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The Significance of Anointing and The Anointing Oil of King Charles III

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has procured a new batch of anointing oil for the coronation of King Charles III. It has been specially consecrated in Jerusalem at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre breaking with over a thousand years of tradition. In this post, we’ll think about the history of anointing, the significance of the anointing oil, its place within the ceremony and then the anointing oil itself.

Anointing Intrigues Me

The coronation of King Charles has offered me a unique perspective on some things I have really wanted to explore since researching Meeting The Melissae about the Melissa priestesses of ancient Greece and now writing about my next book about Myrrh essential oil. Namely, beliefs and processes around anointing oil.

This is not the first time I have been down an anointing oil rabbit hole. It repeatedly calls me back. In 2015, found the recipe for the late Queen’s anointing oil when I was writing my book, Rose Goddess Medicine, and even composed a letter to Prince Charles to ask for some insights about it. Then the same curiosity (and frustration frankly) resurfaced when I was writing my book about Melissa officinalis – The Initiation Plant of the Ancient Greek Bee Priestesses of Demeter. So many statues of ancient women holding oinochoe and Philae (jugs and bowls) to pour out libations, whether that be holy water, wine, or oil…But what I wanted to understand was why? What were they thinking as they poured out the oil? What is its significance and specifically what was it used for?

This post aims to fill some of those gaps in what is essentially an aromatic practice that seems to have no wisdom recorded in aromatherapy text books. Clearly, the theology of the ancient priestesses of Greece, Egypt or elsewhere will be different from those recorded for Christianity, however they at least gives us some clues as to its significance and the intention required for using them.

The Role of The Anointing Oil Within The Coronation Ceremony

When I was girl, everyone spoke of the late Queen’s coronation with such fond memories and excitement. It had been the first opportunity most families had had to see colour TV.

The coverage was extensive, however the only part not shown was the anointing. The camera was discretely averted and apparently the same will take place in the coronation of Charles III.

But why do that? What makes it such a private and sacred occurrence?

In many ways, calling the occasion The Coronation is a misnomer because, whilst we will see the King being crowned, the anointing is by far the most important part of the rite. In the midst of the magnificence and splendour, it is a time of humility and stillness where the true essence of the ceremony takes place.

To understand the background to the anointing, we will need to talk about theology, in particular Christian and Hebraic teachings.

The Anointing Oil of The Church of England

The consecration of a British monarch is an occasion of great pomp and circumstance, but at its core, it is a religious rite belonging to the Church of England. For overseas readers, it may help to clarify what that means…

The Church of England was established in 1532 as a breakaway faction from the Catholic Church, as designated by Henry VIII when the Pope decided to put his foot down about his feelings around Henry demanding he should get divorced from Catherine of Aragon.

The Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church, is the primary state church in England. In it, church and state concepts are linked. There are fundamental differences between Catholicism and Anglican beliefs in many areas, outside of the boundaries of this article, but relevantly here, one area they differ is in their use of oils.

Anointing Oils In The Anglican Church

From medieval times, Catholicism had used three important oils in their daily rites.

The Three Catholic Oils- Wikemedia Commons

The Oil of Catechumens, also known as The Oil of Exorcism, The Oil of Chrism used for baptisms and for confirmation into the faith and the Oil of The Sick, used for healing. These were seen as being important duties as had been performed by The Apostles in the early church.

"And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil." (“Mark 6:13 - Bible Hub”)

Mark 6:13

Protestant reformationist had very definite feelings about the place of oils in religious service. Despite the apostolic missionary template, they deemed them Papist nonsense and did away with them. Oils of exorcism, the oil of Chrism used for confirmation or baptismal services, and the Oil for the Sick were all abolished in the Church of England.

This oil used in the Coronation is known as The Oil of Chrism. Ordinarily, oil of Chrism might also be called Myron or Oil of Myrrh, but the coronation oil does not contain myrrh. Ordinarily, a bishop blesses Myron.

