Archbishop of Canterbury Baptizes Britain's Future King, Prince George

Archbishop of Canterbury Baptizes Britain's Future King, Prince George

(RNS) -- Prince George is now officially named and an Anglican.

The 3-month-old royal baby was christened Wednesday (Oct. 23), ritually welcomed into the Church of England as Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge, in a private ceremony for close family and friends in the historic chapel of a London royal palace.

His parents, Prince William and Duchess Kate of Cambridge, grandparents, great-grandparents and seven godparents looked on as the baby was baptized by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, in an antique silver font in the Chapel Royal of St. James’s Palace as a small scarlet-and-gold-clad choir sang hymns.

The christening, blending tradition and innovation, was yet another display of the young royals’ savvy approach to duty, history, modernity and informality, obvious since their engagement in 2010.

The guest list for the ceremony was short, just 22 people and only five royals: great-grandparents Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, grandfather Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince Harry.

Also there were maternal grandparents Michael and Carole Middleton, Kate’s siblings Pippa and James Middleton, plus the closest relatives and oldest friends of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

George’s seven godparents, as disclosed by the palace six hours before the ceremony, include the single royal, William’s cousin, Zara Phillips Tindall, the queen’s granddaughter and daughter to Princess Anne the Princess Royal.

Will and Kate broke with tradition in choosing old friends as godparents for their first child, third-in-line to the throne, rather than foreign royals, as with William himself. Prince Charles, for instance, had nine official godparents, including two kings, one queen, one princess and one prince.

The ceremony was short, less than 45 minutes, and took place in private, as is typical for royal christenings. Not typical was the venue: Most royal babies, including William, Charles and the queen, were christened in the Music Room of Buckingham Palace. The last royal baby to be christened in the Chapel Royal was Princess Beatrice, William’s cousin, in 1988.

For the service, the duke and duchess chose two hymns, two lessons and two anthems, the palace said. The hymns are Breathe on Me, Breath of God and Be Thou My Vision. The lessons were from the Gospels of Luke and John and were read by Pippa Middleton and Prince Harry.

Compared to most rooms in Buckingham Palace, the Chapel Royal, started by Henry VIII in 1540, is much more intimate, with purple velvet-cushioned bench seating for about 40 people, beautiful stained-glass windows and gilded ceilings.

Like so many royal buildings in the U.K, the chapel has a rich history. It is believed to be the burial place of the heart of Queen Mary I, the elder daughter of Henry VIII. It’s where her younger sister Queen Elizabeth I waited and prayed during the Spanish Armada crisis in 1588. It was where Charles I received last rites before his head was chopped off in Whitehall in 1649. And it was where Queen Victoria married her Prince Albert in 1840.

But its real historic significance to the royal couple is its poignant association with the princess who would never be queen: Diana, William’s late mother. After she was killed in a Paris car crash in 1997, her coffin lay before the chapel’s altar until her funeral in Westminster Abbey.

Baptism is an important religious ritual in the Christian faith but it’s especially important to British royals: Since the monarch is the head of the Church of England, eventually Prince George will take on that role, so it’s critical that he be raised as an Anglican.

The 17-inch-high silver-gilt baptismal font, the Lily Font, is part of the Crown Jewels collection kept at the Tower of London; it was moved to the chapel for the ceremony and contained water from the River Jordan, the palace said. Made for the baptism of Queen Victoria’s first child, the carved baptismal font has been used for the christening of every royal baby since the little Princess Victoria in 1841.

Archbishop Welby said in public remarks several days before the ceremony that he planned to baptize the baby with a few drops of water, rather than the immersion custom of some Protestant faiths. Welby also said he hoped Prince George’s christening and the attention it attracted would be good for the Anglican church and inspire other parents to do the same with their newborns.

Maria Puente writes for USA Today. Kim Hjelmgaard and Stephanie Haven contributed to this report from London.

c. 2013 Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Publication date: October 24, 2013