26th March 2015: Two years ago, we were recovering from the excitement of Archbishop Justin’s Enthronement, which was held on the 21st March 2013 with great splendour. Today, we were honoured to receive Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh for a visit that included a brief Service of Thanksgiving, and the unveiling of statues of The Queen and Prince Philip on the West front of the Cathedral, adjacent to the Great West door. The Royal Statues were commissioned by the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty’s reign and were carved by Nina Bilbey. It had taken two years to obtain all the permissions necessary, and for the statues to be carved; so everyone was very excited that the great day of the unveiling had arrived.
The days before the Royal visit had seen huge amounts of activity. The grass in the Precincts was cut to a short back and sides, and the flower beds were weeded; rumours that the gardeners were talking to the daffodils to bring them into flower on the eve of the visit were, however, denied by the Clerk of Works. There was much painting of hoardings, practising of anthems, talk of fascinators (and not just by the ladies), rehearsing of manoeuvres, debates about lunch menus, checking of the timing of processions, and moving of the statues themselves into their niches. One particular problem was how the unveiling mechanism would cope with the vigorous wind that forever blows around the West end of the Cathedral. That, and the threat of rain, invoked much prayer…
As it was, on the day itself, the rain stopped by 10 o’clock, and the clouds parted to reveal bright sunshine just as The Queen and Prince Philip entered the Deanery garden a little before 1.00 pm. They had travelled from Capel le Ferne where they had visited the Battle of Britain Memorial where Her Majesty had opened a new Visitor and Education Centre. After a private lunch (during which the Royal limousine created considerable interest from pupils of the King’s School as well as others), The Queen and Prince Philip were taken to the South West door of the Cathedral and were applauded by a large crowd number of on-lookers. The Royal Party entered the Cathedral and were greeted by the Girls’ Choir singing a short anthem. The Queen and Prince Philip then processed to the East end of the Nave where the brief service continued with Bible readings, hymns, and prayers. The Order of Service also included an anthem sung by the boy choristers and Lay Clerks, as well as a homily by the Dean.
At the end of the service, the Royal Party processed down the nave and out of the West Door. There, Her Majesty unveiled the two statues, which were then blessed by the Bishop of Dover. The Queen and Prince Philip were then introduced to Nina Bilbey, the Clerk of Works Mark Sharratt, several of the Cathedral’s masons, and the Surveyor to the Fabric, Jo Deeming. The Royal Party were then taken to the Cathedral’s Lodge and International Study Centre, watched by a crowd of many hundred well-wishers, where they signed the Cathedral’s Visitors’ Book, and met civil leaders, plus many members of staff and volunteers who help keep the Cathedral running. Her Majesty was also presented with a posy by Naomi Williams, daughter of John and Cressida Williams (respectively one of our Lay Clerks, and the Head of the Cathedral’s Archives).
Everyone at the Cathedral was hugely impressed with the interest and good humour shown by The Queen and Prince Philip on their visit to the Cathedral. It was a day that will live long in our memories!