The wedding of Prince Laurent of Belgium and Claire Coombs

Brussels, 12 April 2003

Rehearsal at the Cathedral, 10 April 2003

While passing the cathedral of Brussels on Thursday evening around 18:00 I just saw King Albert II and Queen Paola of the Belgians entering the cathedral through the side entrance. With the presscard I just had collected that afternoon in the press centre I was allowed to go inside. I found myself there with several Belgian television-crews and some Belgian photographers. And next to the king and the queen I also discovered Mr Nicholas Coombs and Mrs Nicole Coombs-Mertens, parents of the bride. It turned out I was just in time for the rehearsal of the choir and orchestra for the wedding on Saturday.

While I enjoyed the choir singing and the orchestra playing I had a look at the flower decoration – they were still very busy with it – and in the meantime I kept an eye on the parents of the bride and groom. When the choir started singing I saw the parents of the bride sitting on a small bench silently enjoying the singing.

King Albert II and Queen Paola left the cathedral at around 18:45. I went outside to take a picture of them leaving. I had a short talk with a Belgian royalty watcher outside when a motorcyclist arrived at the cathedral and she immediately said that it was Prince Laurent. He parked his motorcycle around the corner and we waited for him. Somewhat surprised he allowed us to make a photo of him, and I managed to congratulate him on his wedding and to shake his hand. Inside I was interviewed by TV1, a Belgian tv-channel. They kept Prince Laurent in the background, but after a while the Prince came to us asking if we could find us another background. Unfortunately I heard later on from my mother that it hadn’t been broadcasted in the programme De Rode Loper on Friday evening.

Of course everybody in the cathedral was wondering now if also the bride would show up. I think it must have been about half an hour after Prince Laurent that also Claire Coombs arrived, together with the befriended couple De Meulenaere with their son and daughter Clothilde, who will be one of the bridesmaids on Saturday. After a talk to her husband-to-be and her parents Claire Coombs took a walk in the cathedral together with Clothilde de Meulenaere. Afterwards the whole group started walking round to have a look at the flower decoration. The bridal couple looked pretty relaxed and were talking and joking with the bride’s parents. After silently joining the “Ave Maria” sung by Yvette Fanna, the couple left: Claire Coombs by car and Prince Laurent on his motorcycle, this time accompanied to the motor by several tv-crews and photographers.

Concert at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, 11 April 2003

Although the concert started at 19:30 I had to be there one hour before. I entered the Palais des Beaux-Arts via the side-entrance. Inside I found already several journalists and photographers waiting. It was a bit of a mess, but finally a man in uniform directed our group of 13 journalists to our box in the concert hall. We found ourselves in a box on the side of the orchestra and we had a pretty good view on the public. People were dressed from nice to gala – our uniformed ‘guard’ said: “Those people in gala are the Italians” (meaning the Italian family members of Queen Paola). Some 1500 people were invited for the concert, including some 220 ordinary Belgians.

While waiting for the arrival of the royal guests we were trying to spot royals who were not on the guestlist among the public and we succeeded. The area just below the royal box contained Belgian politicians – although when we left we saw the Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt coming out of a box not too far away from ours – and below them several royals were seated. We discovered the parents, brother and sisters of Princess Mathilde sitting next to the Aga Khan and Begum Inaara. In front of them were Don Luis Alfonso de Borbón y Martínez-Bordiú, the Duke and Duchess of Calabria who attend their first baby within a few months, the Duke’s sisters Anne and Beatrice with Prince Egon von Fürstenberg, Marquess Matteo Fabra di Chiosi as well as Reza Pahlavi. In the row below them were the Duke and Duchess of Bragança, Prince Philipp Erasmus and Princess Isabelle of Liechtenstein, Prince Serge of Yugoslavia with girlfriend and Prince Michael of Yugoslavia. And on the row below them we saw Archduke Michael and Archduchess Christiana. More to the right of the hall we also spotted bridesmaid Clothilde de Meulenaere with her parents.

The royal guests as well as the family of the bride started arriving and were seated in the boxes on the left and the right of the royal box. Seen from our position on the left of the royal box we saw from the left to the right: Princess Sibilla and Prince Guillaume of Luxemburg, Prince Nikolaus and Princess Margaretha of Liechtenstein, Prince Constantijn and Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, Princess Madeleine and Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde of Belgium and Queen Fabiola of Belgium. On the right of the royal box from the left to the right we saw: Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxemburg, Matthew Coombs, Joanna & Steve Grant with bridesmaid Emma Grant, Princess and Archduchess Maria-Laura and Prince and Archduke Amedeo, Prince and Archduke Lorenz with his brother Archduke Gerhard of Austria-Este, Pieter van Vollenhoven and Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, Prince and Archduke Joachim and bridesmaid Princess and Archduchess Luisa-Maria, Prince Jean of Luxemburg as well as Archduchess Marie-Astrid and Archduke Carl-Christian of Austria. Finally bride and groom arrived with their parents. Claire Coombs wore an ivory lady’s suit designed by Edouard Vermeulen of the House of Natan. The Belgian national anthem, the Brabançonne was played and then the concert could begin. Most interesting was a piece of music with bird sounds in it that made the whole hall laugh.

