A guide to the Christian — and Catholic — symbolism in King Charles III’s coronation


The Imperial State Crown, Sceptre, and wreath of symbolic flowers adorn the coffin of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the gun carriage for the funeral procession, Sept. 19, 2022. / Credit: Kelly Chow/Shutterstock

St. Louis, Mo., May 5, 2023 / 10:00 am (CNA).

King Charles III will be crowned on Saturday in Westminster Abbey in the first royal coronation since that of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, 70 years ago. The coronation will be a Christian service, centered on the celebration of holy communion in an Anglican (Church of England) liturgy.

But the roots of the coronation, stretching back nearly 1,000 years, are fundamentally Catholic. The coronation was originally centered on the Catholic Eucharist and includes the act of anointing, which has deep biblical roots.

“[The liturgy] is now carried out by Anglicans, but it is all Catholic in origin, meaning, style, and purpose,” Joanna Bogle, a Catholic journalist and author living in London, told CNA. “It is centered around the Eucharist, in a pattern wholly familiar to every Catholic. It cannot be understood except by an understanding of Catholic beliefs and practices.”

As supreme governor of the Church of England, which broke away from the Catholic Church in 1534 under King Henry VIII, King Charles III will take a legal oath as part of the ceremony to uphold the Protestant faith.

A Catholic prelate, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, will participate in the coronation for the first time since the Reformation, offering a blessing after the crowning.

Father Mark Vickers, a priest of the Diocese of Westminster and a historian and author, said that despite the Protestant nature of the proceedings — including the king’s oath — Catholics can and should pray for the king and rejoice in the fact the ceremony is so explicitly Christian.

“The imagery and the symbolism and much of the language is that of the Catholic, medieval coronation service,” he said. “I think we should be very happy [about this] very explicit Christian prayer for our new head of state, and this is going to be televised to millions and millions of people across the world.”

Within the coronation liturgy, numerous symbols soaked with Christian meaning will be present, including pieces of “regalia” that may seem odd to the untrained eye but speak to the religious nature of the monarch’s role.

Here’s a guide to some of the Christian symbols you will observe during the coronation, many of which have Catholic origins.

Relic of the true cross in the Cross of Wales

The precious relics from the true cross have been inlaid into the “Cross of Wales,” which will head Charles’ procession into Westminster Abbey, where he will be officially crowned. The Church in Wales
The precious relics from the true cross have been inlaid into the “Cross of Wales,” which will head Charles’ procession into Westminster Abbey, where he will be officially crowned. The Church in Wales

Pope Francis made headlines last month when he made a gift to the king — in a notable ecumenical gesture — of two pieces of the true cross on which Jesus was crucified, which were inlaid into the newly made Cross of Wales. The cross will lead Charles’ procession into Westminster Abbey to start the coronation.

The Cross of Wales is made of Welsh slate, wood, and silver. (Wales is part of the United Kingdom, and the heir to the throne is the Prince of Wales.) On it are inscribed the Welsh words of St. David, the Catholic patron saint of Wales: “Be joyful. Keep the faith. Do the little things.” At the center, arranged into a tiny cross are the precious shards of the wood on which Christ died.

After it is used in the coronation ceremony, the cross will be made available for veneration to both the Anglican and Catholic churches in Wales.


Most of the other symbolic items that will be used in the coronation — known as “regalia” — will be presented to the king during the ceremony by peers from the House of Lords as well as senior bishops in the Anglican Church. Many of these items have great Christian significance and speak to the monarch’s role as a spiritual leader, according to a commentary sheet provided by the Church of England that explains all aspects of the liturgy.

“The regalia are deeply Christian, both in their imagery and the prayers that are used,” Vickers said.

Crown of St. Edward

The Crown of St. Edward. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023
The Crown of St. Edward. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

The coronation will be the first and only time that King Charles III will wear this crown; it was made for King Charles II in 1661 as a replacement for the medieval crown that was melted down in 1649. That original crown is thought to date back to the saintly King Edward the Confessor, the patron saint of kings in the Catholic Church. The crown is topped with an orb and a cross, symbolizing the Christian world. The king will exchange the Crown of St. Edward for the lighter Imperial State Crown, or Crown of State, at the end of the liturgy.

