WHEN the Anglican Primates gather in Canterbury next Monday for their week-long crisis talks about the future of the Communion, they will be joined by a 12-centimetre-high piece of carved ivory.
This is the head of the crozier that is believed to have belonged to St Gregory the Great, the pope who began the mission to the Angles by sending his emissary, St Augustine, in 595. It is normally housed in a safe in the San Gregorio Monastery, in Rome, but for the duration of the gathering it will be placed in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral, where the Primates will meet to pray each day. It will also be on display to the public at the weekend, before being flown back to Rome.
The loan of the crozier-head is an indication of the seriousness with which these talks are being regarded, and not just in the Anglican Communion. The idea of the loan came from the procurator-general of the Missionary Society of St Columban, Fr Robert McCulloch. He said this week: “This venerable object places these talks in their historical context. And I hope that it assists the Anglican Primates to view the issues and questions of the present from the perspective of the common origin of our Christian faith.”
Once the Prior of San Gregorio had agreed to release the crozier-head, the associate director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, the Revd Marcus Walker, had to obtain permission from the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Italian Ministry of the Interior, the Italian Ministry of the Arts, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (needed because an object made of ivory was being imported). All the permissions were collected in five days before Christmas, partly with the assistance of the British Embassy to the Holy See. The Ministry of Culture, Media and Sport is indemnifying the object, because it will be on public display.
The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, wrote: “Allow me . . . to congratulate you on the highly symbolic value of the loan of this relic, dear to the Church of England, which venerates Pope St Gregory the Great, the promoter of the evangelising mission to the Anglo-Saxon people, and is therefore a mark of the bond that spiritually unites the Catholic and Anglican Churches.”
The Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Robert Willis, described the loan of the crozier-head as “exciting”. “We are delighted to play our part in the reception and care of such a significant symbol of the ministry of Pope St Gregory and of the authority which first sent Augustine to England being present here at Canterbury during the Primates’ conference,” he said.