A Tiny Country’s Fairy-Tale Wedding
How is your geography today? Luxembourg? Since the lavish wedding of Hereditary Prince Guillaume and Countess Stéphanie de Lannoy, more Americans probably now know a bit more about this little constitutional monarchy in Europe, a separate entity away from Belgium, Germany, and France.
One could write about this wedding as being merely a social, “people” event, but it was much more than that. Of course, one could also compare this royal wedding to the one recently celebrated in England. But there is no reason for venturing down that road. It is my personal opinion that the wedding of Prince Guillaume and Countess Stéphanie outshone all other royal weddings in the recent past.
The overall atmosphere in Luxembourg since the official announcement of the couple’s engagement in April 2012 has been one of joy and participation. Perhaps of relief as well, because the Hereditary Prince had finally found his match. But I really think that the great interest comes from the population’s genuine affection for the Grand Ducal family. Critics voiced their opinions, but they do not make up the majority.
At the beginning of January 2012, I watched Prince Guillaume answer positively to an interview question regarding his being in a relationship. He replied discreetly, but with a contented smile on his face.
“Hmmm,” I thought. We can be expecting an announcement from either the Palace or the Prime Minister in the near future. Indeed! On April 26, 2012, the official announcement was made. During the days to follow, newspapers and television in Luxembourg reported at length about this happy news. Many were the articles introducing the heretofore unknown young Belgian Countess, Stéphanie de Lannoy. On the online Luxembourg newspaper editions news of the young couple and the wedding plans increased on a daily basis. The media enjoyed a veritable field day as Countess Stéphanie received her first public introduction as the official engagement photos were shot by an army of photographers. I was impressed by the evident ease and mutual affection between the Prince Guillaume and Countess Stéphanie.
Tragically, their engagement was marked by the sudden death of Countess Stéphanie’s beloved mother, Alix de Lannoy. The news service photos showed Prince Guillaume by her side. This heartbreak was evoked by the groom’s father, Grand Duke Henri, during his address to the happy couple during the gala dinner following Friday’s civil ceremony.
As is the law in most European countries, a marriage must take place at city hall. If the couple wishes to hold a religious ceremony as well, this second wedding is conducted subsequent to satisfying the law on the books. Prince Guillaume and Countess Stéphanie decided to go this route, making them the first in their family to have done so. This gesture endeared them even more to their country. The short, private ceremony was attended by family members and officiated over by the mayor of Luxembourg City, Xavier Bettel. Mayor Bettel switched to Luxembourgish when it was Countess Stéphanie’s turn to say “I do”. Although she is still learning the language, she answered without the least hesitation. She’ll have no problem learning the language since she already speaks fluent German, among other languages. Besides, she is certainly aware of how important it is to learn the language of her new country.
After the civil ceremony, the young newlyweds left the city hall to a loud round of happy applause. Prince Guillaume and his bride waived joyfully, almost as if to say, “one ceremony, down and one more to go.” As they made their way back to the Palace to prepare for the Gala dinner scheduled for that evening, the princely couple crossed the Place Guillaume taking much time to accept little gifts and drawings prepared by small school children. At one point, a little girl asked Countess Stéphanie for a kiss, whereupon an entire chorus of little voice joined in “me, too! me, too!” Stéphanie kissed about 6 children. Their little faces could have lit up the city afterwards. One especially delightful sight was an employee of the Palace, following the couple with his arms overloaded with gifts, mostly from children, for the newlyweds.
The public atmosphere during the two days of festivities was electric. The weather had surprised everyone by turning into a lovely, particularly balmy “Indian summer” weekend. Tourists from all over milled about downtown Luxembourg City enjoying the festive mood and the orange and blue monogram of the couple decorating the main squares. The storefronts displayed beautifully framed copies of their official engagement photo. Tourists as well as the inhabitants carried little Luxembourg Flags adorned with a heart-shaped photo of Stéphanie and Guillaume. One of the vineyards had the excellent idea to bottle a special number of sparkling wine labelled with a photo of the couple.
The gala dinner took place on Friday evening and was attended by many crowned heads of Europe.
Queen Silvia of Sweden, her two younger children and, of course, Crown Princess Victoria accompanied by Prince Daniel, Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik of Denmark, King Albert and Queen Paola of Belgium; the list goes on.
The groom’s father, Grand Duke Henri, gave a moving speech to the young couple, addressing them individually and as a couple. He also evoked the memory of Countess Stéphanie’s late mother. The television cameras left the dinner after Grand Duke Henri’s toast. Most of the male guests wore their military uniforms and looked quite dashing. The ladies were, of course, dressed elegantly. The dress worn by Countess Stéphanie, as is seen in the photos, was made of silver lace.
