Sunday, October 21, 2012

Europe's elite gather for Luxembourg royal wedding

Prince Guillaume, hereditary Grand-Duke of Luxembourg and Belgian Countess Stephanie de Lannoy smile on the balcony of the Grand-Ducal palace after their religious marriage on October 20, 2012, in Luxembourg. Photo/AFP

Prince Guillaume, hereditary Grand-Duke of Luxembourg and Belgian Countess Stephanie de Lannoy smile on the balcony of the Grand-Ducal palace after their religious marriage on October 20, 2012, in Luxembourg. Photo/AFP 

By AFP

Kings and queens gathered with ordinary citizens Saturday to celebrate Luxembourg's biggest royal event in decades, when heir-to-the-throne Prince Guillaume wed Belgian countess Stephanie de Lannoy.

Following a sombre religious ceremony, thousands crammed the centre of Luxembourg city to demand the newlyweds exchange their first public kiss as a married couple, belying the tiny country's reputation for a lack of exuberance.

"A kiss! A kiss!" flag-waving onlookers yelled as the couple appeared on the balcony of the Grand Ducal Palace.

The cream of Europe's royalty had attended the Catholic wedding mass at Notre Dame cathedral blending tradition with modernity, the day after the pair tied the knot in an intimate civil ceremony.

Luxembourg's openly gay mayor, Bettel Xavier, was accompanied by his partner to the festivities, along with some 270 ordinary residents of the Grand Duchy.

In another modern touch, the rings the couple exchanged were made from fair-trade gold.

Luxembourg Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich celebrated the multilingual mass, which began shortly after 11:00 am (0900 GMT) as the blonde countess, wearing an ivory lace gown embroidered with silver filigree, entered the cathedral on the arm of her brother Jehan.

The gown, designed by Elie Saab of Lebanon, featured three-quarter length sleeves and a silk tulle veil, also adorned with the silver floral motif, that trailed some four metres (13 feet) behind her.

The 28-year-old bride is a member of one of Belgium's oldest aristocratic families and the youngest of eight children.

Her efforts to learn Luxembourgish paid off as she pronounced her vows in the language, raising cheers of praise from a crowd watching the ceremony on a giant screen in a central square.

Prince Guillaume, the 30-year-old Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg, arrived in full military regalia with his mother, Grand Duchess Maria-Teresa, wearing a bright coral outfit with a silver brooch.

The world is watching us

The wedding, at an estimated cost of 500,000 euros ($650,000) to the Luxembourg taxpayer, included free concerts, street shows and a giant fireworks display in the evening.

In a speech broadcast ahead of the event, Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker acknowledged that not everyone was happy with its cost and the expedited naturalisation process for the Belgian bride.

"The world is watching us. We aren't going to overdo it, but we mustn't make ourselves smaller than we are," he said.

Crowned heads and lesser royals had rolled up in black limousines or more modest green minibuses, stepping out onto a long red carpet to enter the cathedral in the bright sunshine of an unseasonably warm day.

Princess Caroline of Monaco, Britain's Prince Edward, and Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito were among them, as well as King of the Belgians Albert II and Queen Paola, who have family ties with the Luxembourg monarchy.

Also in attendance were Norway's King Harald V and Queen Sonja, Prince Hans-Adam II and Princess Marie of Liechtenstein, Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and her consort Prince Henrik, Sweden's Queen Silvia and Princess Lalla Salma, wife of Moroccan King Mohammed VI.

Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, also in full dress uniform, was accompanied by Stephanie's aunt, the sister of Countess Alix de Lannoy, who died in late August. Saturday's wedding mass began with a minute of silence in her honour.

The couple clowned about on the balcony after the wedding, pretending to have met there by accident, before exchanging a first brief kiss followed by a longer smooch to the cheers of the crowd.

But no sooner had the couple left the balcony to rejoin their prestigious guests, the crowd quietly dispersed.

Local newspaper Le Quotidien reported the crowds were smaller than during national holiday celebrations.

Guillaume, who will become Luxembourg's seventh grand duke, said ahead of the ceremony: "Our wedding is an international event, meaning it's a good excuse to show Luxembourg's festive side."

The grand duke plays an essentially ceremonial role in the tiny country of some half a million people lodged between France, Belgium and Germany, a wet and windswept place best known as a financial hub and tax haven.

Luxembourg's Nassau-Weilbourg dynasty dates to 1890. Grand Duke Henri, 57, became the sixth in the line when his father Jean abdicated in 2000.

The newlyweds leave on honeymoon Sunday for an undisclosed destination.

advertisement