Sword of Spiritual Justice

The Sword of Spiritual Justice. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023
The Sword of Spiritual Justice. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

The king will be presented with several swords during the coronation, which are meant to evoke authority and justice. Perhaps most notable is the Sword of Spiritual Justice, signifying the monarch as defender of the faith.

Psalm 71, sung during the exchange of swords, will be sung by a Greek Orthodox choir in honor of King Charles III’s father, the late Prince Philip, who was baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church.


The Sovereign's Orb. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023
The Sovereign’s Orb. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

The orb is a golden ball, with a cross on the top, similar to the smaller one that is on the top of the Crown of St. Edward. The current orb was made in 1661. Vickers described this object as “perhaps the most Christian symbol of all” because it represents the world, the “temporal sphere, surmounted by the cross,” a reminder that Christ is the ruler of everything.

The three sections of the orb symbolize the three continents known to exist when it was created. The orb was most recently seen atop Queen Elizabeth’s casket, alongside other crown jewels.

Sovereign’s Ring

The Sovereign’s Ring is composed of a sapphire with a ruby cross set in diamonds. Vickers said the prayers during the conferral of the ring includes covenantal language that Catholics will recognize as being reminiscent of holy matrimony. The king pledges himself to the people who pledge themselves to him in a “deeply Christian understanding of a covenantal relationship,” he said.


The armills are gold bracelets thought to relate to ancient symbols of knighthood and military leadership. They serve in the coronation as “tokens of God’s protection,” Father Vickers noted.


The Ampulla from which the chrism oil for King Charles III's anointing will be poured. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023
The Ampulla from which the chrism oil for King Charles III’s anointing will be poured. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

The ampulla is a small golden eagle that contains chrism oil for the king’s anointing (more on that in a moment.). According to the monarchy website, the current Ampulla was supplied for the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 and is based on an earlier, smaller vessel, which in turn was based on a 14th-century legend in which the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Thomas Becket and presented him with a golden eagle and a vial of oil for anointing future kings of England. The oil will be poured into a silver-gilt coronation spoon, which is the oldest object in use at coronations, having been first recorded in 1349.


Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023
Sovereign’s Scepter with Cross. Royal Collection Trust / © His Majesty King Charles III 2023

Two scepters, which symbolize the king’s temporal power, will be used during the coronation, and both contain explicitly Christian symbols. One of the scepters is topped with a cross and is associated with good governance. The other represents the king’s spiritual role and has an enameled dove on the top, a symbol of the Holy Spirit.


As part of the coronation, the king’s head, hands, and breast will be anointed with chrism oil, which in the Catholic Church is most commonly associated with baptism and confirmation. This part of the ceremony will be done behind a screen, affording the new king his “only moment of privacy during the service, as he contemplates how he is called by God.”

The canopy screen symbolizes “the embrace, enveloping power, and presence of God during this moment,” the Church of England says. This part of the ceremony is described by the Anglican church as “the most solemn part of the coronation service, for by anointing the monarch is set apart or consecrated for the duties of a Sovereign.”

Examples of anointing abound in the Bible, especially as a means of consecrating, or setting aside for a holy purpose, priests and kings. The Gospel reading for the liturgy is from Luke 4:16-21, which speaks about Jesus’ anointing “to preach good news to the poor.”

The oil to be used for the coronation anointing was made from olives from the Mount of Olives and was consecrated in The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the traditional site of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was co-consecrated by the Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, and the Anglican archbishop in Jerusalem, Hosam Naoum.

The music that will be heard during the anointing is “Zadok the Priest.” Zadok was the priest who anointed King Solomon in the Old Testament book of 1 Kings. The words of the hymn have been sung at every coronation since King Edgar’s in 973, and since the coronation of George II in 1727 the setting by George Frideric Handel has always been used.

