Royal baby christening traditions: Gowns, godparents and water used to baptise Jesus
There was certainly something in the royal water last year as a number of regal ladies have begun to welcome new babies into the royal family in 2021.
First up in February was Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s daughter Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank who announced that she had given birth to their first child together, August Philip Hawke Brooksbank.
Their happy news was shortly followed by a spokeswomen for Zara and Mike Tindall confirmed that the eldest granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II had given birth to their third child, Lucas Philip Tindall in couple’s Gatcombe Park home on Sunday 21 March.
And of course, earlier this month, Meghan Markle and her husband Prince Harry shared the happy news that the former Suits actress had given birth to the lovingly named Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor.
With all these newborn babies, the royal family will soon see their social calendars booking up with christenings to celebrate the new regal arrivals. We take a look at the traditions and pomp that goes into producing a royal christening.
One of the most poignant points of a baptism is the sprinkling or pouring water on the head of the new born baby.
However, monarchs aren’t just splashed with any old water – royal babies are traditionally traditionally christened with water from the River Jordan.
With all three of the Cambridge children’s christenings, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby used special water from the Jordan River to baptize the royal babies.
The water holds religious significance as its comes from the site where Christians believe Saint John baptised Jesus and it is believed it is flown over for regal occasions.
At the time of Princess Charlotte’s christening, Kensington Palace would not confirm how water from the river was obtained but a Jordanian official told the BBC that it had been sent by his country’s royal court.
“We organise the process of bottling holy water from the River Jordan,” says Dia Madani, head of Jordan’s baptism site commission.
“We provide it to investors after cleaning it, sterilising it and giving it the blessings of religious men. Each bottle has a label from the commission.”
However, future Head of State Prince William is one royal who wasn’t blessed with imported water.
In 1983, the future king was christened with tap waterdue to a Buckingham Palace shortage at the time.
Dating back all the way to 1841, the story behind the traditional cream gown used at royal christenings is one steeped in history.
Queen Victoria first commissioned the dress to be made for her eldest daughter, Princess Victoria and her choice of robe was dubbed a clever PR move.
The monarch was keen to promote local industries so opted for a gown made of Honiton lace for her first born – the same material she famously promoted by including it in her wedding dress.
The ensemble was passed down generation to generation and worn by a total of 62 members of the royal family, including Prince William and Prince Harry, until the christening of the Earl and Countess of Wessex’s son, James, Viscount Severn in 2008.
The Queen deemed the dress too fragile to survive another christening and in order to preserve the heirloom, she instructed her dressmaker Angela Kelly to make an exact replica of the historic gown.
The copy has since gone on to be worn by all the Cambridge children and Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s first-born, Archie.
While three or four godparents at most is the norm for most of us, royal babies are usually given six at their christening! Third-in-line to the throne Prince George actually has seven godparents – including Julia Samuel who was a close friend of his late grandmother, Princess Diana.
While the name of a royal child’s godparents are usually revealed to the public, trailblazers Prince Harry and Meghan Markle opted to break tradition and not formally announce the names of their choices for their son Archie when he was christened in July 2019.
However, according to a report in The Sunday Times, Tiggy Pettifer is believed to be Archie’s godmother while Mark Dyer, a close friend of Prince Harry acts as the young child’s godfather.
Tiggy Pettifer was nanny to Harry and William when they were young.
The lily font
With the exception of Princess Eugenie’s christening, large silver-gilt baptismal font has been used at baptismal services of all of the children and grandchildren of Queen Elizabeth II.
The use of the elaborate font dates all the way back to 1841 when it was first used for Princess Victoria’s christening.
The Lily Font is part of the Royal Collection and is stored at the Jewel House at the Tower of London when not in use.
In 2015 it was taken to St. Mary Magdalene Church, Sandringham for the baptism of Princess Charlotte of Cambridge in Norfolk and it was reported that this was the first time the iconic font had ever left London.
The most important part of any celebration is the cake and the royal family, like with many other aspects of their children’s baptisms, have a special tradition when it comes to what they serve at a christening.
In a long-standing custom that has been followed by monarchs including the Queen, the top tier of a couple’s wedding cake is traditionally saved for the christening of their first child.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge took things one step further when they managed to preserve some of the fruit cake served at their wedding for three of their children’s christenings.