Fr [Carl] Garner, 71, is walking back from morning prayers to his private apartment at the Hertfordshire estate of the family, which traces its direct ancestry back to Queen Elizabeth I’s trusted chief adviser William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley. The chapel, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year, follows the example of Good Queen Bess, the Protestant queen who was said to hang crucifixes and light candles in her private chapel while fellow Protestants had stripped altars in outrage at such idolatry. Original stained glass and paintings of the apostles are “proto-Laudian”, laughs Canon Garner, resplendent in his dark robes with red buttons and traditional Church of England square cap.
“Many visitors see me in my formal robes and think I’m part of a film set,” says Canon Garner, who used to be a parish priest in Welwyn Garden City. “The service at 8.45am takes 12 minutes and comprises verses from the Book of Common Prayer. We say prayers to the Queen. Lord Salisbury has a busy day, so it’s deliberately short. It’s a bit like school prayers.” During the service the family dogs often lie solemnly under the pews. On major feast days and saint’s days, a communion service is held.
His predecessor, Canon John Laird, says, “The family believe in the beauty of the traditional language and the King James Bible. They appointed me because I’m a traditionalist.”
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