Religious leaders recall Prince Philip's spiritual curiosity

Churches in Britain have held services to remember Prince Philip as people of many religions reflected on a man whose gruff exterior hid a personal faith and deep curiosity about others’ beliefs

Welby, who is set to preside at Philip's funeral on Saturday at Windsor Castle, led prayers for Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, and contemplated “a very long life, remarkably led.”

In London's Westminster Abbey, where Philip married the then-Princess Elizabeth in 1947, Dean of Westminster David Hoyle remembered the former naval officer's “self-effacing sense of service.”

Most people’s glimpses of Philip in a religious setting were of him beside the queen at commemorative services, or walking to church with the royal family on Christmas Day. But his religious background and interests were more varied than his conventional role might suggest.

In the 1960s, he helped set up St. George’s House, a religious study center at the royal family’s Windsor Castle seat, where Philip would join clergy, academics, businesspeople and politicians to discuss the state of the world.

He was a regular visitor to Mount Athos, a monastic community and religious sanctuary in Greece, and was a long-time patron of the Templeton Prize, a lucrative award for contribution to life’s “spiritual dimension” whose winners include Mother Teresa.

Blunt-spoken and quick-witted, Philip also was known for making remarks that could be deeply offensive, some of them sexist and racist. But former Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who was born in Uganda, said those who saw Philip as a bigot were wide of the mark.

“If somebody challenged him, you would enter into an amazing conversation,” Sentamu told the BBC. “The trouble was that because he was the Duke of Edinburgh, the husband of the queen, people had this deference.

“I’m sure sometimes he regretted some of those phrases, but in the end it’s a pity that people saw him as somebody who makes gaffes,” Sentamu said. “Behind those gaffes was an expectation of a comeback, but nobody came back, and the gaffe, unfortunately, stayed.”

Inderjit Singh, a prominent British Sikh leader, said Philip had a strong knowledge of Sikhism and “contributed to the understanding and harmony between differing faith communities.”

“He recognized what we should all recognize....We are all of one common humanity,” Singh said.

Philip’s faith may have been partly a legacy of his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, who established an order of nuns, sheltered Jews in Nazi-occupied Greece during World War II and is buried below a Russian Orthodox church in east Jerusalem.

“I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special,” Philip said on a 1994 trip to Israel, where he visited his mother’s grave. “She was a person with deep religious faith, and she would have considered it to be a totally human action to fellow human beings in distress.”