The Coronation’s moment of anointing points to the kingship and servanthood of Christ, explains Norman Banks
Oil harvested from two groves on the Mount of Olives, from the monasteries of Saint Mary Magdalene and the Ascension, will anoint King Charles at his coronation. His will then be a sacral kingship stretching back as far and beyond that of King Edgar in 973. At his mother’s coronation, the anointing was regarded as so sacred that it took place in private under a golden canopy. At the moment of Queen Elizabeth’s anointing on the palms of her hands, on the breast, and on the crown of her head, the Archbishop whispered: ‘Be thy head anointed with holy oil. And as Solomon was anointed king by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet so be you anointed, blessed and consecrated Queen over the Peoples whom the Lord thy God has given thee to rule and govern’.
This is the realm of sacramental encounter, conferring an indelible character, a consecration that can never be revoked. As Shakespeare’s Richard II put it, ‘not the water in the rough rude sea / can wash the balm from an anointed King’ (quoted by Margaret Hebblethwaite in The Tablet, November 2021). This time, I understand, the canopy will be so constructed that the ceremony can and will be recorded by camera. Charles has obviously agreed to the anointing and, if so visible, it will be an equally brave and courageous decision. Because Charles, both anointed and crowned, accepts and assumes, as a Christian, the vocation to be both king and servant to his people.
It should not be overlooked that the oil from Gethsemane, blessed and consecrated by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, has been harvested near the resting place of Princess Alice of Battenberg, the late Duke of Edinburgh’s mother and grandmother to King Charles, whose own life was lived out sacrificially after the example of Christ. What is more, it was consecrated on the Anointing Stone itself in the Holy Sepulchre. For Christians, of course, it is not the crowning of our beloved sovereign that matters most, but that he takes on the mantle of sacred kingship and is anointed servant king.
His Majesty was Patron of the Royal Shakespeare Company as Prince of Wales and perhaps some other words from Shakespeare’s Richard II may be weighing on his mind:
Or I’ll be buried in the king’s highway,
Some way of common trade, where subjects’ feet
May hourly trample on their sovereign’s head;
For on my heart they tread now whilst I live;
And buried once, why not upon my head?
Kingship inevitably brings a burden in our media-saturated, cynical world – so evident in the cavalier deliberate manipulating of history by the Netfix series The Crown. The recent funeral of our last anointed sacred monarch, Queen Elizabeth, was indeed a testimony to her faith and devotion as servant and disciple. Her final earthly journey was watched by over five billion people. One of the hymns she personally chose, and broadcast across the world, was Love divine, all loves excelling which poignantly concludes ‘Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder love and praise’. The coronation will be a day to fill every Christian soul with praise and raise our minds from earth to heaven, knowing throughout the importance of a few drops of scented olive oil.
[Pressed from olives just outside Bethlehem, the coronation chrism oil has been perfumed with sesame, rose, jasmine, cinnamon, neroli, benzoin and amber, along with orange blossom. Except this time it is wholly vegan and avoids any animal oils, which previously came from whales (ambergris) and civets (musk). It is based on the oil used at the coronation of Elizabeth II, a centuries-old formula, and will be used to anoint Queen Camilla too.
‘I am honoured and grateful that His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III and Archbishop Hosam Naoum have consecrated the oil that will be used to anoint His Majesty The King,’ said Archbishop Welby when the chrism oil was announced. ‘I want to thank especially His Beatitude for providing this Coronation Oil, which reflects The King’s personal family connection with the Holy Land and his great care for its peoples. I am also delighted that the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem shared in the consecration of the oil.’
‘Since beginning the planning for the coronation, my desire has been for a new Coronation Oil to be produced using olive oil from the Mount of Olives. This demonstrates the deep historic link between the coronation, the Bible and the Holy Land. From ancient kings through to the present day, monarchs have been anointed with oil from this sacred place. As we prepare to anoint the King and the Queen Consort, I pray that they would be guided and strengthened by the Holy Spirit.’]