Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Don't Rain on My Parade!

The Madonna is taken out of store some days ago.

The calvary makes its way through Ancoats.

The Madonna in the rain.

Police in the rain in Cheetham Hill.

On my way from Mass to lunch before going to Darwen on Sunday, the rain was holding up the traffic as well as a great number of police in Cheetham Hill. Cheetham Hill and the police enjoy a close relationship, however, so I was not so surprised. I realised that this was more than the usual love-in so as the car ground to a halt again I snapped a quick picture out of the window in case I was missing anything. It transpired that it was the beginning of the march to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the foundation of the state of Israel which was to culminate in Heaton Park, which is where I live, so I was glad to be off, considering the difficulties that this was likely to cause.

There was another procession this Sunday as well and one which I usually go and watch, indeed it is one of the joys of living in Manchester to sit in a cafe table on Albert Square with a glass of wine watching the annual Madonna Del Rosario procession wend it's way past. Manchester has a long history of Italian immigration, which was originally centred on Ancoats (now the garment and warehouse dwelling district) and the Ice Cream trade which sprung up there. Every year, for well over a century, the Italians have had a walk of witness on this day, traditionally because they were made to feel unwelcome in the main Roman Catholic one, frequently skirmishing with the other wave of contemporary immigrants, the Irish. St Michael's Ancoats has ever since been the 'Italian Church' and indeed looks as though it has been plonked down in the mills from Venice. Now, in very recent times it has been closed, although a group of some 60-150 people meet outside every Sunday saying their prayers and sometimes there is a Mass as well. As Ancoats mills are turned into apartments it was hoped the Parish may have been given a reprieve, but alas no.

Still, anyway, the procession starts from here every year, followed by thousands. There is no longer a Roman Catholic Whit Walk in Manchester, so this is the focus of any outdoor processions for that Church in Manchester today. There are very few, if any, Priests who dare to walk with them, for fear of incurring Episcopal wrath but the streets are lined with thousands more well wishers and for good reason, for the parade is wonderful to see, with huge biers bearing images of saints and the Calvary, decorated with lavish flower displays, carried by, it would appear, every single Italian waiter in Manchester. This year, it rained, which is a great shame, but still it went ahead, as busy as ever. It is a remarkable survival story and even more remarkable to see streets lined with people clapping and cheering as the procession goes past, as they have done for a hundred years. Because I was not there this year, the pictures are cribbed from a local paper, the Manchester Evening News. The procession is organised by Cafe Roma, an Italian cafe and shop in Whitefield, just a mile or so north of me. It is an excellent shop, even though they fall into that dreadful trap of selling proscuitto crudo as parma ham.