The choir of Hereford Cathedral will make history when it becomes the first Anglican cathedral choir to sing at a Papal Mass in St Peter’s Basilica since the Reformation, singing alongside the choir of the Sistine Chapel at the end of June. The Papal Mass will celebrate the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul and is one of the Vatican’s biggest services of the year. The service will take place on Friday 29 June.

The invitation has been received as part of the Pope’s ecumenical programme of creating dialogue respecting each church’s diversity, while also celebrating our common ground. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Revd Justin Welby, said: ‘The invitation extended to an Anglican cathedral choir to sing at a Papal Mass demonstrates the strengthening of relations between the two Churches. It signifies a move towards fostering a greater unity and the continuing development of a warm ecumenical understanding.’

The Bishop of Hereford, The Right Revd Richard Frith, said: ‘I am delighted that our magnificent Hereford Cathedral choir are singing at St Peter’s Basilica and in such a symbolic service. The inclusion of our young singers in the performance is particularly fitting as we look to the youth of both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, to work together in developing future closer ties.’

Her Excellency Mrs Sally Axworthy, British Ambassador to the Holy See, said: ‘I am delighted and proud that Hereford Cathedral choir has been invited to sing at the Papal Mass for Saints Peter and Paul in June. There have been many exciting ‘firsts’ in the development of ecumenical relations between the Catholic and Anglican Churches: Westminster Abbey choir singing with the Sistine Chapel choir at the same mass in June 2012 and Merton College singing Evensong at St Peter’s in March 2017. This further step – a cathedral choir from one of the beautiful English shires singing with the Sistine Chapel choir – demonstrates the deepening relationship and the importance of music to ecumenical relations. I very much look forward to hearing the beautiful sounds that the two choirs make.’

The Very Revd Michael Tavinor, Dean of Hereford, said: ‘In October 2019 we begin a year’s celebration of the 700th anniversary of the canonisation of St Thomas of Hereford in 1320. Cantilupe was one of the last Englishmen to be canonised before the Reformation. I see this as a sharing in our common heritage, and our visit to Rome this year will be the first in a series of exciting events in which we celebrate all that unites us and brings us closer to Christ and to the life and witness of his saints.’

Thomas Cantilupe, the 45th Bishop of Hereford, was one of the last Englishmen to be canonised before the Reformation, as St Thomas of Hereford. The cathedral will be marking the 700th anniversary of his canonisation in 2020. The medieval shrine of St Thomas at Hereford Cathedral is one of the few to have survived from that period and contains a relic of St Thomas, on loan from Stonyhurst College.

As part of the trip, the two choirs will also sing a concert in the Sistine Chapel celebrating the music of the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches for members of the Vatican, Ambassadors to the Holy See and other invited guests. The two choirs will combine for some items for which Geraint Bowen, the cathedral’s director of music, has been invited to share the conducting with the director of the Sistine Chapel Choir, Massimo Palombella.

Mr Geraint Bowen, Director of Music at Hereford Cathedral, said: ‘This invitation is a great honour for our choir and we are all hugely looking forward to such a wonderful opportunity. We shall be performing works by composers including Byrd and Palestrina, and in particular it will be a very special way of commemorating the centenary of the death of the composer C Hubert H Parry to combine with the Sistine Chapel Choir to sing his beautiful motet My soul, there is a country.’

The relationship with the Sistine Chapel Choir is part of a collaborative and ecumenical partnership that includes Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal and the Castle Church, Wittenberg; Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York; and Hereford Cathedral.