Royal Christenings Traditions Pomp and Ceremony

Royal Souvenir First Tooth PotWith the royal family having recently announced that the Duchess of Cambridge is carrying a second child, the nation’s attention and indeed that of the world, is affixed once more on all things regal. In sharp contrast to royal weddings, funerals, and coronations (which are necessarily grand ceremonies of state) royal christenings tend to be private affairs, with just a few close relatives present.

Consequently, royal christenings throughout history are not as well documented as the other occasions mentioned. Though we know enough about them to know that some were not quite so modest. The christening of Elizabeth I featured heralds and ringing trumpets.

Many of the late Georgian and Victorian christenings were overblown affairs, with increasingly elaborate props and guests from all over the world. Intimacy, then, is a feature only really present in the christenings of more recent monarchs. Elizabeth II was attended by nine people, that of Queen Victoria herself by just seven.

What actually happens?

The ceremony is usually – though not always – conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and proceedings transpire in a particular order, in a time usually a little under half-an-hour. The ceremony commences with a selection of hymns, before the infant is brought into the room by the Head Nurse, accompanied by the mother’s lady-in-waiting. The child is then handed to the godparent and then to the archbishop. The Archbishop then asks for a name, before proceeding to pour holy water from the font over the child’s head while declaring ‘I baptise you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’.

Another hymn is then sung and those present leave the room in the same order that they entered, and are ushered into another room where the register is signed.  A reception then follows, in which everyone enjoys light refreshments and cake.

Royal christenings are distinct in that they feature three special items, which have been present in almost every royal christening since that of Princess Victoria in 1841.

The Honiton Lace Robe

The gown first worn by Princess Victoria was directly inspired by her mother’s wedding dress from the preceding year. When Victoria the elder needed a gown for her daughter’s christening, she turned to a lace-maker from Honiton, East Devon – though the precise identity of this lace-maker is disputed.

It has been used by more than sixty individuals since its debut 173 years ago and the colour of the satin has now faded from white to cream and the linen has now worn out.  As one might imagine, this costume is delicate and requires extremely careful maintenance along with occasional reparative work. Following every outing, the outfit is hand-washed in sterilised water.  It is then dried, wrapped in black tissue paper and stored in an airtight container in Buckingham Palace.

The Lily Font

Even by royal standards, this is a breathtakingly opulent font. It is made from gold-gilded silver and is around seventeen inches wide and seventeen inches tall. Its border is comprised of elaborate lilies, while seated cherubim flank its base. Victoria commissioned the font in 1840, allegedly on the sole grounds that an illegitimate child had been christened in an earlier one. In 1960, the font was moved from Windsor Castle to the Tower of London, where it now resides.

The Holy Water

While having a priest bless the water has long been within the means of most families, the royals have traditionally gone a step further and had their water taken from the river Jordan, where Christian tradition holds that Jesus Christ was baptised by John.

Victoria

Victoria’s christening took place in the Cupola Room at Kensington Palace at around three o’clock in the afternoon of June 24th, 1819. The ceremony was unusual, not only in that it was sparsely attended, but in that no-one present knew what the baby’s name would be.

While Victoria’s parents had come up with a shortlist of names, the decision ultimately rested with Victoria’s father’s brother: the Prince Regent, George IV. George despised his brother and flatly rejected all four of the names put forward, declaring that the child should not be given any name currently used by the royal family. When the Archbishop came to ask George for a name, he replied with ‘Alexandrina’, after the Russian Emperor Alexander I.

And so Victoria was christened ‘Alexandrina Victoria’. Though the name ‘Drina’ persisted throughout her childhood, but she always preferred to be called by her second name and after she became queen, she often got her way.

Venues

Throughout history, British monarchs have built and used a variety of venues for the occasion. The last royal christening (that of Prince George in October last year) was carried out in the Chapel Royal at St. James’ Palace.

For the house of Windsor, the music room in Buckingham palace has long been a favoured venue for the ceremony and four royal babies have been christened there:  Charles, Anne, Andrew and William. In each instance, the ceremony was performed by the then-Archbishop of Canterbury.

The current monarch was officially welcomed into the world on 29th May, 1926 – around five weeks after her birth. According to historian and royal biographer Sarah Bradford, the queen cried so much that “her nurse dosed her with dill water, an old-fashioned remedy, to the amusement of her uncle, the Prince of Wales.”

