For the first time in 450 years a Catholic prayer service has been held at Hampton Court Palace. The Anglican Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres joined Cardinal Vincent Nichols for a sung Vespers in the Chapel Royal on Tuesday night.
The 300 worshippers who joined them sang the national anthem at the end of a service of sung liturgy from the 15th and 16th centuries. The first Catholic act of worship held in the chapel since the reign of Mary Tudor, it was acclaimed as a landmark in Anglican-Catholic reconciliation.
Bishop Chartres said it celebrated “a common agenda” between the churches and the progress already made. He explained: “What I see, particularly around London is that increasingly we are living in a post-denominational era.”
Much of the religious upheaval introduced by Henry VIII occurred against the backdrop of the Chapel Royal, especially his torrid marital life. He worshipped at the Chapel with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and later Anne Boleyn. Then, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, placed a letter on the King’s seat in the chapel accusing his fourth wife, Catherine Howard of infidelity. This led to her beheading. Finally, Henry married his last wife Catherine Parr at Hampton Court possibly in the Chapel Royal or else in the Queen’s Privy Closet close by.
During the 17th century, the Chapel remained an Anglican place of prayer. The idea for Tuesday’s vespers came from the Genesis Foundation, an arts charity and Michele Price, director of The Choral Foundation, a charity based at the Chapel Royal, whose aim is to preserve English choral music.
It was not the first ecumenical act attended by Bishop Chartres and Cardinal Nichols. Two years ago they prayed together in the cell occupied by St Thomas More in the Tower of London prior to his execution.