The National Orchestra of Belgium was conducted by Mikko Franck. They played the following works:

  • “Ouverture Joyeuse” by Marcel Poot
  • “Cantus Arcticus” by Einojuhani Rautavaara
  • Extracts from “Romeo and Juliet” by Sergej Prokofiev
  • “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas

After the one-hour concert a reception took place in the Palais des Beaux-Arts. It took quite a while until all guests had arrived at the reception. Waiters walked around with drinks, for all champagne and Belgian beer, and sometimes little snacks – not really enough if you are starving from hunger because there was not much time to eat beforehand. While talking with someone from the Belgian tv-channel VTM I know from the Internet we saw that Princess Astrid’s youngest children Joachim and Luisa-Maria went home with their nanny.

I finally ended up in the room where most royal guests were standing and talking. French definitely was the language most people talked in to each other, for example I heard Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands speaking beautifully French. Here I also discovered some guests I hadn’t seen before like Prince Carlos de Bourbon de Parme, Prince Kardam and Princess Miríam of Bulgaria as well as Prince Wenzeslaus of Liechtenstein. I also saw royalty-journalist Stéphane Bern and hat-designer Fabienne Delvigne as well as designer Edouard Vermeulen of the House of Natan. It was pretty strange to stand between so many royals. Of course as I knew nobody I just stood on the side talking to noone. But anyway Don Luis Alfonso de Borbón y Martínez-Bordiú just passed me within centimetres when he left, and Prince Carlos de Bourbon de Parme even winked and laughed at me. After having been talking with a Belgian journalist for a while, I just dared to speak to Prince Wenzeslaus of Liechtenstein to ask if he knew the date of birth of his sister-in-law Astrid, who married his elder brother Alexander last February. He ended up asking his mother and they were both very friendly, so I got my answer. Shortly before 23:00 I walked back to the hall where I found the last few colleagues waiting for bride and groom to leave. When bride and groom left we also left the building to try to get some sleep as we all had to get up early for the wedding the next day.

Wedding day, 12 April 2003

The procession

Royal Palace of Brussels – Brussels Town Hall:
Place des Palais – Rue Royale – Rue des Colonies – Putterie – Carrefour de l’Europe – Putterie – Rue Infante Isabelle – Place Agora – Rue du Marché-aux-Herbes – Rue de la Colline – Grand Place.

Brussels Town Hall – Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula:
Grand Place – Rue de la Colline – Rue du Marché-aux-Herbes – Place Agora – Rue Infante Isabelle – Putterie – Carrefour de l’Europe – Putterie – Rue des Colonies – Rue de la Chancellerie – Parvis Sainte-Gudule.

Cathedral – Royal Palace of Brussels:
Parvis Sainte-Gudule – Rue de la Chancellerie – Rue des Colonies – Rue Royale – Place des Palais.

The royal party was escorted by the Royal Motorcycle Escort on the section of the journey from the Royal Palace to Brussels Town Hall; by the Motorcycle Escort of the Brussels Police on the section of the journey from Brussels Town Hall to the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula; and by the Royal Cavalry Escort on the section of the journey from the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula to the Royal Palace.

The civil wedding

Just before 10:00 King Albert II of the Belgians arrived with Nicole Coombs, mother of the bride. Prince Laurent of Belgium arrived at the town hall together with his mother, Queen Paola. After the three bridesmaids also Claire Coombs arrived with her father, Mr Nicholas Coombs. Both bride and groom were welcomed by the mayor of Brussels, Mr Freddy Thielemans, at the Lion Staircase. The public outside enthusiastically cheered the marrying couple.

After some words of welcome in French, Dutch and German the marriage certificate was read, also in the three official languages of Belgium:
In the year two thousand and three, on the twelfth of April at 10 a.m., the following persons appeared at the Town Hall:

His Royal Highness Prince Laurent Benoît Baudouin Marie, Prince of Belgium, Senator, Grand Cordon de l’Ordre de Léopold, holder of various foreign honorary distinctions,
born in Brussels, second district, on the nineteenth of October nineteen hundred and sixty-three,
domiciled in Brussels, avenue du Parc Royal, 100,
major son of His Majesty King Albert II Félix Humbert Théodore Christian Eugène Marie, King of the Belgians, Prince of Belgium, Grand Maître de l’Ordre de Léopold, holder of various foreign
honorary distinctions,
and his spouse Her Majesty Queen Paola Margherita Maria-Antonia Consiglia Ruffo di Calabria, Princess of Belgium, Grand Cordon de l’Ordre de Léopold, both domiciled in Brussels, of the one part;
Miss Claire Louise Coombs,
born in Bath (United Kingdom), on the eighteenth of January nineteen hundred and seventy-four,
domiciled at Chaumont-Gistoux, rue du Sartau, 23,
major daughter of Mr. Nicholas John Coombs, and his spouse Mrs. Nicole Eva Gabrielle Thérèse Mertens, domiciled at Chaumont-Gistoux, of the other part.
The Spouses agreed their marriage settlements in an act received on the nineteenth of March two thousand and three in Brussels.

Reading of Articles of Law:
Before receiving your consent, the Law requires me to read aloud to you the provisions of Chapter VI of the Civil Code concerning the respective rights and duties of the spouses.
Article 212 : Marriage does not modify the legal capacity of the spouses.
Article 213 : The spouses have the duty to live together; they owe it to each other to be faithful and provide help and assistance.
Article 221 : Each spouse shall contribute to the charges of the marriage in proportion to their means.

Consents and signing of the Certificates:
After having read the articles of law Mayor Freddy Thielemans contracted the marriage in all three languages. Already after the French text Prince Laurent said ‘Yes’ – everybody laughed as he should have waited until it also had been read in Dutch and German – so he had to say ‘Yes’ again. Claire Coombs also said ‘Yes’, after which the couple was officially married. A short congratulatory address by the Mayor was followed by the signing of the certificates by both bride and groom and their witnesses.

