The cruelty-free sacred oil that will anoint Charles as King: Monarch breaks Coronation Day tradition with recipe blended from olives picked next to his grandmother’s grave in Jerusalem – while glands of civet cat and whale’s stomach lining are removed
The memory of Her Late Majesty will, of course, be much in evidence on Coronation Day. Yet, the King is also keen to recognise his late father’s side of the family with an unexpected and original touch during one of the most hallowed moments of the entire ritual.
The sacred oil, with which he will be anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, will not be the traditional mix of unguents, spices and pungent animal parts, as was the case up to and including the last Coronation.
This time, it has been blended from olives which have been freshly picked alongside the grave of Prince Philip’s mother in Jerusalem. It is there that she is buried on the Mount of Olives. Essential herbs and flowers, including jasmine and orange blossom, have also been added.
Yesterday, the new oil was consecrated with great solemnity and ceremony by the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III – the most senior Christian figure in the Holy Land – alongside the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, The Most Reverend Hosam Naoum. It will now be flown (in secret) to London where the Archbishop of Canterbury is expected to bless it again ahead of the Coronation on May 6.
New recipe: The Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III, mixes the oils
The King is keen to recognise his late father’s side of the family with an unexpected and original touch
Although the new recipe breaks with a tradition going back at least as far as Charles I, the King is staying true to earlier precedent.
For the Palace has called the new oil ‘chrism’, though the world will know it better as one of the gifts of the Three Wise Men – myyrh. Its origins as an anointing oil go back to the Book of Exodus in the Bible.
Its spiritual credentials are, therefore, beyond reproach. It is the scent which will be different from last time.
The King has also swerved a confrontation with animal rights groups. The anointing oil used at previous coronations contained the glands of a civet cat, ambergris (the stomach lining of a sperm whale) and the secretions of a musk deer, in addition to more palatable ingredients such as rose, cinnamon and sesame. The new oil will include nothing from another living creature.
Before anyone attempts to brand this as the first vegetarian coronation in history, though, it should be noted that various robes and regalia will still include considerable quantities of ermine (which comes from the underbelly of a stoat).
The new oil arrangements are certainly exotic and spectacular; yesterday, the phial was paraded through the streets of Jersualem to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the blessing. They have also proved very much less problematic than sourcing the oil for the last Coronation.
Solemn: Theophilos III with the silver urn of anointing oil at the Stone of Unction in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
In the countdown to June 1953, officials suddenly discovered that the official phial of holy oil had been smashed by a wartime bomb landing on the Deanery of Westminster Abbey. It also transpired that the royal apothecary who had made that previous batch (ahead of the Coronation of Edward VII) had long-since passed away. His ingredients – including animal extracts – could be traced back to a Huguenot doctor, Theodore de Mayerne, who produced the oil for the ill-fated coronation of Charles I in 1626. However, no one knew the correct quantities.
It was only thanks to a stroke of luck that the previous apothecary’s granddaughter was able to dig out his old notes and send the secret formula to Savory & Moore, the new chemists to the Crown. They then prepared the blend which was used to anoint Elizabeth II.
However, it is the Holy Land rather than the Humber which will enjoy a footnote in the history of this Coronation. Charles wants to be faithful to the core rituals, such as anointing, crowning and homage. However, he is also happy to tweak some of the ceremonial, in this case creating a tangible link between his crowning moment, his father’s family, the Holy Land and the King’s interest in all aspects of the Christian world. His grandmother would have been thrilled.
Princess Alice of Battenberg married Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark in 1903 and Prince Philip was the youngest of their five children. After enduring exile, mental illness, separation and widowhood, she went on to found her own order of nuns in Greece but spent her final years at Buckingham Palace up to her death in 1969.
Hallowed: The oil is placed on the Tomb of Jesus by Theophilos III, the most senior Christian figure in the Holy Land
The anointing is the most sacred part of the coronation ceremony, and takes place before the investiture and crowning
It remained her dying wish to be buried at the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. She wanted to be next to the grave of her much-loved Russian aunt Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918 in Siberia. ‘Ella’ was thrown down a mineshaft, followed by grenades and burning logs, yet could still be heard singing hymns to the end. As Prince Philip told me himself some years ago, all the family were extremely proud of her. She was also the inspiration behind Princess Alice’s decision to become a nun.
The family would be equally proud, years later, when Princess Alice was proclaimed ‘Righteous Among Gentiles’ at Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial, in recognition of her role in shielding a Jewish family during the Nazi occupation of Athens.
In later life, her grandchildren, including Prince Charles, loved to seek out the chain-smoking, card-playing eccentric who lived in her own suite in a corner of Buckingham Palace. There were endless political, diplomatic and security problems in fulfilling her final wish, however. It was not until 1988 that Princess Alice’s body finally moved from the Royal Crypt at Windsor Castle to the church among the same olive groves where Jesus Christ himself came to pray. As Princess Alice’s biographer, Hugo Vickers, has written, many of her family were dismayed when she announced that she wanted to spend eternity in Jerusalem. ‘Nonsense,’ she replied, ‘there’s a perfectly good bus service from Athens.’
The bus was not much use. It did, in fact, take many years before Prince Philip and, latterly, Prince Charles, were able to pay their respects in person.
Yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who has played a central role in procuring the new oil, thanked the clergy in Jerusalem for providing oil ‘which reflects The King’s personal family connection with the Holy Land’. By tradition, the Archbishop will apply the oil to the head, hands and breast of the Sovereign. The Queen Consort will also be anointed, though custom dictates a more modest single dab to the crown of the head.
It remains to be seen whether the King will break with another tradition – and allow the cameras to record this moment for the very first time.
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