Wednesday, September 15, 2010

For the Pope, Parliament Goes Dry

As has been well noted over the run-up to the UK PopeTrip, no shortage of unprecedented measures are being taken across the board to ensure the weekend pilgrimage's safe and smooth operation.

Of all the firsts set to roll starting tomorrow morning, however, one particularly stands out: drunkenness being a celebrated tradition in the Mother of Parliaments, the Telegraph reports that the roughly 20 taxpayer-subsidized bars in the Palace of Westminster will be shuttered on Friday in deference to B16's visit and speech in Westminster Hall -- site of the trial of St Thomas More on charges of high treason in 1535.

Speaking of which engagement (just on a more serious note), the Catholic Herald's man in Rome, Edward Pentin -- who memorably scored the Coup of the Century (well, the first one) early last year -- relays word from the Vatican Palace that the pontiff's Westminster address before an audience of parliamentarians, diplomats, academic and business leaders is being considered by papal aides as among Benedict's "most important speeches ever."

Built in the late 11th century, the site of the talk is the only remaining part of the first royal residence raised along the banks of the Thames, the bulk of its most recent incarnation dating to the mid-1800s following its 16th century predecessor's destruction in an 1834 fire. (Much of the "New Palace" had to be rebuilt again following heavy damage taken by bombings during World War II.)

The speech to be followed by a historic Evensong at Westminster Abbey alongside the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, the Pope's Whitehall programme gets underway just after 5pm London time Friday (noontime Eastern).