Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Queen and the Papacy

The Queen will meet Pope Francis I today during her one day visit to Italy.  Elizabeth II will have an audience with the Pontiff but while this is a meeting of two monarchs and the heads of two different Christian churches the visit is being billed as informal.  It will last around half an hour and take place in the Pope's study not far from the Casa Santa Maria where he lives.  It comes 100 years after Britain re-established relations with the Holy See after centuries of schism causes by the Reformation.

Elizabeth II will meet Pope Francis I at the Vatican on April 3rd 2014

The meetings that Elizabeth II has had with the different popes during her reign always have an added layer of history as she is the only monarch whose forebears made such a definitive split with the Church in Rome.  While kings and emperors throughout the Middle Ages fell out with popes, only the king of England decided to form his own church and declare himself its head.  Henry VIII may have remained mostly Catholic but he did establish the Church of England and place himself, and all his successors, at its head.  Elizabeth II comes to Rome as a private individual, as she has done on her past visits, but it can't be forgotten that she is also a monarch and a religious head.

The Queen, head of the Church of England, attending a service in Norfolk in early 2014

The Queen has already met four other popes but only three of them as a monarch.  In 1951, while still heiress to the throne, she met Pope Pius XII when she visited the Vatican.  Speaking to Vatican Radio, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor recalled meeting the then Princess Elizabeth after her meeting when she told him she had been nervous as Buckingham Palace couldn't compare to the Vatican.

The then Princess Elizabeth, with Prince Philip walking behind her, at the Vatican in 1951 for a meeting with Pope Pius XII

In 1961, and now Queen, Elizabeth II returned to the Vatican where she had an audience with Pope John XXIII.  Parts of the visit were filmed and photographed and provided the first images of the Queen at a papal meeting.

Queen Elizabeth II and Pope John XXIII, with the Duke of Edinburgh, at the Vatican in 1961

But it was during the pontificate of John Paul II that Elizabeth II developed her strongest relationship with the Vatican.  John Paul II became the first pope to visit England and his time in the country, in 1982, attracted huge crowds wherever he went.  He met Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace as part of that historic visit.

A moment in history, captured forever.  Elizabeth II welcomed John Paul II to the UK in 1982 - he was the first Pope ever to visit the country

The leaders had met before.  In 1980, just two years after his election as pope, John Paul II had welcomed Elizabeth II to the Vatican for a visit in which she was accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh.

The first meeting between Elizabeth II and John Paul II took place in 1980

And as Pope John Paul II's ill health became more apparent, the two had one final meeting at the Vatican in 2000.  During that meeting the Pope referred to the division that had followed Henry VIII's establishment of the Church of England but talked about the cordiality which now exists between Britain and the Vatican.

Elizabeth II and John Paul II at their last meeting in 2000

That cordiality remains and was seen again in 2010 when Pope Benedict XVI visited the United Kingdom on a four day tour.  The Queen and the now Pope Emeritus met at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, Elizabeth II's official residence in Scotland, after Benedict's arrival in the Scottish capital.  

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh meet Pope Benedict XVI at Holyrood Palace in Ediburgh during his visit to the UK in September 2010

The Queen's latest visit to Rome further cements the relationship between Britain and the Vatican.  And it will mark another historic chapter in the story of Elizabeth II and the Papacy.

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