16. Coronation and Commonwealth: Heft and Weft
by Graham Kings
Date added: 20/11/2023
Receive this book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; this is the Royal Law; these are the very Oracles of God.
On 6 May 2023, at Westminster Abbey, these ancient, hallowed words were spoken by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Dr Ian Greenshields. He presented to King Charles III a hefty, specially printed, Kings James Version of the Bible.
In this article we will be exploring the heft and the weft of the Coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla.
Heft means to ‘lift or carry something heavy in your hands’ and so, allusively, the heaviness, or gravitas, of something. The Archbishop of Canterbury placed the Crown of Edward onto the head of Charles and Charles bore the heft of history with that crown.
The location had the heft of ancient sacramentality. Westminster Abbey is a Royal Peculiar: it is not part of a diocese but subject to the direct jurisdiction of the Monarch. It is a national shrine, a burial place for Kings and Queens and a setting for weddings and coronations.
The foundation of the liturgy for the Coronation dates back to Archbishop Dunstan crowning King Edgar in 959 AD and again at Bath in 973, the first King of All England. The historian Judith Green describes Edgar’s reigns as ‘in many respects the apogee of Old English Kingship’. Dunstan served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 959-988: he was a monk, musician, illuminator, and metalworker. King Edgar greatly admired him and helped his reform of English monasteries.
Weft is the horizontal lines of yarn on a weaving loom, which are at right angles to the warp, the lengthwise lines. The Commonwealth was woven, in various imaginative ways, into the Coronation service.
In the Procession of the Commonwealth Realms were the Governor-General and Prime Ministers, or their representatives, of Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and the UK.
10 traditional melodies from folk and popular songs, from nations of the Commonwealth, were referenced by Iain Farrington, in his new organ composition, ‘Voices of the World’. This was played with vigour and virtuosity before the service by Matthew Jorysz. Richard Morrison, music critic of The Times commented, ‘Few present could have heard a cathedral organ sound so inebriated.’ The new Director of Music at Westminster Abbey is Andrew Nethsingha, whose father studied at St Thomas College, Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka. Pretty Yende, an opera singer from South Africa, sang before the service ‘Sacred Fire’, by Sarah Class.
The beautifully embroidered screen, which shielded the King during his anointing by the Archbishop of Canterbury, had the names of the 56 countries of the Commonwealth woven as the leaves of a tree, by the Royal School of Needlework. The design, by Aidan Hart, was personally chosen by the King and was paid for by the City of London and the City of London livery companies. The motto, ‘All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well’ was from Mother Julian of Norwich (b. 1343), a hermit at Norwich.
The liturgy, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was profoundly Anglican (‘Catholic and Reformed’) and framed as a service of Holy Communion. At the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, in 1953, the only non-Anglican church leader was the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. However, Queen Elizabeth herself deftly introduced a new understanding of the Established Church in her 2012 address to leaders of all faiths and denominations at Lambeth Palace, at the beginning of her Jubilee Year:
Gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.
This year, several leaders of other denominations took part. The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, was the first Roman Catholic Cardinal to be present at a Coronation of the Monarch since 1543, when Cardinal David Beaton presided at the Coronation of the infant Queen Mary of Scots. Pope Francis, who had gifted fragments of the True Cross for a “Cross of Wales” commissioned by the King, was officially represented in the congregation by the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
In the Procession were Anglican and ecumenical representatives of Churches of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, including, amongst others, Pentecostal, Greek Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Methodist leaders. A Greek Orthodox choir sang a Byzantine chant and a black Pentecostal gospel choir praised the Lord to the rafters. The Blessing of the King was led by the Archbishop of York, the Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain, the Moderator of the Free Churches Group, the General Secretary of Churches Together in England, and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.
Interfaith aspects were also woven into the liturgy. In the Procession were lay leaders, in the UK, of the Baha’is, Jains, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish communities. The King accommodated the Chief Rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, at St James’s Palace the previous day, because of the Coronation was on the Sabbath. The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, a Hindu, read the Epistle (Colossians 1.9-17) and in the congregation was the Mayor London, Sadiq Khan, a Muslim.
Amidst all the talk of apathy and tensions in the Commonwealth, which Sathnam Sanghera set out so eloquently in his article in The Times (5 May 2023),‘Indifferent India shows scale of King’s task’, the weighty, woven words and gestures of the Coronation generated hope. Long live the King!
Originally published, in a special edition on Religion and Commonwealth Values, in The Round Table, the Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 2023, Vol. 112, No. 5, 543-544. Originally published here.
For my previous article in The Round Table, 'Desmond Tutu: Gravitas and Hilaritas', click here.