Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare
As Richard Morrison helpfully pointed out in the Times, had Ted Heath not modernised and secularised the calender, today would have been 'Whit Saturday'. 'Spring Bank Holiday' doesn't have the same ring or resonance about it somehow.
'Whitson' was/is a Christian festival on the seventh Sunday after Easter but is also buried deep in Judaic history representing fifty days after the Passover. For Christians it celebrates the New Testament account of the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples, and so for many represents the very beginning of of their faith.
Etymologically, the name comes from 'White Sunday' reflecting in part a feature of spring, filled with white blossom, and its links to the Pagan festival of 'Beltane', a commemoration of the return of the sun and time of planting and regeneration; of festivity, music and dancing around the Maypole.
So we see how the modern calender builds on and incorporates these ancient events and belief systems, that today are largely lost to the public imagination, but resurface where ceremony and ritual imposes itself, in which the Royal Family and nation of course excels.
Is it then any coincidence that the current very symbolic Royal Wedding, between Megan Markle and Harry Windsor, now created the 'Duke and Duchess of Sussex', fell on 'Whit Saturday'? It is not hard to detect the visual allusions in dress and floral displays, particularly the spectacular arrangement around the west door of St George's Chapel as shown in the image above.
There is no doubt that the British have a way of pulling off this type of event, and however cynical or republican we may be, it is hard not to be impressed by the spectacle and precision displayed.
It would be hard to imagine without the concept of Monarchy, or Monarchy without it. In the British context the two are inseparable. The one is justified and enhanced by the other. Ceremony is the practical manifestation of ethereal belief, which though increasingly unacknowledged, underpins human activity.
But more impressive is the apparent love and affection shown between the two individuals involved. Without it, as St Paul stated, it would have been merely a 'sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal'. Amidst all the pomp and ceremony, this was a personal manifestation of the love between two humans. The eyes are the 'windows on the soul', and if these eyes said anything, it was that the feelings were genuine and deep.
Let us hope it was not just transitory theatre and very good acting. If the good will of those present at the ceremony, the thousands in the surrounding streets, and the two billion world wide, is any indication, this should be an enduring and committed relationship. It will certainly remain under the spotlight and scrutiny like no other.
The symbolism was not just Pagan, Judaic and Christian, calling down God's spirit to bless the union, it was in many ways modern and adventurously symbolic for the institution of Monarchy, bridging a gap between nation, class and culture.
In a sense it confirms the sentiment that 'love conquers all' - can overcome all social and political obstacles. In a largely secular society fraught with division and disadvantage, it reaffirmed the power of love as the good black Episcopal Church Bishop Michael Curry rammed home in evangelical style.
Paradoxically in another sense, the event epitomises that very division and enshrined social hierarchy. Is it to be considered aspirational and inclusive or elitist and exclusive? As Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist has pointed out, hierarchy is inevitable in human society.
If so the British evolutionary model of an a-political powerless one, founded in a Christian theology, reliant wholly on the love and support of the people to sustain it, yet embodying centuries of human continuity and tradition, may be worth the disadvantages. The overt presence of the largely superfluous, heavily armed, police was an ominous reminder of the type of society, some dark forces would like us to become!
Speaking to the 'Supreme Govenor' of the Anglican Church in the confines of a 'Royal Pecular', one got the feeling that it may have been considered a little too long and a little too emotional. (I almost had flash-backs to John Knox preaching to King and Court in 1553!) Nevertheless who could disagree that above everything, the world is in desperate need of love between 'neighbours'?
Let us hope this 'White Saturday' ceremony, suffused as it was with love and kindness, and the union created by it, will spread this positive aspiration. After all, everyone knows that human experience boils down eventually to a moral one - a battle between light and dark, between good and evil. May the couple remain on the right side throughout the remainder of their lives and be a force for reconciliation in this violent and divided world.