Vickers commented that the fact that anointing remained a part of the coronation ceremony — even throughout the Reformation — is remarkable, as many forms of anointing were rejected in the Church of England during that time. In Catholicism, anointing with oil is done as part of several of the sacraments, including baptism, confirmation, holy orders, and anointing of the sick.


Many of the items of clothing that Charles will wear hold symbolic significance; here are a few examples.

Colobium Sindonis

A sleeveless linen tunic symbolizing purity and simplicity. The king will wear it after the anointing.


An embroidered gold coat that is a form of priestly robe, “which reminds all who see it that the king has been consecrated before God and in service of God.”


A key part of the coronation ceremony will be King Charles III’s oath to uphold the Protestant faith.

The king will pledge: “I Charles do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess, testify, and declare that I am a faithful Protestant, and that I will, according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the Throne, uphold and maintain the said enactments to the best of my powers according to law.”

Vickers reiterated that it is important to take the coronation as an occasion to pray for the new monarch and that the overarching themes of the Christian service, which see the monarch putting himself in the mercy and protection of God, are praiseworthy.

“We need to be clear: It’s not a Catholic Mass, and he is taking an oath to maintain the Protestant, reformed religion. But I think we can, and in fact must, rejoice that it is in fact a Christian service,” he said.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey. hjjanisch via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Westminster Abbey. hjjanisch via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Westminster Abbey itself, the venue for every coronation for nearly 1,000 years, was built by St. Edward the Confessor, who died in 1066 and was buried there soon after the abbey’s dedication. Edward died childless, having made a vow of chastity. Though the abbey was taken over and is today a Protestant place of worship, its Catholic roots can still be seen in St. Edward the Confessor’s continued influence.

“When Henry VIII destroyed the abbeys and monasteries of England in the 16th century, he did not dare to touch St. Edward’s shrine at Westminster, so it is still there,” Bogle noted.

“People throng there to pray and light candles, and it is possible to have Mass there too on special occasions. St. Edward is regarded as a special patron for the monarchy of England.”

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  1. Father Vickers is totally wrong.His view shows us what is wrong is what is wrong with a perverted ecumenism. He should tell us Why the king to be takes this oath! This oath originated with Henry VIII, who killed Saint Thomas More, St John Fisher, scores of Carthusians and other Catholics who would not Surrender their faith to the King and it began almost 3 c3nturies of exclusion and persecution of Catholics in England and its colonoes, especially in Ireland. This is not a preference; it is an OATH. The King is the HEAD of the Church of England, not the archbishop of Canterbury. Many of the churches they control in England, Ireland and Scotland were Catholic, but were confiscated by the crown, as they shut down all the monasteries and nunneries. They were never returned to Catholics. The king cannot be a Catholic and that is part of his oath. It is disgraceful that the Catholic Cardinal is attending and honoring this king with his attendance and his seeming blessing, but it shows what kind of “pope” we now have. Lord, help us and save us!

    • I believe in redemption and forgiveness. King Charles is hardly responsible for the actions of the Tudors or any other Royal predecessor. His father’s family were Greek Orthodox and King Charles has a heart for the Eastern Church. Finding common ground without losing one’s own integrity is a tricky business but I believe it’s the right thing to do. Along with prayer for reunification. Nothing is impossible for God.

      • Well said! Take note of 1 Timothy 2.1-2, and 1 Peter 2.13-16. Both of them urged prayer and respect even for the monarch [for them the Emperor of Rome] who persecuted them. King Charles and Queen Camilla are redeemed sinners like all of us. Charles, particularly, is a convinced, well informed Christian, a regular churchgoer [even outside his duties] and has a positive attitude towards Catholicism. Acknowledging this, The Holy Father gifted him a relic of the True Cross, which went before the King and Queen into the Abbey for their coronation.

