INCENSE filled Hampton Court Palace chapel as Latin solemn vespers was sung there on Tuesday for the first time since the 16th century.
The office was led by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, with a homily by the Bishop of London and Dean of the Chapels Royal, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres.
Roman Catholic worship is thought to have been last held in the chapel at Hampton Court during the reign of Mary Tudor. The services there remained Anglican during the reign of the RC King James II.
Bishop Chartres spoke of the historically “tumultuous” relationship between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. “Alas, in the West, the role of the Blessed Virgin has been part of a contention of the fragmented parts of the Church,” he said. “To be filled with the love and spirit of God, we must be empty enough to listen and wait for God.
“In other words, we should follow the way of Our Lady herself. Mary is quiet, aware, and receptive. She was present enough to be found by the messenger of God and filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Hampton Court Palace was the backdrop to events that defined the reign of King Henry VIII. He worshipped there with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon — before his quest for an annulment brought about the breach with Rome — and later alongside Anne Boleyn.
The service was preceded by a wide-ranging conversation, “Faith and the Crown”, in the Great Hall, between the Cardinal and the Bishop .
Bishop Chartres warned that the “erosion” of theological foundations in society was creating a “spiritual vacuum” in the human being. “The absence of meaning in life is extremely dangerous, because very often a bruised ego can surreptitiously re-ascend to project rage and a desire for power,” he said.
Cardinal Nichols responded: “The task we face is doing our utmost to ensure that the Judaeo-Christian tradition and our values, our beliefs that actually form the character of this Church, are not lost. . . We have taken them for granted, and now they are not as secure as we thought.”
They agreed that peace and confidence between Roman Catholics and Anglicans was “utterly normal” today. Bishop Chartres said: “Increasingly we are living in a post-denominational period. . . Establishment and Dissent really doesn’t seem to be of great interest.”
The service was organised by the Palace’s Choral Foundation and the arts charity Genesis Foundation. The music was chosen and performed by the conductor Harry Christophers and his ensembles The Sixteen and Genesis Sixteen, to include the Magnificat for Five Voices by Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) and William Cornysh’s Salve Regina (1465-1523).
The service will be broadcast on Radio 3 on 3 March at 3.30 pm, and repeated at 3pm the following Sunday.