Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited the Vatican as they neared the end of their nine-day European tour. Their visit included an audience with Pope Francis, as well as a visit to the Vatican archives where they were able to inspect documents written by and relating to Prince Charles’ ancestors amongst others. The couple exchanged gifts with the Pontiff, giving him a hamper of produce from the Highgrove Estates; amongst the gifts given in return were copies of his writings on climate change bound in red leather.
Climate change is clearly one area that Prince Charles and the Pontiff are in accord on. The audience, which was held in a study within the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall building and lasted between 20 and 30 minutes. The meeting was extremely cordial and perhaps more relaxed, it is not the first time the Royal couple have met a Pope – they also met Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. The Pope is currently Head of the Roman Catholic Church and the Prince heir to Head of the Commonwealth. It perhaps fits then, that the Pope should encourage Prince Charles by saying “Wherever you go, may you be a man of peace” to which Prince Charles replied, “I will certainly try”.
The relationship between the Papacy and the English throne has not always been so amicable, and Prince Charles and Camilla saw historical examples of this when they visited the Vatican’s Secret Archives earlier in the day. The rare manuscripts, not open to the public, are kept in Sala Sistina of the Vatican Library. On arrival at the archives, they were met by Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, Segretario Generale, Archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church.
Brexit is a word, seldom out of the headlines now – but this is not the first break with continental Europe. That occurred when Henry VIII, split from Rome in the sixteenth Century. The Secret Library is a mass of documents which have been amassed by Popes through the centuries, and it dates back before its formal beginnings in 1475. Amongst the documents seen by the Royal couple, were letters from Pope Paul IV denouncing Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the English Reformation. There was also a letter written in 1555 by England’s Tudor Queen Mary I and King Philip II of Spain about the restoration of the Catholic Church in England.
It almost makes you wonder what people will be saying four hundred years from now when they inspect the handwritten letter of Theresa May formally invoking Article 50!