In an unprecedented move members of the public have been invited to greet the Royal Family tomorrow as they arrive for Princess Charlotte’s much anticipated christening at The Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Sandringham – the site of Diana, Princess of Wales’s christening fifty-four years ago. Though the service itself will be private, royal fans will have an opportunity to glimpse the new family of four in public for the very first time. The decision to welcome well-wishers is in stark contrast to the christening of Prince George, a far more private affair held at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace in October 2013, in which public access was restricted.
Upon the announcement of the new princess’s baptism Kensington Palace said, “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be pleased to welcome well-wishers into the paddock outside the church. The Duke and Duchess are hugely grateful for the warm wishes they have received since Princess Charlotte’s birth – many of them from local people in Norfolk – and are delighted the paddock can be opened on the day of the christening.” It is an enormous step for a couple determined to guard and protect the privacy of their children in their formative years.
While William and Kate’s gesture of goodwill was a welcome surprise there will be no surprises when it comes to the christening itself. Officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, it will be steeped in the symbolic customs and traditions long associated with royal baptisms.
Charlotte will be christened in the same gown as her big brother – a replica of the 174-year-old Honiton lace and white satin gown, first made for the 1841 christening of Princess Victoria, the first child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The original gown, worn by every royal baby from Princess Victoria to Lady Louise Windsor, was subsequently deemed too delicate for further use and following Lady Louise’s christening in 2004 it was retired and preserved. The replica, made by the Queen’s dresser, Angela Kelly, was first worn by Viscount Severn, son of the Earl and Countess of Wessex, for his christening in 2008. It has been used by every royal baby since.
Water for Charlotte’s baptism will be held within the Silver Gilt Lily Font designed by Prince Albert and commissioned in 1840 in anticipation of the birth of his first child. Lilies were believed to signify purity and water lilies symbolized new life. The font, which is housed at the Tower of London, has been used at every royal christening since 1841.
Traditionally royal babies are christened using water from the River Jordan. It is the river in which John the Baptist baptized Jesus and where the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt by crossing the river into the Promised Land. Due to its symbolically meaningful ties to Christianity, water from the river continues to be used by several other Christian royal houses today.
In Queen Victoria’s era christenings were opulent, grand affairs attended by royals from across Europe. Today, they are far more personal, intimate ceremonies for close friends, godparents and family members. There are no hard and fast rules for selecting godparents. George has seven, William has six, Charles has eight and Edward I had twelve. Princess Victoria’s godparents included a king, queen, two duchesses and a duke, but as illustrated by the choices made for Prince George, William and Kate are far more likely to base their selection on friendship, trust and loyalty as opposed to status and wealth. George may be the future king, but not one of his godparents is a titled royal.
Sunday promises to be a beautiful (reportedly pastel?) occasion immersed in history and tradition. As four generations of royals make their way into the sanctuary of St. Mary Magdalene for Charlotte’s first introduction to the church, the nation will bear witness to a sense of continuity and living history. Elected officials may come and go, but the Royal Family remains a link to Britain’s past and a testament to its future.