WITH the River Itchen, River Test and Southampton Water our city owes its existence to the sea.

When the Romans arrived at Clausentum, today known as Bitterne Manor, they arrived by sea as did the Saxons, Vikings, and Normans that followed.

The National Oceanography Centre in Ocean Village, the University of Southampton’s Marine and Maritime Institution and Warsash Maritime School make Southampton a global centre for marine research.

In 1451 Henry VI declared that the Mayor of Southampton should also be the Admiral of the Port of Southampton and hold an Admiralty Court with jurisdiction from Langstone in the east to Lymington in the west. The mace of office for the admiralty court is a silver oar which is prominently displayed in the Council Chamber.

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The city has several other historical reminders of our connection to the sea. Since 1957, the Grade 2 listed, Holy Rood Church has been a memorial dedicated to those who have lost their lives serving in the Merchant Navy. It had long been known as the “Sailors’ Church.” Uniquely it had a model of a ship on its spire rather than a cockerel.

The church is home to the memorial provided by the families of those local men and women lost in the Titanic sinking of 1912. This was originally at the Cemetery Road entrance to the Common and moved to Holy Rood in 1972. A plaque commemorates those merchant seamen lost in the 1982 Falklands War.

Holy Rood means Holy Cross in Saxon. This first church was directly in front of its present location. It was rebuilt on its present site in 1320. It was from Holy Rood that the town’s morning assembly bells and the evening curfew bells were rung. It was traditional for the church bells to be rung on the arrival of a new ship to the port.

In 1554 Philip of Spain arrived in Southampton with 140 ships. He took mass in Holy Rood on his way to Winchester to marry Queen Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII.

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The church was largely rebuilt around 1849. In 1874 the remains of the African explorer Dr. Livingston were brought back by sea and kept in the church en route to London.

Holy Rood was largely destroyed during the bombing on 30th November 1940. A rare 14th century lectern was rescued and is now in St. Michael’s church. The clock tower remained standing.

On the eve of D Day in June, 1944 a service was held in the ruins to bless those about to cross the Channel to France.

Rather more obscure was the Blessing the Waters ceremony. According to the Hampshire Advertiser in May 1920, the “Ancient Rogation Ceremony” of “Blessing the Waters” was revived after the lapse of many years in Southampton.

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In the calendar of the Church of England, Rogationtide runs from the fifth Sunday after Easter to the following Wednesday, the day before the feast of Ascension.

The men behind the ceremony were Rev John Parmiter, the vicar of Holy Rood, and Rev A J Sinclair Burton, the recently appointed Port Chaplain for the Missions to Seamen, who had compiled the order of service “from ancient authors.”

The procession left Holy Rood behind a cross bearer, boys from the Seamen’s Orphanage, and the Southampton Temperance band, another cross bearer, the surpliced choirs of the parishes bordering the water (St Denys, Northam, St Michael’s, St John’s, St Laurence and Holy Rood), and their vicars, Rev J T Costa of St Julien’s French Church in Winkle Street, port chaplains, representatives of “the shipping world”, the mayor of Southampton and finally more boys from the Orphanage. Boy Scouts formed a guard of honour at the quayside.

After a sermon by Canon Lovett of St Mary’s, the Vicar of Holy Rood “advanced to the water’s edge and blessed ‘the sea and all that therein is’, and the assembled crowd sang ‘O God our help in ages past’ and ‘Eternal Father strong to save’.

Rogation Sunday fell on May 9 this year.

Martin Brisland is a tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk .