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Royal altar walk stirs controversy

Swedish Crown Princess gets married, but not before her attempted deviation from tradition raised a furore.

Last updated: 20 Jun 2010 03:40
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Critics described the Anglo-Saxon tradition of giving the bride away as "sexist" [GALLO/GETTY]

After eight years of media scrutiny and gossip, the Swedish Crown Princess finally got her prince.

Victoria's decision to marry Daniel Westling, her former fitness trainer, was controversial in itself.

The future queen fell in love with a commoner from a small town, and rumour has it that her father, King Carl Gustaf XVI, initially opposed the marriage because Westling was not "good enough".

But as the engagement was announced and preparations for the June 19 wedding finally went ahead, it was the planned layout of the wedding ceremony that caused a media storm.

Victoria asked to be escorted to the altar by her father, contradicting the Swedish tradition of couples entering the church together.

In the country that prides itself as being one of the absolute front runners in the field of gender equality, the move was interpreted as much more than a ceremonial act.

'Altargate'

Critics referred to the Anglo-Saxon practise as "sexist" and a "backlash for feminism", and the row, dubbed Altargate, started.

"The old Swedish tradition, when couple goes in together, has an important meaning," Annika Borg, an outspoken priest of the Church of Sweden, wrote in the daily Dagens Nyheter.

"The woman [has the legal right] to make her own decisions and stands beside her future husband of her own free will.

"Bride handover builds on an attitude towards women which takes us several centuries back. As a role model the Crown Princess should consider this."

Helle Klein, columnist

"Bride handover has its roots in a completely different mindset. It's about a woman's [right of self-determination] being left over from her father to the man."

The Royal Court defended Victoria's decision, saying the royal ceremony should not be seen as an ordinary wedding.

"It's the wish of the Crown Princess," Nina Eldh, a spokeswoman, told reporters.

"It's not a father who gives away the daughter to another man. It is the King of Sweden leading the heir to the nation's throne to the altar – and to the man who has been accepted."

Nine bishops wrote a letter to the bridal couple, asking them to change their mind.

Helle Klein, an editorial writer for the tabloid Aftonbladet, urged the Archbishop to intervene.

"Bride handover builds on an attitude towards women which takes us several centuries back. As a role model the Crown Princess should consider this," she wrote.

"Archbishop Anders Wejryd must prevent that the Hollywood idea about the wedding becomes the expression of the Swedish Church. Say no, for the sake of the women, the church and the Swedish culture!"

'New phenomenon'

Wejryd said he had adviced the couple to walk down the aisle together, but said it was up to the couple to decide what they wanted to do. 

"Being given away is a new phenomenon which occasionally occurs in the Church of Sweden. I usually advise against it, as our marriage ceremony is so clear on the subject of the spouse's equality," he said in a statement.

When Victoria's parents, King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia, married in 1976 they followed Swedish tradition and walked together.

As some bloggers pointed out, the situation would have been very different had it not been for the decision taken three years after Victoria was born - to make the Act of Succession gender-neutral.

In 1980, Sweden became the first country to allow the throne to be passed to the first-born child, whether male or female.

This meant that her younger brother, Carl Philip, was snubbed of his Crown Prince title just seven months after he was born.

As the debate dragged on in media and on blogs, the King told the tabloid Aftonbladet that it was an "unnecessarily long debate".

But a week before the wedding, the Royal Court finally announced a compromise, citing the design of the church as the decisive factor - Victoria and her groom would meet halfway to the altar.

And on Saturday, in front of about 1,000 guests, including royalties from around the world, the current head of state led his daughter to the steps to the altar where she met Westling.

The couple then proceeded together up the stairs and to the altar, where they both said "yes".

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Al Jazeera
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