New documentary sheds light on Queen’s coronation

BBC handout photo from the documentary The Coronation, of Queen Elizabeth II with St Edward's Crown.

BBC handout photo from the documentary The Coronation, of Queen Elizabeth II with St Edward's Crown. Picture Julian Calder/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

The sacred oil used to anoint the Queen during her crowning is featured in a BBC documentary about her coronation.

The special oil is shown by Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster, during the programme called The Coronation, which also chronicles the history of the crown jewels.

The Queen's childhood memories of her father's coronation are revealed in the hour-long documentary, with an 11-year-old Princess Elizabeth writing she thought the arches of Westminster Abbey were covered in 'a sort of haze of wonder' when King George VI was crowned in 1937.

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Speaking about the oil, the Dean says in the programme, screened on Sunday: 'It is kept very safe in the deanery, in a very hidden place in a little box here, which has in it a flask containing the oil from 1953.

'And it is not just olive oil, it's quite a complex mixture of different things.'


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The ingredients of the anointing oil are known but the exact recipe is not, and Dr Hall adds: 'The composition of the oil was founded upon that used in the 17th century.

'Then you see what it consists of sesame seed and olive oil, perfume with roses, orange flowers, jasmine, musk, civet and ambergris.'

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The anointing of a new monarch is so sacred that it takes place under a canopy, transforming the moment into a deeply personal experience between the sovereign and God.

When the Queen was crowned on June 2 1953, live cameras filming the ceremony turned away during the symbolic moment.

The oil is stored in a bottle and traditionally held in great secrecy by the Dean of Westminster at the Abbey.

During the ceremony it is kept in a solid gold flask called an ampulla - an artefact shaped like an eagle.

The Dean of Westminster plays an essential role in the lead-up to the coronation of a sovereign, and referring to the ceremony that saw the Queen crowned he says: 'For six months, they closed the abbey. They laid a railway track down the centre of the abbey, bringing in tonnes and tonnes of wood and iron.

'I think there were 400 people in the choir and they were all up there. And there was an orchestra on the choir screen, 2,200 people can sit on the floor of the Abbey, 8,000 people were in here in 1953. They took a long time actually to get the whole thing ready.'

During the documentary the Queen shares her memories of attending her father's coronation as an 11-year-old.

She says to the programme's presenter Alastair Bruce: 'I remember my father making me write down what I remembered about his coronation. It was very valuable. Have you never seen it?'

The Queen's own account, written in a child's exercise book, says: 'I thought it all very very wonderful, and I expect the Abbey did too.

'The arches and beams at the top were covered with a sort of haze of wonder as Papa was crowned, at least I thought so.'

• The Coronation is screened on Sunday at 8pm on BBC One.

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