As the weather was good, bride and groom, followed by their parents, appeared at the balcony of the Town Hall after the civil ceremony. To the big enthusiasm of the public the bride took the initiative to kiss the groom at the balcony.

Religious wedding

Flower decoration at the Cathedral

The decoration in the Cathedral was a gift of the Gentse Floraliën (Ghent Flower Show) to Prince Laurent of Belgium and Claire Coombs. Mr Roland De Wulf, general-secretary of the Gentse Floraliën, has chosen Mr Daniël Ost to decorate the Cathedral with thousands of Belgian flowers like azaleas (white Angelinas), hydrangeas and rhododendrons. Mr Daniël Ost has once again raised his inspiration in a magical way to a level where the plants and flowers passed between the hands of an artist undergo an unimaginable transformation.

Order of Service

The Wedding Mass is presided over by:
His Eminence Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels

and concelebrated by:
Canon Raymond van Schoubroeck, Dean of the Cathédrale des Saints-Michel-et-Gudule of Brussels
Canon Herman Cosijns, Dean of the Église Notre-Dame of Laeken
Father Guy Gilbert, Priest and Youth Worker – Association Père Guy Gilbert – Bergerie du Faucon in Paris

With the musical collaboration of:
Mr Jozef Sluys, incumbent organist of the Cathedral
‘The Brussels Choral Society’ choir, conducted by Mr Eric Delson
The Brass and Woodwind Ensemble of the Orchestre National de Belgique. The Brass Ensemble is conducted by the Musical Director of the Orchestre National de Belgique, Mr Mikko Franck
Mr Leo Wouters, first solo trumpeter of the Orchestre National de Belgique
The Capella Sanctorum Michaëlis et Gudulae, conducted by Mr Willem Ceuleers, Choirmaster. Accompanying organist : Mr Johan Laleman
Mrs Yvette Fanna, Soprano (Director of the Manécanterie (choir school) of Walloon Brabant, ‘Les Pious-Pious de Chaumont-Gistoux’ – Member of the Pueri Cantores)

Welcoming the guests

Prélude (Suite du 2ème Ton) – L. Chaumont (ca. 1635-1712) – By J. Sluys, organ
Serenade KV 375, Allegro maestoso – W.A. Mozart (1756-1791) – By the Woodwind Ensemble of the Orchestre National de Belgique
Fugue gayë – L. Chaumont (ca. 1635-1712) – By J. Sluys, organ
Festival Te Deum – R. Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) – By The Brussels Choral Society
Cornet – L. Chaumont (ca. 1635-1712) – J. Sluys, organ
Trois motets à la Sainte Vierge – E. Tinel (1854-1912) – Capella Sanctorum Michaëlis et Gudulae conducted by W. Ceuleers
Ave Maria – Regina Caeli – Ave Regina Coelorum – Capella Sanctorum Michaëlis et Gudulae conducted by W. Ceuleers
Basse de Cromorne – L. Chaumont (ca. 1635-1712) – By J. Sluys, organ
Processional fanfares – E. Howarth (1935- ) – Brass Ensemble of the Orchestre National de Belgique conducted by M. Franck
Mutations from Bach – S. Barber (1910-1981) – Brass Ensemble of the Orchestre National de Belgique conducted by M. Franck
Sonata pian’e forte – G. Gabrieli (1553-1612) – Brass Ensemble of the Orchestre National de Belgique conducted by M. Franck
Chaconne grave – L. Chaumont (ca. 1635-1712) – By J. Sluys, organ

Opening of the ceremony and Welcome

Toccata con Fuga in d, BWV 565 – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Cardinal: In name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
All: Amen
Cardinal: The mercy of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the society of the Holy Spirit are with you.
All: And with your spirit.
Cardinal: We are gathered here in the House of the Lord united around Laurent and Claire who will say yes to each other today. On this critical moment of their lifes, we want to be near them with our affection and friendship, but also with our prayer.

Be welcome here, you all to share in the happiness of those two people, to witness them saying yes, and to confirm with them. And to thank together with them in this celebration the God of love.

We heartily welcome bride and groom and all present here. May God fulfill us with joy about this gathering, let us praise and thank Him for Laurent and Claire who today receive the sacrament, sign of God’s good.

We also welcome the family of Claire and invite them to take part in this celebration. Let us now praise God, because He is the source of all love among the people.

Messe Opus 11: Kyrie – A. Guilmant (1837-1911) – Capella Sanctorum Michaëlis et Gudulae conducted by W. Ceuleers

Opening Prayer

Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Genesis 6, 13-14a. 18-22 – By Duchess Sophie d’Arenberg née Princess of Bavaria (godmother of Prince Laurent) – In German.

The Lord said to Noah: “The days of the people are numbered, because they are to blame that the earth is full of violence. I am going to destroy them with the earth. You need to build an ark of pinewood. You have to embark at the ark, with your sons, with your wives and the wives of your sons. Further you have to bring one pair from all living creatures in the ark, to make them staying alive with you; one male and one female animal there must be. From the various kind of birds, from the various kind of cattle, from the various kind of animals that crawl on the ground, one pair has to go with you and thus stay alive. Further bring all kind of food together and store it, so that yourself and the animals have something to eat.” Noah did this all; all what God had ordered him, he carried out.

