Lilian Carpenter: Leading figure at Westminster Abbey and supporter of interfaith dialogue

Lilian Carpenter went from the humblest of beginnings to preside over Westminster Abbey alongside her husband, the Rev Edward Carpenter, Dean of Westminster from 1974 to 1985. The Carpenters were widely esteemed for their warmth, accessibility, kindness and originality, and were among the most admired and cordial leaders of Westminster life.

Her approach at the Abbey was one of openness and practical enthusiasm. She worked with her husband to establish an Abbey "family", made up of all the people who lived and worked there. They initiated a sense of genuine community and a spiritual outreach to the man and woman in the street. Carpenter had a great love for the Abbey and her knowledge of its history and monuments was prodigious.

The Carpenters were firm supporters of the interfaith movement, sharing a belief that the coming together of world faiths was the surest way to achieve world peace. The Dalai Lama was a guest at the Deanery on several occasions at a time when his cause was not supported by the establishment. Lilian's graceful hospitality and loving care inspired the Dalai Lama to call her his "English mother".

She was born Lilian Wright, in the West End of London, where her father, a cobbler, worked out of a tiny shop. As a child she lived in extreme poverty with her parents and five siblings in two basement rooms. But from a young age she adored music and poetry and was an avid Girl Guide. Inspired by teachers, she won awards at drama festivals, and later, during the early years of her marriage, trained as a drama teacher at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The skills she acquired there were used to great effect in organising events at the Abbey.

Carpenter left school at 14 in order to earn a living, her jobs including working in a dyers and cleaners, a veil shop and a milliners and assisting at a children's hospital. She met Edward Carpenter before the Second World War, when he was curate at her local church, Holy Trinity, Marylebone. After a long courtship, sharing a love of people and poetry, they were married in 1941. Carpenter served as a rector in north London before being appointed a Canon of Westminster in 1951. The Abbey was to be the couple's home for the next 34 years.

Lilian Carpenter had the rare quality of treating everyone who crossed her path – whether a tiny child or ancient churchman – with the same interest and respect. She loved people and nurtured their best qualities, inspiring many who had lost their path to find it joyfully again. A lifelong vegetarian, along with her husband, she worked to better the lot of animals, encouraging animal organisations to work together and giving animal-themed poetry readings in the Abbey. She adored St Francis of Assisi and accompanied her husband to Italy to personally deliver a petition on the welfare of animals to the Pope.

Carpenter had a strong will and inner discipline that enabled her to bring up her own family and still contribute greatly in public life. Always independent, she went on a search through the religions and discovered that the most important thing was the ability to love everything unconditionally. She felt that this search enabled her to worship with any of the faiths. On leaving the Abbey in 1985, she became a member of the Bahá'í faith, a religion that sees everyone as part of one human family.

Ruth Copland

Lilian Carpenter: born London 25 February 1917; married 1941 the Rev Edward Carpenter (died 1998; three sons, one daughter); died London 2 December 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graphic and Motion Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you get a buzz from thinking up new ideas a...

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£14500 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This expanding, vibrant charity which su...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Supervisor & Advisor - Automotive

£16500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones