History made as Cardinal Nichols leads vespers in Henry VIII’s chapel
Anglican Bishop of London says ‘welcome home’ to cardinal
Henry VIII might well take a dim view of events on Tuesday, 10th February after his former royal palace chapel saw England’s leading Catholic cleric celebrate vespers.
The special event was the first time in nearly 500 years – since the Act of Supremacy made the British monarch supreme head of the Church of England and finalised the break with Rome – that a Catholic had led the service in Hampton Court Palace.
Cardinal Nichols, in gold mitre and brocade robe, walked a few steps behind Richard Chartres, the Anglican bishop of London and dean of the chapels royal, in a symbolic gesture of reconciliation at the opening of the service.
The first Catholic service in the chapel for more than 450 years was hailed as “one for the history books” by John Studzinski of the Genesis Foundation, which jointly organised the event with the Choral Foundation. “Dialogue between faiths is much-needed and welcomed in these turbulent times. We need to recognise that we have more in common than not.”
About 300 people attended the service, which was largely conducted in Latin and featured hauntingly beautiful choral music from the 15th and 16th centuries. It concluded with the national anthem.
The Bishop of London delivered the homily and spoke of the “fragmented parts of the Church which split apart with such tumultuous consequences in the 16th century.”
Earlier, he and Cardinal Nichols publicly discussed the relationship between the Churches and the crown, and the role of Christianity in society. In response to Cardinal Nichols’ description of Catholics as a “significant minority”, Chartres said wryly: “Of course, we’re all minorities now.”
Archbishop 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”, he concluded: “Welcome home, cardinal.”
The palace at Hampton Court was built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who was presented with the land by a grateful monarch in 1514. He and Henry regularly travelled by barge upriver from London to enjoy its magnificent gardens and sumptuous accommodation.
But Wolsey fell from royal favour when he failed to secure an annulment from the pope of King Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
Henry, smitten with Anne Boleyn and desperate for a male heir, needed a divorce. When the pope refused, Henry turned his back on Rome and stripped Wolsley of his titles. The cardinal retreated to York, surrendering Hampton Court Palace to Henry.
The Chapel Royal was the setting for key events in Henry VIII’s turbulent marriages. He worshipped in the chapel with Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Later, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer placed a letter on the king’s seat detailing accusations of unchaste behaviour made about his fourth wife, Catherine Howard, for which she was eventually beheaded.
Henry married his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr, in a chamber adjacent to the chapel. Henry was buried at Windsor Castle in 1547.
Following Henry’s break with Rome, Catholic services in the Chapel Royal were briefly restored in the reign of Catholic Queen Mary and it was during her reign that the last Catholic service was held there.
PHOTO: Cardinal Nichols discusses crown and faith with the Bishop of London, Richard ChartresTags: Act of Supremacy, Anglican, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, catholic, Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII, Richard Chartres