“The Creation: Achieved is the Glorious Work” – J. Haydn (1732-1809) – The Brussels Choral Societ, led by E. Delson

Second Reading: First letter of John 4, 19-21

Brothers and Sisters, we love each other because God has loved us first. But if someone says he loves God, while he hates his brother, he is a lyar. Because if he doesn’t love his brother whome he sees, he can’t love God whom he has never seen. This command we received of Him: who loves God, also needs to love his brother.

Choral – Jesus bleibt meine Freude (Jesus stay my joy) – BWV 147 – J.S. Bach (1685-1750) – J. Sluys, Organ and L. Wouters, trumpet

Gloria, laus et honor tibi sit, Rex Christe Redemptor – Capella Sanctorum Michaëlis et Gudulae conducted by W. Ceuleers and J. Sluys, Organ

Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Matthew 13, 31-32

In those days Jesus held before the crowd this parable: “The realm of the heavens looks like a mustard-seed, that someone sowed on his field. That is then the smallest seed, but when it has progressed, it is bigger than the other garden-vegetation; it becomes a tree, so that the birds come nesting in its branches.”

Gloria, laus et honor tibi sit, Rex Christe Redemptor – Capella Sanctorum Michaëlis et Gudulae conducted by W. Ceuleers and J. Sluys, Organ

Homily (by Cardinal Danneels)

Divertimento KV 196-Romance – W.A. Mozart (1756-1791) – Woodwind Ensemble of the Orchestre National de Belgique

Sacrament of Marriage

Questioning: marriage-vows, confirmation

Cardinal: Laurent and Claire, you have been able to listen to the Word of God who has revealed to the people the sense of love and of the marriage. You are going to enter into matrimony. Have you both come here out of free will and with the full approval of your heart to marry each other?

Engaged couple: Yes.

Cardinal: You are going to promise each other faith. Is this for your whole life?

Engaged couple: Yes, for our whole life.

Cardinal: Do you accept the responsibility as man and wife and parents in the family you are going to found?

Engaged couple: Yes, we accept.

Cardinal: In presence of God, who is the source of your love and who will always be with you, for all present here, I ask you to speak out your marriage-vows.

Laurent (in Dutch): Claire, I want to be your husband and I promise to stay loyal to you in good and bad days, in poverty and wealth, in illness and health. I promise to love you and to appreciate you all days of my life.

Claire (in French): Laurent, I want to be your wife and I promise to stay loyal to you in good and bad days, in poverty and wealth, in illness and health. I promise to love you and to appreciate you all days of my life.

Cardinal: I declare you married by God.

Blessing and giving of the wedding rings

Father Guy Gilbert: Lord, bless Laurent and Claire, glorify them in their love. Let their rings that are the sign of their faith, also remember them always to their love. By Jesus, Christ, Our Lord.

Laurent (in French): Claire, take this ring, as a sign of my love and faith.

Claire (in Dutch): Laurent, take this ring, as a sign of my love and faith.

Father Guy Gilbert: Laurent and Claire, live in joy, and love each other like you just promised.

Prayer of the married couple (from Michel Kesterman)

Lord, We want to build a serene world, a free world, a world where peace and love rule.
We wish not necessary an easy world, a dream world but a world in which everyone respects others, where there is a future for everyone.
That is not possible not today, and even not tomorrow, but help us to work so that your Kingdom will come, and your wish can happen.
Give us desire, faith and hope in such a future.
Forgive us our shortcomings and help us to forgive this also in others.
Give us the courage not to let down the poor if everything seems to go wrong. Show us your face at the intersections of our paths.

Fanfare pour précéder “La Péri” – P. Dukas (1865-1935) – Brass Ensemble of the Orchestre National de Belgique led by M. Franck


Acclamation: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est – Capella Sanctorum Michaëlis et Gudulae, conducted by W. Ceuleers, and J. Sluys, organ

Father Guy Gilbert:
The holy Therese of Avila said with certain humor to Christ: “If you treat your friends like this, I understand that you have so little.”
This saint declared the mystery of the suffering and the questions it raises.
God hates the suffering. He however has allowed it in a mysterious way. Only the Cross and the Rising of Christ can overrise the suffering.
Lord, learn us to understand the mystery of the suffering!
Each family has its own part in suffering and joy.
May the Lord help us to carry our cross and also that of others!
May Claire and Laurent carry the crosses of life together and may they be filled with joy.

Thank you Mr Cardinal and all present here who are witnesses of our Love! (He also congratulated the Deacon with his 50th anniversary as a Priest, and the Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt with his 50th birthday)
Guy, our friendship crosses all borders, all cultures, all languages and religions.
Thank, Guy because of who you are thanks to your youths! When I see you, I understand better that there is a Creator who loves us.

Father Guy Gilbert:
You, who are the Creator of the universe.
You who created the miracle of Man and Woman.
You who surprised us with the flowers, the trees and the splendour of the nature.
You who created the lady-bird and the elephant.
Give each of us, a huge respect for the nature!
Let us pray for our children, that they because of our fight for the Life, don’t have to live with gas-masks on their face within 50 years!
Make of each of us, Lord, fighters for the Life, for all Life!

Eucharist liturgy


Ave Verum Corpus KV 618 – W.A. Mozart (1756-1791) – The Brussels Choral Society, led by E. Delson

Prayer over the offerings

Preface The Lord is with you. And with your spirit. Raise your heart. We are with our heart with the Lord. We bring thanks to the Lord, our God. He is worth our gratitude.


Messe Opus 11: Sanctus – A. Guilmant (1837-1911) – Capella Sanctorum Michaëlis et Gudulae, conducted by W. Ceuleers

After the consacration

Lord Jesus, we preach your death and we confess until you return, that you have arosen.

