Angela Levin: King Charles's made his Coronation a multi-faith triumph

ANGELA LEVIN: a Coronation planned at such speed could have been a multi-faith embarrassment. But thanks to King Charles’s unstinting efforts behind the scenes, it was a triumph of unity. We should praise him for that

It can’t have been easy organising a modern Coronation at such short notice, with the ceremony taking place just seven months since the death of Queen Elizabeth.

It was imperative to acknowledge that the nation has changed greatly in the 70 years since the Queen was crowned.

So the tensions were as genuine as they were understandable, particularly when it came to including other faiths.

Anglican canon law made it impossible for non-Christian faith leaders to pray out loud in the Abbey, for example. Instead they were largely relegated to a ceremonial procession and a formal greeting afterwards.

Would this be acceptable to the thousands of Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus?

Leaders of non-Christian faiths were included in the ceremonial procession into Westminster Abbey for the Coronation. But they could not play a speaking part

Faith leaders gather round the throne following the Coronation. King Charles had made a point of including them in a modernised ceremony

There were other concerns, too, particularly for Orthodox Jews.

Was it appropriate for Sir Ephraim Mirvis Chief Rabbi of the UK and Commonwealth, to spend Saturday, the Jewish sacred Sabbath, in a Christian church?

Yet what threatened to be a cause of resentment has proved to be a triumph.

There was little criticism and we were left instead with a landmark moment of unity, described by the Chief Rabbi as a gesture of ‘deep respect’ towards Jews and Judaism.

Praise indeed – and much of it came down to King Charles’s extraordinary (amazing even) personal efforts behind the scenes when he was so busy.

For example, he invited the Chief Rabbi and his wife Valerie to stay at Clarence House only a mile from Westminster Abbey where the Coronation was taking place.

This is because Orthodox Jews don’t use transport on the Sabbath and follow what the Chief Rabbi calls a ‘digital detox day’. The result was that Rabbi Mirvis could walk to the ceremony, as permitted.

The King invited Rabbi Mirvis to spend the night before the Coronation at Clarence House, which meant he could walk to the Abbey – and keep within strict Sabbath rules

Rabbi Mirvis (rear, centre) speaks to Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, during The Big Help Out volunteering day at The Passage homelessness charity in London on May 8 to celebrate the Coronation

The Royal Household made sure every necessary rule was followed. A kosher caterer was even brought in to prepare their Friday night dinner of coronation chicken.

When the service was over, the King walked to the Great West Door to greet five different faith leaders – another precedent.

To save time they all recited a blessing together. A momentous step to encourage different religions to feel a spiritual and even fundamental unity.

And there was another touch: so as not to embarrass the Chief Rabbi, microphones were not used (they’re forbidden on Shabbat, too).

Afterwards, the King was happy for Rabbi Mirvis to return to Clarence House and stay there until the appearance of three stars in the sky announcing that Sabbath was over.

The Chief Rabbi then performed Havdalah, a short ceremony to mark the passing of the Sabbath, that includes a song, sweet-smelling spices, wine, and the lighting and extinguishing of a braided candle with at least three wicks to symbolise the diversity of the Jewish people, woven together in unity.

This was not the first time Charles had extended the hand of friendship.

In September, the King had rescheduled the time of a Buckingham Palace reception following the death of his mother to make it earlier on the Friday so that the Chief Rabbi could get back to his local synagogue before Shabbat.

Jewish days start at nightfall and I’m told the Chief Rabbi’s staff were astounded by ‘the amazing gesture.’

The Chief Rabbi played his own part behind the scenes and made sure, for example, that the holy oil for the anointment taken from just outside Jerusalem was blessed.

He too, had been obliged to stand firm with critics.

Rabbi Mirvis pointed out that a ruling from the 1970s by the London Beth Din, the Orthodox rabbinical court, allows rabbis to attend Christian religious ceremonies if their presence is requested by the monarch.

In this case, it most certainly was.

King Charles meets with Rabbi Mirvis at a reception for faith leaders following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. The reception had been specially timed to ensure that the Chief Rabbi could leave before the start of the Sabbath on Friday evening

After the Coronation the Chief Rabbi told the Jewish Chronicle that, ‘Our every need was taken care of’.

And to an American television network, the unassuming Rabbi Mirvis said: ‘Certainly, it was quite surreal, and for us (his wife) it was a great privilege, but we were mindful of the fact that this was not for us ourselves at a personal level, but it was recognition being given to Jews and to Judaism, which we are the representatives of, and I’m sharing these details because our community should know the deep respect that is shown towards us.’

A rare – and much needed – ray of hope in difficult times.

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