Vivat Regina! Vivat Regina Elizabetha! Vivat! Vivat! Vivat!” sang the scholars of Westminster School, which is their long-held right when the Queen enters Westminster Abbey.
During her six decades on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II has attended countless services there. The biggest by far was her coronation on June 2, 1953. Not so for the regalia she wore that day. For the past 60 years and two days St. Edward’s Crown has been kept with the rest of the Crown jewels in the Tower of London. Used only to crown the new monarch, it was created for the coronation of Charles II in 1661–Cromwell having melted down the original. Under great secrecy and security, it was returned to Westminster Abbey for today’s service commemorating the 60th anniversary of the coronation. “I think having the crown on the altar and the ampulla there, those are extraordinary and it will be wonderful to have them there, to have that central focus of St Edward’s Crown just feet away from St Edward’s shrine, where he is buried,” the abbey’s dean, John Hall told the Telegraph.
Luckily, the Queen won’t have to wear the incredibly heavy crown. As the British monarchy site explains, “This is made of gold and decorated with precious and semi-precious stones, including sapphires, tourmalines, amethysts, topazes and citrines, and weighs a substantial 2.23kg.” To get accustomed to the weight, she wore it around Buckingham Palace in the weeks leading to the event.
While the royal family took their usual place near the altar, seated beside them were the Queen’s six maids of honour from 1953, and their families. Wearing spectacularly embroidered dresses by Norman Hartnell, they carried the Queen’s heavy velvet and ermine robes. When they arrived at the abbey, the Queen turned to them–“Ready girls?” she asked–then they started down the aisle. It was such a long day that there were medical clinics, water fountains and lavatories made to handle the cumbersome robes worn by the lords and ladies. “There was quite the smell of mothballs about,” remembered Countess Mountbatten of Burma on the BBC. “They’d all been put away for the war.”
Most of those involved in that day were invited to the anniversary, including Prince Charles’s nanny, Mabel Anderson, charged with keeping the four-year-old in hand. But as a sign of how much has changed, directly opposite the royal family were leaders of Britain’s other religions. They weren’t at the coronation, which was a purely Church of England affair, but are now at virtually all big royal events today.
The new archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, delivered a barnburner of a sermon. The short, pointed lecture focused on the 1953 coronation pounded away on the themes of duty, service and what liberty really means. One wonders if the politicians in attendance got the hint.
Let us resist the splendour of the spectacle for a moment, and focus on what was meant: “Not my will, Lord, but yours be done.”
And following her giving of allegiance to God, others – especially, with such equal and dedicated commitment, the Duke of Edinburgh – pledged their allegiance to her.
And here, in the grace and providence of God, is the model of liberty and authority which our country enjoys. Liberty is only real when it exists under authority. Liberty under authority begins, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, with our duty to God, “whose service is perfect freedom.”
He goes on, mentioning the bystanders who tried to comfort soldier Lee Rigby after Muslim extremists fatally attacked him, “We are not always and everywhere at our best. We celebrate today not liberty by itself which, in human weakness turns to selfishness, but liberty under the authority of God.”
He ends with the phrase of the day is “servant leadership”:
The very nature of being British follows this simple logic. It is founded on liberty under authority. It imitates the example of Jesus who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but humbled Himself and took the form of a slave. In Jesus is seen the greatest servant of all, whose service gives us freedom, whose love is generously offered to each of us.
Her Majesty the Queen is servant of the King of Kings, and so she serves us, as we serve her, in liberty and under authority. It is a system that points to freedom in God, in whose love alone we are fully human, fully free.
As she left the hour-long service, she paused for a moment to look at the newly restored coronation chair while the others spent longer there. It’s almost as if she’s thinking, “Been there, done that, what’s next?”