Capella Sanctorum Michaëlis et Gudulae conducted by W. Ceuleers and J. Sluys, organ

Our Father (Gregorian)

Pater noster, qui es in caelis;
Sanctificetur nomen Tuum;
Adveniat regnum Tuum;
Fiat voluntas Tua, sicut in caelo et in terra;
Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie;
Et domitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
Et ne nos inducas in tentationem.
Sed libera nos a malo. Amen.

Capella Sanctorum Michaëlis et Gudulae conducted by W. Ceuleers and J. Sluys, organ


Wishes for Peace

Messe Opus 11-Agnus Dei – A. Guilmant (1837-1911) – Capella Sanctorum Michaëlis et Gudulae, conducted by W. Ceuleers


Ostet op 103, Andante – L. van Beethoven (1770-1827) – Woodwind Ensemble of the Orchestre National de Belgique

Abdijvrede – F. Peeters (1903-1986) – J. Sluys, Organ

Meditation (by Father Guy Gilbert)

Choral-Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (Deares Jesus, we are here)-BWV 730 – J.S. Bach (1685-1750) – J. Sluys, organ

Ave Maria – Ch. Gounod (1818-1893) – Yvette Fanna, Soprano and J. Sluys, organ

Prayer after the communion

Signing of the wedding register

Psalm 150 – C. Franck (1822-1890) – The Brussels Choral Society, led by E. Delson

Papal blessing

Sit nomen Domini benedictum
Ex hoc nunc et usque in saeculum.
Adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini.
Qui fecit caelum et terram.
Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus, Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus.

Capella Sanctorum Michaëlis et Gudulae, led by W. Ceuleers

Brabançonne (Belgian national anthem) – Brass Ensemble of the Orchestre National de Belgique, conducted by M. Franck

Leaving the cathedral

Toccata (Symphony V) – Ch.-M. Widor (1844-1937) – J. Sluys, organ

Toccata – J. Jongen (1873-1953) – J. Sluys, organ

Homily by Cardinal Godfried Danneels Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel

We just heard the biblical story of Noah. He and his household, with the birds and the animals, were saved by God from the flood. And when the waters withdrew, God set his rainbow in the sky. And he established an everlasting covenant with humanity. For God loves his creation, his people and animals.

A Covenant

Human beings can make life difficult for each other. Again and again their history is bathed in the floodwaters of violence. Up until our day. People enjoy fighting. God is different. He is a God who brings together and reconciles, a God of the covenant: in the midst of all the deluges of divisions between people and of harshness and exploitation of his creation, God calls us into his ark to save us. Yes, God is different: he does not divide, he brings together; he sets a rainbow in the clouds, the arms of which reach from heaven to earth and back. So it was with Noah, and so it still is today. God binds us to each other: people and things.

God goes further than the rainbow in the sky. He also brings together on earth. Noah gathered a couple from each species, the Bible says, so that they would live. They go two by two, in order to keep alive. Even in brute creation, the birds and animals go two by two. They carry the covenant within themselves: written in their nature by God’s creative power. And so the whole of creation is full of signs of the covenant.

A Covenant of love between a man and woman

And God does more. He also writes his covenant in the hearts of people. He creates them man and woman and makes them go: two by two. The real rainbow exists between man and woman, even more than between heaven and earth. It is the rainbow of love, not just an urge driven by nature, but a free choice. Love between people is much more than an instinctive attraction. To love is to take pleasure in the other’s presence. That love is freely given and received, unmerited, faithful, and patient. It has everything of God.

For even before two people love each other, God first loved them. ‘If we love, it is because God first loved us,’ John says in his first letter (1 Jn 4,19). The going together of man and woman in this world is the reflection of what happens in God. There first is love, through Father, Son, and Spirit. Love between people is like the moon: all of its shine comes from the sun. Each fire of love between man and woman is taken from the hearth of God’s love and brought among us.

If we realize that God first loved us, and without our deserving it, we cannot but love the other as well. How can you experience God’s love and not be driven to imitate Him and love others as well. ‘And whoever loves God, loves his brother also’ (1 Jn 4,21). Each marriage is the image of how things should be between all people and between all nations; an everlasting covenant, established by love and lived faithfully. Rainbows should stretch all over the world, like that between God and people, between man and woman.

This is how God wanted it already in Noah’s times. And when Jesus arrives centuries later, he will say nothing else: he establishes the New Covenant in his blood, between God and human beings, between man and woman, and between all people. He says, ‘God loves you.’ To man and woman he says: ‘Remain with each other in love; what God has joined together, let no one separate’; and to all people: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ But this New Covenant cost him pain: beneath all the rainbows stood a cross.

Growing in love

Marital love and fidelity are given into our hands like a mustard seed. For on the wedding day love is given, not as a full-grown tree, but as a very small seed. Indeed the smallest, Jesus says, among all the seeds. It must grow so much. But it can grow. It carries within itself a generative power: hidden, but irresistible. It even becomes a great tree, says Jesus. And, he says, there is room on its branches for many birds. Every good marriage is a welcoming tree, offering shade and bearing fruit for so many other couples. This is certainly so when that tree, as it is today, is seen by so many people.

For Prince Laurent and Princess Claire we wish today that deep faith in the power of the small seed of love planted in their hearts. May it grow into a great tree, visible from afar and admired by many. Then many birds will desire to come and live in their shade, to be encouraged and strengthened by their example. God will grant it to them.

