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King Philippe of Belgium and his unique relationship with the church

King Philippe of Belgium will be marking a decade of kingship in July 2023; he took the throne after his father abdicated in 2013. Philippe’s role as sovereign has a different relationship with the church than many other monarchs. 

Belgium does not have a state church. As of 2018, over 60% of Belgians identify as Christian, with 57% of the population identifying as Catholic. As monarch, Philippe is required to abstain from political issues. He is personally Catholic, as is the rest of the Belgian Royal Family, but he does not have a role within the Belgian Catholic Church. 

The Belgian monarch has been granted the title of (Most) Catholic Majesty from the Catholic Church, though, along with the sovereign of Spain, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and the Prince of Monaco. This is a significant honour from the Catholic Church. 

Queen Mathilde, Philippe’s wife, has the privilège du blanc as a Catholic queen. When women are granted an audience with the pope, they are required to wear a full-length, black dress with long sleeves and a black veil, although Pope Francis has relaxed that rule during his pontificate. However, a select few royal women have been granted privilège du blanc, meaning they can wear white to meet the pope. Not all Catholic queens are granted this privilege though; only those who are a (Most) Catholic Majesty or are married to one may wear white. 

The Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula in Brussels is the official seat of the Primate of Belgium. The cathedral dates back to the eleventh century and is often the site for Belgian royal weddings. The future Albert II married Paola Ruffo di Calabria at the cathedral in 1959, and Philippe married Mathilde there on 4 December 1999. 

The Cathedral of St. Gudula also hosts state funerals, the Te Deum on Belgian National Day and other significant royal events. 

The Belgian Royal Family is not buried in the cathedral, though. The Royal Crypt is at the Church of Notre-Dame de Laeken.

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