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Royal christening 101: FAQs about Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor’s big day

Though Harry and Meghan want to keep Archie’s baptism very private, there’s still a lot to talk about
The Duke & Duchess Of Sussex Pose With Their Newborn Son
WINDSOR, ENGLAND - MAY 08: Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, pose with their newborn son Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor during a photocall in St George’s Hall at Windsor Castle on May 8, 2019 in Windsor, England. The Duchess of Sussex gave birth at 05:26 on Monday 06 May, 2019. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

On Saturday, July 6, two-month-old Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor will be baptized at Windsor Castle. His parents, Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have chosen to have an ultra-private religious service within the confines of a royal residence. And that means some past royal practices are being tweaked for this event.

So here is an FAQ on what we know (and don’t know) about Archie’s official entrance into the Church of England:

Before we start, one basic question: what’s the difference between baptism and christening?

Religious terminology can be confusing, especially for those not used to it. Baptism and christening can be used interchangeably, according to the Church of England. “Some churches will use the word ‘baptism’ and some the word ‘christening,’ ” its website explains. “The moment when your child has water poured or wiped on their head is the actual baptism and is at the heart of the service. Babies are baptized during a christening service just as couples are ‘married’ during a ‘wedding’ service.”

Where will Archie be baptized?

Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor will be christened in the private chapel at Windsor Castle. It’s a perfect location for the Sussex family as they live in Frogmore Cottage, a short distance from the castle.

Isn’t that where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married?

Umm, no. You’re thinking of St. George’s Chapel, the gloriously beautiful Gothic chapel within the grounds of Windsor Castle.

Archie is being baptized at the royal family’s private chapel. Unlike many parts of the ancient castle, it is relatively new. In 1992, Queen Victoria’s ornate chapel was the epicentre of the fire that devastated the castle. It began when a faulty spotlight ignited a curtain. Virtually nothing of the chapel survived.

When that damaged section of the historic building was rebuilt, experts used the opportunity to improve the area’s layout by creating a new octagonal lobby where the old royal chapel used to be awkwardly positioned, between St. George’s Hall and the royal family’s private apartments. Tucked off that Lantern Lobby is a new private chapel, occupying rooms destroyed by the fire.

Its altar was designed by David Linley, the Queen’s nephew, while an altarpiece by a follower of Raphael was installed above it. And as the royal family is one for grand recycling, an unused set of heavy chairs by Pugin, originally created for the state dining room, were given new purpose in the chapel. Specially commissioned stained glass was created for the southwest window. Using drawings by Prince Philip, it includes a fireman working to save the burning castle while workers rescue its priceless artifacts.

Has that private chapel been used for previous royal baptisms?

Oh, yes, both before and after the fire. For example, the children of Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, were baptized there.

Who performs the actual baptism?

That duty falls to Justin Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Church of England. He not only baptized and confirmed Meghan Markle before her wedding to Prince Harry last year but also officiated at those nuptials at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

Who will be there?

Again, those details are private, but the media expects attendees to include grandparents Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Doria Ragland, Meghan’s mother. Though there have been reports of tension between Harry and his older brother, it’s all but assured that Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge will be there as well, perhaps with their older children, George and Charlotte (Louis is likely too young).

Meghan’s father, Thomas Markle, will not be leaving his Mexican home for the short service. Ditto the rest of the Markle clan: Meghan’s relationship with them has been pretty much non-existent for some time now.

Is there any family intrigue?

What family has a gathering without drama? When Prince Harry was christened in 1984, his aunt, Princess Anne, decided that day was just perfect for some rabbit hunting in the countryside. Her no-show came amid reports of a feud between Prince Charles and his father, Prince Philip, over how the heir to the throne was treating his hard-working sister.

Sometimes, the froideur goes farther afield. For instance, the christening of Eugenie, daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York, was not without its issues. “Two of Fergie’s choices for godmother caused upper lips to stiffen,” People reported. “Former flatmate Louise ‘Lulu’ Blacker is said by one tab to greet male chums by grabbing their crotches, and Julia Dodd-Noble was the prankster who coaxed Fergie and Di into trying to crash Andrew’s pre-wedding stag party.”

The most famous person to miss Archie’s christening will be his great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. She’s working out of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh and reportedly has a prior engagement that means she won’t be at the service.

Before tongues start wagging, I note for the record that she also passed on last year’s christening of Archie’s cousin, Prince Louis.

Are all royal baptismal services private?

Yes. Well, at least in Britain. While Sweden’s royal babies are christened in public events carried live on television, those in Britain usually take place in private chapels with only selected family and friends taking part.

One recent exception was that of Princess Eugenie, who cried through much of her baptism during a public church service in Sandringham, as the family gathered for its Christmas break in 1990. The reason for the venue and timing was that her dad, Prince Andrew, was away at sea with the Royal Navy and it was a date that worked with everyone’s schedules.

Will we see any images from Archie’s big day?

Yes, though not as many as their fans (and the media) would like.

Two days after Archie’s birth on May 6, Harry and Meghan posed for a few minutes with their sleeping baby in front of a small group of media. That brief photo op allowed the only reporter present to ask that Harry show the face of his sleeping son, hidden by a blanket.

