A game of thrones to the drumbeats of thrilling change: Most Rev Justin Welby enthroned as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury

Donald Macintyre enjoys a radical blend of tradition and innovation

Given that Justin Welby has, according to a recent interview, made 75 visits to Nigeria – some of them at serious risk to his life — he will have been a lot more familiar than most of the  congregation with the spellbinding song, dance and drumming act by the pan-African group Frititi which resounded through Canterbury Cathedral shortly after his installation as the 105th Archbishop.

It was certainly a masterstroke to engage the six-man group to lead the new Archbishop to the pulpitum screen for his first gospel reading as head of the Anglican communion. In perhaps the only unscripted remark of the 140-minute ceremony, he said “It’s got good reverberations, this Cathedral,” with all the satisfaction of an impresario at a rock concert.

Along with a Punjabi hymn, with its haunting refrain of “Saranam Saranam Saranam” (refuge), the uninhibited African artists leavened what would otherwise have been almost too Trollopian an occasion, one in which the country’s entire establishment appeared to have descended on the city.

Before the service, you couldn’t move for men in bishop’s purple in St George’s Street, so timelessly English that even the pawnbroker’s shop looks chintzy. But the laity was represented too, from the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister down to the processing Lord Chancellor Grayling and the Commons Speaker John Bercow in their ceremonial robes — the latter’s trainbearer ingrongruously taller than the man himself. There was also a series of office holders with impenetrably Merrie England titles – the Surveyor to the Fabric and Apparitor General, for example.

Before the enthronement the Dean, Robert Willis, formally announced to his fellow canons: “We have elected Justin our Archbishop...” While canons who objected would not have their heads cut off (as they might have done in Henry VIII’s time) that, of course, is not quite how Archbishops are chosen.

The other musical highlight, a soaring anthem sung by the Cathedral choir and set to words from the Rule of St Benedict – “Listen, listen O my child...” – was an indirect reminder that the Archbishop (Eton and Trinity, Cambridge) has roots in that same establishment. The song was specially commissioned from the composer Michael Berkeley by Welby’s mother Jane Portal, once Winston Churchill’s Secretary, and his stepfather Lord Williams, the Labour peer, historian and former Oxford University and Essex cricketer.

Yet at 57, Welby has already had such an extraordinary life that this service was never going to be quite orthodox. After all, this is man who came from a broken home and was assigned to the custody of a wayward father, and was a successful oil executive who then became a stern ethical critic and advocate of “taming the beasts” of big business through regulation, as well as an intrepid conciliator among warlords and bandits in back country West Africa.

Sheila Watson was assigned responsibility for the first of the two installations, in the throne of the bishopric of Canterbury, the first time a female Archdeacon – like the one in Alan Bennett’s play People – has done so.

At 3pm there had been a temporary pause while Welby waited outside the temporarily barred great doors of the Cathedral. Had he taken fright and decided to make a run for it? No, there was  confident three knocks with his Episcopal staff and the doors opened to reveal him in his splendid cope, stole and mitre of gold silk.

Moments later, in an innovative catechism of his own devising, he was asked by a 17 year old Kings School Canterbury pupil Evangeline Kanagassooriam: “How do you come among us and with what confidence?” He declared: “I come knowing nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, and in weakness and fear in much trembling” Given the problems he will have holding the church together, it was the right answer.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project