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Cathedrals prepare to celebrate the Coronation

28 April 2023

Ely Cathedral

A flower exhibit, in the shape of the Coronation emblem, is to be displayed in Ely Cathedral over the Coronation weekend

A flower exhibit, in the shape of the Coronation emblem, is to be displayed in Ely Cathedral over the Coronation weekend

GRAND floral displays, a nave turned forest, proms, tea-parties, special evensongs, and red, white, and blue floodlighting are among the creative ways in which cathedrals are marking the Coronation on 6 May.

Each of the 42 cathedrals in England is offering some form of celebratory worship, community activities, and special events over the Coronation weekend. Several are also planning to livestream the Coronation service from Westminster Abbey.

This includes Canterbury Cathedral, which is also hosting a Coronation Prom on Friday 5 May. Its bell-ringers are preparing for a full peal on the Saturday afternoon, before a Coronation evensong. On Sunday, the cathedral precinct will be opened to the public, free, to bring picnics for a Coronation Big Lunch — part of the UK-wide initiative (News, 21 April). That evening, at a ticketed event, the Archbishop of Canterbury will reflect on his personal experience of officiating at the Coronation the previous day, in conversation with the Dean, the Very Revd David Monteith.

An arrangement of the hymn “Crown him with many crowns”, composed by Richard Hubbard, who is music development director at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, will be performed by the 120-piece All Souls Orchestra, and a 320-voice choir, at the Coronation Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, on Coronation Day.

Mr Hubbard said: “It’s a great honour to have my arrangement played at the Royal Albert Hall on this once-in-a-generation occasion. My aim has been to make the orchestration highlight the words — to bring them to life in a new way that will inspire people to worship as they sing.”

Ely Cathedral will be floodlit in the colours of the Union flag, and its livestream will be followed by a ticketed Coronation Tea Party in the Lady chapel. A service of thanksgiving for the Coronation will include the National Anthem, Handel’s “Zadok the Priest”, and Sir Hubert Parry’s “I was glad”.

Exeter CathedralA booklet for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, loaned to Exeter Cathedral

Newcastle Cathedral is also planning a service of thanksgiving on the Sunday, followed by a Coronation picnic. Sunday Worship, on Radio 4, will be broadcast from the cathedral.

About 20 floral displays depicting the six stages of the Coronation ceremony and the part played by the King are to adorn Ripon Cathedral, which is also livestreaming the Coronation, with free refreshments, and is hosting its own Coronation-themed commemorative service for the region on Sunday.

The Dean, the Very Revd John Dobson, said: “Our spectacular floral displays will speak of the spiritual dimensions of monarchy, an institution which binds us together as a national community.”

Continuing the forest theme, in line with the King’s enthusiasm for the natural world, Winchester Cathedral will be transformed with greenery, shrubs, and trees.

A replica of the Queen Consort’s Coronation Robe, made from purple pampas grass, gilded dried foliage, and ferns, will be on display in the St Lawrence Chapel at Salisbury Cathedral. Its livestream on big screens in the nave, and north and south transepts, will be followed by dancing on the west front and lawns, with music by the Swing Unlimited Big Band, and the Alcock Sisters. In the week before the Coronation weekend, there will also be a parent-and-toddler crown-making workshop, a “selfie spot” in the cloisters, and community bunting making.

A new exhibition of memorabilia from previous Coronations — loaned by members of the public from around Devon — opened at Exeter Cathedral this week until 15 May. The display includes an Earl and Countess’s Coronation Robes, replica Crown Jewels, and drapes from Westminster Abbey which were commissioned for the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937.

York Minster is also planning to mark the Coronation with worship, music, exhibitions, and an event to recruit more volunteers as part of the Big Help Out, another UK-wide Coronation initiative. The Dean, the Very Revd Dominic Barrington, said: “I’m sure that we will all celebrate the magnificent, dazzling, and colourful pageantry of this immensely historic occasion.

“However, at the heart of the ceremony will be a man of deep religious faith, dedicating his life to duty and service, and committing himself to the care of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. I think many people will be deeply moved by the religious ritual and symbolism of a unique service that the vast majority of us will be witnessing for the very first time.”

A YouGov poll of 3035 UK adults, commissioned by the Bible Society, suggests that the public are favourable to the place of religion in the Coronation, and more generally at key life events. Conducted in October, shortly after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, 79 per cent said that the presence of Christianity at her funeral and surrounding events was appropriate.

Asked whether a state royal event — such as the Coronation — should be wholly secular, 15 per cent agreed; and 16 per cent thought that such an event should be multi-faith. Almost one third thought that it should be wholly Christian (21 per cent disagreed; 48 per cent did not know).

The research also found high levels of favourability towards the late Queen, and most supported the remaining monarchy. Christians of all ages were more likely than the general population to be pro-royalty.

Dr Rhiannon McAleer, co-author of Bible Society’s report Mourning Elizabeth: Christianity and the Bible in the funeral of the Queen, said: “Even many people who might not practise Christian faith themselves appear to recognise it as part of the social fabric expressed by the institution of monarchy.”

St Mary’s in the Lace MarketThe bells of St Mary’s in the Lace Market, Nottingham

Bell-ringers at the ready. Hundreds of cathedrals and churches plan to ring in the new King, after a nationwide campaign was launched to recruit more bell-ringers in time for the Coronation (News, 13 January).

The Vicar of St Mary’s in the Lace Market, Nottingham, the Revd Tom Gillum, believed that his church was unlikely to be among them, owing to the prohibitive cost of restoring the bell-tower (News, 23 December 2022). Except for the tolling of the tenor bell to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s death in September, the ring of 12 has been silent since May, when the ringers noticed signs of movement in the south-transept gable adjacent to the tower.

Mr Gillum launched an appeal for the £185,000 needed to start work. Donations poured in from the community, meaning that scaffolding will be erected in time for the bells to be rung safely over the Coronation weekend.

“Since as far back as the reign of Henry IV, in 1399, these bells have rung out at every coronation, and it was difficult to imagine that they would remain silent on the upcoming occasion for our new King,” he said. “It’s brilliant news we now have enough to complete the repairs and ensure the bells will ring for the King — and hopefully for another 500 years.”

Coronation Champions announced. An Anna Chaplain, Gill Millar, who founded the charity Befriended to tackle loneliness in Sussex, has been named among the 500 Coronation Champions announced on Tuesday.

The winners — recognised for their volunteering works — were narrowed down from more than 5000 nominations by a panel of judges. The awards were organised by the Royal Voluntary Service on behalf of the Queen Consort. Besides receiving a certificate signed by the King and Queen Consort, recipients have been invited either to the Coronation Concert at Windsor Castle, or a garden party at Buckingham Palace.

Last year, Ms Millar also launched an appeal for blankets, in response to rising heat bills. She is calling on more churches to partner with Befriended. This could be “hosting a monthly tea party, a bereavement course, a grief café, taking services in care homes, hosting a Befriended community choir, Befriended coffee-and-chat group or knit-and-natter, or an exercise class”, she said.

Book of congratulations. The Church of England website is now hosting a “Book of congratulations” to the King on his forthcoming Coronation. Visitors can leave “prayers, messages of well wishes and congratulations” using the online form.

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