The most sacred moment of King Charles III’s coronation will take place just before the St Edward’s Crown is placed on his head, when the Archbishop of Canterbury anoints the monarch with holy oil from gold spoon dating back to the twelfth century. But it’s a moment that won’t be witnessed by anyone, let alone the hundreds of millions of viewers watching from home.
The Act of Consecration is the only moment of the ceremony that will be conducted out of sight, behind a three-sided canopy that has been constructed especially at the King’s request. He will follow in the footsteps of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, whose anointment in 1953 was also held out of sight of the cameras, underneath a canopy, after the Coronation Committee declared it should not be shown on TV.
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What viewers – and the gathered congregation at Westminster Abbey, which includes Judi Dench, Stephen Fry and First Lady Jill Biden – will not see happen behind the screen is the Archbishop pouring holy oil from Jerusalem from a gold eagle-shaped flask into the gold Coronation Spoon. The Archbishop will then dip his fingers into the spoon and touch the King on the head, chest and hands with the oil.
It is a moment that harks back to the Old Testament, in the Book of Kings, when Solomon is anointed as a king by Zadok the Priest. “It is the most sacred moment and it is between the King and God,” the Archbishop of Canterbury explains. According to the BBC, during Queen Elizabeth’s coronation a news commentator called the Act of Consecration “a moment so old history can barely go deep enough to contain it.”
The golden spoon, which is inlaid with pearls, is the oldest item of regalia to be used in the ceremony. It is believed to date back to the twelfth century, having survived the English revolution of the 1600s and the execution of the first King Charles in 1649. The first mention of it dates back to 1349 in Westminster Abbey when it was already being described as “antique.” It is thought it was originally made for Henry II or Richard. The spoon was used in the coronation of James I in 1603 and has been used at every coronation since including the coronation of Charles II in 1661.
The spoon will not be the only historic item used during the coronation. Read on about some of the other regalia below…
The Diamond Jubilee Coach
King Charles and Queen Camilla will be escorted from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey in the Diamond Jubilee Coach. One of the newest coaches in the royal fleet, it was created in 2012 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. It is a mixture of history and modernity: it needs six horses to pull it along but inside the polished wooden armrests hide switches to control the air con, lights and windows. And the crown carved into the oak roof is hollow to allow cameras to be fitted.
The Coronation Chair
King Charles will sit in the Coronation Chair when he is crowned. Although made of simple wood and covered in nineteenth century graffiti (one carving reportedly reads: “P. Abbott slept in this chair 5-6 July 1800”) this chair has been used in coronations for 700 years. It has a shelf space underneath for the Stone of Destiny, an ancient Scottish stone that has been used in coronations since 1296 when King Edward I seized it and had it built into his throne.
St Edward’s Crown
This will be the money shot: when the Archbishop of Canterbury places the 362-year-old St Edward’s Crown on King Charles’s head. The crown contains 444 precious and semi-precious gemstones including rubies, sapphires and amethysts. It is based on a medieval crown that was melted down during the revolution in 1649. When the crown was first re-made in 1661 for Charles II the gems weren’t included: they were rented for coronations and returned immediately after.
Queen Consort’s Rod with Dove
Queen Camilla will also be given coronation artefacts to hold including an ivory and gold rod originally made for James II’s wife, Queen Mary of Modena, in 1685. Its use in the current coronation is somewhat controversial thanks to the ivory, which Prince William has been vocal about, calling the elephant tusk material “a symbol of destruction, not of luxury.” The sale of ivory was banned in the U.K. in 2018.
The Gold State Coach
After the coronation ceremony has concluded King Charles and Queen Camilla will be taken back to Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach, the third oldest coach in the U.K. Made of wood covered in gold leaf, it requires eight horses to pull it along and the royals are reportedly not a fan due to its antiquated state. It is said that for her coronation in June 1953, Queen Elizabeth II had a hot water bottle strapped to the seat because the weather was so cold.
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