When Queen Elizabeth was crowned in a ceremony that was a deeply symbolic church service in 1953, the UK was predominantly Christian and the majority of the population were active practitioners of the faith.
Seventy years later, Christians saw themselves as the minority and Britain considered as one of the least religious countries in the world. Despite the changing faith landscape in the UK, the coronation of King Charles III on May 6th remained a religious ceremony. According to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the coronation was “first and foremost an act of Christian worship.”
Today we pray for our king, and pray with him, for a nation united and rejoicing in its diversity, and, ultimately, for a world healed and reconciled in the eternal banquet of the saints in heaven. —Westminster Abbey
The coronation celebrated the UK’s religious past, present and future. Experts on the British monarchy revealed that the ceremony mainly involved ancient rituals and also included modern elements to represent the country’s growing diversity.
King Charles was anointed with holy oil consecrated in Jerusalem to symbolize his divine right to rule. He took communion, declared his faith as Protestant Reformed and vowed to honor the Church of England’s special legal settlement. The historic two-hour service dates back during the time of William the Conqueror in 1066, with its historic elements of recognition, oath-taking, anointing, investiture, crowning, enthronement and homage, according to UCA News.
The new monarch embraces religious diversity in the UK, but Ian Bradley, an emeritus professor of cultural and spiritual history at the University of St Andrews, said Charles’ faith is “deep and strong, but more questing, more intellectual, more complex” than his mother’s, reports The Guardian. “He’s clearly drawn to eastern Orthodox Christianity and aspects of Islam. He’s interested in all kinds of spirituality.”
Westminster Abbey said, “Throughout the changing centuries, the coronation service has held together hopes both for our immediate and our eternal destinies — it has been and still is an occasion for prayer.”
“Today we pray for our king, and pray with him, for a nation united and rejoicing in its diversity, and, ultimately, for a world healed and reconciled in the eternal banquet of the saints in heaven.”
The ceremony may be a Protestant coronation service, but organizers included elements to represent modern Britain today, with the participation of leaders from other religions and people from a variety of backgrounds. Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh leaders, were present during the coronation and took part in the presentation of regalia. There were more women involved, Greek Orthodox and Gospel choirs, and they used Welsh, Scots and Irish Gaelic in the liturgy.
“The coronation has kept a similar form over 1,000 years, but is always changing,” said Bob Morris, an honorary senior research associate at the Constitution Unit, University College London. “We are much less religious, but we are more plurally religious. Nine percent follows non-Christian religions and Christianity is now a minority religion.”
Meantime, Joseph Shaw, chairman of England’s Latin Mass Society, noted that the coronation had provided a “wonderful reaffirmation of Christian tradition and presence.”
He added, “The king’s position under God was shown by his ritual receiving of regalia from the altar, which he touched” and which were “then returned to the altar, symbolizing their divine sanction. We were reminded that we are a Christian country with a Christian monarchy, laws and institutions, which also allows its people to go their own way.”