Cakes

No overview of royal christenings would be complete without at least a brief mention of the various christening cakes that have been created for the occasion, the most ostentatious of which seems to be that presented to Edward VII, which The Times compared to a ‘coliseum of sugar’ and reported as being around two-and-a-half feet wide and over four feet tall.

In keeping with tradition, most royal christening cakes are made from the top layer of the parents’ wedding cake. William’s was one such, though the fact that the top layer alone was sufficient to feed 182 veterans of the Falklands war should give some indication of the enormousness of Charles and Diana’s wedding cake.

 

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From Princess to Fairy Godmother

A silver first tooth fairy box

The congregation at St Barnabas Church in Mayland, Chelmsford, had a pleasant surprise last Sunday during a Christening at the family service. The Duchess of Cambridge attended as a godmother and she was joined at the service, not only by her husband Prince William … she brought Prince George along as well.

The service was conducted by Reverend Ken Dunstan who admitted that he didn’t usually pay a huge amount of attention to godparents as long as they were there and willing to make the appropriate promises, but on this occasion he admitted that his usual congregation were a bit surprised. “My main concern was that I got the tone right for the family and for the baptism.”

Some little bunny in Mayland will have some Christening photos to be proud of and we are pretty confident there will be some impressive Christening pressies in the treasure box too.

Prince William had a busy day … after a slice of Christening cake he had to whizz back to London and change into the Dinner Jacket in time for the BAFTAs, where he was guest of honour and handed a BAFTA fellowship to Dame Helen Mirren, saying he should probably call her “granny” following her many performances as The Queen on stage and in film.

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A Christening Service without Sin and the Devil

Recent changes to the Christening service suggested by the Church of England’s Liturgy Commission have once again got the media in a bit of a tizzy.

In trying to make the service more appealing to more people, the Commission is adopting more approachable language, with slightly less fire & brimstone.

Making church services more accessible seems like a worthy aspiration, but the Church has unfortunately been accused once more of “Dumbing Down” the Christening service. Godparents will no longer be asked to “repent sins” and “reject the Devil’, but will instead be asked to “reject evil”.

The current wording is part of a trial that will run for the first part of 2014 and has the blessings of the Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Reverend Justin Welby, but for lovers of the Book of Common Prayer this is yet another departure from tradition which in the past asked godparents to “renounce the devil and all his works”.

Unfortunately the Church finds itself in an unwinnable situation. On the one hand it has to open its doors to all and be as accessible as possible, but on the other hand, in the traditional liturgy it has some of the most powerful words and poetry ever written in the English language that resonates through over 400 years of our history – which is a lot to lose.

Of course, there is another solution … since a Christening is primarily about the child and family, why not let the family choose the wording they prefer. After all, the wider family of the Church seems to accommodate traditionalists and modernist pretty successfully in many other areas of debate.

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The Christening Service Dumbing Down to “Baptism-Lite”

With the current debate about “Champagne Christenings”, we reprint a piece written in 2011 considering the implications of less formal baptisms:

The King James Authorised Version of the bible is being celebrated this year – 400 years old and the language is still some of the most resonant in English. No matter what your religious persuasion, the seventeenth century translators certainly knew how to turn a phrase or two … apart from all the “begatting” that goes on in Genesis which can be a bit tedious.

Around the same time, using similar language, the Book of Common Prayer gave us the foundation for worship that lasted hundreds of years. Apart from the occasional tinkering over time, the Book of Common Prayer survived until the 1980’s when the Alternative Service Book was introduced, followed by the Common Worship series in 2000. Many of the changes were probably overdue with old services like the “Churching of Women” receiving their just deserts. Unfortunately, however, the erosion of that wonderful 17th century language had also begun in earnest.

And now, in 2011, the General Synod of the Church of England has decided to revisit the Baptism Service … to tone down the language even more.

The media have not been slow to label the process “baptism lite”, or as one commentator put it: “Christenings without much Christianity.”

This dumbing down of the service is designed to make it more accessible to us poor “non-theologically versed Britons”. Apparently, the language is not “earthed enough” and that non-churchgoers at the service may be squeamish about declaring that they “reject the devil and all rebellion against God” and renounce “the deceit and corruption of evil.” So there is now a desire for change.

This is a pity.

