Ancient knighthood tradition revived in gothic church
The Gothic revival architecture of Old St Paul's church in Wellington was a fitting venue for the revival of an ancient tradition, as a sword tapped the shoulders of 66 new knights and dames yesterday.
In New Zealand's biggest investiture ceremony, Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand brought the "dubbing sword" down on the nation's great and good for the first time in a decade.
Knighthood ceremonies were held in churches in the Middle Ages, when knights were dubbed with the side of the sword blade and called upon to protect the church by the use of arms.
The latest knights and dames (spared the obligation of going on crusades) included rugby legend Sir Colin Meads, Olympic triple gold medallist Sir Peter Snell, yachtsman Sir Russell Coutts, The Warehouse founder Sir Stephen Tindall, former prime minister Dame Jenny Shipley and children's author Dame Lynley Dodd.
Titular honours were abolished by the Labour-led government in 1999, but Prime Minister John Key announced in March they would be reinstated.
Those made Principal or Distinguished Companions of the New Zealand Order of Merit since 2000 could opt to be known as Sir or Dame, with the titles effective from August 1.
Despite his new title, Colin Meads doesn't want to be called sir.
"I'm still Colin Meads and I will be till I die," he said.
"It's a great honour, and I'm pleased for the people of Te Kuiti and for rugby too."
Dame Malvina Major, who was among three New Zealanders to receive the highest honour of Grand Companion, said she was overawed by the ceremony.
"It's sort of funny really, isn't it. It makes you feel old," she said.
"I don't know how you address a Grand Dame, but I'm sure I'll just be known as Malvina forever."
Sir Peter Snell said it was a thrill to receive the honour. "It is really tangible and I appreciate it ... I feel honoured to be recognised."
Dame Jenny Shipley said she hoped the honour would be an inspiration to young women.
"Anything's possible and I would want them to strive. Role models are important in today's society and I hope that in some small way this honour creates that for other young women."
Prime Minister John Key, who attended the ceremony, said titular honours had widespread public appeal because New Zealanders wanted to celebrate great achieve is.
"We're acknowledging the efforts of 66 New Zealanders who have really achieved remarkable things. We're not only celebrating them but very often the organisations that they've represented."
He was not disappointed that 13 of the 85 people invited to take up titles declined.
"Those that chose to turn down the opportunity to take up a titular honour did so for their own personal reasons, and I fully respect that. It's not for everyone."
Seven New Zealanders who had accepted the titles were unable to attend the ceremony.
A private investiture is scheduled for Sir John Walker to receive his title at Government House today.