That oil is used in the Coronation is a most unusual phenomenon. The only other time oil is used in a Church of England service is to consecrate priests and bishops. Thus, the service liturgy invokes Old Testament memory as credence for using it to confer God’s backing for the new king.

So, let’s loosely trace that lineage to help us understand why the oil is used and give context to its religious relevance.

The Holy Anointing Oil

The Bible has much to say about oil. In Exodus 3:30, God speaks to Moses and asks him to create a Holy anointing oil with which to anoint Aaron and his brothers and to set them aside as priests.

Initially, Aaron acted as Moses' assistant after Moses described his ineptitude in speaking. So God appointed Moses a prophet, his brother Aaron. Aaron instigated the first plagues on Egypt. Moses demanded he let his rod turn into a snake .He stretched out his rod and the plagues began. The Bible describes how Moses then tended to act and speak for himself and God then created a new role for Aaron and his family, to become high priests.

Moses anointed and consecrated Aaron and his sons to the priesthood and arrayed them in their robes of office. Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers describe how God gave Aaron and his male descendants a monopoly over the priesthood. It was his family’s exclusive right and responsibility to give offerings to Yahweh at the altar. The Israelites listened as Moses detailed God's instructions for performing their duties. Aaron and his successors as high priest were given control over the Urmi and Thummim, divination tools that would enable them to know the will of God. Then God commissioned the priesthood to distinguish the holy from the prosaic and clean from the unclean, and to how teach the Torah, the divine laws to the Israelites and bless the people/

The priests were anointed, and anointing marked them as being holy.

More than that though, the anointing signified Aaron and his descendants had been purposed by none less than God, and as such they had His omnipotent power as their support and blessing to carry out His work.

Later, God also instructs Moses how to build the Tabernacle and tells him to consecrate objects for the altar with His anointing oil. Anointing meant these items were no longer everyday things, but marked as implements to do God’s work and thus were now deemed holy.

Priests were anointed...

As were sacred instruments, whether they be object or human.

In 1 Kings 19:16 God visits Elijah saying:

"Also, anoint Jehu son of Nishi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet." (“1 Kings 19:16 NIV - Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king - Bible Gateway”)

Prophets and Kings were anointed.

The book of Samuel begins the story alluded to in the Coronation proceedings.

It describes a challenging relationship that exists between Samuel, the prophet, and Israel’s king, Saul. When Saul dies, Samuel is left bereft. God speaks to him and tells him to go to Bethlehem, to the house of a man called Jesse, to engage with one of his sons, David and to anoint him as the new king.

So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with oil. (“1 Samuel 16:13-15 NLT - So as David stood there among his - BibleGateway”) And the spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on

1 Samuel 16: 13

The Anointing of David - Veronese 1555 Wikemedia Commons

Then, as David reaches the end of his life, he calls upon Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet to anoint his son, Solomon, to pass God’s favour onto his chosen successor to Israel.

It is this lineage that is remembered in the Church of England Coronation.

So we can see that priests are anointed with oil, as are their ritual buildings and implements, prophets are anointed and so are kings.

But Why? What Difference Does Anointing Oil Make?

When Moses anointed Aaron, Samuel anointed David, and in turn Zadok, Solomon, they marked him as being set aside. The anointing conveyed divine authority and sanctification to any who were there to bear witness.

Not only were they designated as being set apart from some divine function, but that God Himself had ordained it. They had been purposed by Him and that part of the transactional covenant associated with the anointing was that they would be guided in their function by God.

The oil was the vessel through which God conveyed His Holy Spirit to execute his wishes.

To anoint with oil is to confirm them with the gift of the spirit.

The Holy Spirit is call downed to bless and transform the person, object, or space (new churches, for example) through the act of anointing.

The Nature of Anointing Oil

Consider the nature of the oil itself. The carrier oil has historically been olive oil – and indeed will be again for the king.

Consider how the anointing oil clings to the receiver. How it seems to lubricate things to make them move more easily. How it makes things glide gracefully and how we associate prayers with asking for God’s grace. What’s more, olives, of course, are nourishing to the heart, and are wonderfully healing things when we have been injured. Outwardly too, consider the message of pouring that wealth over someone…it literally reeks of money. This is an opulent message of satisfying resources the anointed has at their disposal.