At this christening, there will be no such opportunity. Unlike the christenings of William and Kate’s children, the media won’t be allowed to capture the arrivals and departures at the service. Instead, we’ll get an unknown number of carefully curated and approved photos from Harry and Meghan’s favourite photographer, Chris Allerton.

The exact timing of publication of those images is unknown but, fingers crossed, will likely be in time to make the print deadlines for the Sunday newspaper.

And yes, that raised a few eyebrows. “With taxpayers having just spent £2.4 million on the renovations to Frogmore Cottage, the Sussex family home in Windsor, some have argued that the public should have the right to share in baby Archie’s special day,” notes Camilla Tominey of the Telegraph.

Will Archie be in the ornate christening gown that his cousins wore to their christenings?

We may not know much, but it’s all but certain that Archie will indeed wear the most famous christening gown in the world. It is a replica of one made of Honiton lace and Spitalfields white silk satin that was originally created in 1841 for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s first child, Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa.

Worn by generations of royal babies, the fragile original garment was retired from use in 2004. Queen Elizabeth II had her dresser, Angela Kelly, make a replica that has been used for subsequent christenings, including those of Archie’s cousins, George, Charlotte and Louis.

Any other royal traditions?

Well, this is an institution that has existed for a thousand years, so tradition is in the House of Windsor’s dynastic DNA. To honour of that heritage, this is the repeat of what I wrote for Louis’s christening in 2018: “Along with that gown, Victoria and Albert started another tradition for their daughter’s christening when they ordered a new baptismal font, made of silver gilded with gold and decorated with water lilies and putti with harps.”

During that ceremony at Buckingham Palace, on Feb. 10, 1841, the little princess didn’t cry when her forehead was wetted by the archbishop of Canterbury. “Albert and I agreed that all had gone off beautifully and in a very dignified manner,” Victoria recorded. The font, which is displayed with the rest of the Crown jewels at the Tower of London when not needed by the house of Windsor, has been used at every subsequent royal christening. And, by tradition, the holy water comes from the Jordan River.”

Umm, I know baptism involves water and often a crying baby, but what is it actually for?

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” That is just one part of a simple, yet profoundly moving, religious service. Helpfully, most Anglican Church websites have plain language explanations, so here is the one from the Anglican Diocese of Toronto:

Baptism (which comes from the Greek verb “to wash”) is the universal ritual of initiation into the fellowship of followers of Jesus Christ known as the Church. Christians, whether adults or babies, are baptized with water in the name of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Baptism is one of the two holy acts mandated by Jesus. The other is the sacred meal of bread and wine known as the Eucharist.

While people are baptized as individuals, they are baptized into a community of faith that promises to:

  • persevere in resisting evil
  • forgive one another, as God has forgiven them
  • seek and serve Christ in all persons
  • strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being
  • strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and
  • respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth

Parents bringing children to be baptized make a commitment to nurture them in the faith and life of the Christian community. All baptized persons are encouraged to participate in God’s work in the world through their gifts of time, talent and financial resources.

As for the specific steps, including, yes, being having water poured on the individual being baptized, check out a nice graphic by the Church of England.

What do we know about Archie’s godparents?

As of now, we know nothing. Seriously. “The godparents, in keeping with their wishes, will remain private,” stated the Sussex’s press release. That’s a departure from the norm for such senior royals, at least in recent years. Usually their names are released to the public and they are seen on the day.

Harry and Meghan can choose as many as they’d like, though the usual number is between two and six. Though most historical godparents used to be royal to the core—Prince Charles’s godparents included King Haakon VII of Norway, his aunt Princess Margaret, grandfather King George VI and great-grandmother Queen Mary plus a coterie of other royal relatives—in recent years, royal parents have tended to choose close friends and family.

Are there any friends who can’t be godparents?

The position of a godparents is a very important one within the Anglican faith. During the baptism service, they promise to “encourage their godchild to grow in faith and commit to helping them understand how to live their life in a Christian way,” as the Church of England states.

And to make that commitment, godparents have to be Christian. The Church of England website is clear: “It is a basic requirement that godparents should be baptized themselves, and ideally confirmed too, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their baptism/confirmation should have been in the Church of England.

One name being bandied around as a potential godparent is Jessica Mulroney, Meghan’s BFF and a Toronto-based stylist. However, Mulroney is Jewish, so she wouldn’t qualify as a Christian godparent.

Whether Serena Williams, another close friend, can be a godparent isn’t as clear. She is a Jehovah’s Witness and, unlike Anglicans, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe baptism is a sacrament. Rather, they hold that baptism is a symbol of a person’s dedication to God, so it is done when the believer is old enough to make that commitment on his or her own.

If general church doctrine—that baptism is a sacrament—applies, then it’s hard to see how Serena Williams could be named a godparent, unless there is an extenuating issue or precedent not readily apparent. Also, this is a very high-profile christening within the worldwide Anglican faith: not only is Archie being baptized by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is head of the Church of England, but the baby’s great-grandmother, the Queen, is the Defender of the Faith and the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. So the rules are likely even tighter.