Laurent marries his Claire in Brussels

Although it doesn't happen often that a royal wedding takes place, it was surprisingly empty in Brussels: no photos of bride and groom in shop-windows, no special activities. Some newspapers had nice specials, but most of them had little to tell about the activities in the two days before the wedding.

On the wedding day itself only about 5000 people stood along the route, most of them in front of the town-hall and the cathedral. One of them was me. Happily I had been able to get press accreditation again, and I already arrived in Brussels on Thursday hoping not to miss anything of the wedding of Prince Laurent of Belgium and Claire Coombs on Saturday April 12. Already on Thursday evening I was lucky as I just passed the St-Michael and St-Gudule Cathedral when King Albert II and Queen Paola of the Belgians entered it. With press card I managed to go inside to see what they were doing and to have a look at the flower decoration, while in the meantime I could enjoy the choir rehearsals for the wedding. Also the bride's parents were inside. When the king and queen left, they stayed, and being outside for a while I had the pleasure of seeing Prince Laurent arriving at his motor-cycle. Some time later also Claire Coombs arrived with friends and one of the bridesmaids. I only left the cathedral when bride and groom left. On Friday evening I was able to attend the classical concert at the Palais des Beaux-Arts where also bride and groom with lots of their wedding guests were present. Seated in the box aside of the National Orchestra of Belgium I had quite a good view on the concert hall. During the reception afterwards I found myself - of course I had been looking for them - between groups of royals, which was a pretty strange feeling.

On Saturday morning something happened that probably many people hadn't expected anymore. 39-year-old Prince Laurent of Belgium entered into matrimony in the Belgian capital Brussels. His 29-year-old Belgian-British bride, Claire Coombs, looked stunned in a beautiful dress of white silk with upper part of chantilly lace, designed by Edouard Vermeulen of the House of Natan. She wore a superb antique lace veil from 1877. Standing on the press stand in front of the St-Michael and St-Gudule Cathedral I first saw a glimpse of the bride and groom and family on the big screen in front of the cathedral on which the public was able to follow all events - although later during the wedding ceremony the screen became black several times. They left the Royal Palace and drove to the town-hall for the civil ceremony. During the short ceremony in the three official languages of the country, Flemish, French and German, Prince Laurent managed to say 'yes' already after the Flemish text, although he should have waited until it also had been asked to him in French and German if he wanted to marry Claire. The prince didn't hesitate to say 'yes' once again at the right time. After the ceremony the couple, with parents and bridesmaids shortly appeared on the balcony of the town-hall. To the big enthusiasm of the public it was here that the new Princess Claire gave her husband a firm kiss - unfortunately it turned out to be the only kiss of the day.

Meanwhile the more important guests arrived at the cathedral. Although the official guestlist didn't contain many names, there were quite a lot of royal guests from non-reigning European royal houses that passed us: Prince Kardam and Princess Miríam of Bulgaria, the Duke and Duchess of Bragança, Prince Serge of Yugoslavia with girlfriend, the Duke and Duchess of Calabria, Prince Jean of France, Prince Carlos de Bourbon de Parme, Don Luis Alfonso de Borbón y Martínez-Bordiú, Prince Philipp and Princess Isabelle of Liechtenstein with sons Alexander and Wenzeslaus as well as daughter-in-law Astrid, Princess Chantal of Hannover, the Aga Khan with Begum Inaara, Reza Pahlavi, Archduke Michael and Archduchess Christiana of Austria, as well as the parents, sisters and brother of Princess Mathilde of Belgium. Finally also the most important guests arrived: members from the grand-ducal family of Luxemburg, including Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, Princess Margriet of the Netherlands with husband Mr Pieter van Vollenhoven (a surprising witness for the groom in the cathedral), Prince Constantijn and Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, Crown Princess Victoria and Princess Madeleine of Sweden. After the closest family, the groom arrived together with his mother, followed by the bride with her father.

The religious ceremony in the cathedral took much more time than was planned, not that I was surprised as that seems to become the tradition in the Belgian royal family as also the wedding ceremony of Laurent's brother Philippe and his wife Mathilde took much longer than was planned. Happily outside the weather was nice. While the public and press tried to watch the ceremony on the big screen, the photographers already selected the photos they had made so far and sent them away to their customers. Inside the first lecture told the story of Noah and his arch, while the homily by Cardinal Godfried Danneels shortly referred to war and violence but mainly talked about love. After the marriage- vows and the giving of the wedding rings Prince Laurent and Princess Claire together prayed: "We want to build a serene world, a free world, a world where peace and love rule. We wish not necessary an easy world, a dream world but a world in which everyone respects others, where there is a future for everyone." During the intentions Prince Laurent surprisingly congratulated the Deacon with his 50th anniversary as a Priest, and the Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt with his 50th birthday. After the communion Father Guy Gilbert, an unorthodox French priest and friend of Prince Laurent, spoke out the meditation, which moved many people in and outside the cathedral. He started saying that Laurent was the 'last chicken which leaves its nest', which made the whole cathedral laugh loudly and ended with the story of the white ribbons. Also here love was the leading theme. Unfortunately the signing of the wedding register was preceding by the singing of the Ave Maria by Soprano Yvette Fanna, who sang pretty false. Then finally the end had come and we were finally able to see bride and groom come out of the cathedral as a married couple.

When they drove away, also the guests started to leave as well as the press. A friend of mine, Christine, came to pick me up and we went into town to eat something. Afterwards we decided to go to the royal palace to see if we could make some pictures of the royal palace. It was just after 4:00pm when we saw guests coming out of the royal palace. First some unknown ones, while the most important guests left quickly by car from the inner court of the palace, but soon we also discovered royals walking through the gates of the palace to the cars waiting outside. To my surprise several of them allowed me to take photographs of them. Finally around 6:00pm most guests had gone and we went into town to have dinner. It was a long day, but it was absolutely worth coming to Brussels for this wedding. I am curious when the next big royal wedding will be.

Netty Leistra
Royal Watch
May 2003

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