Belfast Telegraph

Princess Charlotte's christening shows the bonds of religion really are good for us all

By Mary Kenny

The pictures of Princess Charlotte's christening are an engaging reminder of the deep bonds of family life and Christian ritual... plus they give everyone a chance to see the new baby.

There has been some carping on social media about the christening of Princess Charlotte, calling the pictures "ingratiating twaddle" and "a sickly sweet lie". This was following an attack in the Guardian newspaper by Jonathan Jones on the Mario Testino (right) photographs of Kate, William, baby George and infant Charlotte.

Testino is described as "the world's most horrible flatterer of wealth and status" and in the christening portraits he created "impossibly perfect people with impossibly perfect children".

Those of an anti-royalist - and, perhaps, anti-christening - cast of mind are always apt to pour scorn on such events.

Yes, Mario Testino - the late Princess Diana's favourite photographer - is a dab hand at making his subjects look attractive. But don't we all strive to put up the best show we can for a picture marking a significant family event?

I doubt that the wider public see these pictures as portraits of "impossibly perfect people with impossibly perfect children": they are more likely to be cheered by an engaging presentation of a family ritual which has universal resonance and, within wider Christianity, a special sacramental significance.

A christening is a naming ceremony, but it also marks the child's entry into a Christian community. A royal christening, like a royal wedding, is just "a brilliant edition of an everyday fact".

Yes, it is likely to be grander and, perhaps, more traditional than the christenings we have attended, or experienced, in our own families.

Not every baby has a christening gown passed down through the generations and few infants have the benefit of five godparents, as Princess Charlotte had.

But the ceremony has a universal purpose and it serves a secondary universal instinct: everyone wants to get a look at the new baby.

Agnostics and humanists (as well, perhaps, as some Christians who do not favour infant baptism, preferring adult baptism) who choose not to have a christening service deprive friends and neighbours of this essential pleasure of seeing and meeting the new child.

Small wonder that some people who are not religious are now inclined towards a secular naming ceremony of a sort that will mirror, or even imitate, a traditional christening.

And, so, we all gazed at the Testino pictures: and some of us cooed in a sentimental manner over the poppet in her mother's arms, and now within the wider circle of the family. And, yes, for some, the frocks, hats and style were also a focus - why not? Adornments add to the charm of life.

Traditional rituals are an important element of social bonding and surely the royal family helps to bolster those bonds which hold society together: especially a diverse society?

I have observed that whenever there is a public royal occasion around Buckingham Palace in London, it always attracts a multi-ethnic crowd of people.

You do not always see Afro-Carribbean people, or Asian, or Islamic people among every assembly of the public: London theatre audiences, for example, are nearly always more than 99% white and that goes for the opera and ballet, as well. It's seldom you see a multi-ethnic crowd at a garden festival, or visiting a stately home. Sport, yes, and musical events, yes. And also at any public royal event, because of the sense of universal and inclusive appeal.

People can identify with a family; and traditional practices and rituals give us both a sense of security and of solidarity with others.

As Edmund Burke - that fine Irishman, who was also a great conservative thinker - pointed out, a community, or a nation, isn't just a collection of individuals. It binds together the dead and the unborn, the past and the future in an unspoken contract which enhances their commitment to one another and to the common good.

Today, we live in a world that is often sadly atomised: we're so attached now to technology, so wedded to our mobile phones, tablets and iPads - all perfectly wonderful inventions, but sometimes the source of loneliness and isolation, too. Instead of talking to one another, we're glued to our screens. Robots are replacing people in job situations and we're invited to "go online" instead of speaking to a human being in trade interactions.

I don't claim that royal figureheads are an answer to deep social problems, but it is evident, all the same, that the benign and attractive way so many of the royals perform public service can encourage society to feel better about itself. And that the public ceremonies around birth, marriage and death help us to participate in the significant moments in life, connected to family, friends and community.

The christening of Princess Charlotte is also a reminder - in an age where some voices call for a more secular state - that Christian rituals are part of the continuity of our shared traditions.

The water from the River Jordan brought for the christening links us indissolubly with the Holy Land of Christianity's founder and the disciples who evangelised that faith thereafter.

History is part of who we are: and if sometimes there are divisions in that history, that is part of the story, too, and it would be untruthful to deny it. Yet we can also identify with the similarities, not the differences.

No, the grumblers are wrong and in a cranky minority. The pictures of Charlotte's christening bring joy and pleasure and they also transmit a deeper message about the meaningfulness of a family event.

Mary Kenny is the author of Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate Between Ireland and the British Monarchy (New Island Books)

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