The Prince of Wales chats with his bride, who is now the second-highest ranking woman in the Royal Family, during the blessing
Photo: AFP
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A rare sight - Charles and Camilla holding hands - as the couple vow to be faithful to one another
Photo: EMPICS

Hold on to your hat - the Duchess of Cornwall grasps Charles' arm as he speaks with his mother, the Queen
Photo: AFP

9 APRIL 2005

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While it was expected to be a low-key gathering, Saturday's service of prayer and dedication for the newly-wed Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall had all the hallmarks of a royal wedding.

In stark contrast to the small group of family members who attended the intimate civil ceremony, 700 guests, including dignitaries and celebrities from around the globe, made their way to historic St George's Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle for the blessing.

The mood was cheerful as invitees, including Charles' sons William and Harry who were seen laughing animatedly and joking with each other mingled before the blessing. It became clear the ceremony was about to begin when the Queen, who did not attend the earlier civil nuptials, took her place near the altar.

Well-wishers watched on big screens outside as the Dean of Windsor led Prince Charles and his new wife to the front of the church. Camilla, on the arm of her Prince and resplendent in a porcelain blue medieval-inspired gown, seemed to tremble on arriving at the altar, which had been decorated with glorious arrays of Banksian roses, Lily of the Valley, and Hyacinth flowers, the symbol of enduring love.

The couple bowed their heads and the Archbishop of Canterbury began the ceremony, which included a prayer in which the bride and groom, along with the rest of the congregation, asked forgiveness for their sins and "all that is past".

Having knelt for the prayer, Charles and Camilla sat down once again, their faces remaining solemn, while Lord Carey of Clifton began the first reading of the 45-minute blessing. After Lord Carey's recital, music soared throughout the 15th-century church, with a moving rendition of The Creed, set to music by Aleksandr Gretchanimov and sung in Russian by acclaimed vocalist Ekaterina Semenchuk.

It was then that Charles and Camilla stood before the Archbishop to recite vows similar to those which, hours earlier, had been made far away from the eyes of the world at their wedding.

Asked if it was their understanding that marriage is a union "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till parted by death", the royal couple replied in unison, "It is." Speaking for the second time during the blessing, the bride and groom vowed to be faithful to one another, and, the promises behind them, grasped each other's hands as Camilla broke into a nervous smile.

With slightly shaking hands, the Duchess seemed to lose her place in the order of service as the Archbishop once again addressed the congregation. A cool-headed Charles, however, calmly leaned over to assist his bride.

The couple kneeled together and, in words that reflected the culmination of their 30-year romance, recited: "Unite our wills in Thy will, that we may grow together in love and peace all the days of our life."

After declaring their commitment before friends, family, colleagues and the world, it was time for the couple to reflect upon the rest of the blessing, including a dramatic reading of Ode On Intimations Of Immortality by William Wordsworth, a tremendous performance of a piece by JS Bach, and a specially-written prayer by the Dean of Windsor David Connor.

A rendition of the national anthem marked the end of the prayer service, and a visibly more relaxed Duchess of Cornwall held on to her husband's arm as they bowed to the Queen. Smiling broadly, they walked down the blue carpet to the west door of St George's, and were met with applause when they emerged into the breezy afternoon.

Remaining composed though the wind threatened to whisk away her feather hat, Camilla took her place with the Royal Family on the steps of the church. And then, met by hundreds of cheering representatives from the couple's favourite charities, a radiant Duchess of Cornwall embarked on her first walkabout as the Prince of Wales' wife.

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