May Morning is an annual event in Oxford, held on 01 May – a tradition stretching back over 500 years.
The event typically attracts crowds of thousands of people – students and Oxford residents alike – who start gathering under the tower, on Magdalen Bridge, and along the High Street from around 5.00am. Students and fellows of Magdalen College gather in the college cloisters and on top of the other towers within the college grounds.
At 6.00am, the Magdalen College Choir sing a hymn, the Hymnus Eucharisticus, written by the College’s 17th Century choirmaster Benjamin Rogers, from the top of the 144ft Magdalen Tower. The Choir traditionally sings three madrigals, including Now Is the Month of Maying. There is also prayers for the city led by the Dean of Divinity.
When the Choir finishes, the bells rings out a celebratory chime for some 20 minutes. There is a procession from the Magdalen Bridge up the High Street and into the city centre, and for a couple of hours afterwards – from around 6.20am onwards – there is dancing, general revelry and impromptu music, etc. to bring together Oxford’s communities .
In previous years, there has been Morris dancing on Broad Street, Catte Street, under the Bridge of Sighs, in front of St John’s College on St Giles and on the forecourt of the Ashmolean Museum. While Highland dance can be seen in Radcliffe Square, between the University Church and the Radcliffe Camera.
There was a tradition of students jumping into the rather shallow River Cherwell from Magdalen Bridge, but this was stopped in 2005 when several students were injured.
Due to the pandemic, May Morning 2020 was celebrated with an online offering, recorded remotely by members of the Choir during the national lockdown. In May 2021, the Choir presented an Online May Morning, recorded in secret during the preceding week (video below).
May Morning 2022 fell on a weekend (crowds are always bigger on weekends and bank holidays) and following two years of lockdown, let’s just say the attendance was enormous.