Elizabeth I, Mary I and Pope Benedict XVI

I found it interesting that Pope Benedict XVI, on his visit to Westminster Abbey in London, spoke of the chapel where the Catholic Mary I and the Protestant Elizabeth I are buried together, and said that he hoped and prayed that their burial together might be a sign of future reconciliation between the Catholic and Anglican Churches.

Now, I’m not going to get all political or discuss the possible reunification of the Churches, but I’m not sure that you can use the resting place of the two sisters as a sign of future reconciliation! Elizabeth I did not choose to be buried in the same tomb as her sister, and was originally buried in the vault of her grandfather, Henry VII. In 1606, Elizabeth’s successor, King James I, wanting Elizabeth’s place in Henry VII’s vault for himself, moved Elizabeth’s coffin, opened Mary I’s vault in Westminster Abbey’s Lady Chapel, and placed Elizabeth’s coffin within. James also commissioned a grand, white, marble monument and an effigy of Elizabeth to lie on top.

The inscription on the grand, white marble tomb reads:-

“Regno consortes et urna, hic obdormimus Elizabetha et Maria sorores, in spe resurrectionis.”


“Partners both in throne and grave, here we rest two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in hope of our resurrection.”

I’m pretty sure that both sisters would be horrified by this tomb. Mary would hate the fact that her instructions or wishes were not carried out. In her recent book, “Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen”, Anna Whitelock writes of how Mary requested that her executors “cause to be made some honourable tombs or decent memory” of her and her mother, Catherine of Aragon, yet Mary was buried “with only stones from demolished altars marking the spot where she was laid to rest” and her mother was left in Peterborough Cathedral. Mary would also not be impressed with her half-sister, the daughter of Anne Boleyn, stealing the limelight with her effigy. Elizabeth too must be rolling in her grave! To be buried with the sister who imprisoned her in the Tower of London for months, letting her fear for her life, and then kept her under house arrest – ugh! She wanted to be buried with her grandfather, not her half-sister! The two sisters did not have the best of relationships in life, why should they “rest in peace” together?

Perhaps that’s what the Pope was referring to, perhaps he was thinking that these two sisters were very different, were of different religious persuasions and spent much of their life disagreeing, but they have been united in the end, albeit in death and not of their own choosing. The Catholic Queen and Protestant Queen resting together in hope of resurrection from the Father they both believed in. Hmm…

By the way, Henry VIII has had lots of mentions in the British press during the Pope’s visit! Practically every news report I’ve read mentions Henry VIII’s break with Rome and one report stated that this was only the second visit by a Pope to Britain since the break with Rome, which I did not realise. I wonder what Henry would make of this visit and talk of the reunification of the Churches. What do you think?