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Service rich in symbol recalls crowning of ‘history’s bride’

07 June 2013

by Serenhedd James


Giving thanks: the Queen leaves Westminster Abbey on Tuesday

Giving thanks: the Queen leaves Westminster Abbey on Tuesday

ST EDWARD'S Crown sat sparkling in the centre of the high altar of Westminster Abbey as the visual focus of a service to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen's coronation, on Tuesday. Away from the Tower of London for the first time since 1953, and joined by the Ampulla - the ornamental gold eagle that contains the oil for the anointing of Sovereigns - its lustre put to shame the Abbey plate that we are more accustomed to seeing laid out there on high days.

As at the Coronation, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was present. But on Tuesday the present Moderator was joined by other religious leaders, representing the panoply of faith communities that exists in Britain today; and, while the Abbey organists plied their art, the various processions made their way up the nave to their places in the quire.

A saffron-robed representative of Britain's Buddhists led a smaller interfaith contingent than was expected, as a number of those who had been invited to join the procession arrived late. The UK Churches' procession included the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan; the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd David Chillingworth; and the Bishop of Clogher, the Rt Revd John MacDowell. The Churches in England were represented by, among others, the Rt Revd Jana Jeruma-Grinberga of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain, and by Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira & Great Britain. The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, was recovering from surgery; and, in the absence of the Archbishop of Westminster, the Roman Catholic Church in England was represented by an auxiliary bishop in the diocese of Westminster, the Rt Revd Alan Hopes.

The choir of the Abbey, and of the Chapels Royal with its boys in their scarlet and gold uniforms, were joined by the Queen's Scholars of Westminster School, who half-sang, half-shouted, their traditional Vivats during Parry's "I Was Glad". The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall preceded the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who attended the service despite having cancelled an engagement on Monday.

The service continued in four parts, each intended "to evoke and reflect the shape of the Coronation service itself", and concluding with its own prayer. The first part, "The Recognition", included the special prayer written by the Dean ( News, 24 May), the National Anthem, and the account of the anointing of Solomon (1 Kings 1. 32-40), read from the Authorised Version by the Prime Minister.

"The Anointing" followed, beginning with "Behold, O God our Defender", written by Herbert Howells for the Coronation. While this was being sung, a colourful procession of "representatives of the United Kingdom" brought a flask of oil to the altar. The representatives included Lord Wallace of Saltaire - who sang as a chorister at the Coronation - in his parliamentary robe; Mr Justice Cooke, in the robes of a High Court judge; and a lollipop lady in her fluorescent uniform, but without her lollipop.

The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma, read Mark 10. 35-45, before the congregation sang the hymn "All people that on earth do dwell".

The Archbishop of Canterbury preached the sermon, taking as his text "And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant" (Matthew 20:27). As the Queen had knelt in prayer before the altar, he said, she had seen the inscription on the reredos: "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and [of his] Christ."

"Her Majesty knelt", the Archbishop said, "at the beginning of a path demanding devotion and utter self-sacrifice - a path she did not choose, yet to which she was called by God."

The oaths sworn by the Queen 60 years ago, and the homage done to her then by the representatives of her people, and not least by the Duke of Edinburgh, were signs of a "model of liberty under authority [which] begins . . . with our duty to God".

"Her Majesty the Queen is servant of the King of Kings," the Archbishop concluded. "[S]he serves us, as we serve her, in liberty and under authority. It is a system that points to freedom in God, in whose love alone we are fully human, fully free."

The Archbishop's sermon was followed by a lively anthem commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster from the composer Bob Chilcott, and paid for by a number of former choristers who had sung at the Coronation. It set the first six verses of Psalm 21, "The King shall rejoice . . .", and the paraphrase of words from the same psalm as originally used by William Byrd in his anthem "O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth our Queen".

The prayers, led by representatives from a number of denominations, gave thanks to God for the Queen's "constancy and steadfastness of faith"; her "fortitude and courage"; "her unswerving commitment to the peaceful democratic principles of these lands"; "her affectionate service of her Peoples"; and "the strength and inspiration she fosters in the Nations".

The third part of the service, "The Homage", took the form of a reading by the actress Clare Skinner of the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy's poem "The Throne", read from beside the Coronation Chair in St George's Chapel and televised in the rest of the Abbey. The Queen was "history's bride, anointed, blessed, for a crowning" - but the newly restored Chair looked empty without of the Stone of Scone, which did, of course, attend the Coronation.

"The Thanksgiving" concluded the service, with the hymn "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation", the blessing - imparted by the Dean - and then William Walton's Coronation Te Deum, during which the Queen's procession left the Abbey. A few members of the congregation bowed or curtsied as she passed.

Sixty years were commemorated in little more than sixty minutes, and even the processions were brisk. The Royal Party was at the West Door long before the Te Deum was over, and at "Thou sittest at the right hand of God", the Chapter could be seen engaging its members in conversation. By "Vouchsafe, O Lord", the Dean had seen the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh into their car, and by "O Lord, have mercy upon us", they were gone. Inside the Abbey, Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March no. 4 began, as the bells pealed out across London.


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