Westminster Abbey choir sings in St. Peter's Basilica

Posted Jun 29, 2012

[Westminster Abbey] Westminster Abbey’s choir arrived in Italy June 26 for a tour of Rome and Montecassino, which will include singing for Pope Benedict XVI, with the Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina (the Sistine Chapel Choir), at the Papal Mass marking the Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul on June 29 in St Peter’s Basilica.

The service was broadcast live across the world and was be the first time in its 500-year history that the Sistine Chapel Choir has sung with another choir.

“This visit, a fruit of the Pope’s visit to Westminster Abbey in 2010, will both celebrate the riches of the liturgical tradition we hold in common and also, we pray, be a powerful symbol to the wider world of movement on the long ecumenical journey towards full visible unity,” said the Very Reve, Dr John Hall, dean of Westminster.

The combined choirs sang music from the Roman tradition including movements from Palestrina (Missa Papae Marcelli and the motet Tu es Petrus) and the Abbey Choir also sang music from the English choral tradition, including music by Byrd (Ave verum corpus and Laudibus in sanctis), Tallis (Loquebantur variis linguis) and Purcell (I was glad).

Videos from the Mass were posted (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1M8_daKHASc&feature=plcp) by the Vatican on YouTube.

The Abbey Choir was invited to Rome by Pope Benedict XVI, following his visit to the U.K. in September 2010, during which he attended an ecumenical service of Evening Prayer at Westminster Abbey.

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 Papal Mass is an important annual liturgy presided over by Pope Benedict XVI, during which the Pallium (an ecclesiastical vestment symbolising Papal authority) is imposed on new Metropolitan Archbishops from around the world.

The Choir of Westminster Abbey has its origins in the 14th century when choirboys sang with the monks in the Abbey’s Lady Chapel. In the 16th century after the dissolution of the monastery King Henry VIII ensured the survival of the choral tradition. Queen Elizabeth I re-established the choral foundation of a Master of the Choristers, ten choristers and twelve lay vicars as part of The Collegiate Church in 1560. The ten choristers and 20 or so additional singing boys are today educated at Westminster Abbey Choir School within the Abbey precincts.

Whilst in Rome, the Abbey Choir performed a concert of sacred choral music in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore on June 26, and will sing during a Festal Evensong in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva later on June 29.

The choir then travels to the Benedictine Monastery at Montecassino to sing Vespers on June 30 and Mass on July 1 with the monastic community at the burial place of St Benedict.