This op-ed piece appeared in today’s issue (1 June 2013) of The Daily Gleaner.
For the second time in as many years, the Commonwealth of Nations is celebrating the long and storied reign of our Queen, Elizabeth II. Her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 was feted with stamps and coins, pageants and dinners, parties and scholarships, presentations and exhibitions, across the globe. In 2013, however, the celebrations will be somewhat more muted. There are no commemorative medals being struck and presented, no federal funding scheme for community activities. Apart from a Service of Thanksgiving and commercial Coronation Festival, both of which are taking place in London, the sixtieth anniversary of the Queen’s 1953 Coronation is being celebrated in quiet dignity.
On the face of it, this might seem somewhat strange when one considers that the Queen’s Coronation was one of the most lavish celebrations of the twentieth century which the world had the pleasure to witness. It was colourful. It was grand. It was remarkable. Her Accession sixteen months earlier, however, had been the muted occasion, for the Commonwealth was in mourning for their departed Sovereign, George VI. And yet, when it came time to mark the sixtieth anniversaries of the Queen’s Accession and Coronation, Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth chose to focus their celebrations on the former rather than the latter.
This is not necessarily inappropriate. Diamond Jubilee Year was, after all, a celebration of the Queen’s sixty years on the throne, and her reign started in February 1952, not June 1953. In times long gone, Coronations took place much more quickly following the Accession of a new King or Queen; in more recent centuries, their planning has taken increasingly lengthy periods of time. One can’t really plan in advance for such an event.
Besides, it is perhaps appropriate that the sixtieth anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation is being marked in a quiet and dignified way, given that the occasion was one of great solemnity. It is, after all, an ancient Christian religious service, during which God is as much the centre of the ceremony as the humble servant being anointed in His name. There are rumblings in the UK that changes are afoot among those who will (or at least may) be responsible for organising the next Coronation. The service may become more multi-faith in some respects. We will have to wait and see.
But there were no rumblings in 1953. The Queen went to her Coronation knowing that there would never be another engagement in her reign which would be as significant. In fact, the most solemn part of the Coronation, during which the Queen was anointed with Holy Oil, was not broadcast and therefore has never been seen except by those who were there in person to see it.
In the past two years, I have heard quoted more often times than I can remember the then-Princess Elizabeth’s famous quote from 1947: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
Echoing these sentiments, following her Coronation in 1953 the Queen addressed her peoples: “The ceremonies you have seen today are ancient, and some of their origins are veiled in the mists of the past. But their spirit and their meaning shine through the ages never, perhaps, more brightly than now. I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service, as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.”
Reflecting further on the meaning of the Coronation, the Queen continued: “Therefore I am sure that this, my Coronation, is not the symbol of a power and a splendour that are gone but a declaration of our hopes for the future, and for the years I may, by God’s Grace and Mercy, be given to reign and serve you as your Queen.”
She concluded: “As this day draws to its close, I know that my abiding memory of it will be, not only the solemnity and beauty of the ceremony, but the inspiration of your loyalty and affection. I thank you all from a full heart. God bless you all.”
And so, it seems that for the Queen herself the Coronation was not all about pomp and pageantry, but about the deeper meaning of the day. As New Brunswickers mark its sixtieth anniversary, may we be ever mindful of the meaning of Her Majesty’s reign and the inspiration towards devoted service which it continues to be.
God Save the Queen.