Cardinal Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales (L), and Anglican Bishop of London Richard Chartres (R) take Vespers at Hampton Court Palace on February 9, 2016
London (AFP) - The sounds of Latin song echoed through the halls of Hampton Court Palace in London for the first Catholic service in more than 450 years to be held in anti-papal King Henry VIII's residence.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, celebrated the Vespers prayer together with Anglican Bishop of London Richard Chartres in a symbolic gesture of reconciliation.
"I think it's a very remarkable moment," Nichols told AFP ahead of the service in the palace's Chapel Royal, which is still administered directly by the Church of England's head, Queen Elizabeth II.
"One historian said Henry VIII would be spinning in his grave at the thought of what is going on this evening," said Nichols, who wore a cardinal's traditional scarlet vestments and zucchetto skullcap.
The setting is "a powerful symbol of where we are in our relationship but also of what we still have to do to strive to heal and work together," he said.
Chartres underlined the significance of the Tudor composers -- William Cornysh, John Taverner and Thomas Tallis -- whose hauntingly beautiful works were performed during the evensong service.
"The set Latin texts were once universally heard and prayed throughout the western Church, before the ruptures of the Reformation divided Europe," Nichols said.
Hanging over the event was a ceiling built under Henry VIII stamped 32 times with the royal motto "Dieu et mon Droit" (God and my Right) -- a way of underlining his authority over the Church of England.
A re-creation of Henry VIII's crown in a glass case on the chapel's balcony above reinforced the point, with tiny statues on it of previous English kings intended as a symbol of power against the Vatican.
- 'Bringing together of Christianity' -
"I think it's historical because it's clearly the Royal Chapel, it's Hampton Court, it has the history as Henry VIII's private chapel," said John Studzinski, head of the Genesis Foundation, a musical charity which helped organise the event.
"But also it's the bringing together of Christianity here in this sacred space," he said.
"Dialogue between faiths is much needed and welcomed in these turbulent times," he continued.
Hampton Court was built up by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey but seized by Henry VIII when the Vatican refused to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon at the beginning of the English Reformation.
Henry VIII, who ruled between 1509 and 1547, went on to create the Church of England under the authority of Britain's monarchs instead of the popes in Rome.
Relations between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches have been strained in recent years because of a Vatican move to make it easier for disaffected Anglicans to switch to the generally more conservative Catholic Church.
But there have alo been many gestures of reconciliation and Nichols said it was "perfectly normal" for Catholic and Anglican leaders to be praying together -- although never in a setting as laden with historical symbolism as Hampton Court.
Some people disagree with the steps towards ecumenism -- or greater unity -- and a handful of protesters outside Hampton Court Palace on Tuesday held up signs against "a reversal of the Reformation".
One of the protesters, Reverend Peter Simpson, who said he was a minister of a Free Methodist Church told AFP: "A royal chapel should be the last place to hold an ecumenical event of this nature!"
"We are protesting because the gospel itself is at stake," he said.