Very early on the morning of May 14, 1962, thousands of fresh red roses were delivered to the Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals of Athens at the special request of Queen Frederica and her daughter Princess Sophia, who was to marry Don Juan Carlos of Spain.
More than 35,000 roses decorated the Orthodox cathedral. Benedict, the Catholic archbishop of Athens, and Chrysostomos, primate of Greece, conducted the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox ceremonies respectively at the two separate churches, given the dual faith traditions of Juan Carlos, who was Catholic, and Sophia, who was Greek Orthodox.
The Catholic ceremony was held first, scheduled for 10:00am. Sophia and her father traveled from the palace to the Cathedral of St. Denis in the same coach used for the 1908 wedding of George, Prince of Greece and Marie Bonaparte. The carriage was pulled by six white horses through the streets of Athens as hundreds of thousands of onlookers waved and threw flowers.
According to estimates by Athens police, up to 1 million Greek and Spanish spectators packed the two-mile procession between the palace and both cathedrals. Upon arrival at St. Denis, Sophia was said to have seemed nervous and worried about the appearance of her train. However, before entering the cathedral, Sophia turned to wave at the excited spectators.
The cathedral was decorated with several thousand yellow and red roses and carnations in honor of the colors of Spain. While waiting at the altar at the beginning of the ceremony, Juan Carlos was described as standing “ramrod-stiff.” Juan Carlos was addressed in Spanish during the ceremony, while Sophia was addressed in Greek.
Following the Catholic ceremony, Juan Carlos and Sophia road together in a horse-drawn coach to royal palace, while the next round of guests headed to the Metropolitan Cathedral for the Orthodox service.
After a very brief rest, Sophia and her father again rode from palace to Orthodox cathedral via the same 1908 blue and gilt coach, while Juan Carlos traveled in a separate carriage with his mother.
The Orthodox service began at noon at the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Virgin Mary. As part of the Orthodox ceremony, attendants exchanged the rings and crowns worn by Juan Carlos and Sophia three times. The crowns were the same as those used during the wedding of Paul and Frederica in 1938.
Sophia was reported to be smiling throughout both ceremonies, although she did shed some tears toward the end of the Orthodox service. Queen Frederica was also said to have cried during the service. Juan Carlos put his arm around and offered Sophia his handkerchief to comfort. Not to be outdone by the Catholics, 22 Orthodox bishops assisted the primate during the ceremony.
Upon leaving the Orthodox cathedral, a very excited Sophia nearly tripped over her long train. The couple descended the steps of the cathedral under a tunnel of swords held by 18 Spanish officers, friends of Juan Carlos from the three Spanish military academies. Spanish royalists shouted, “Long live the King!” as the couple exited under a tunnel of swords. Sophia then threw her wedding bouquet, which was caught by Anne-Marie of Denmark, who would marry Sophia’s brother Constantine in 1964.
A short civil ceremony was held at the Greek royal palace following the religious services. Sophia would now be known as Sofia — the Spanish version of her name. A wedding banquet followed for guests attending the two religious ceremonies.
While most of the Greek public cheered the new couple with Greek and Spanish flags, the wedding was not universally popular. The heat of the wedding day also took a toll on several spectators. A 72-year-old Greek woman died of a heart attack during the festivities, and several others received treatment for heat-related conditions.
Sophia wore a dress of silver lame covered in layers of heirloom Bruges lace and tulle. The dress itself was rather simple in design, with fitted three quarter-length sleeves, a flared skirt and a jewel neckline. The 20-foot-long white lame and organza train extended from the neck of the dress.
The dress was designed by Jean Desses, a French designer of Greek heritage and a favorite of Queen Frederica. The choice of a designer, located in neither Greece nor Spain, caused an uproar. Sophia attempted to soothe the issue by requesting that the dress be cut in Paris and assembled in Athens by a Greek seamstress. Desses designed most of the pieces of Sophia’s trousseau.
Sophia’s veil consisted of 15 feet of heirloom Bruges lace. Queen Frederica had worn the same veil when she married Paul of Greece in 1938. Sophia’s shoes, designed by Roger Vivier for Jean Desses, were also covered in lace. She carried a bouquet of lilies of the valley, a traditional wedding flower.
Sophia chose to wear the tiara now known as the Prussian Diamond Tiara or Hellenic Tiara. This tiara was originally gifted from German emperor Wilhelm II to his daughter Viktoria Luise upon her marriage to Ernst Augustus of Hanover.
Viktoria Luise then passed it to her own daughter and Sophia’s mother, Frederica upon her marriage into the Greek royal family. Frederica in turn gave the tiara to Sophia as a wedding present. Very Hellenic in appearance, the platinum and diamond tiara features lines of pillars, Greek keys and laurel surrounding an oval framing a single and free hanging pear-shaped diamond.
The eight bridesmaids each wore a strapless dress of silver lame gauze. The skirt of the dress had many shallow pleats, which flared out the lightweight material.
The dress was covered by a pastel silk faille top with three-quarter length sleeves and scoop necklines. Narrow ribbons tied into small bows just below the bust and at the waist created a cummerbund-style effect. The bridesmaids also wore thick, braided headpieces that matched the dress and wore long white gloves during the ceremonies.
Many members of Europe’s ruling and non-ruling families attended the wedding. The guest list would be short for a royal wedding, given the capacities of the relatively small venues of the Cathedral of St. Denis and the Metropolitan Cathedral. Additionally, a number of dignitaries, nobility and other prominent non-royal guests would also need to be accommodated. As a compromise, half of the royal guests would attend the Catholic wedding ceremony, the other half the Orthodox service.
The UK-based Pathé News archive, also known as British Pathé, published a news reel of the wedding on its YouTube channel, which has more than 1.5 million subscribers.
Watch the video
Text and history from Unofficial Royalty.
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