Westminster Abbey’s world-famous choir has been invited by the Holy See – through the Maestro of the Cappella Musicale Pontificia “Sistina” – to sing at St Peter’s in Rome.
The Choir of Westminster Abbey will sing alongside the Cappella Musicale Pontificia, the Sistine Chapel Choir, at the liturgies of the Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul which will be broadcast across the world.
This momentous ecumenical occasion is the first time in its over-500 year history that the Sistine Chapel Choir has joined forces with another choir.
The invitation to Rome came after Pope Benedict XVI visited the Abbey in September 2010 when he attended Evening Prayer and prayed at the tomb of St Edward the Confessor with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Rowan Williams, as part of his State Visit to England and Scotland.
The Pope has asked that arrangements for the June collaboration be made in such a way as to reflect the Christian vocation of the Choir and encourage the enriching mutual exchange of gifts between the two liturgical and cultural traditions.
As Westminster Abbey is formally known as the Collegiate Church of St Peter, there will be an important shared resonance as both choirs celebrate their patron together.
The two choirs will together sing at First Vespers in the Basilica of San Paolo fuori le mura on 28th June and at the Papal Mass in the Vatican Basilica on the morning of 29th June.
Expressing a common Christian faith, the choirs will combine to sing music from the Roman tradition by Palestrina and Perosi. In addition the Abbey Choir will sing music from the English choral repertory, including some from the English-language Anglican tradition at the beginning and end of each liturgy.
Whilst in Italy, the Abbey Choir will pursue other engagements, including a public recital in the Basilica di S. Maria Maggiore, and a Festal Evensong in Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
Westminster Abbey Choir will also travel to the Benedictine Monastery at Montecassino to sing Vespers and Mass with the monastic community at the burial place of St Benedict.
As part of the preparations, the Sistine Chapel Choir will be visiting London and will offer a public concert in Westminster Cathedral on the evening of 6th May.
The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said: ‘This is a wonderful invitation, a fruit of the memorable visit of Pope Benedict to Westminster Abbey, when the Abbey choir played its significant part in the ecumenical liturgy. I am heartened by this sign of the Holy Father’s wish to receive from the rich Anglican tradition that informs the daily worship at Westminster Abbey. It is more than ever important that Christians of different traditions pray together and receive from each other.’
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams said, ‘I am delighted that the Abbey Choir will be taking part in the celebration of St Peter’s Day in Rome. St Peter is the patron of the Abbey; and celebrating together his apostolic witness and example is a powerful reminder of the call that our churches share to be faithful to the apostolic fullness of the Gospel today, “so that”, says St Peter, “in all things praise may be given to God through Jesus Christ” ‘ (I Pet, 4.11).
The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, said: ‘I welcome this generous ecumenical gesture by the Holy See. It signals the mutual appreciation of our musical and spiritual traditions. I eagerly look forward to welcoming the Sistine Chapel Choir to Westminster Cathedral where, on 6 May, it will sing for the first time in this country. The concert will be a historic moment.’