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Abbey lights to go out in war commemoration

25 July 2014


Dark aspect: Sir Edward Grey (left) walks with Winston Churchill, on New Year's Day, 1914 

Dark aspect: Sir Edward Grey (left) walks with Winston Churchill, on New Year's Day, 1914 

AT 10 p.m. on Monday 4 August, the lights in Westminster Abbey will begin to be turned off. Gradually, the building will fall into darkness, until just one candle remains, burning by the grave of the Unknown Warrior.

At 11 p.m., that light will be snuffed out. It will then be exactly 100 years since Britain joined the First World War.

This candlelit vigil at the Abbey is the centrepiece of national commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict (Faith, 4 July).

Across the UK, local authorities, public buildings, and national institutions will follow by turning off all their lights, except a single candle, between 10 and 11 p.m. The commemoration, called "Lights Out", is inspired by a remark attributed to the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, shortly before Britain declared war: "The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have approved a liturgy published by the Abbey for churches to use when commemorating the First World War. Archbishop Welby said: "The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War raises a confusion of emotions and memories. I encourage you to use the resources which Westminster Abbey has prepared . . . to lift both the beautyand the agony of that sacrifice to God."

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall, said that the centenary was a time to acknowledge and repent for the "failure of the human spirit" which could not prevent the conflict through diplomatic means. "The texts for the vigil in Westminster Abbey are freely available for every church and worshipping community to adopt or adapt," he said. "Alternatively, they can assemble for worship and join the Abbey congregation via television."

The official cultural programme for the First World War centenary commemorations, 14-18 NOW, has also commissioned four pieces of public art as part of Lights Out. Each work begins with the extinguishing of electric lights and the lighting of candles.

Many other institutions and organisations, including the British Library, the Football Association, the Imperial War Museum, and Westminster Cathedral, have indicated that they will join the commemorations next month.

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