The Hidden Meaning Behind Princess Charlene's 'Burning Boat' Ceremony
The royal mother, who converted to Catholicism, honored Monaco's patron saint with a fiery spectacle
The royal mom of twins marked The Feast of St. Dévote, a two-day celebration honoring Monaco’s patron saint, with a traditional boat-burning procession on January 26 alongside her husband, Prince Albert.
The celebration follows Charlene’s recent meeting with Pope Francis. Her Serene Highness, as she is known to her subjects, is one of seven women in the world permitted to wear white when meeting the Pope. She converted to Catholicism ahead of her 2011 wedding to Albert.
“Charlene has embraced the Catholic religion and is inspired by it,” a Monaco observer previously told PEOPLE. “She is devoted to it and impressive in her fidelity.”
On Wednesday Radio Monte Carlo reported that during their audience with the Pope, the royal couple gifted him with a rare coin: an Antoine I, dating from 1720 and featuring St. Dévote on the flip side.
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The Feast of St. Dévote continued on January 27 with a mass at the Church of the St. Dévote led by Archbishop Bernard Barsi of Monaco, which was followed by a blessing of the palace, the city and the sea.
It is believed that in the 4th century under Emperor Diocletian, the Corsican-born Devota (later St. Dévote) was arrested and killed for her Christian faith. Corsican villagers saved her body, setting it adrift on a boat.
At the time, Monaco was a Roman port. The details of Dévote’s arrival there, including the notion that her body was led north in a storm to Monaco by a dove, have been celebrated as part of her legend forever.
On Tuesday Charlene and Albert opened the traditional Feast of Monaco at Port Hercule by ceremoniously burning the votive boat, symbolizing the arrival of Dévote on the banks of Monaco.
A malicious thief supposedly stole St. Dévote’s relics, but he was caught and his boat burned (hence the tradition.) The people of Monaco still tell the tale that in the 16th century, before the onslaught of Genoese troops and a siege lasting six months, Dévote appeared and protected the principality – thereby signaling the victory of Lucien Grimaldi, then-Lord of Monaco.