Meditation by Father Guy Gilbert

Thank you Alberto for the French text of the speech, and thank you Joris for providing a translation in English.

You know, Laurent and Claire, that I like the church; you know that. I am very happy to be here with you, with Cardinal Danneels, his brothers the priests, as witnesses of your love, for you Laurent, for you Claire.

Laurent, you are the last ‘chicken to leave the nest’, after Astrid and Philippe. I salute Laurent like a brother, with affection, your dear mother Paola and your father Albert, and also Astrid who isn’t here. We are all with her, she is expecting a little one. And also Philippe. Claire, you are also leaving the nest, I salute your dear parents Nicole and Nicholas, and also Joanna, and also Matthew.

Cardinal Danneels has allowed me a short meditation.

I would like to say to you that your family is the ‘court’, the ‘court’ of your life. The family is the smallest, biggest, the most noble, the most ancient, the newest cell. You are founding one today, Claire and Laurent. You share friendship with many of the people who have come here, not only because of the protocol, but to tell you how much they love you both. Claire and Laurent, treasure your friends carefully. They are the greatest possession you can have next to your family. True friends will always stay with you especially when things are not going well.

Laurent, thanks for your friendship that is seven years old now. You wanted to offer me a prize for my thugs, and unfortunately there are not only French thugs; it is also true for the Belgian youth who behaves badly and whom we receive at our farm. It is right there that our friendship was born and where you have come to. I see in you an image of a prince who cares for boars, caresses the lama. You really love all animals created, from lady-birds to an elephant; yes, I have seen your living presence from nearby. I have appreciated that you don’t judge my youth and that you don’t ask them from which prison they come, nor what they have done. They love you a lot. Royal Highness, not, for them that doesn’t mean anything, but you have been a prince for us, Laurent, in the sense that you have humbly served them, , dans la mesure où tu les a servis, humblement, brotherly. With Claire you share your love for animals.

Claire and Laurent, the most beautiful adventure in the world is the love you have given in the hands of Cardinal Danneels and all those present here; you can possess all the titles in the world, all the money in the world, but if you haven’t got love, you are nothing. The most beautiful adventure in the world, Laurent and Cliare, is this ‘yes’ that you will give each other within a short time. It is a battle. Ask Paola and Albert, ask Nicholas and Nicole, you will see, and then ask Astrid and Lorenz, and Philippe and Mathilde, and Joanna and her husband. Ask them, it is a battle, always a magnificent battle and you will win it. When it will give a meeting in fifty years, I will be as old as 127! On two conditions, Laurent and Claire, on two conditions.

During the magnificent preparation to this wedding, I told you, it is the two of you that matters. I often hear couples talking about children, but the two of you come first. I am the third of a poor family of fifteen, fifteen children. The love we had for our father and our mother, yes, but also the love they had for each other. Rock of your life, it is the love that you will have for each other. For me as a priest, only the love I received of one man and one woman, my father and my mother, counts, my mother who breathed her last in my arms some months ago. The two of you come first; the duties of your position will take a lot of your time, your work as surveyor also, but the two of you come first. Love your difference, love the fact that the other is different. Don’t forget, respect each other infinitely; respect is the most beautiful name of love. I already know your universal ‘court’. May your gate be open in all four directions of the wind of love, may the smallest be served first. It is there, Laruent and Claire, where you will truly be a prince and princess.

Finally your children will be the shepherd-stars of your lifes. Give them the values you received from your parents. Give them the values, strictly secular at first, universal. We don’t need to be a Christian to cherish values, deeply secular values of respect, of tolerance, love for each other. Give them religious and moral values you have received when you were small. Love them, and don’t let your work devour you. We will never get back the love we haven’t given to them when they were so small in the nest, so fragile and I can tell you something about it because of my profession as a specialist in education.

Finally to you, media, that has come here to honor this love, to value the love. This image you transmit into the ‘courts’ of many Belgians at the moment. Value the love, the love of the ‘court’, value the fidelity. Tell, via your screens and your microphones, about the immensity of beauty and of the person, first about his ‘court’, about his body, but first of all about his ‘court’. Value the child that sleeps in the palace of its mother, the children Astrid and Mathilde expect, value the most fragile link of life which the child is, sleeping in the belly of its mother. Also vallue the elder person who fades away. Many, many elder people die all alone in hospitals now!

Laurent and Claire, value these two links in the circle of life, from the smallest who sleeps in the belly of its mother to the old person fading away. Truly love each other in your private life, and you will have one and a very good and important one. May your love be radiating, be laser-beams. You are public persons, may your life be an example, Claire and Laurent.

Finally, you have chosen several very short texts about love, we have chosen together. Don’t forget what Cardinal Danneels told you today, only the love of God will stay faithfull and real in your love. Only the power of the sacrament you have just received will give you the strength. Finally, a small advice, an enormous advice, never go to bed, Claire and Laurent, before having said sorry. Learn to say sorry, sorry or beg your pardon. Many couples have left each other because they didn’t know how to say it. Day after day, the two of you have to know how to forgive.

I would like to dedicate to you, beloved brothers and sisters who are present here and who watch this via their screens, I would like to dedicate this beautiful true story, the most beautiful true story I know; I dedicate it to you, Paola and Albert, Nicole and Nicholas, Maria, Henri, to everybody who loves each other, to everybody who has succeeded to cope with
fidelity, and finally to those, who with this advice, have split up, divorced, remaried. There is so much suffering living in people in the world today. So to everyone, everyone, I dedicate this story, the story of the white ribbons.