I Shall Pour Down My Grace (Joel 2:28)

Today, the anointing is a subtle action, little more than small dabs of oil. Historically though, the idea was to saturate the chosen one in the oil of God’s grace.

In Psalm 133.2 we read:

It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down the beard of Aaron, running down the edge of his garments.

Oil was poured from a horn, over the head, and trickled all the way down him, engulfing and smearing him with God’s grace.

Then it was rubbed or smeared all over them.

To Smear or Rub…

The Hebrew word mashach appears in the Old Testament 39 times. It’s translation means to paint, to smear or to rub.

Examples are oil being smeared on the Tabernacle, rubbed into altar goods, paint was smeared on shields and onto priests…

Mashach is the foundation word of Messiah which means “anointed one” “painted one,” or “smeared one.” In Greek, the anointed one is “Christos”

Consider then, that at the time of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and the establishment of the early Church, Greece was a pagan community.

So when His story was preached by converted Jews, of course, they used this title Christos, because it had direct relation to how he was God’s chosen one.

But the nuances of a phrase like “The Smeared One,” fell on stoney ground for Gentles and they wouldn’t really have understood the reference at all and as such “Christos” and “The Christ” was adapted to become his name “Christ.” (Barnett, 1999)

The anointing was deemed to convey some of the nature of God along with it.

Acts 10:38 says:

And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy spirit and then with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing those who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Frescos in Ferapontov Monstery - Anointing of Jesus Christ, Ferapontovo, Vologda Oblast, Russia Wikemedia Commons

It was as if the anointing quickened Jesus, somehow. That it activated something divine that was formerly not part of him. The power of the anointing endorsed Him to do God’s holy work and imparted the Holy Spirit as a means of delivering it.

King Charles’ Anointing Oil

Earlier this month the orthodox patriarch of The Church of The Holy Sepulchre Theophilus III made and blessed the oil which has been made for the Coronation. It is a blend of olive and sesame carrier oils with essential oils added. This is the first time the oil has been prepared this way. Previously, the bishop presiding over the ceremony has blessed the oil in Westminster Abbey just before the ceremony.

Indeed the late Queen’s oil was actually a secular blend made by the perfumery house Squire and Sons which was blessed just before. There is still some surplus over, sitting quietly on the shelf in the recycled Guerlain scent bottle with the original handwritten recipe for the oil. It describes rose, Jasmine, cinnamon, orange blossom and benzoin blended into olive oil with sesame, civet, ambergris, and musk. However, the longevity of its integrity was not trusted, and it was deemed safer to create a new oil.

I remember seeing her speaking of it at her jubilee and saying she had not smelled it again, but she remembered it smelling strong and very beautiful.

The new King’s oil symbolizes not only his desire for the religious connection, but to highlight a family one too.

Olives from The Mount of Olives

The Church of The Holy Sepulchre is built, according to 4th century tradition, on the very site where Jesus is reputed to have died and also encompasses the empty tomb from which he rose again. Within the church is the Stone of Anointing, also known as the stone of Unction, the place where it is said Christ’ body was laid down after being removed from the crucifix and prepared for burial. He was anointed by the Myrrhbearers, Joseph of Arimithea, Nicodemus, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and Jesus' mother, Mary

The Myrrhbearers at Eglise Saint-Médard in Verteuil @Copyright The Secret Healer

It is customary for pilgrims to rub the polished red Stone of Anointing with oil and wipe it with a cloth, or to kiss it.

The Stone of Anointing at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre Picture Eyal.benhaim Wikemedia Commons

Close by is the Church of Mary Magdalene where Prince Philip’s mother (Charles’ grandmother) is buried. Princess Alice was an orthodox nun. Her aunt who is also buried close by was killed in the Russian revolution. She was a devout woman who did great works for her community and has been sainted. Holy Martyr Elizabeth Feodorovna also known as Saint Elizabeth the New Martyr was canonised by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1992.

