The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Queen Elizabeth II’s image was projected onto Stonehenge. Cue the controversy.

Images of Queen Elizabeth II from each decade of her reign light up on Stonehenge to mark her jubilee. (Jim Holden/English Heritage/AP)

LONDON — As part of preparations to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, eight portraits of the monarch were beamed onto the ancient stone faces of Stonehenge, one from each decade of her 70-year reign.

The projection of the 96-year-old onto the 5,000-year-old monument was called a “spellbinding homage” by organizers — yet merging two of the most iconic pillars in Britain sparked controversy on social media.

Some said the World Heritage Site in Wiltshire, England, should be left untouched, citing its apparent history as an ancient religious site. Others said it was “distasteful” to turn the prehistoric monument into effectively a billboard.

“This is nuts, or should I say, completely unhenged,” read one of almost 6,000 replies to the tweet.

Others appeared more enthusiastic about the idea, with one person branding the tribute “thronehenge.” The queen’s former press secretary and royal commentator, Dickie Arbiter, called the series of images “beautiful.”

Stonehenge, which is believed to have been built in stages between 3000 and 1520 B.C., has remained at the center of historical speculation for centuries. While the purpose of the site is unknown, English Heritage has concluded that “there must have been a spiritual reason why Neolithic and Bronze Age people put so much effort into building it.”

Other analysts say the sarsen stones may have served as a giant solar calendar so that people knew the time of year. Experts have also concluded that the site hosted feasts and ceremonies, with a 2019 study revealing that Stonehenge served as a “hub for Britain’s earliest mass parties.”

Research and excavations at the site, which also served as a burial place, continue. The stones are positioned to line up with the sun’s movements. Experts from the 17th and 18th centuries believed it served as a Druid temple, and even to this day, modern Druids flock to the site to celebrate the spiritually significant summer and winter solstices.

People buried at Stonehenge 5,000 years ago came from far away, study finds

English Heritage Trust, the organization responsible for managing hundreds of historic sites including Stonehenge, told The Washington Post that the display was part of “a range of events and activities” organized nationwide at its sites to celebrate the jubilee.

“From the 2012 Summer Olympics to commemorating the centenary of the First World War, Stonehenge has played a part in marking important moments in this country’s recent history, including — now — the Platinum Jubilee,” English Heritage said in a statement.

Queen Elizabeth II attends first Jubilee event, gets standing ovation

Although English Heritage did not comment on the backlash, it said that it has beamed images onto Stonehenge before.

In 2020, as one recent example, the faces of eight people who helped support Britain’s art and heritage sectors amid the coronavirus pandemic were beamed onto the stones. And in November 2014, footage of World War I soldiers was projected onto the landmark as part of a military tribute.

Images of the queen are also popping up in homes and shop windows and beamed onto other iconic sites — including London’s Marble Arch.

“The story of Stonehenge continues to evolve and change,” English Heritage states on its official website, adding that “an air of mystery and intrigue” will always shroud the site’s complex and widely debated history.

Jubilee celebrations are set to begin Thursday and continue through Sunday, with street parties across the country, the annual British army ceremony of Trooping the Colour (Prince William led a rehearsal for it over the weekend) and a traditional royal family balcony appearance.

Prince William takes center stage at Queen Elizabeth II’s jubilee rehearsal