The sunshine had come out to ensure the wedding of footballer Benji and his wife-to-be Sabine had the perfect backdrop. For the month before the excitement had been growing amongst the players and supporters of St Cernin de l’Herm, a village in the south west of France, as the day came ever closer. We had already been out for a meal and made the bride and groom walk around the restaurant whilst eating a banana – with no hands. A large poster of the team picture had been printed and everyone had signed it and written a good luck message. So by Saturday afternoon the junction of the small crossroads in Frayssinet-le-Gélet was busy with people waiting for Benji and Sabine to walk by.
In France many wedding ceremonies will take place in the village Mairie and then move on to the local church for a blessing. And we were lucky that the two buildings were close by so that a short procession through the village could take place. As we waited friends spread out cuttings from roses and other bushes across the pavement on the route the bride and groom would take to the church. This is meant to bring the couple good luck and fortune and in other areas of France neighbours will lay down sheaves of corn. Then the moment arrived as the couple stood at the top of the steps outside the Mairie and slowly made their way to the church, escorted by their parents.
Traffic came to a standstill as the procession of guests followed behind and walked the 150 meters to the church. In the afternoon sunshine people slowly made their way into the church filling up the pews and taking up positions in the aisle for the chance to take a picture. Once everyone was inside, and we must have numbered 200 or more, the bride and groom slowly made their way through the church.
Camera flashes lit up the dark entranceway as the couple made their way along the aisle; the organist played a tune that softly filled the church. The priest opened the blessing with a short passage from the bible and then Sabine walked up to the microphone to deliver a short speech. She thanked the many people that had turned up to see the bride and groom and that it had been an incredible day. Then the priest delivered a short prayer and a musical interlude with saxophone and accordion was played. The ceremony of the passing of the rings was undertaken with the assistance of the son of Sabine and Benji. He carried the rings up to the alter of the church in a small, padded heart shaped bag and passed them to the priest. The couple spoke a few words and placed the rings on each other’s fingers as the cameras again flashed a whirred. Everyone then began to make their way out of the church waiting for the bride and groom to stand outside the church for some more photographs. But the players of St Cernin had one more trick up their shirts as we donned our kit and picked up a football each.
We made a guard of honour outside the church and held a ball high over the guests as they made their way out into the village square. But it was Benji and Sabine who everyone was waiting for. People passed around rice and confetti waiting for them to leave the church and run under the footballs, as they did the place exploded. The church bell tolled and rice cascaded down on our heads covering the players and the newly married couple from head to toe. Then it was time for more photographs, car horns sounding and the children throwing rice and confetti at each other. As the day drifted into late afternoon it was time for a small aperitif and a few nibbles in the grounds of the Mairie. Watching the sun slowly slide behind the church tower as the celebrations moved on into the night.