        • Slightly naive, Father. So the Indians, the Arabs, the Africans, the Irish, the Scots,the Americans and many, many others throughout the world should have limited their rebellion against a torturous and oppressive royalty and government to prayer? Slightly naive, Father. The Church of England is built on sand, and that is why it is rotting from the inside. Taking a vow, a solemn oath–in essence against Catholics and others–is evidence of that, Father. You should know.

          • My American colonial ancestors not only limited their rebellion against the Crown but actively opposed & fought against it. Loyalists were the traditional conservatives of their day. Revolutionaries were considered the progressive radicals.
            Have you considered the state of Christianity today in the Republic of Ireland compared to the North? Ireland sold its soul to the EU & traded one set of overlords for another. I’d take King Charles any day over George Soros.

      • If he wants reconciliation, he can start by refusing to take the oath to Protestant dominance, saying his government should begin giving back the Catholic churches they stole in Ireland, and that a plan be set in motion for Ireland being reunited. he is still taking the oath to defend the protestant FAITH and he nor his wife are allowed not to be protestant. His government still occupies part of Ireland. That occupation is going on for 8 hundred years. England’s first colony, and after controlling more parts of the globe than any other modern country, its last major one. Reading a book might help your understanding of this. We are a democracy which does not honor ROYAL dominance over others, but due to historical ignorance and a lack of self-confidence, many of us do. May Our Lord bless and protect those who defend the CATHOLIC faith (including bishops and cardinals who say “no” to bad popes when he defiles our heritage and our morals) and who pursue the truth about rotting souls underneath the perfumed pomp and circumstance of regal despots.

  2. FYI – I am an American Catholic of Irish/English descent who got up this a.m. around 5(ish) to watch the show.

    The Brits have been doing this for about 1,000 years so they’ve gotten pretty good at it – you’ve gotta give ’em that much. IMO this was waaay overdone but that’s my problem. I am more moved by the procession to honor Winston Churchill upon his death.

    The “Royal family” – the very phrase offends me, because to me it carries the implication that merely by virtue of birth one person is superior to others, which I totally reject – that is exactly what America is NOT about.

    “American royalty”, the phrase coined by some star-struck scribe to describe the Kennedys 60 or so years ago was supremely idiotic when first uttered and has not lost an ounce of that idiocy even to this day.

    I feel better now.

    • I got up a little before 5am and watched the coronation also.
      I think in the modern world we confuse hierarchy with power. Women (as in the case of Nancy Pelosi) desiring to become priests confuse that also. Kings and priests are first servants. At least they’re meant to be. When they get that role confused, as they often do, we can all suffer.
      A royal priesthood did require birth into a particular family. As does a monarchy.
      I much prefer a constitutional monarchy and parliament to the circus we have to endure every 4 years. Not to mention the ridiculous impeachment theatre.
      God save and guide King Charles and the UK.

  3. The uplifting pageantry and the relics for a secular/ecclesial king—an esthetic ravaged from the Church of an earlier era, and from the Successors of the Apostles who were elevated not by any earthly monarch, but by the hand of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the self-disclosing Trinity…

    Meanwhile, as the memory of sanctifying mysteries survives in some nostalgic form in the coronation of a king—in the participatory Catholic Mass (ravaging Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium) one has to squint to remember deeply the meaning of the words–stripped as they so often are of any visible plausibility structure–Christ the King present on the altar.

    And worse! For things new and both “stripped” and “visible,” we now can genuflect before the mural-messaging of Archbishop Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life (and Grand Chancellor of the gutted and renamed John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences): https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/leading-vatican-archbishop-featured-in-homoerotic-painting-he-commissioned

    Back to Britain and shallow-dish casserole: a medley of ransacked nostalgia, plus a parody of the Mass garnished with an anti-Catholic oath, plus a relic of the true cross. Very synodal, that…So, are the nation(s) and coronation of a monarch elevated by the added relic? Or, is the reality of the salty relic absorbed and diluted?

    Perhaps the future veneration will sink in and transcend many coronations…

  4. GK Chesterton said in his history of England that king worship was the reason was the reason that country was lost to the faith.

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