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A ritual that’s older than Christianity

George Hayter’s painting of the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838

Watching a coronation is like “visiting a zoo and finding a triceratops in one of the enclosures”, says Tom Holland in The Observer. Charles III will claim the throne by virtue of his descent from “two fabulously venerable lines of kings” dating back to the 6th century. Only Japan and the Vatican have heads of state who trace their roots to such a distant age. But even they “cannot rival the sheer antiquity” of the coronation ceremony. Key elements – the Archbishop of Canterbury’s role; the two bishops escorting the monarch – date to the 973 crowning of King Edgar. The most sacred ritual, the anointing, is “older than Christianity itself”, having originally been used to mark out the biblical kings of Israel: Saul, David and Solomon.

Given that nearly 40% of those in England and Wales now identify as irreligious, some will inevitably see all this pomp as outdated, and find it intensifies “their distaste both for the monarchy itself and for its supernatural pretensions”. But for many, I imagine this reminder of our country’s “fabulously ancient” roots will be thrilling. When the Queen died, a lot of Brits were surprised by how moved they felt, and how eager they were for ritual. It reflected “spiritual currents that still run deep” – even if they were expressed by laying a Paddington Bear outside Buckingham Palace rather than lighting a candle in a church. This weekend’s ceremony will likely trigger the same affection for our peculiar, even supernatural national identity, and prove that there’s “magic in monarchy yet”.