Firstly, the Church is underestimating the audience it is trying to placate. Those of us who do not regularly attend church enjoy the poetry and ceremony attached to a church service. To take away the bells and smells is often to take away the mystery. The Church’s reasoning is that by making the language more everyday they are allowing the service to resonate better with people’s experience of life. But don’t the majority of people seek something more from a church service, something that will lift them out of the everyday and help them to aspire for improvement in both their lives and the lives of others?

Secondly, with around 160,000 Christenings taking place each year in the UK, the Christening service is still seen as an important rite of passage. Surely a bit of poetic mystery wouldn’t be out of place on such an occasion. A Christening is the perfect opportunity for the Church to welcome people to the faith – an anodyne, prosaic service will probably be as uplifting as a PowerPoint lecture from your HR manager on Health & Safety.

Luckily, the speed at which the Church moves in matters of faith and doctrine can never be described as lightening fast and it will be many years before we see the new service in all its grounded, approachable glory. And maybe, just maybe, the authors of the new service will look back to the original language of the Book of Common Prayer and realise that there is power in provenance … the understanding and connection come from the way it is delivered.

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Special 10% Discount on Christening Cups, Mugs and Tankards

For a limited time – until the end of May – CHRISTENINGsilver is offering a 10% discount on all Christening Cups, Mugs & Tankards.

As we approach the busiest time of the year for Christenings, CHRISTENINGsilver is carrying high stock levels of over thirty different designs of Christening cups, mugs and tankards. Prices start at under £50.00 for engraved pewter tankards in impressive presentation cases, rising to over £300.00 for traditional sterling silver cups. A popular Silver Christening Tankard, manufactured in Birmingham is currently priced at £165.00, so with the discount this would come in at under £150.00.

A new addition to the collection is a sterling silver baby Christening Cup that is currently priced at only £85.00. This is an amazing price for a sterling silver cup which can engraved and delivered for under £100!

Baby Silver Christening Cup in a presentation box

Our range of Christening cups is already very competitively priced and for the rest of May they come with an extra 10% discounted from the price. Simply enter the code  CUP10  in the voucher and discount box at check-out to receive the price reduction.

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Easter is a popular time for Christenings

Easter is a busy time here at CHRISTENINGsilver. We will be shipping more Christening gifts over the next few weeks than in the previous few months – This period over Easter and the start of Spring is very popular for Christenings & Baptisms.

… if only the weather was a bit more Spring-like. It was three degrees below freezing outside the CHRISTENINGsilver offices this morning …

There has been a close connection between Christenings and Easter for centuries. It was traditional in the early Church for baptisms to take place during the Easter Vigil and today many churches include a Christening ceremony during their Easter Sunday service.

This is not surprising, the associations between, Spring, resurrection, rebirth, baptism and Easter have been intertwined like a celtic knot for thousands of years. Baptism’s themes of purification, embracing of new life and welcoming a child into the family are eternal themes we have celebrated since we first started bashing rocks together in some palaeolithic cave.

The timing of Easter is based on the Vernal Equinox, an important pagan festival of birth, rebirth and purification …. although the calculation of the date of Easter around the equinox can be a bit of a headache: Easter should fall on the first Sunday after the full moon following the Vernal Equinox. Got that? Basically, you calculate the date of the equinox, work out when the next full moon is after the equinox and then Easter falls on the Sunday following that full moon – any time between March 22nd and April 25th … oh, and if the equinox falls on the 19th or 20th of March, just pretend it was the 21st – it makes things a lot easier.

Easter itself is named after a pagan goddess of Spring and new life, Eostre. Interestingly, she is closely linked in mythology with the hare (or if you prefer, the Mad March Hare) that many thought laid eggs at Easter – hence the “Easter Bunny” … and what’s our most popular Christening gift at this time of year? … you’ve guessed it … a Silver Egg Cup.

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Easter Bank Holiday Deliveries

Christening egg cup and spoon

Due to the Easter Holidays, Christening gifts purchased after 12 noon (GMT) on Thursday 28th March will not be dispatched until Tuesday 2nd April.

Any “Next Day” orders placed between 12 noon (GMT) on Thursday 28th March and 12 noon (BST) on Tuesday 2nd April  will be delivered on Wednesday 3rd April before 1pm.

Wishing you a happy Easter Holiday …. stay warm!!

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