It was an honour to be invited to attend Westminster Abbey for The King’s Coronation. I did not see it as a personal invitation but as a way of representing the whole of North Dorset.
I am a nosy person so the opportunity to ‘people watch’ was phenomenal. The hats, colour and pageantry made it a feast for the eyes.
As we watched events unfurl, the unremitting drum of rain could be heard. Later, on The Mall, I spoke to many families all of whom were soaked to the skin but were irrepressibly cheerful and just delighted to be in London and to be a part of history in the making.
If I may, I would like to make two observations on the Coronation?
First, I was in no way prepared for how religious the ceremony was. That may sound odd given we were congregated in an abbey and led by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Similar Royal events often seem to be State occasions which happen to be held in a place of religious observance. The Coronation felt entirely different.
The terrestrial played second fiddle to the celestial. The King made promissory vows to his people, the Commonwealth, to justice and to democracy. He made them to God. The private anointing with Holy Oil replicated the anointing of priests about to begin their ministry or those being Confirmed – it represents a vocational calling to serve. Never before had I felt so keenly the link of Church and State.
Much has been made of the fact that The King looked serious. I believe he was serious, conscious of the role he had been called upon to fulfil and his place in the long story of our nation’s history.
If marriage is to be entered into reverently, soberly and seriously, how much more so in the making of a King. The fact that the anointing was done ‘out of sight’ before the High Altar and with the King stripped to just a plain white shirt amplifies this point. No ornate dress but an ordinary man, about to begin an extraordinary job, asking for his God’s help. I found that profoundly powerful.
My second observation is it is hard to think of any ceremony or organisation that has not undergone slow, organic evolution over the last 70 years. Not so the Coronation. This was a challenge. In 1953 there were no women priests or bishops, women played a limited role in the military, politics and business.
TV ownership was low and black and white. Abortion and homosexuality were illegal. The death penalty legal. The UK looks and feels very different today. We are a less rigid, more inclusive country.
So this was a huge challenge – to create a Coronation relevant for 2023 while respecting and reflecting the history and traditions of previous ones. To demonstrate contemporary relevance while underscoring the line of Kingship stretching back to Anglo Saxon times. To tell a story of national evolution.
I think the challenge was met brilliantly. For that reason, the prayer of ‘God Save the King’ continues appropriate and relevant for our times.