The olive oil used in the king's anointing oil have been pressed from fruits gathered from two groves on the side of the Mount of Olives close to their resting places.

Humanely Sourced

Since Orthodox rules for the creation of Chrism prohibit the use of animal products, the civet, musk, and ambergris added to Queen Elizabeth IIs anointing oil have been omitted. I’d suggest that sits very well with His Majesty who follows a vegan diet on certain days of the week to be mindful of his carbon footprint.

Ambergris has been replaced with amber essential oil at the base, blended with the sesame, benzoin, rose, jasmine, cinnamon and neroli. Whilst there are no reasons given for the choices for the fragrance cinnamon in partiicular has a long history with religious anointing oils. The flowers should provide the King with respite from any nervousness and a deep sense of beauty, while the amber and benzoin offer a much needed sense of gravity and groundedness.

The Anointing Ceremony

The crowning is not the main reason for a coronation. The anointing is, and as such then it makes sense that the Archbishop places the crown onto the monarchs head after he has called down the Holy Spirit.

Prior to the King being anointed, he will dress down and give up his regalia.

Queen Elizabeth II had a very simple white dress over her embroidered coronation gown.

A folding stool will be placed in front of the chair of State, where the Sovereign sits at the south side of the sacrarium.

The bishop supporting the King will also kneel, as will the Archbishop.

The choir then traditionally sings an incredibly ancient hymn, in Latin, called Veni creator spiritus.

Dating to the 9th century, the words translate to

Come Holy Ghost, the Maker, come

From thy bright heavenly throne

Though whom our hearts had being from

Oh fill them with heavenly grace

Though art that Comfort from above

The Highest doth by gift impart

Though spring of life, a fire of love

and the anointing Spirit art

Thou in thy gifts art manifold

God's right-hand finger thou art, Lord

The Father's promise made of old

Our tongues enriching by the word

Oh give our blinded senses light

Shed light into each heart of our

And grant the body's feeble plight

May be enabled by thy power

Far from us drive away the foe

And let a speedy peace ensue

Our leader also be, that so

We every danger may eschew

Let us be taught the blessed creed

Of Father, and of Son, by thee

And how from both thou dost proceed

That our belief it still may be


Thirty nine coronations have taken place in Westminster Abbey since the first in 1066.

In 1382,The Liber Regalis, or Royal Book, was written as an instruction book to help people organise and run a coronation in the abbey. The beautiful, illuminated manuscript describes the running order of the ceremony and we can see that its running order has remained virtually unchanged over time.

Libera regalis- Public Domain Wikemedia Commons

Veni creator spiritus is also sung when bishops are ordained. In these rites, the clergy lay face down on the floor throughout it. The Liber regalis shows that medieval kings, were expected to do the same, as the archbishop asked God to send down the power of the Holy Spirit on the king.

When the hymn is complete, the King will remove his robe of state, his collar of The Order of the Garter and his cloth crown called The Cap of Maintenance.

Anointing A King

The King is then seated in the St Edwards chair and four knights of the garter bring a huge canopy of silken gold, surrounding and covering him.

Hidden from view under the canopy the sovereign is anointed in three places out of the view of his people, his head, his heart and hands.

This is a slimmed down version of what has gone before.

The Liber regalis speaks to coronations prior to the reformation of The Church of England.

Then, the king was anointed twice, with two different oils.

First, the Oil of Catechumens (the Oil of Exorcism) was smeared onto the sovereign's breast, between the shoulders, onto their shoulders, on both elbows and then on their forehead in the sign of the cross.

Then the Oil of Chrism was put onto their head as ordination.

The Liber regalis then shows how a close-fitting hat was placed on their head and tied beneath their chins which they had to wear for seven days.

Since reformation times however, only one oil has been used.

The reduction of how many places would be anointed took place in the coronation of William and Mary.

“The Bloodless Revolution,” took place in England from 1688 to 1689 in England, overthrowing the Catholic King James II, replacing him with by his Protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband, William of Orange.

