Silver-lined celebration Where’s there’s faith, an old title restored
St Peter’s Church in St George’s is preparing to celebrate a new jewel in its crown: the gift of an old royal title restored.
The church is launching its 400th anniversary with a service next month, to commemorate a little-known but historically significant designation: Their Majesties Chapell, which dates back to the year 1697.
Evidence of the special royal title remained buried in archives for centuries, until a scholar brought it to the church’s attention.
“The service has been set for March 18, because that’s the date on the warrant,” explained church rector Rev David Raths. “It is the earliest known instance of that term being used.”
The warrant in question authorised the delivery of royal silver to St Peter’s, which the church still keeps in its safe. The document bearing the special term did not emerge until considerably later.
The historian who uncovered the warrant, Thomas Sinsteden, has sailed to Bermuda several times over the years. Mr Sinsteden noticed the document among other warrants at the Public Records Office in Kew Gardens, London, and recognised it as a significant titling.
Contacted in the US, Mr Sinsteden described the chance discovery as “typical of research”.
“When one does research, one comes across these things,” he said.
Mr Sinsteden spotted the document about ten years ago, during research on the Duke of Ormonde a major figure of the 17th century Anglo-Irish political stage, who was born the year after the arrival of the
Sea Venture in Bermuda.
Stopping off at the Island during the Newport-to-Bermuda yacht race, Mr Sinsteden said: “I had a bit of time on my hands. I went to St Peter’s Church and saw some Irish silver on display in the safe there. Among the silver was some royal silver.”
He returned to the church with a copy of what is technically known as the Intituling Document: the order for the silver, sent to the “Master of His Magesties Jewell House”, which specified its use in “Their Majesties Chappell”.
The warrant will not change the name of St Peter’s Church, but it adds another title and another distinguishing feature to what is already the oldest Anglican Church outside the British Isles.
Mr Sinsteden brought his copy of the document to St Peter’s in 2007, just in time for church authorities to add it to this year’s happy coincidence of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 400th anniversary of St Peter’s. The historian said he looks forward to attending the ceremony in Bermuda.
“He just walked in off the street and said he had something for us. I saw the Majesties Chappell and I thought, Oh, boy,” Rev Raths said. “That’s why the first thing in our service will be to have the warrant read it out publicly.”
Actually confirming the Royal title for St Peter’s required some behind-the-scenes diplomacy. Rev Raths spoke with David Baldwin, a member of the Queen’s Household, whose official title is Serjeant of the Vestry of the Chapel Royal.
“He was very excited to hear about it,” Rev Raths said. “We’ve had Royal visits before but we’ve never had a Serjeant of the Vestry.”
Mr Baldwin’s own title extends back significantly farther, he added, to 1066.
Mr Baldwin is to visit the Island to present Governor Sir Richard Gozney with the formal document redesignating St Peter’s as “Their Majesties Chappell”, which Sir Richard will then read at the March 18 service.
Rev Raths said that was fitting because Sir Richard had to write to the Queen to request permission to restore the title to St Peter’s. Actually reading the Intituling will be one of Sir Richard’s last duties as Governor of Bermuda, as he prepares to step down this May.
St Peter’s will also receive new emblemage, in the form of a Royal scarlet banding, to decorate the Rector’s belt and the church’s own flags and banners.
“This church has always been more than a town church,” Rev Raths explained. “We see it as an icon for Bermuda.”
Grace Rawlins, chairwoman of the Intitulation Committee, said St Peter’s has been appropriately refurbished for the ceremony opening its 400th anniversary celebrations.
“It’s going to be a challenge fitting everyone in here, Ms Rawlins added. “One of the most interesting points for me is the silver, which will be taken out and displayed on the altar table. I think that table could be the oldest piece of furniture in Bermuda.”
The original document ordered the sending of two little flaggons, one challice, a petten and a receiver, to then Governor of Bermuda, Samuel Day.