UK Coronation Remains Religious, Even if the Country Isn’t

With King Charles’s ceremony, Christians debate the theology of the monarchy and celebrate a unique opportunity for public witness.

Last year, a Washington Post journalist interviewed Ian Bradley, a professor of cultural and spiritual history here in the United Kingdom, about the accession of King Charles III to the throne. The reporter remarked, “For a country which is so secular and where so few go to church, you sure mention God a lot.”

It’s a fair comment. As monarch, King Charles is not only the head of state for the UK but also the Defender of the Faith (a title given to King Henry VIII by the pope in 1521 before the king’s famous break with the Roman Catholic Church) and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

When he is crowned this week in Westminster Abbey, he will be anointed with holy oil by the Archbishop of Canterbury while the choir sings “Zadok the Priest,” an anthem used in every coronation since 973 that draws on the anointing of Solomon by the priest Zadok in 1 Kings.

“It is the coronation more than any other event that underlines the sacred nature of the United Kingdom monarchy,” writes Bradley in his book God Save the King: The Sacred Nature of Monarchy. “At their coronations kings and queens are not simply crowned and enthroned but consecrated, set apart and anointed, dedicated to God and invested with sacerdotal garb and symbolic regalia. Here, if anywhere, we find the divinity which hedges the throne.”

All of this will take place in a country in which, as a recent census revealed, fewer than half the population describe themselves as Christian. The Church of England’s own statistics suggest that just 1.5 percent of the population attend a weekly service, while a 2018 British Social Attitudes survey found that 43 percent of us “never or practically never” …

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