Funeral of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh, St George’s Chapel, Windsor, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Funeral of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh
Location: St George’s Chapel, Windsor, England
Date of visit: Saturday, 17 April 2021, 3:00pm

The building

Photo: © Aurelien Guichard, changes by Rabanus Flavus, and used under license St George’s Chapel sits within the walls of Windsor Castle. The chapel was begun by King Edward IV in 1475 and finished just over 50 years later by King Henry VIII. The building is the size of a large parish church or a small cathedral and can seat 800. The nave is a masterpiece of high medieval masonry, with slender fan vaulted columns and walls pierced by large windows. It makes a bright and airy space full of honey-grey coloured light. The quire is furnished with high and impressive stalls in dark oak, with a definite change of feel as one enters under the screen. Where a cathedral would have stalls for the canons, St George’s Chapel has stalls for the Garter Knights and Ladies, each displaying their heraldic banner and a helmet decorated with a mantling and topped with a crest, coronet or crown.

The church

Known as The Queen's Free Chapel, The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter and The Chapel of the College of St George, it functions as the church for the community of Windsor Castle. It is a Royal Peculiar, meaning that it is not part of a parish or diocesan structure, but comes under the direct authority of the monarch. Its pattern of worship with Morning Prayer, a daily Eucharist and Evensong every day mirrors that of an English Cathedral. Most of these services can usually be attended. St George’s Chapel is the home of the Order of the Garter. This Order of Chivalry was founded by King Edward III in 1348. Prince Philip and the then Princess Elizabeth were installed as members of the Order by King George VI in 1948. The banners of the current Knights and Ladies of the Order hang above their seats in the quire, the eastern part of St George’s Chapel. For Knights a sword is also displayed. When a Knight or Lady dies, their banner and helmet are removed and the stall is closed until their passing is marked by a formal ceremony. In due course a new Knight or Lady will be appointed and take up the vacant stall

The neighborhood

Windsor is an historic market town in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in Berkshire, England, close to London. There was already a small settlement in the vicinity when in 1070 William the Conqueror first erected a motte and bailey castle – now Windsor Castle. It is immediately south of the River Thames, which forms its boundary with its smaller, ancient twin town of Eton. The village of Old Windsor, just over two miles (three km) to the south, predates what is now called Windsor by around 300 years. it is a pleasant south-of-England market town, significantly shaped by its proximity to Windsor Castle, and nowadays by thousands of visitors who throng its streets and visit the castle.

The cast

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dean of Windsor (previously Bishop of Lynn in the Diocese of Norwich).

What was the name of the service?

Funeral of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh.

How full was the building?

Thirty friends and family members, Dean and Archbishop, organist, director of music and choir of four, Royal Marines buglers, State Trumpeters, Piper, and others not seen, including television crew. The space was thinly occupied, and a number have remarked on the poignant image of Her Majesty the Queen sitting alone.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I had just rung a bell at church 99 times leading up to the one-minute silence at 3.00pm, and then cycled home to follow the service mainly on my phone via BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds. I encountered no one en route. My wife is accustomed to my entering the house and so did not extend any special greeting.

Was your pew comfortable?

I followed the service from my comfortable office chair in the study.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The atmosphere at Windsor Castle seemed to be one of subdued and solemn, but splendid, ceremonial.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘We are here today in St George’s Chapel to commit into the hands of God the soul of his servant Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There was a printed Order of Service provided. At the time of writing it can be downloaded from here.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, bagpipes, bugles, State Trumpets and Naval boatswain's calls. The organ last had a major rebuild by Harrisons of Durham and was completely redesigned by Sidney Campbell, organist at the time.

Did anything distract you?

I was trying to identify the colour of the copes worn by the officiants, and I was also speculating (correctly as it turned out) that the soprano voice was that of a woman rather than a choirboy.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

British ceremonial worship – so probably stiff-upper-lip! Musically it was notable for embracing both ancient and modern in the Anglican choral tradition, with prayers in traditional language but readings from modern translations, and an unswerving focus on God rather than on the deceased. There were two readings: Ecclesiasticus 43:11–26 (the New English Bible translation) (the glory of God in the created world); and John 11:21-27 (the English Standard Version translation) (Jesus the Resurrection and the Life).

Exactly how long was the sermon?

There was no sermon. Richard Chartres, former Bishop of London, revealed on the radio that morning that the Duke of Edinburgh liked sermons to be limited to four minutes – so not a fan of waffle, I think. I suspect there was another reason for no sermon, which I shall refer to later.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

It was a beautiful spring day, the ceremonial was flawless, and the music was sublime, both in choice (IMO) and in execution.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

I was slightly irritated by the voice of the presenter telling us what was happening or about to happen – though I recognise that for some listeners or viewers this would have been necessary.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Although my study is an untidy mess, I wasn't lost, and probably didn't look it. My wife, who was working on her doctoral studies, came through and told me there was a cup of tea ready to be poured, and asked when I would be finished.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

An enjoyable afternoon mug of Earl Grey tea.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 — I attended a seminar put on by St George’s House some time ago, and found participation in the daily worship of the Chapel was a great enrichment to the experience of sharing with other clergy (ministering in various settings, and from across the world) in the kind of theological reflection that is not easy in the run-of-the-mill daily ministry. But I'm not sure it would work for me as a usual context for worship.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The strong sense that the man who had followed a calling to be always a self-effacing few paces behind the Queen, had chosen to put himself a self-effacing few paces behind. There was no eulogy, nor a sermon in which he might be eulogised. While it reflected his character and interests, it was nevertheless a service foregrounded in the wonder of God in creation, and in Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the Life.

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