25 Jun 2012
Westminster Abbey’s world-famous choir arrives in Italy this week (Tuesday 26th June) for a tour of Rome and Montecassino which will include singing for Pope Benedict XVI, with the Cappella Musicale Pontificia ‘Sistina’, the Sistine Chapel Choir, at the Papal Mass marking the Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul (Friday 29th June) in St Peter’s Basilica. The service will be broadcast live across the world and will be the first time in its 500-year history that the Sistine Chapel Choir has sung with another choir.
The Dean of Westminster, The Very Reverend Dr John Hall said: “This visit, a fruit of the Pope's visit to Westminster Abbey in 2010, will both celebrate the riches of the liturgical tradition we hold in common and also, we pray, be a powerful symbol to the wider world of movement on the long ecumenical journey towards full visible unity.”
The combined choirs will sing music from the Roman tradition including movements from Palestrina Missa Papae Marcelli and the motet Tu es Petrus, and the Abbey Choir will also sing music from the English choral tradition, including music by Byrd Ave verum corpus and Laudibus in sanctis, Tallis Loquebantur variis linguis, and Purcell I was glad.
The Abbey Choir was invited to Rome by Pope Benedict XVI, following his visit to the UK in September 2010, during which he attended an ecumenical service of Evening Prayer at Westminster Abbey.
The Pope has asked that arrangements for the June collaboration be made in such a way as to reflect the Christian vocation of the Choir and encourage the enriching mutual exchange of gifts between the two liturgical and cultural traditions. As Westminster Abbey is formally known as the Collegiate Church of St Peter, there will be an important shared resonance as both choirs celebrate their patron together.
The Papal Mass is an important annual liturgy presided over by Pope Benedict XVI, during which the Pallium (an ecclesiastical vestment symbolising Papal authority) is imposed on new Metropolitan Archbishops from around the world.
The Choir of Westminster Abbey has its origins in the 14th century when choirboys sang with the monks in the Abbey's Lady Chapel. In the 16th century after the dissolution of the monastery King Henry VIII ensured the survival of the choral tradition. Queen Elizabeth I re-established the choral foundation of a Master of the Choristers, ten choristers and twelve lay vicars as part of The Collegiate Church in 1560. The ten choristers and 20 or so additional singing boys are today educated at Westminster Abbey Choir School within the Abbey precincts.
Whilst in Rome, the Abbey Choir will also perform a Concert of Sacred Choral Music in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore on Tuesday 26th June, and a Festal Evensong in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva on Friday 29th June.
The Choir then travels to the Benedictine Monastery at Montecassino to sing Vespers on Saturday 30th June and Mass on Sunday 1st July with the monastic community at the burial place of St Benedict.