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The Great Exhibition: Commerce & Christianity

The Great Exhibition of 1851 was not only a celebration of Victorian Britain’s scientific and economic pre-eminence but also a hymn to the religion that underpinned it, argues Geoffrey Cantor.

Queen Victoria opens the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, in 1851.The scene depicted in the painting above shows Queen Victoria, accompanied by Prince Albert and other dignitaries, at the opening of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations on May 1st, 1851. Surrounding the raised platform stand members of the Royal Commission and others responsible for mounting the exhibition, together with a number of eminent guests, including acting commissioners representing several countries. Albert presented the commissioners’ report to the queen. After her brief response, the Archbishop of Canterbury prayed ‘with great fervency of manner’ for God’s blessing on the exhibition. The ceremony in the Crystal Palace ended with a massed choir singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. As the royal procession departed, the large crowd cheered enthusiastically. In her journal Victoria recorded her delight: ‘This day is one of the greatest and most glorious days of our lives, with which to my pride and joy, the name of my dearly beloved Albert is for ever associated!’

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