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Royal wedding venue steeped in British history
A general view shows the choir in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, west of London, on February 11, 2018 where Britain's Prince Harry and US actress Meghan Markle will hold their wedding ceremony. Britain's Prince Harry and US actress Meghan Markle will marry on May 19 at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. Dominic Lipinski / POOL / AFP.

by Robin Millard

LONDON (AFP).- St. George's Chapel, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will tie the knot on Saturday, is a royal church steeped in centuries of British history.

The final resting place of kings and queens and the epicentre of English chivalry, the Windsor Castle chapel has witnessed multiple royal weddings and state occasions.

When Harry and Meghan wed, they will be surrounded by tombs of his ancestors as well as priceless relics and heraldry dating back to the Middle Ages.

Inspired by King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, King Edward III founded the Order of the Garter, the most prestigious order of chivalry, in 1348.

He made Windsor's chapel its mother church and rededicated it to St. George, England's patron saint.

In an annual ceremony which still continues, knights walk to the chapel in a grand procession, dressed in their garter robes: heavy blue velvet capes and black velvet hats with elaborate white ostrich plumes.

The order is limited to 24 living companions, whose banners hang in the chapel. Each knight has a brass plate depicting their coat of arms on their seat.

Current members include 1990s prime minister John Major, former Bank of England governor Mervyn King, and ex-MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller.

Foreign knights include the kings of Spain, Norway and Sweden, and Japan's Emperor Akihito.

Harry's brother and best man Prince William is the 1,000th knight.

Gothic masterpiece
The chapel was radically rebuilt between 1475 and 1528 into the grand feat of Gothic architecture seen today.

Its fan-vaulted ceiling, intricately-carved stonework and stained glass windows make it one of the finest examples of its kind in England.

King Edward III's sword, 2.03 metres (six feet and eight inches) long, hangs in one of the aisles.

The roof is lined with 76 statues of the Queen's Beasts, depicting 14 heraldic animals including the golden lion of England, the red dragon of Wales and the silver falcon of York.

The chapel has a door from the original building which has been standing since the mid-13th century. It is only used by the royal family when attending services.

Harry, Queen Elizabeth II's grandson, was baptised in the chapel in December 1984 with the names Henry Charles Albert David.

And when he and former US television star Markle marry before 600 guests, they will stand just metres from a host of monarchs.

Kings Edward IV, Henry VI and Edward VII are buried to the sides of the altar. the tombs of Henry VIII and the executed Charles I are also in the chapel choir.

Beneath the bride and groom in the chapel's royal vault lie kings George III -- the last to reign in Markle's homeland -- George IV and William IV.

King George V lies near the west door, while his son and Queen Elizabeth's father, King George VI, has his own memorial chapel.

His wife, also called Queen Elizabeth, and the ashes of their daughter princess Margaret, were buried next to him in 2002 -- the last royals laid to rest in the chapel.

Wedding list
Besides burials and funerals, the chapel also has a more joyous history of royal weddings, which peaked in Queen Victoria's reign.

The trend has been revived in recent decades.

Queen Elizabeth's youngest son Prince Edward married Sophie Rhys-Jones in the chapel in 1999.

When Harry's father Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, remarried in 2005, the wedding could not take place in church as both Charles and Camilla were divorced.

Instead they married at Windsor Guildhall and a blessing was held in the chapel in the sovereign's presence.

In the chapel's last royal wedding in 2008, Queen Elizabeth's eldest grandchild Peter Phillips married Canadian management consultant Autumn Kelly.

They sold their wedding pictures to a magazine -- much to the monarch's irritation.
St. George's is set to host another royal wedding later this year.

Princess Eugenie, the younger daughter of Queen Elizabeth's second son Prince Andrew and ninth in line to the throne, is due to marry her socialite fiancee Jack Brooksbank on October 12.

© Agence France-Presse

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