A white, long, embroidered dress: In Brigitte’s family, this baptismal robe (also called a christening gown) has been the same since 1882. “It belonged to my grandfather,” she explains. Mathilde, who is 65 years old, is the keeper of a baptismal robe that has been circulating in her family since 1920. It has seen four generations enter the family of God, and no fewer than 29 babies have worn it on that sacred occasion.
“The dress travels a lot! In December 2022, we sent it to New Caledonia (in the South Pacific, Ed.) to have one of the family’s babies baptized. And another baby was baptized in the Vatican with it, but not by the Pope,” says Mathilde with a smile.
In the case of Gabrielle, who is the mother of four children, the family baptismal robe has had a similar history to that of the British royal family.
Commissioned by Queen Victoria, the royal family dress has been worn by 62 “royal babies,” that is to say nearly eight generations of royal heads, crowned or not. But in 2004, Queen Elizabeth II put an end to this succession, considering that the dress had had its day after 163 years of use. The sovereign then ordered an identical copy of it.
This is what happened in Gabrielle’s family, with the difference that their old dress with English embroidery, which had been passed down for a very long time, “went to another branch of the family.”
“But as it was very pretty, my grandmother wanted to make a copy of it so that the same dress could still continue to circulate,” says Gabrielle, who is 47. Whether it dates back to the 19th or 20th century, in English embroidery or lace, colored immaculate white or cream, the baptismal robe has strong symbolism for these families.
Transmission of faith and family unity
For some, using a family heirloom baptismal robe is a manifestation of the desire to be part of the continuity of family faith.
“For me, it’s the fact of saying to myself that this new entrant into the family of God is not alone. He is accompanied, not only by the Christian community as a newly baptized person, but also by his family. He is part of a family history,” explains Gabrielle.
For Rozenn, whose family has used the same baptismal gown for several generations, using this garment includes her and her children in the family tradition, but also in a shared faith.
“My grandparents, uncles, and aunts have passed on their faith to me. Having a baby in the family wear our baptismal garment is a way for me to make visible the Communion of Saints by making the members of my family already in the joy of Heaven present with us,” she explains.
For Mathilde, grandmother of 25 grandchildren, it’s a question of passing on a spiritual tradition and connecting with previous generations.
“It was my mother who bequeathed us this dress. She was very pious and prayed a lot for her children and grandchildren. Having our family members wear this dress is a way to honor my grandmother, to honor what she passed on to us, not only the dress but also her faith.”
Like her mother in the past, Mathilde is the “keeper” of the family’s baptismal garment. At each new baptism, she takes care to prepare it for the newly baptized. Her secret recipe: careful washing and ironing, all sprinkled with lots of love.
Brigitte wants her children and grandchildren to know that their gown, made of delicate fabric, holds the family history within it. “Our eldest daughter will be the ‘guardian’ of the dress and will pass it on to her children, nephews, and nieces when they become parents in turn,” she explains.
And what to do when each family has its own baptismal robe? Claire found a solution: “In my family we have two dresses inherited from my grandmother and her sister. There’s also a baptism dress in my husband’s family … I like to keep traditions alive and it would be a shame not to use such beautiful dresses! We alternated between them; our sons haven’t worn the same one.”
This is a good compromise to pass on the heritage of both families! But in the end, as Mathilde points out, “it’s not only about the baptism; we must also think about passing on the faith afterwards.”