Being practicing Catholics, the bridal couple had their church wedding on Saturday, October 20th at the cathedral Our Lady of Notre Dame, just around the corner from the palace. Already in the wee hours of the morning spectators began to secure the best vantage point along the wedding route. Well-wishers came from near and far. It isn’t every day when most crowned heads of Europe and scores of princes, princesses, dukes, etc, gather in little Luxembourg. The crowds hoped to view favorites, such as Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Spain, Princess Caroline of Monaco, the Crown Prince couples from Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and Holland. The Luxembourgers were excited as well, but when members of their royal family appeared it seemed to me that the cheers were louder and more heartfelt. After all, their hereditary Grand Duke was finally getting married.
At the appointed times the honoured guests arrived in chauffeur-driven vehicles in front of the ornate side entrance of the Cathedral on Boulevard Roosevelt. Gardeners had done a magnificent job converting the paved area running along the entrance of the National Library up to the doors of the cathedral. At the arrival of Prince Guillaume and his mother, Grand Duchess Maria Theresa, the crowd of well-wishers cheered enthusiastically. The Grand Duchess was visibly touched by this gesture as was Prince Guillaume, who turned and waved in appreciation to the crowd. On the way up the red carpet leading to the open doors of the Cathedral, where Archbishop Hollerich waited to welcome mother and son, the Prince turned and waived to the crowd as they acclaimed him. One of the endearing qualities of Prince Guillaume is the manner in which he seems pleased and thankful that so many well-wishers patiently wait for the big moment. He rewards the onlookers with what could be called, a “sunny boy” smile.
Countess Stéphanie arrived in a chauffeur-driven Daimler accompanied by her eldest brother, Count Jehan de Lannoy. It was he, in his sharp blue Belgian officer’s uniform, who would walk his younger sister up the aisle. The health of their 90-year-old father, Count Philip de Lannoy, would not permit him to do so.
The Daimler containing the bride pulled up in front of the Cathedral. The joy emanating from this young woman was palpable. Her manner of greeting and acknowledging the excited onlookers was heartfelt and graceful. Such emotions of anticipation, nervousness, and perhaps joyful gravity cannot be faked. She was simply radiant.
After making their way over the red carpet to the door of the Cathedral, the Archbishop of Luxembourg received them with a beaming smile and words known only them.
As Countess Stéphanie processed down the aisle on the arm of her brother to very fitting music, all eyes turned towards her. She smiled a radiant happy bride’s smile.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the entire church wedding ceremony was the moment that Guillaume asked the father of the bride a second time for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The Count de Lannoy had been helped to stand by his son and carefully accompanied to the side of the altar so that he could truly give his daughter away. This may sound corny, but the faces of the couple and the recently widowed Count shone with joy. Just beautiful.
The music was chosen by the couple, who are both great lovers of music. Stéphanie is said to be a skilled violinist. The Archbishop evoked the memory of Countess Stéphanie’s late mother, Countess Alix. This detail was known to the general public, but the sincerity and poignancy of the gesture spoke volumes. The cathedral remained silent for the minute of recollection and prayer.
The wedding of Prince Guillaume and Countess Stéphanie took place like most weddings.
However, the fact that this was a royal wedding put it into a different light. The media couldn’t resist comparing this wedding to the OTHER royal wedding having recently taken place in London. Luxembourg does not need to look towards England to know how to throw a royal wedding. The crowned guests were present, the flowers, the festivities, the red carpets and the list goes on. The original aspect of the Luxembourg Royal wedding was the contagious joy in the crowd from the moment of the civil ceremony at the City Hall until they stole away for their honeymoon. But the electricity was especially evident when, after the wedding ceremony in the Cathedral, the Newlyweds presented themselves on the Palace Balcony to the enormous crowd. The well-wishers waited for the kiss. Guillaume did not disappoint them. Not once but three times did he gather his bride in his embrace and kiss her smartly. No peck on the cheek, but firm kiss on the mouth. The crowd roared their approval.
Fireworks over the fortress city carried the well-wishers along the river of good cheer. Fireworks in all shapes and colors celebrated the newlyweds before they were whisked away to their unknown honeymoon destination. They waved to the crowd of well-wishers in their now familiar endearing way. As their chauffeur-driven car slowly inched its way past the Palace, the concert on Guillaume Square commenced for Luxembourgers and the numerous tourists in town. The party went on into the wee hours of the night.
At the end of the day, Luxembourg had a new member of the Grand Ducal family with whom to acquaint themselves. It was a personal success for the Newlyweds despite some factions complaining about the cost of the wedding. In comparison to the English royal wedding, it was a drop in the proverbial bucket. As the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, remarked in his televised nuptial message, the country can do well with a brief and joyful interlude during these difficult financial times. The days can be bleak, but during the wedding weekend, many citizens were able to forget their worries. The union of Prince Guillaume and Countess Stéphanie has assured the first step towards the continuation of the constitutional monarchy. It is hope for the future of the tiny, but important European country.
Written by Yvonne Koechig
Luxembourg, November 2012
Find Yvonne at her new blog, yvonnekoechig.wordpress.com
Window dressing photo credit: Marc Ben Fatma – visit Benymarc.com and like my FB via photopin cc