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Catholic Vespers to Be Prayed in Henry VIII’s Chapel for First Time in 450 Years

For the first time since the Church of England split from the Roman Catholic Church nearly half a millennium ago, Catholic vespers will be celebrated in the chapel of King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace next month.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, will preside over the Latin Rite vespers, or evening prayer, in Hampton Court Chapel Royal on Tuesday evening, February 9, and the Anglican Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Dr. Richard Chartres, will deliver a sermon.

For the first time since the 1550s, Hampton Court Palace’s Chapel Royal will be home to a liturgical service according to the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, bringing together leaders of the Catholic Church and the Church of England.

The Renaissance palace and chapel were built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in the early 16th century, but Henry VIII took the palace and chapel from Wolsey and built upon them after Wolsey failed to obtain an annulment of the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. This occasioned Henry’s break from Rome, and he established the Church of England with himself as head.

Henry only succeeded in siring a male heir when his third wife Jane Seymour gave birth to his only son Prince Edward at Hampton Court. Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, is said to haunt the palace, where she faced accusations of adultery. Hampton Court was also the site of the King’s marriage to his sixth and last wife, Catherine Parr.

The service will be dedicated to St John the Baptist, as the Chapel Royal was built by Cardinal Wolsey on the site of a chapel of the Knights of St. John Hospitaller, dedicated to that saint.

The music will be performed by Harry Christophers and his ensembles The Sixteen and Genesis Sixteen and will include Thomas Tallis’s Magnificat, William Cornysh’s Salve Regina, and John Taverner’s “Leroy” Kyrie.

Before the celebration of vespers, Cardinal Nichols and Bishop Chartres will host a discussion on the bonds between their churches and the dialogue they have had over the centuries titled, “Faith and the Crown.”

Two organizations were responsible for instigating and organizing the historic event: the Genesis Foundation and the Choral Foundation.

John Studzinski, founder and chairman of the Genesis Foundation, said that the celebration would be “one for the history books.”

“Dialogue between faiths is much needed and welcomed in these turbulent times. We need to recognize that we have more in common than not,” he said.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.

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