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Coronation: Bishops confirmed for ceremonial roles, as first guests are announced

12 April 2023

Details of the procession to and from Westminster Abbey also published

ALAMY

Dr Susan Jenkins, curator at Westminster Abbey, makes final checks to a special coronation exhibition in the Abbey’s medieval Chapter House, on Thursday. The exhbition, which features historic illustrations and archive photography, runs until 30 September

Dr Susan Jenkins, curator at Westminster Abbey, makes final checks to a special coronation exhibition in the Abbey’s medieval Chapter House, on Thursd...

THE Bishops of Bath & Wells and Durham will serve as Bishops Assistant to the King at the Coronation next month, the Cabinet Office confirmed on Monday. They were listed among 13 people chosen to play “important historic ceremonial roles . . . [having shown] evidence that their claim related to a historic customary service performed at previous Coronations”.

The part played by two supporting bishops dates back to the coronation of Edgar in 973: two bishops led him by hand into Bath Abbey. Since the coronation of Richard I in 1189, the Bishops of Bath & Wells and Durham have assumed this duty.

Custom has it that they accompany the monarch throughout the ceremony, flanking them as they process from the entrance of Westminster Abbey and standing either side of St Edward’s Chair during the anointing. Bishops Assistant may also carry the Bible, paten, and chalice in the procession. Today, the Bishop of Durham is the Rt Revd Paul Butler, and the Bishop of Bath & Wells is Dr Michael Beasley.

Also listed among the 13 people is the Bishop of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church, Dr John Armes. He is the ex officio chair of the Walker Trustees, the body into which the Heritable Usher of the White Rod was incorporated.

Details of the procession to and from the Abbey were published on Easter Day. The King and Queen Consort will travel from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey via Whitehall in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach. They will return in the Gold State Coach by the same route, accompanied by members of the Armed Forces. The procession back to Buckingham Palace by Queen Elizabeth II was much longer: it took 16,000 participants two hours to complete a journey of almost five miles.

A report in The Times on Monday says that the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, and his wife, are due to stay with the King and Queen Consort at Clarence House the night before the coronation so that they can walk to the Abbey without having to travel by car on the Sabbath.

It was announced on Good Friday that more than 450 “people from all walks of life who have been awarded British Empire Medals for their service to the community” had been invited to attend the service. A statement from Buckingham Palace said that many had been “instrumental in providing services and support to their local communities during the Covid-19 lockdowns”.

In addition, 400 young people representing charitable organisations, nominated by the King and the Queen Consort and the Government, have been invited to watch a live screening of the service in St Margaret’s, the church beside Westminster Abbey.

On Wednesday afternoon, Buckingham Palace confirmed that the Duke of Sussex would be travelling to the UK to attend the coronation on 6 May, but that the Duchess of Sussex would remain in the United States with their two children.

With less than a month until the coronation, the order of service has yet to be published. The order of service for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was published in February 1953, four months in advance. It is understood that the present delay signifies nothing other than a change in media practice in the intervening decades. A senior church official involved in the planning of King Charles’s coronation said this week that details would be released “over the coming weeks”.

Episcopal support during the coronation in the past century was not without a hitch. In his book God Save the King: The sacred nature of the monarchy, Professor Ian Bradley, Emeritus Professor of Cultural and Spiritual History at the University of St Andrews, records that in 1937 neither of the bishops holding the form of service for King George VI to follow could find the right page for the coronation oaths, “so the Archbishop held up his copy but covered the words of the oath with his thumb”.

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