The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Cardinal Nichols, the highest-ranking Catholic in the United Kingdom, last night led Solemn Vespers in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace with Richard Chartres, the Anglican bishop of London.
The service, called “Faith and the Crown”, mostly sung mainly in Latin, was the first Roman Catholic act of worship in over 450 years in King Henry VIII’s chapel, the architect of English Reformation and vehement opponent of the Papacy in his day.
The event was held to mark the 500th anniversary of Hampton Court and was in recognition of the increasingly warm and collaborative relationship between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic church.
It’s believed to be the first Catholic service at the palace since the Tudor Dynasty – but not the first since Henry’s reformation. Henry’s daughter, the Catholic Queen Mary I through his first wife Catherine of Aragon, had held Catholic services there during her brief reign in the 1550s before by her Protestant half-sister Queen Elizabeth I, Henry’s daughter with his second wife Anne Boleyn, succeeded her.
Prior to the service, The Guardian writes, Archbishop Nichols and Richard Chartres, the Anglican bishop of London and dean of the royal chapels, had a conversation about the relationship between their respective churches, the English royalty and broader society:
In his homily, Chartres spoke of the “fragmented parts of the church which split apart with such tumultuous consequences in the 16th century”.
Earlier, he and Nichols publicly discussed the relationship between the churches and the crown, and the role of Christianity in society. In response to Nichols’ description of Catholics as a “significant minority”, Chartres said wryly: “Of course, we’re all minorities now.”
Their discussion ranged from the civil wars of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe to the response of churches to increasing secularisation and religious violence in the modern times.
Chartres joked that most people would think that an Anglican dean and a Catholic archbishop “must fight like ferrets in a sack”. But, he added, unity would be built “as we look together at the problems facing humanity rather than looking at the differences between us.”
Saying that the service was a “celebration of a common agenda”, Chartres concluded: “Welcome home, cardinal.”