Arts Festival 45 years ago.

The collation, or assembling of people for an event, marks the arrival of a new Archdeacon of Hastings, and it would normally happen in Chichester cathedral at the other end of the Anglican diocese which stretches right across Sussex and is known to refer to Rye as “The Far East”.

However the cathedral choir were already featuring in Rye Arts Festival in a choral evensong at 5pm on Sunday at St Mary’s. Chichester (the Bishop) has therefore had to come to Rye and, as the new Archdeacon’s “patch” covers a large area around Hastings, many other visitors are expected as well, probably packing the car parks as well as the church. Doors open at 4:30pm.

St Mary’s has a busy week ahead and, as previous Rye Arts Festivals have shown, it has seemed to want to enter the record books for how many pianos can you get in one church at the same time, and this year is no exception – with the vergers and others stepping in as scene shifters. Sunday’s choir is followed by a piano recital on Monday, a violin concert on Tuesday, another piano concert on Wednesday, an orchestral concert on Thursday and a choral concert on Saturday September 24.

And, in between times, tourists will be lining up (around staging and musical instruments) to go up the tower to see the best views of Rye and the surrounding countryside across Romney Marsh and towards the sea and Hastings.

The new Archdeacon of Hastings is the Revd Dr Edward Dowler who is married to a Guardian journalist.

One spectator in the congregation is expected to be Mary Cooper from Washington DC who has been visiting Rye since 1968. She was here for the very first Rye Arts Festival, and keeps up with Rye news by reading Rye News – as well as talking to Judith Blincow at the Mermaid.

Mary will also be visiting St Mary’s knitting group  which makes blankets for refugees next Monday and bringing her own knitted squares to contribute to the cause.

Sources: Deanery Synod notes, Rye Arts Festival programme, and St Mary’s parish magazine “The Pendulum”

Photo: Rye News library

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