The Marriage of Heaven and Earth

I’ve been planning a series of posts on editing,and one on Beltane, but all that has been interrupted by the vision that came to us today via our television sets of the wedding of Prince William to Miss Middleton. I only turned on because I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t, and besides, I’d invited two guests just to make sure I did watch it. It would have been very easy to keep writing as usual and enjoy some quality time without the phone going.

So I turned on just as the Queen arrived at the Abbey and almost at once I began to feel strange; then, as Kate came out of her hotel and into the car, the tears welled up.

Why? I’m not the kind to go soft at weddings, honestly I’m not. It did happen at the last we attended, I grant you, but that was because the groom had no family and I felt sorry for him. But here I was going softer and softer until by the time she stepped out on to the red carpet I was runny butter. It was Beauty undoing me. I’d already figured out that she had been designed by Botticelli in the souls department prior to birth, but this was going beyond mere Renaissance surfaces. It was the veil…

My friend the geometer Tom Bree wrote a beautiful article on the symbolism of the veil just before he married his Helen. To see that Kate not only had the veil but was wearing it over her face put my symbol-antennae on full alert. Alas I did not see her lift it, or William’s expression when he saw the divinity of his wife for the first time. Perhaps I was still recovering from the trees. Or the floor.

The nave of Westminster Abbey was lined by maple trees in spring leaf. To see living trees in a gothic cathedral, the architecture of which is modelled on trees, was extraordinarily powerful. Plant and stone. Nature and Man. May Queen and May Lord. This was a mystic union, hinting at the meaning of what was going on. And then the floor.

The medieval cosmati floor is so symbolic it takes a whole book to unpick it (see the one by Richard Foster). It is very rare to see it uncovered, but there we were, graced with an aerial view of two beautiful young people being married on it.

I have long and fervently admired Prince Charles and the main reason I watched today was because the otherwise-unknown-to-me Prince William is his son. So I was supporting Charles (I hope he realised that). I’m currently half way through his magnificent book called Harmony, about which more anon. Anyone who knows him, or has read the book, will know how alive he is to symbolism. (A quick run to the window to see what the noise is and I find it’s the May Day ‘bull’ being towed along the street in prep for Sunday’s dawn festivities – goodness, what a spring this is). I imagine Charles’s role as adviser in these proceedings was a large one, and that William is receptive to his father’s ideas (I hope, I hope). But the trees, apparently, were Kate’s idea.

Symbolism is always at the heart of pageantry. It’s what makes pageants work. Think back to all those Elizabethan masques and the Baconian and Shakespearean messages they contained. I’ve done a lot of research into Medici pageants and know that they were also conceived by philosophers.

Charles is a philosopher, for sure.

And then, just in case we’d missed the symbolism thus far, the Bishop of London gave an extraordinary sermon, pointing out that everyone who marries is a king and a queen for a day and he spoke about the need to find and reveal our true selves. The Bishop of London – Richard Chartres (what a name) is a philosopher.

The symbolism of marriage begins with the union of Heaven and Earth, with the Sky God and the Earth Mother. Temples were built to make a sacred space for this union, and the priest and the priestess enacted the roles. Kings and queens came later, building palaces to look like temples, and their union gave birth to nations. Then came Mr and Mrs, with their houses built to look like palaces, and their union gave birth to families. This is a fundamental cosmic principle of making two into one. As above, so below.

A good book on all this is The Temple and the House by Lord Raglan (the anthropologist, not the leader of a cavalry charge).

And while my geometer’s head was being strummed like a lute by all this symbolism, I kept seeing flashing images of people wearing union jack hats waving flags and screaming. They know nothing of the subtle structure behind the event. They’re just having a great time and put it down to gold braid, gilded carriages and the jingle of harness. We look at flowers and breathe their scent without any clue to the Fibonacci series of number that is growth.

If the British Royal Family gets the whole world interested in its events, it’s because it not only knows how to put on a great show, but how to give it depth and meaning.

Two people were married, and for a moment there was nothing wrong in our lives. All was well. Heaven and Earth were one.

6 thoughts on “The Marriage of Heaven and Earth

  1. Linda – what a beautiful write-up! Thank you! The trees were wonderful, I believe they too were symbols of meaning – maple for modesty & (hornbeam (?) for resilience. Chosen by Catherine.
    I too am a Charles supporter and I don’t really get soppy at weddings & such, nor did I get embroiled in Diana-mania. But like you I welled up at several points today. The first, for me was when Princes William & Harry were in the car passing the Cenotaph on the way to the Abbey, their smart salute to those who fought and died for their country. Here were two young men going to a wedding, but more than that two young men who also fight for and_serve_ us.
    Then that dress – and the final thing that made me realise I am already in love with our future Queen? Yes the vows were moving, the sermon was lovely, the singing of Jerusalem brought a lump…. the bells, the crowds…. no the final clincher. Did you notice? Whenever her husband, the Duke of Cambridge saluted she ceased waving and bowed her head.
    To my mind that showed her sincerity, integrity and respect for us – her future people. I wish them both the Brightest Blessings.
    We write history, Linda, today we watched history being written.

    • I didn’t notice the hornbeams! And that rings bells, because Charles planted an avenue of hornbeams at Highgrove, inspired by the hornbeams of Sunderland Avenue, about 2 minutes from here in Oxford. I love that avenue of trees, as does Philip Pullman, who was sensible enough to include them as a portal to another world in his bestselling Northern Lights and thereby claim them as his own forever.

      I did notice the bowing, though, and was very struck by it and wondered if it was protocol. I don’t quite understand ‘the Royal Salute’ and at what stage and to whom it is given.

      I do agree with your estimation of our new Duchess. I felt a lovely sense of confidence in the future.

      One of the commentators said at the end ‘We hope she’ll be another Diana’ and everyone in this house shouted ‘Nooooooo!’. Because poor Diana self-combusted and we don’t want that again.

      What an amazing role model Kate, sorry, Katherine, could be.

      As for the Duchy of Cambridge – who would have known? You could hear the Republic of Oxford (watching TV behind closed curtains) chuckling at that one.

    • Absolutely! And that’s what the republicans and atheists, and even more the republican atheists, don’t understand – how dreary life would be under elected leaders who only wear suits and talk about the economy. Something the Bishop said came back to me, it was about what happens when we dispense with God, that all the weight of expectation goes on human relationships. It explained so succinctly why I find modern novels so unsatisfying. At least as historical novelists we have every right to be religious, follow ritual, enjoy the symbolic, use fine language and be concerned with concepts such as virtue and honour. Just every now and again, we don’t have to retreat to the past, because the past comes to us, and today was one of those occasions.

  2. What a wonderful write up! I was up very, very early here in the States to watch the wedding. I loved how much symbolism the couple was able to weave into their day. It’ll most definitely be a day that the couple and everyone that watched the wedding will remember for the rest of their lives!

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