Commoner to royalty

Sunday, May 23, 2004

MADRID, Spain -- Crown Prince Felipe married former TV anchorwoman Letizia Ortiz on Saturday in a ceremony that the couple dedicated to the victims of a terrorist bombing two months ago. Afterward, tens of thousands of Spaniards lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the first commoner ever to be in line to be queen.

A driving rain fell as Ortiz, wearing a flowing off-white gown, entered the 19th century Almudena Cathedral in Madrid's scenic old quarter.

The congregation of some 1,700 royals and other dignitaries -- protected by security including fighter jets and 20,000 police -- included Britain's Prince Charles, former South African President Nelson Mandela and Jordan's Queen Rania.

The archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, thanked the couple for dedicating their wedding Mass to the 191 people killed in the March 11 train bombing in Madrid, blamed on Islamic militants.

Despite the lingering sense of mourning, it was a festive day in a city brought to life with hundreds of thousands of geraniums, pansies and other flowers.

The cost of the wedding has been estimated at $24 million, although some planned events like a light and sound show Saturday night -- and the prince's bachelor party -- were scrapped to avoid looking frivolous in the wake of the bombing.

Just one year after she started dating the prince, Ortiz, a 31-year-old divorcee, now has the title of Princess Letizia of Asturias.

The prince met Ortiz at a dinner party in late 2002 and they started dating secretly the following spring. Word of their engagement in November took the country by surprise, though polls suggest Spaniards don't mind that Ortiz is a divorcee and has no royal blood.

She wore an off-white gown with a flowing silk veil and a 15-foot train embroidered with heraldic symbols. Her diamond and platinum tiara was the same one Greek-born Queen Sofia wore at her wedding to King Juan Carlos in 1962 in Athens, Greece. The bride's bouquet was an arrangement of white lilies of the valley.

Prince Felipe, 36, wore a crisp blue uniform reflecting his status as a Spanish army major, with braided epaulets, a light blue sash and medals of honor from the army, navy and air force.

There were a couple of slip-ups, mainly in the re-enactment of a centuries-old custom in which the bride and groom exchange coins as symbols of the possessions they will share.

Rouco Varela dropped a few of the 13 gold coins -- some 500 years old -- as he handed them to the prince. The prince then forgot his lines as he addressed Ortiz and had to look down at notes on a stand in front of him.

The ceremony was the first royal wedding in Spain since that of the prince's great grandfather, King Alfonso XIII, in 1906. The prince's father, King Juan Carlos, and grandfather, Juan de Borbon, married abroad during the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.

The prince's two older sisters, Princesses Elena and Cristina, both married commoners in the 1990s in Spain, but those ceremonies were not considered royal weddings because under the Spanish constitution their husbands could never become king.

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