May Day morning

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We tried to get an early night on Beltane Eve… but it didn’t really happen, so when the alarm sounded at 3.30 next morning, we should have been reluctant to move… yet my guests and I were all soon up, dressed and piling into the car for the drive to Oxford and the May Day celebrations.

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It was still dark when we arrived. The streets were busy for a pre-dawn Sunday, with leftover revellers from the Saturday night city mingling with newly awakened families. A pair of mallard ducks were posing as pigeons, helping to clear the fallen fast-food from the streets as thousands of people headed for Magdalen College.

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For five hundred years the Hymnus Eucharisticus has been sung at 6am by the Magdalen College Choir from the top of the Great Tower, to greet the first morning of May with sacred song. A short blessing is followed by traditional songs from the choir… then the party begins.

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It is quite surreal walking through a Saturday night on the town that has not yet finished for manyΒ  with grandparents and babies up early to greet the dawn. Side streets are silent, architecture is clear of the throng of tourists and stands stark against the glowing sky… yet the modern centre of town is littered with the detritus of a drunken evening.

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We were in place by half past five… any later and the crowd, some 25,000 strong, would have prevented us getting any kind of view at all of the Tower. So we stood and people-watched for a while, taking in the carvings, gargoyles and grotesques that adorn the buildings both new and old.

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Portraits and caricatures sit side by side with ancient symbols and characters from story and legend. It would be interesting to know the stories behind some of the carvings, whilst others are known and easily identified…and yet others are pure whimsy on the part of the sculptor.

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The White Hart seemed rather appropriate though after the workshop weekend…

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All around was noise, laughter and languages from across the world. Sharp-edged young women swore as they shared stories of their boyfriends… tipsy gentlemen shared tales of their own…. yet as the sun gilded the edge of the Great Tower and the bell tolled six… the crowd was hushed.

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To stand in a throng so large, so densely packed into the narrow funnel of the street… and be able to share a smile with those around you as the only sound to be heard is a blackbird’s song breaking the silence is a magical thing. The first strains of the HymnΒ  written in the 17th C by a fellow of the college, rose in praise… and for a few moments, there were no barriers of language, race, creed or culture, gender or age… the sea of faces turned towards the Great Tower and shared a dawn in beauty and peace.

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About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
This entry was posted in Music, Photography, travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to May Day morning

  1. Eliza Waters says:

    What a beautiful tradition. Thanks for sharing the video with us, Sue… almost as good as being there, I felt blessed, too! πŸ™‚
    Looks like the weather couldn’t have been any better either!


  2. I can just imagine the scene from your description and photographs — the early morning sun hitting the tops of the building first, bathing the carvings in a beautiful orange glow, the sound of a blackbird cutting through the crisp air. (Of course, detritus on the streets from the drunken revelry of the night before is something I could do without!) It must have been a wonderful event to experience! πŸ™‚


  3. Pingback: May Day morning | GrannyMoon's Morning Feast

  4. Nice to be a part of ancient traditions. Beautiful traditions.


  5. simonjkyte says:

    You have posted a picture of the office!


  6. simonjkyte says:

    I don’t think anybody in here had any idea this was going on.


  7. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    What a wonderful way to celebrate May Day with Sue Vincent in Oxford… an early start but looks like very worth it.


  8. Mary Smith says:

    Oh, Sue, how wonderful. Thanks for sharing this with us.


  9. Ali Isaac says:

    Wow! That is incredible! Listening to that gave me goosebumps. So beautiful. I’d get up at 3am for that too. Thanks for recording and posting it.


  10. Oh, my. ❀️ πŸ’› πŸ’™ πŸ’œ


  11. Pingback: May Day morning | O LADO ESCURO DA LUA

  12. What a great start to May. Beautiful photos. πŸ™‚


  13. TanGental says:

    You really take us there Sue. Thanks


  14. Al Lane says:

    I haven’t seen May Day in Oxford for nearly 20 years, but this took me right back. It’s a magical experience πŸ™‚


  15. Pingback: Where were we? Hidden history … | Sue Vincent – Daily Echo

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