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For Thanksgiving, we visited with family in the Charlottesville, Virginia area. One of the high points of the weekend is attending “The Blessing of the Hounds” on Thanksgiving morning. This service has taken place every Thanksgiving for 86 years at Grace Episcopal Church in Keswick, Virginia.
The church dates back to 1745. Thomas Jefferson was a parishioner and vestry member. The church is nestled in the heart of horse country. Members of the Keswick Hunt Club come riding onto the church grounds at 9:30am. The dogs are American Foxhounds and have been bred over hundreds of years for local conditions – they are quite distinct from British Foxhounds. Of Course!
There is a short service that begins with two of the best hymns going – “We Gather Together” and “Come Ye Thankful People.” These same hymns have been sung for 86 years. Everyone feels connected to the history of this extraordinary church and this extraordinary country.
The Rev. G. Miles Smith, rector of the church, leads the service. There were several hundred in attendance on a chilly morning. The church served warm apple cider to us, which tasted wonderful!
Here, a grandma takes a family picture before the service started. How hip is she, wielding her iPhone?
I’ve been reading a terrific new book on photography, Jay Maisel’s “Light, Gesture and Color.” For Maisel, gesture is perceived in a very broad sense. I was drawn to much of the gesture in this scene – each of the rider’s hands, the turn of his head and expression on his face and even the horse’s face.
The service is about blessing the riders, the horses, the hounds and even the fox. (Apparently the fox is spared these days.)
The blessing at the end of the service reads as follows:
“Bless, O Lord, these riders, horses and hounds and in their running shield them from danger.
Bless those over whose lands the hunt proceeds.
Bless the foxes who partake in the chase, that they may be elusive and fleet of foot.
And may all who participate today in the sport, ancient from time beyond reckoning, return refreshed and renewed in body, mind and spirit. Amen”
At the end of the service, the riders took off on the hunt. Many people drove to the adjacent farms and watched the action.
What a great way to begin our truly American holiday of Thanksgiving.
Working both in the studio and on location, photographer Blake Robinson serves the Connecticut communities of Darien, New Canaan, Stamford, Norwalk, Westport and Greenwich.
“Individual, Indelible, Iconic Images”