Garter Day takes place today and already the castle is full of purpose and activity! King George VI reintroduced an annual service for the Order of the Garter in 1948. Up to that year services had been held irregularly. At first glance the processions, uniforms, robes and music seen and heard on Garter Day might appear to add up to nothing more than splendid pageantry. However sitting at the core of the day is a service of worship, a thanksgiving service, to Almighty God surrounded by the symbolism of duty and service to Country and Commonwealth.
Anybody watching the procession of Knights of the Garter, Heralds and Officers of the Order wend its way inside the Castle from the State Apartments to St George’s Chapel will, without doubt, see impressive uniforms, flowing robes, hear military bands and, once it has begun, hear the service inside the Chapel or broadcast into the precincts. The 24 Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Garter are personally chosen by The Queen (who was made a member of the order 62 years ago by her father, King George VI). The Sovereign and Members of the Order are representatives of the Nation and the wider world; they have achieved much in their lives in a wide variety of spheres. Members of the College of St George (which is an independent institution physically located within the Castle walls with St George’s Chapel at its heart) have a responsibility, given in 14th century statutes, to pray for the members of the Order of the Garter. Such prayers still take place on a daily basis but members of the College further interpret that responsibility by trying to be of service to the wider society whether by individual effort or in other ways such as through the work, study and reflection of St George’s House, the consultation centre located right next to St George’s Chapel.
The build up to Garter Day involves the work of many different people; a combination of individuals and teams from the Royal Household, the College of Arms, the Armed Services, the Police and those from St George’s all come together to ensure the day takes place as smoothly as possible for not only the Queen and members of the order but also approximately 8,000 other people in the Castle; about 900 of whom are inside St George’s Chapel. The clergy, the musicians, the chapel staff, the cleaners, the works team, many volunteers and the office staff at St George’s have all worked together to ensure that not only the Garter service goes well but also all else that happens on that day runs as smoothly. Garter day is a time when most of those who live in the Castle entertain – so an individual’s day combines the unexpected mix of looking after and feeding guests together with the ceremonial, the practical and, most importantly, the Service.
The Chapel is very much a working church – the Garter service is one of four services that day; every day of every week of every month of every year there are a minimum of three services open to the public. On the Sunday before Garter Day the community at St George’s comes together to renew promises made in support of the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter and the day after the departed Knights of the Garter are remembered at a Solemn Requiem.