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Westminster Abbey's 2008 review

Friday, 19th December 2008

Westminster Abbey's 2008 review

Read all about the major services and events that Westminster Abbey has held over the past 12 months.

The life of Westminster Abbey revolves around the daily pattern of worship; Morning Prayer, the Eucharist and Evensong. In addition, the Abbey hosts a number of services throughout the year to mark anniversaries and special occasions in the life of the nation. 2008 was no exception.

In January a 1100-strong congregation gathered for an ecumenical service to mark the centenary of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The service was attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Rowan Williams; the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor; His Grace Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian, Primate of the Armenian Church of Great Britain; and Commissioner Elizabeth Matear of the Salvation Army.

The Archbishop of Canterbury returned to the Abbey in March when he delivered three Holy Week lectures. He usually spends the whole of Holy Week at Canterbury Cathedral but this year Dr Williams accepted the Dean’s invitation to address a London audience.

The Abbey marked the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr with a conference and service in April.

One of the principal celebrations of the Abbey year is Edwardtide and this year it culminated in an all-day pilgrimage to the shrine of the Abbey’s founder Edward the Confessor.

As a Royal Peculiar, Westminster Abbey has always enjoyed a close relationship with the monarchy. Her Majesty The Queen made her annual visit for the Commonwealth Day Observance in March, while HRH The Prince of Wales was present at the service to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the NHS in July and at the annual Battle of Britain Service in September. HRH The Princess Royal was present at the dedication of the Armed Forces Memorial in October and was also at the Abbey for the service of celebration to mark the work of the disabled charity Livability. HRH The Duke of Edinburgh opened the Field of Remembrance in November. HRH The Duke of Gloucester and HRH The Duke of Kent attended the annual Anzac Day service in May. The year drew to a close with the annual presentation of Children of Courage awards, this year made by Prince Harry.

We also welcomed international leaders to the Abbey. The President of France HE M. Nicolas Sarkozy laid a wreath at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior as did the presidents of Chile and Israel, and the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. Our own Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP attended the NHS service.

The Abbey’s inextricable ties with the history of Great Britain again came to the fore in 2008. The 450th anniversary of the death of Queen Mary I and the accession of her half-sister Queen Elizabeth I prompted a week-long festival of commemoration which began with Evensong and attracted packed audiences for lectures from, amongst others, noted historians Lady Antonia Fraser and Sir Roy Strong.

The Abbey Librarian Dr Tony Trowles launched a new book Treasures of Westminster Abbey a detailed guide to the monuments and other historic artefacts of the Abbey. Meanwhile, two major grants from the J. Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust and the Pilgrim Trust enabled work to begin on the restoration of the 13th century Cosmati Pavement in the Sacrarium.

The Abbey enjoys a rich musical heritage. This year the music department, headed by the Abbey Organist and Master of the Choristers James O’Donnell, marked the centenary of the birth of the French composer Olivier Messiaen with organ recitals in May and James O’Donnell himself performed Messiaen’s Messe de la Pentecôte at the Proms in August. Evensong was broadcast live on Radio 3 from the Abbey in October, commemorating a former Abbey organist John Blow.

At different times of the day, or in different seasons, the light falling in the Abbey will light up something that you have walked past a million times and never seen before.

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Vanessa, Head of Conservation

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