It is better known as the back drop to royal Christmas celebrations but a little church in Norfolk is about to write another chapter in its long regal history. St Mary Magadalene on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, where Princess Charlotte will be christened on Sunday, already boasts a pretty impressive royal pedigree. But the decision of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to bring their daughter here for her baptism means it is about to gain another royal claim to fame.
The church of St Mary Magdalene has existed in its current form since the 16th century, around the time of the first queen regnant called Elizabeth. At first glance it looks similar to many of the pretty parish churches that dot the English countryside but this one is celebrated for things other than its royal connections. It is known as one of the finest carrstone buildings in existence – carrstone is a kind of sandstone and it has been widely used in Norfolk as well as nearby areas including Cambridgeshire. And the jewels the church holds inside have also singled it out for attention.
There is sumptuous and extensive stained glass in the church, some of it going back to the 16th century, while the silver altar and reredos were presented to Queen Alexandra in memory of her late husband, King Edward VII. Their great, great, great, great granddaughter – Charlotte – will be christened amongst that splendour.
There are two fonts at St Mary Magdalene – one is Florentine, the other is Greek and dates from the 9th century. And two more gifts to Queen Alexandra are singled out for attention on the church’s website – a 17th century Spanish processional cross and a silver pulpit. All that is hidden inside its rural setting as are memorials to members and relatives of the Royal Family which go all the way back to the time of Queen Victoria.
And Charlotte is about to join a very select group of royals who have been baptised at St Mary Magdalene. Two kings have been christened within its walls. The baptism of her great, great grandfather – the future George VI – took place there on February 10th 1896 when, with his own great grandmother Victoria as one of his sponsors, he was given the names Albert Frederick Arthur George. His younger sister was christened Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary in the same church on June 7th 1897, again with great granny as a godmother. Their parents, the future George V and Queen Mary, also chose the church for the baptism of their last child, Prince John Charles Francis, with that ceremony taking place on August 3rd 1905.
Among John’s godfathers was a man called Prince Carl of Denmark who was married to Edward VII’s youngest daughter, Princess Maud. Their only child, Alexander Edward Christian Frederik, had been christened at St Mary Magdalene soon after his birth in Norfolk in 1903. Not long after John’s christening, Carl was chosen as the new King of Norway and he became known as Haakon VII. The son he had baptised at St Mary Magdalene became heir to the Norwegian throne and went on to be King Olav V, one of the most popular and successful monarchs of the 20th century.
The most recent royal christening to take place at the church is that of Princess Eugenie who was baptised there on December 23rd 1990 by the Bishop of Norwich. The younger daughter of the Duke of York was given the names of Eugenie Victoria Helena at the ceremony which took place nine months after her birth.
But perhaps the most attention ahead of Charlotte’s ceremony has been focused on the fact that St Mary Magdalene is the place where her paternal grandmother, Diana, was christened on August 30th 1961. This baptismal link between Diana and the granddaughter who now bears her name is obviously of huge importance to William and Kate and another reason why this royal christening is also a very personal, family based event.
On Sunday there will be photos of a new princess following her christening, images that will go into the history books as part of another chapter on the House of Windsor. And it will all take place against the backdrop of St Mary Magdalene in Norfolk, a church with royal pedigree.
And you can see plenty more background on the christening of Princess Charlotte of Cambridge as well as all the news on the day itself on Royal Central.
Photo credit: Elliott Brown via Flickr