They were crowned jointly in May in 1689. It’s unclear why the places changed…perhaps it was deemed it would take too long with two people being anointed, or maybe to protect Mary’s modesty.

The anointing oil is poured from an eagle shaped ampulla into the beautiful and very ancient anointing spoon, which is one of the oldest of all the crown jewel collection.

Recorded as part of St Edward's Regalia in Westminster Abbey in 1349, even then it was described as a spoon of 'antique former' so clearly, very old. It potentially dates to the twelfth century and was possibly made for the anointing of Henry II or Richard I.

A Touching Moment...

In the Middle Ages, the anointing would have taken place in silence, but since the reformation the Archbishop has said:

On the palms of both hands saying Be thy Hands anointed with Holy Oil

On the breast saying Be thy breast anointed with Holy oil

On the Crown of the Head saying

Be thy head anointed with Holy oil as kings, priests and prophets were anointed.

Then he utters:

And as Solomon was anointed by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet, so be you anointed and consecrated King over the people whom your Lord your God hath given to rule and govern. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The archbishop then suggests that the anointing pours down the blessings of the Holy Ghost upon the King’s head and into his heart to prosper the works of his Hands.

The anointing sets the monarch aside as holy, purposed by God to rule wisely, assisted in his unique office by the presence and attention of The Holy Spirit.

Traditionally, the event is traditionally marked with the incredible wall of sound that is Handel’s Zadok the priest which was written for the coronation of George II in 1727. The anthem’s composition movingly conveys the monarch’s joyful sensation of receiving the Holy Spirit, its support, and expectations and those of his people.

Buckingham Palace has confirmed that the piece will feature as well as twelve specially composed pieces of music including Greek Orthodox music a piece of music by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins famous for his works Benedictus and Adieus and a specially commissioned piece by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Put on Thy Mantle of Office...

After he has received the anointing oil, the sovereign then dons a new set of robes to signify his newly transformed status.

First, he puts on a white robe called the Columbium sindonis (shroud tunic), then the stole royal is placed around his neck, and finally his mantle.

Again, this has taken place since the Middle Ages. It is often claimed the tunic dates back to Edward the Confessor, how that was destroyed in the seventeenth century in the Civil War. Since that time, new ones have been made for each coronation.

Finally, the famous velvet and ermine cloak and King Edward's crown containing 400 precious jewels that we saw so movingly placed on Her Majesty's coffin, during her state funeral last year,

Transformation of An Anointed King

Over the centuries there has been much debate over the exact quality of this transformation this finery conveys.

Transformed into what?

Because the regalia suggests something liturgical since the stole royal is otherwise only worn by bishops.

The 13th century Bishop of Lincoln told how the quality of the change was similar to that given at confirmation, that it allowed the receiver to live a better life supported in the grace of God. He was bestowed the sevenfold gifts of the Holy spirit in order that he could live his life well and complete his tasks.

These gifts were 1 ) wisdom, 2) understanding, 3) counsel, 4) fortitude, 5) knowledge, 6) piety, and 7) fear of the Lord.

However in the 14th century, a large proportion of English cannon lawyers concluded that it did more than that.

That the king’s character undergoes a significant change and that anointing manifest the king as a kind of mixed person, half layman and half priest, perhaps having special blessing and grace bestowed upon them within the religious and constitutional life of the nation.

The sovereign was considered to be appointed directly by God confirmed by the ceremony of anointing until around the seventeenth century. Today, the monarch is no longer viewed as being divine in quite the same way, however the use of anointing oil conveys the role of Supreme Governor of the Church of England upon the sovereign.

Final Word

All that remains for me to do is to wish His Majesty the greatest of luck, pod my broad beans for the Coronation Quiche and to petition the weather gods for sun.

I hope this reflection on the nature of the anointing oil helps throw light on yet another aspect of ritual aspects of sacred use, which have been excluded from the teachings of traditional and scientific aromatherapy.

References: The Anointing at The Royal Coronation, The Antiquary Allan Barton

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