Thursday, 21 June 2012

Exhibition: Royal Devotion

The other week I went to see the exhibition Royal Devotion: Monarchy and the Book of Common Prayer at Lambeth Palace Library.

I enjoyed my visit and thought I'd share it on here in case anyone else wants to go too - it's open until 14th July. It's a cunning way of combining two of this year's anniversaries, the Queen's Jubilee and the BCP, into one exhibition, which gives it a much broader appeal than if it had just been the BCP, for instance. There's something for everyone to enjoy seeing.

Obviously, there's a 1662 Book of Common Prayer on display, but there is much much more. The exhibition starts pre-Reformation, with some lovely medieval manuscripts, including the Chichele Breviary and Richard III's Book of Hours, as well as some incunabula, including the Beaufort Hours. I liked seeing the mixture of official books for the use of the clergy, as well as the smaller and more personal ones. The display cases are low enough down for the smaller books to be easy to see.

Pre- and post-Reformation liturgies are displayed, including early examples of the Protestant communion service, alongside the first edition (1549) of the BCP. And the turmoil of the years following Henry VIII's death is obvious, with a Latin Mass issued under Mary, and the books in English that appeared under Elizabeth.

Queen Elizabeth's Prayer Book. Christian prayers and meditations in English, French, Italian, Spanish, Greeke, and Latine. London: John Day, 1569. Picture courtesy of Lambeth Palace Library.

The exhibition then moves onto prayer books and the Civil War, with not only books on display, but also a medal commemorating the execution of Archbishop Laud and the gloves worn at the execution of Charles I. The special service to mark the 'martyrdom' of the King was shown, incorporated into the BCP. Further examples of prayer books take us to the publication of the BCP in 1662.

I found one of the most interesting sections was the display on the use of the BCP in other countries. This was illustrated with an array of editions in different languages, including Irish Gaelic (1608), French (1616), Dutch (1645), Indian and Chinese. This went right up to the 20th century, including examples where the English version has been revised, including the switch to "you" from "thou" in public prayer.

The jump to the monarchy aspect of the exhibition was through the use of the prayer book for royal services. Exhibits in this section ranged from the manuscript report of the christening of Charles II, to the order of service used by the Archbishop of Canterbury last year for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. The exhibition finishes with the 1662 BCP, but before that there is a case for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, featuring examples of the coronation service dating back to 1685, and books of private devotion written specifically for the use of the monarch for their coronation.

In advance, I had wondered how the combination of the BCP and the Queen's jubilee would work together in an exhibition, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the range of material on display. I would highly recommend visiting if you're in the area.

Manuale ad usum insignis ecclesiae Sarisburiensis. Rothomagi: apud Robertum Valentinum, 1554. This page shows the wedding service in Latin and English. Picture courtesy of Lambeth Palace Library.

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