Pagan warriors and Christian clergy celebrated their ancient heritage on a remote Scottish island this week. The Catholic Archbishop Elect Mario Conti and the Episcopal Bishop of Aberdeen, Bruce Cameron, were guests at the Up Helly Aa fire festival on Shetland. Descended from the ancient festival of yule, which the Vikings held to celebrate the rebirth of the sun, the inhabitants of Lerwick dress each year in full Norse costume for the event and celebrate by burning a Viking galley. Festivities began early Tuesday morning when a ten foot high proclamation, known as the Bill, was placed at the Market Cross in the centre of Lerwick. This year chief Viking Bruce Leask - known as the Guizer Jarl - and his squad of 50 men escorted a 30 foot galley through the town to the harbour. Celebrations with music and dancing then kicked off in eleven halls. The highlight of the festival took place after dark when about 900 men bearing blazing torches gathered for a procession through the streets. At the end of the march, participants flung their torches into the longship and sang traditional songs as they watched it disappear in flames. The party lasted long into the night and yesterday was a public holiday to allow everybody time to recover. Many villages throughout the Shetland hold fire festivals in the first month of the year. Archbishop Elect Mario Conti told reporters: "It's a great festival. We are called so often to share people's griefs and sorrows, it is good to have an opportunity to share their celebrations and festivities."
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