Jean, 20 years old, had challenged his parents in an unprecedented way. You know … of the kind that a family normally doesn’t get over. His father said to him: “Jean, go away! Never come inside again!” Jean left, very unhappy.

Some weeks later he thought: “I have been a scoundrel! I am going to ask my father to forgive me … Yes, I am going to tell him that I am sorry.”

He thus wrote a letter to his father: “Father, I ask for forgiveness. I have been a scoundrel, but I beg you, can you forgive me? I don’t write an address at the envelope, no … But if you forgive me, hang a white ribbon then in the last appletree of the row of trees that lead to the house. Then I shall know that I can come home.”

Terrified he said to himself: “Father will never hang this white ribbon in the tree.” Thus he called his brother, his friend, Marc and said to him: “Marc, I beg you, come with me. I will drive until a distance of 500 metres from the house and then I hand over the wheel to you. I will close my eyes, while you will slowly drive the alley with appletrees. When you stop then and see a white ribbon in the last appletree I will jump up. If there is no ribbon, I will keep my eyes closed and you can leave again. Then I will never return home again.”

And so it happened. At 500 metres from the house Jean hands over the wheel to Marc and closes his eyes. Marc slowly drives past the row of trees and then stops. Jean, still with closed eyes, then asks: “Marc, my friend and my brother, I beg you, did my father hang a white ribbon in the appletree in front of the house?”

Marc answers: “No, there is not one ribbon in the apple tree in front of the house … there are hundreds of them, in all the appletrees leading to the house!”

Beloved brothers and sisters, leave this ceremony with the white ribbons in your hearts! Claire and Laurent be people of who can forgive, brothers and sisters all be people who can forgive, from whatever culture you are, from whatever religion you belong to. Catholics, protestants, jews, muslims, buddists, atheïsts, agnostics, be people of forgiveness.

Thanks you for being present at this cathedral to celebrate the love.

Finally, salute the love of Claire and Laurent! And thanks for underlining their love with an warm and brotherly applause.

Laurent and Claire, I love you very much.

God bless you!


Around 13:20 the newly-wed couple drove back to the Royal Palace while in the park of the palace 51 salutes were fired to celebrate them. The couple, with parents and bridesmaids shortly appeared on the balcony of the royal palace, but no kiss followed the one at the town-hall anymore to the big disappointment of the public.

At the royal palace some 500 guests attended a gala lunch banquet by Chef Jean-Pierre Bruneau. At the lunch cameras were not allowed. The wedding cake came from the confectioner Herman van Dender, was more than three metres high and among others Belgian chocolate was used.


Small Ravioles of Lobster Flavoured with Shellfish
Medallions of Milk-fed Lamb with Chopped Parsley

Spring Vegetables in Bundles
Chocolate Sweet Dainties
Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2001
Château Haut Breton Larigaudière Margaux 2000
Champagne Abelé

The wedding dress and other attires

Wedding dress

The wedding dress was a design of the Belgian designer Edouard Vermeulen of the House of Natan, who earlier designed the wedding dresses of Princess Mathilde of Belgium and Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands. The off-the-shoulder wedding dress was made of white silk while the upper part of the dress was made of chantilly lace from Calais in the same design as the veil.


The bride wore an antique tiara, a gift from King Albert II and Queen Paola. The tiara held in place the veil of Brussels lace.

The veil

The bride wore a three-metres-long veil of Brussels lace, dating from the second part of the 19th century. It was made in Brussels appliqué from linen yarn – with bobbins and needle – on cotton tulle bobbinet. The veil was restored in 1984 by Mrs Van de Sande. It was fully restored again in October 1999 by Mrs Colette van Steyvoort, who has extensive experience in the field, having worked for the Lace Museum for many years.

The veil was worn for the first time on 18 July 1877 by Laura Mosselman du Chenoy (1854-1925), the Belgian great-grandmother of Prince Laurent (grandmother of Queen Paola) at her wedding to Don Beniamino, Prince Ruffo di Calabria. The mother of Queen Paola, Luisa Gazelli, Countess of Rossana and of Sebastiano, wore the same veil at her wedding to Don Fulco, Prince Ruffo di Calabria, in 1919. Queen Paola also wore this veil on her marriage to King Albert II, held on 2 July 1959 in Brussels. Princess Astrid wore this veil at her wedding to Prince Lorenz, Archduke of Austria-Este, on 22 September 1984 in Brussels. And it was also worn by Princess Mathilde on her marriage to Prince Philippe, on 4 December 1999 in Brussels.

Prince Laurent’s attire

Prince Laurent was dressed in full Naval Gala Uniform of a Frigate Captain.

Witnesses and bridesmaids

Witnesses at the civil wedding

Baroness Janine Ghobert, wife of Baron Jacques Delruelle, Trustee-Treasurer of the I.R.G.T. and Trustee of the Prince Laurent Foundation
Mr Alain Declève, friend of Prince Laurent
Mrs Joanna Coombs, wife of Mr Steve Gant, sister of Miss Claire Coombs
Miss Ann Monfils, friend of Miss Claire Coombs

Witnesses at the religious wedding

Princess Mathilde, Duchess of Brabant
H.E. Pieter van Vollenhoven, husband of Princess Margriet of the Netherlands
Prof. Dr. Rik Van Aerschot, Managing Director of the I.R.G.T.
Prof. Raymond Antoine, honorary professor Louvain Catholic University
Mr Jean-Paul Malingreau, chairman of the Academic Committee of the I.R.G.T.
Prince Kardam de Tirnovo, friend of Prince Laurent,
Mrs Marie-Claude Boulin, wife of Jonkheer Jacques Solvay, Trustee of the Prince Laurent Foundation,
Mrs Joanna Coombs, wife of Mr Steve Grant, sister of Miss Claire Coombs,
Miss Ann Monfils, friend of Miss Claire Coombs.

