May is the month for brides in Australia. My first Australian wedding and shortest marriage occurred on 10 May, the second Saturday, but 46 years ago. The nuptials subject of this short tale were held on 2nd May, the Saturday one week before Mother’s Day. Yet these days the chances of there being a maternal creation event immediately following the wedding are rare, even for a Catholic celebration as this one was.
Brides wear white, even at an Australian wedding, elegant, expensive, luxurious and ever so alluring, even a little sexy. Yet, the husband-to-be shows no jealousy that his lady has many admirers today. He also never considers that this may be the most alluring view in his married life, unless he becomes so wealthy that an occasional splurge on a Leonard or a Pucci can recreate that wedding allure, though always without the special bridal smile.
The traditional bride has three bridesmaids and a flower girl, and many a traditional wedding is held in either her or his school chapel. We were in her school chapel, 5 levels up the stairs in Loreto Convent on the harbour side nearly underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I did ponder while recovering my breath at the top of the stairs, why God insisted that the girls should climb the hill to worship.
However, this may just be a flow-on from traditional layout of most Italian hillside towns particularly those in Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany, where the faithful must traipse up many stairs in the hot summer sun or on ice-covered stones to get ‘closer my God to thee’. Here, in the apse, a song is heard rising into the chapel and settling softly on the ears of the arriving guests. Seated, awaiting the onset of ceremonies and absorbing visually the architecture and icons, we continue to be soothed by the variety of musical selections.
The ‘bridal party’ at this Australian wedding is led into the church by the flower girl, as always a young ‘princess’ fresh and beautiful. Each bridesmaid (who, if married, is referred to as a ’matron of honour’, a moniker that could bring age to even the most beautiful young married femme fatale) appears from the apse at a distance of several paces and together they form an elegant trilogy of unity in blue.
And the groom? He and his matching three ‘best men’, all in ‘black tie’, have been standing idly near the altar waiting the allotted 10 minutes after the time published in the bans for the arrival of the bride. This is an educational experience for the groom to assist development of quiet and smiling patience, possibly the routine for his marriage in future years. The bride does arrive, on the arm of her father, after ascending the stairs and catching their breaths.
They ‘slow march’ intently yet joyfully down the aisle to be met by the groom (with a chaste kiss), and the artful experienced priest. Exchanges of family commitments are made and the retinue of the supporting cast are given their allotted spots, and the Priest may begin the Australian wedding ceremony.
It flashed through my mind as I listened with more than a little pleasure to the Priest managing and directing proceedings, that the world may have lost a great husband though his commitment to the mores of the Church, as his understanding of marriage and male/female relationships seemed to be well beyond that of many men who have lived most of their years in female company.
This was an Australian wedding that had been designed and orchestrated by engineers, not lawyers, and designed to be a showcase. The readings were there, mentioned in the order of service, but for the joy of all and possibly to diffuse tension in the major participants, the first reading was from Winnie the Pooh, by three delightful young boys – and the message? ‘Two is better than one’.
Fortunately, for those of us of lesser churchly persuasion, the religious element was maintained at a level sufficient to satisfy God of the good intentions of all those present, without reaching the religious heights of some less innovative traditional ceremonies.
Vows and rings were exchanged, coached and managed to perfection by the priest, and the celebratory kiss was of a more lustful variety, possibly stirring the congregation to some envy.
The ‘blissful couple’, their retinue and the two tribes of supporters, hers from the left wing and his from the right wing of the chapel, retired to the late afternoon drizzling rain outside for the hour or so of compulsory photos to justify the fee of the official photographer. So by the time the thoughtfully arranged buses, anticipating moderate imbibement at the reception, arrived at the reception house, interestingly nestled among the beasts residing in the Taronga Park Zoo, it was too late for the bride to kiss the giraffe goodnight.
Nevertheless the zookeepers, recognizing the relevance and delights of a wedding night, arrived, one cuddling a baby crocodile, mouth agape and primed to swallow, and the other entwined in a more than friendly snake. Methinks they have done this before.