Saturday, November 17, 2007

Coronation of Elizabeth II

There's an interesting piece in the Telegraph about the Coronation Ceremony of Elizabeth II:
On June 2, 1953, four Knights of the Garter held a canopy over the head of the Queen. What came next we were not allowed to see.
I have just watched a remarkable Technicolor film of the Coronation - which has quite a different flavour from the black and white images we are accustomed to. It is available on DVD under the title A Queen is Crowned. But I had not at first noticed that at the moment the canopy is raised, the continuity is cut.
The voice of Laurence Olivier, speaking a text by Christopher Fry, announces: "The hallowing, the sacring." The ceremonial that comes next, which we were forbidden to see on film, is the anointing. Oil is poured from an eagle-shaped ampulla, or flask, into a spoon. The spoon is the only piece of Coronation regalia surviving from the Middle Ages. The Archbishop of Canterbury anoints the monarch on the forehead, breast and hands.
The camera then picks up the narrative again, as the Queen is clothed with a wide-sleeved cloth-of-gold tunic reaching the ankles. It is gathered with a golden girdle. The young Queen looks like a figure in some Japanese play, walking in this wide, stiff gown to receive a jewelled sword, which she holds point upwards, swearing to defend widows and orphans. It is then placed on the altar.
There is a great deal of this sort of thing, and it is not laughable. I knew about the orb. "Receive this orb set under the Cross, and remember that the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our Redeemer," the archbishop says. But I didn't know about the wide, golden bracelets placed on the sovereign's wrists as she sits on the Coronation Chair. They signify sincerity and wisdom.
Each item of the crown jewels has its meaning. The sceptre stands for power and justice, and there is another golden rod, standing for equity and mercy. After the archbishop, in his wide cope, reaches up and solemnly brings down the crown on to the Queen's head, she sits holding the sceptre in one hand and the rod in the other. They all look heavy for a young woman to bear, but then so are sovereignty, justice and mercy.
These ceremonies take place as the Queen is seated on the Coronation Chair. It had the so-called Stone of Scone fitted into it. The stone was reputed to be the one that Jacob used as a pillow on the night he dreamt of the ladder into heaven with angels ascending and descending. When Jacob awoke he said: "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it." And he was afraid, and said: "How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."
The Queen is then lifted into a different seat, her throne, by Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal, who do her homage, one by one. Her husband says: "I, Philip, become your liege man."
Of course, on one level, this could be dismissed as an Anglican sham, BUT the signs of this quasi-sacramental act still speak clearly and it would be a mistake of the highest order were the ceremonial of coronation watered-down.


John said...

"it would be a mistake of the highest order were the ceremonial of coronation watered-down."

Like they did with the Papal Coronation...

Enbrethiliel said...


At least the Papal Coronation wasn't quasi-sacramental. =S Yet I also wish we could have had both! There's no reason we can't . . .