LONDON – Dressed in a lace and satin gown designed in the 1840s, Britain’s 3-month-old future monarch, Prince George, was christened Wednesday with water from the River Jordan at a rare gathering of four generations of the royal family.
The occasion had historic overtones: the presence of Britain’s 87-year-old monarch and three future kings, Princes Charles, William and, of course, little George.
Queen Elizabeth II, usually the center of attention, quietly ceded the spotlight to her rosy-cheeked great-grandson, who seemed to wave at her when he arrived – an illusion created by his father, Prince William, playfully moving the infant’s arm.
The private affair at the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace was also attended by Prince Charles, next in line to the throne, and the queen’s 92-year-old husband, Prince Philip, who has shown remarkable stamina since returning to the public eye after a two-month convalescence following serious abdominal surgery.
All told, it was an exceptional day for a monarchy that seems to be basking in public affection since the 2011 wedding of William and Kate Middleton and the maturing of Prince Harry, who appears to have put his playboy days behind him.
George, who was born on July 22, wore a replica of a christening gown made with exquisite antique lace for Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, and first used in 1841.
When William was christened in 1982, he wore the original gown – by then well over a century old – but the garment has become so fragile that a replica was made.
The infant, who will head the Church of England when he becomes king, was christened with water from the River Jordan by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. The silver baptismal font – known as the Lily Font – dates to 1840 when it was commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for their first child’s birth, and has been used for every royal christening since.
As trumpets blared, baby George arrived at the chapel in his father’s arms with his mother by their side.
Kate, smiling broadly on her way into the chapel, wore a cream-colored Alexander McQueen dress and hat by milliner Jane Taylor, with her long hair brushed to the side. William wore his customary dark suit and tie as he proudly carried their first child.
Kate’s parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, and her sister, Pippa, and brother, James, were also at the ceremony, where Pippa Middleton read from the Gospel of St. Luke and Prince Harry from the Gospel of St. John.
The chapel has a strong connection to William’s mother, the late Princess Diana, whose coffin was laid before the chapel’s altar for her family to pay their last respects in private before her 1997 funeral.
William and Kate chose seven godparents, among them William’s cousin, Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne and a close friend of the couple.
The others include Oliver Baker, a friend from William and Kate’s days at St. Andrews University; Emilia Jardine-Paterson, who went to the exclusive Marlborough College high school with Kate; Hugh Grosvenor, the son of the Duke of Westminster; Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, a former private secretary to the couple; Julia Samuel, a close friend of Princess Diana, and William van Cutsem, a childhood friend of William’s.
Palace officials said water from the River Jordan – where Christians believe Jesus Christ was baptized – was used for the christening.
In the West Bank, hours before the ceremony in London, busloads of Russian tourists descended on Qasr el-Yahud to immerse themselves in the river. The site, five miles (eight kilometers) east of Jericho, is considered Christianity’s third-holiest site, after Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
The river’s waters have often been used to make the sign of the cross on the heads of royal infants.
Some royal watchers camped outside the palace for more than 24 hours to obtain a good vantage point to watch the guests arrive, but the ceremony was private.
Afterward, Charles and his wife, Camilla, hosted a tea for the royal party at their Clarence House residence, where desserts included a “christening cake” with a tier taken from William and Kate’s wedding cake.
The couple hired photographer Jason Bell to take official pictures, which are expected to include a historic multigenerational photograph of the queen with the three future kings – an image that will echo an 1894 picture of Queen Victoria with three future monarchs.