I visited Windsor Castle last week. Of course the State Apartments are impressive, in a slightly pompous way, but what is wonderful as you walk in is St George’s Chapel. It is this building, as well as its position on the hill next to the Thames, and the history, that makes Windsor unique. I have always much preferred it to Buckingham Palace. Both inside and out, the palace is just over-the-top Victorian and Edwardian exuberance. St George’s Chapel, by contrast, reminds us of the central place that religion used to play in the governance of the realm. It was all-pervasive.
The Knights of the Garter, the ancient order of chivalry, meet here every year in the chapel. The banners of the living knights, and the arms of the dead are displayed. Here in the glorious architecture of the chapel we see the link between Crown and Church, powerfully celebrated in stone, wood and glass.
Although not a member of the Church of England I believe that the fact of the Established Church should be preserved and its value proclaimed. The very fact that we have a head of state who is also the Supreme Governor of a church is a thoroughly good thing for the country. If the Church of England were to be disestablished, it would be yet another blow for the secular society.
More and more prominent people, Tony and Cherie Blair for instance, have said that it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to admit to being Christians, for fear of being thought ‘nutters.’ Former cabinet minister Ruth Kelly has said that ‘The public debate has become more secular and believers are portrayed as a bit odd.’
But the Queen has no fear. Alone of our leaders, for example, at the end of her Christmas broadcast, she unequivocally says: ‘May the blessings of Jesus Christ be with you.’ We need more people at the top of society, not just politicians, but actors cooks, soldiers, to proclaim their faith.
Speaking of cooks, I am encouraged by the example of Delia Smith, who is currently doing a daily Scripture reflection on the CAFOD website. She spends one hour a day in silence to try to be closer to God, split between half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon. Her words are worth pondering:
‘You have to consider what being a Christian is about. If we think being misunderstood and knocked down is bad, what is that next to what happened to Christ?…He coped with ridicule and misunderstanding every day.’
She says, and I agree, that sometimes she feels that there are too many words written about God and religion. So she wanted to ‘share a shortcut.’ For her, that shortcut is silence and contemplative reading of Scripture. An inspiring example.
Back to my Windsor visit: later that morning it was depressing to be admitted to the Victoria and Albert Mausoleum at Frogmore in Windsor Great Park. This is closed now to the public as lack of maintenance has made it dangerous. How sad that when we waste hundreds of thousands of millions of pounds on inefficient public sector projects we cannot find two and a half million to preserve this beautiful monument.
If you are allowed inside you can see what a glorious statement of Christian faith it is. Every picture (now peeling), every device, proclaims the Truth as this great man Prince Albert saw it. Britain today needs more like him.