The friendly warmth of St Michael the Archangel’s church in Margate was very welcome – a harsh winter wind was blowing outside. I’d associated Maidstone with Turner and Travey Emin and seaside walks, and didn’t know anything about the strong Greek community here. Neither, as it happened, did the Margate Tourist Information Office, completely unaware of an extraordinary event about to unfold. The Greek orthodox church, formerly a Methodist chapel and a chemists shop, was packed and heavy with the scent of incense. Priests wearing ornate robes busied themselves doing mysterious religious things at the back of the church as the ceremony celebrating the Epiphany began.
Eventually we stood outside in the cold, and I briefly met ten year old Theo, holding a small wooden cross attached to a bunch of rosemary on a tray. Theo, like his father twenty-five years before, and his grandfather fifty years ago, had been chosen to take part in a Blessing of the Sea ceremony.
Greek Orthodox priests were joined by Anglican ones, a crowd of Kentish Lord Mayors and officials wearing ruffles and braid, coach loads of Greeks arrived from Essex and London, and a piped band led us slowly down to the beach. After much singing and flag waving, white doves were released, the tiny wooden cross was thrown into the sea and little Theo jumped into its chilly waters to retrieve it. Several photographers and a Greek Cypriot film crew trying to get the best shots almost fell into the sea, the tide rushed in, priests jumped over its swirling waters and Theo was wrapped in a fluffy white towel by his proud mother.