As many parishes marked the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with services and teas at Pentecost on June 5, St. Mary Magdalene in Toronto added a more permanent reminder – an outdoor bench with a commemorative plaque. Mark Stenabaugh, the rector’s warden, wanted to mark the Queen’s 70-year reign “as a regal and unflappable constant through generations of change.” He even found a donor to fund the cost of the bench, which was dedicated by the Rev. Canon Eric Beresford, incumbent.
A recital of coronation music arranged for organ drew additional friends to the church to hear Music for a Jubilee, performed by music director Robert Dixon. It featured music by Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Handel – much of it performed before the 1953 coronation service began.
The pomp and circumstance brought back other memories of St. Mary Magdalene’s royal and coronation connections. In 1953, music director Healey Willan’s homage anthem, O Lord, Our Governour, was performed at the coronation. Arriving at the church in 1921, Dr. Willan stayed until his death in 1968. He was the first non-resident English composer to be given such a commission. Subsequently, Dr. Willan received an honorary Lambeth doctorate in 1956 and Canadian honours, including the Order of Canada in 1967 and even a postage stamp. With 800 compositions, he is best known for his organ repertoire, hymn settings, motets and 14 choral mass settings still performed throughout the world. His love of plainsong also found a home in our parish; it continues as a living tradition and attracts many visitors.
St. Mary Magdalene has another connection to the Queen. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, visited the church in 1989 to attend the morning service and dedicate a plaque to Dr. Willan. Now two plaques celebrate the church’s royal connection.