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Religious wedding for Monaco royals

A day after the civil wedding that transformed one-time Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock into the Princess of Monaco, she and Prince Albert II wed in a star-studded religious ceremony yesterday.

The couple exchanged 18 carat white gold platinum rings by Cartier. As Albert slipped the ring on to her finger, he winked, and as she put his on, she burst into a broad smile.

The South African bride appeared to tear up behind the veil as she took her place at the altar in the princely palace where the Catholic ceremony took place. Charlene wore an off-the-shoulder gown by Giorgio Armani, and a long veil.

VIP guests including Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, former James Bond actor Roger Moore and former French first lady Bernadette Chirac joined European royals, heads of state, supermodels and world-class athletes streaming up the red carpet and into the palace.

Photographers shouted at Czech supermodel Karolina Kurkova, dressed in a sober navy skirt suit, to strike a pose, and the crowd of thousands of the principality’s citizens following the festivities on giant screens just outside the palace broke into cheers as French musician Jean Michelle Jarre swept by.

Other household names converging on the palace – an Italian Renaissance castle where Monaco’s ruling Grimaldi dynasty has resided for centuries – include French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, US soprano Renee Fleming and Giorgio Armani, the Italian designer who made Charlene’s wedding gown.

More than 2,500 hours of work, 80m (about 90 yards) of silk and 40,000 Swarovski crystals went into the gown, the palace said.

Celebrated French-born chef Alain Ducasse prepared a multi-course dinner for 450 guests.

Ducasse, who like many in his tax bracket has taken citizenship in Monaco, is the first chef to earn three Michelin stars in three different cities, including three for his Louis XV restaurant in Monaco. He has said freshly caught fish and vegetables grown on Albert’s farm will be on the menu. A fireworks extravaganza will follow.

The couple was married in an intimate civil service last Friday inside the prince’s palace. Albert’s sisters, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie, were among several dozen guests at that ceremony, which was held in the palace’s sumptuous throne room where the prince’s father, the late Rainier III, wed Hollywood legend Grace Kelly in 1956.

She died in a car crash nearly 30 years ago, and this tiny principality on the Riviera had been without a princess ever since. Known as a notorious ladies man, 53-year-old Albert long eschewed marriage, and many in Monaco had resigned themselves to forever having a bachelor prince.

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