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After More Than 450 Years, Catholicism Returns To King Henry VIII's Palace

Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales (left) and Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London, (right) take Vespers at Hampton Court Palace in southwest London on Tuesday. Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales (left) and Richard Chartres, the Anglican Bishop of London, (right) take Vespers at Hampton Court Palace in southwest London on Tuesday.

Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

In 1530, at Hampton Court Palace, King Henry VIII and his advisers penned a letter to Rome. In it, for the first time, Henry threatened to break with the Vatican and split off from the Catholic Church.

Four years later, in the 1534 Act of Supremacy, Henry carried through on that threat — and the Church of England was born.

Now British newspapers suggest Henry may be turning over in his grave — because Roman Catholic services have returned to Hampton Court, with a Vespers service held on Tuesday night.

It's believed to be the first Catholic service at the palace since the Tudor era (but not the first since Henry's split with the church — his daughter, the famously Catholic Queen Mary I, held services there during her brief reign in the 1550s, The Guardian notes).

Tuesday's service, called "Faith and the Crown," was led by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and the highest-ranking Catholic in the United Kingdom.

It featured music by Thomas Tallis and John Taverner — composers from the Tudor era who wrote music "while trying to meet the complex and ever-changing spiritual needs of successive monarchs," as a Chapel Royal statement tactfully puts it.

The service was a symbol of unity between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. Before it was held, The Guardian writes, Archbishop Nichols and Richard Chartres, the Anglican bishop of London and dean of the royal chapels, had a conversation about the relationship between their respective churches, the English royalty and broader society:

"Their discussion ranged from the civil wars of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe to the response of churches to increasing secularisation and religious violence in the modern times.

"Chartres joked that most people would think that an Anglican dean and a Catholic archbishop 'must fight like ferrets in a sack'. But, he added, unity would be built 'as we look together at the problems facing humanity rather than looking at the differences between us.'

"Saying that the service was a 'celebration of a common agenda', Chartres concluded: 'Welcome home, cardinal.' "

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