Bridal children

  • Luisa-Maria Princess of Belgium and Archduchess of Austria-Este, daughter of Princess Astrid and Prince Lorenz, niece of Prince Laurent
  • Miss Emma Grant, daughter of Mr and Mrs Steve Grant, niece of Miss Coombs
  • Miss Clothilde de Meulenaere, daughter of a friend of Prince Laurent


Members of the family

  • King Albert II and Queen Paola of the Belgians
  • Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde of Belgium, Duke and Duchess of Brabant (Princess Elisabeth of Belgium)
  • Prince Lorenz of Belgium Archduke of Austria-Este
  • Prince Amedeo of Belgium Archduke of Austria-Este
  • Princess Maria-Laura of Belgium Archduchess of Austria-Este
  • Prince Joachim of Belgium Archduke of Austria-Este
  • Princess Luisa-Maria of Belgium Archduchess of Austria-Este (bridesmaid)
  • Queen Fabiola of the Belgians
  • Prince Alexandre and Princess Léa of Belgium
  • Marie-Esmeralda Moncada née Princess of Belgium
  • Baron and Baroness Bettino Ricasoli
  • Prince Alessandro Ruffo di Calabria
  • Nicholas Coombs and Nicole Coombs née Mertens
  • Joanna Grant née Coombs (witness) and Steve Grant
  • Emma Grant (bridesmaid)
  • Matthew Coombs
  • Charles and Olive Coombs (grandparents of the bride) (?)
  • Marie-Louise Mertens (grandmother of the bride) (?)

Royal and noble guests

  • Prince Karim Aga Khan IV and Begum Inaara Aga Khan
  • Duchess Sophie d’Arenberg
  • Prince and Princess Léopold d’Arenberg
  • Prince Charles-Louis and Princess Fiammetta d’Arenberg
  • Archduke Carl-Christian and Archduchess Marie-Astrid of Austria
  • Archduke Josef-Arpád and Archduchess Maria of Austria
  • Archduke Michael and Archduchess Christiana of Austria
  • Archduke Gerhard of Austria-Este
  • Prince Fayçal Bey
  • Don Luis Alfonso de Borbón y Martínez-Bordiú
  • Doña Emanuela Pratolongo (widow of Don Gonzalo de Borbón y de Dampierre)
  • Prince Carlos de Bourbon de Parme
  • Duke and Duchess of Calabria
  • Princess Béatrice of Bourbon-Two Sicilies
  • Princess Anne of Bourbon-Two Sicilies
  • Dom Duarte Duke de Bragança and Doña Isabel Duchess de Bragança
  • Prince Kardam of Tirnovo (Bulgaria) (witness) and Princess Miríam of Tirnovo (Bulgaria)
  • Prince Philippe and Princess Christine de Chimay
  • Chevalier and Mrs François-Xavier de Donnea de Hamoir
  • Marquess Matteo Fabra di Chiosi
  • Prince Jean of France Duke of Vendôme
  • Prince Egon of Fürstenberg
  • Baroness Janine Ghobert (witness)
  • Princess Chantal of Hannover née Hochuli
  • Mr and Mrs Baudouin le Hardÿ de Beaulieu
  • Count and Countess Cédric de Lalaing
  • Prince Philipp Erasmus and Princess Isabelle von und zu Liechtenstein
  • Prince Alexander and Princess Astrid von und zu Liechtenstein
  • Prince Wenzeslaus von und zu Liechtenstein
  • Prince Nikolaus and Princess Margaretha von und zu Liechtenstein
  • Prince Michel and Princess Eléonore de Ligne
  • Count Louis and Countess Belén de Limburg Stirum
  • Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg
  • Prince Jean of Luxemburg
  • Prince Guillaume and Princess Sibilla of Luxembourg
  • Prince Jérôme Napoléon
  • Prince Constantijn and Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands
  • Princess Margriet of the Netherlands and Mr Pieter van Vollenhoven (witness)
  • Countess Louis-Jean de Nicolay
  • Princess Maria Tereza de Orléans e Bragança and Jan Hessel de Jong
  • Reza Pahlavi
  • Marie-Claude Solvay née Boulin (witness)
  • Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden
  • Princess Madeleine of Sweden
  • Count Patrick d’Udekem d’Acoz and Countess Anne d’Udekem d’Acoz
  • Countess Elisabeth d’Udekem d’Acoz
  • Countess Hélène d’Udekem d’Acoz
  • Count Charles-Henri d’Udekem d’Acoz
  • Count Jean-Charles Ullens de Schooten
  • Count Augustin d’Ursel
  • Count and Countess Lancelot d’Ursel
  • Duke Carl and Duchess Diane von Württemberg
  • Prince Michel of Yugoslavia
  • Prince Serge of Yugoslavia (with girlfriend Eleonore Rajnieri)

Other guests

  • Rik van Aerschot (witness)
  • Raymond Antoine (witness)
  • Alain Declève (witness)
  • Maurice Druon
  • Jean-Paul Malingreau (witness)
  • Clothilde de Meulenaere (bridesmaid)
  • Ann Monfils (witness)
  • Miss Amélie Nothomb

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