Spotlight on coronations
Understand the essential role that a small vessel and a spoon play in the most important part of the coronation service.
What is significant about an ampulla and spoon? Watch The Reverend Dr James Hawkey, Canon Theologian and Almoner, explain the most symbolic and sacred part of the coronation.
The most important moment in the coronation took place behind a newly designed screen by iconographer Aidan Hart. At the centre, the image of a tree included 56 leaves representing the 56 member countries of the Commonwealth. At the base of the tree is The King's cypher, representing the theme of his service seen throughout the coronation.
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Of all the objects used within coronations, the ampulla and spoon are arguably the most important. They are required for the anointing, which is the most sacred part of the coronation service. Replicas of both objects are on display within the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries and have been used for hundreds of years.
The ampulla, shaped like an eagle, holds the consecrated oil with which the monarch is anointed. It was made for the coronation of King Charles II in 1661. Unlike the regalia that had to be remade in the 17th century, the spoon is the only item to survive Oliver Cromwell’s destruction of the sacred symbols of monarchy after the English Civil War. It dates back to the early 12th century, and is recorded among objects at the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey in an inventory of 1349.
Anointing is the moment when the archbishop places holy oil on to the head, heart or breast, and hands of the monarch. It is the only part of the coronation service that the congregation are not allowed to watch; during the televised coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, a canopy was held over the Queen as she was anointed to ensure it could not be seen.
The recipe for the holy oil is secret, but contains oils of orange flowers, roses, jasmine and cinnamon. It is consecrated by a bishop on the coronation day. This sacred blessing, using the ampulla and spoon, is at the heart of the Christian coronation service, demonstrating the connection between the monarch and God.
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.