Ecumenical concert at Buckingham Palace

Credit Bernadette Kehoe
Credit Bernadette Kehoe

The Choir of Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal and the Pontifical Musical Chorus of the Sistine Chapel (Coro della Capella Musicale Pontificia) sang together for the first time yesterday for choral Evensong at the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, and in an evening concert in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace in the presence of HRH The Duchess of Gloucester. 

Canon Paul Wright, Sub Dean of Her Majesty’s Chapels Royal, introduced this milestone ecumenical event with a quote from Psalm 133; “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”.  He went on to remark “this visit forms part of the Sistine Choir's ecumenical mission in promoting historical and cultural exchange across Christian denominations.”

Priests and bishops of all traditions were invited to the Palace, including Bishop Nicholas Hudson and a number of Jesuits, as St James’s Palace is within the parish of Farm Street Church – an historical anomaly resulting from the ministry of St Claude La Colombiere SJ as chaplain to St James’s Palace in the seventeenth century.

The concert concluded with a collection to raise money for Aid to the Church in Need, a charity which provides support to persecuted Christians all over the world.  Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, Superior of the Mount Street Jesuit Community and chaplain to Aid to the Church in Need, commented, “This was a wonderful occasion of ecumenical collaboration and beautiful music praising the God we all worship and His Creation which we all share.  It was inspiring to be in the presence of so many from different Christian traditions – Anglican, Orthodox, and Catholic of different ancient churches. This kind of co-operation is so vital at a time when there is a need for rebuilding among communities of peoples of different faiths, especially in the Middle East.”

Fr Dominic is pictured above (far right) with, from the left, Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director of ACN UK, Syriac Orthodox priest Father Aphram Ozan, Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawood, leader of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the UK, and Father Nadheer Dako, London Chaplain of the Chaldean Catholic Community.

Christian persecution was also the theme of HRH The Prince of Wales’s Easter video message this year, in which he said: “At this time, we think especially of those Christians who are suffering for their faith in so many parts of the world. I want to assure them that they are not forgotten and that they are in our prayers.”

Joint choirs in Evensong at the Chapel Royal (C) Royal FamilyFr Dominic observed: “This is a cause especially dear to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales so it was so fitting that we were so graciously invited to participate in this important event bringing together the Chapel Royal and the Sistine Chapel and supporting the vital work of Aid to the Church in Need.”

The concert programme included choral works in English and Latin spanning four centuries, from polyphony of the mid sixteenth century (Palestrina, Byrd and Purcell) to the twentieth century (Parry and Britten). 

Joseph McHardy, Director of Music, HM Chapel Royal, St James's Palace, said: "We are delighted to welcome the Sistine Chapel Choir and have the chance for the choirs - both with such a long and rich heritage - to sing together for the first time in such a historic setting. Hosting the Pope's Choir at a British Royal Palace for the first time is a great honour."

Other notable guests included UK Ambassador to the Holy See Sally Axworthy and the Commonwealth Secretary-General Rt Hon Baroness Scotland QC.