By Kimberley Petyt
After "How can we get married on the Eiffel Tower", I would have to say, as an American wedding planner in Paris, my second most requested Parisian wedding inquiry by American brides is "We want to get married at Notre Dame Cathedral". Unfortunately, unless you have friends or relatives in some extremely high places, it is next to impossible to marry in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. In fact, for a foreigner, it isn't exactly a cakewalk to get married in any church in France. One of the biggest things to keep in mind is that before any Catholic church in France will even consider marrying you, you must first have a civil ceremony either in France or in your home country. Once that is sorted out, you should then put on your Sunday's best, and get thee to the church in question for a little face-time.
I find that one of the most difficult things for many Americans to understand is that in order to get married in a church in France, you have to get direct permission from the priest of that church, - and quite frankly- he may not want to do it. Keep in mind that France is a traditional Catholic country, and Parishes are pretty deep-rooted in their communities. You are asking to be accepted into the folds of a Parish in order to take part in a holy rite. If the priest feels that you aren't considerate of this, or feels that you're trying to "buy" a place in their church (I can't tell you how many American clients have contacted me asking for help after being denied permission to marry at a church after they've grossly waggled inch-thick stacks of 50-dollar bills in the priests face), he has every right to say "non". So I suggest that, if you are living in France and aren't regular church-goers, you and your betrothed start going to the church for a while before you first meet with the priest about your wedding plans- and make sure that he sees you. When you do have your first meeting with him, be as reverent and respectful as the meeting deserves, and be prepared to plead your case. I'll just tell you now that 9 times out of 10, the priest will "strongly suggest" that you marry in your own Parish- all the while walking you out the front door! So, get you elevator speech ready: let him know how much France, Paris, and the arrondissement means to you, and why you must marry in his church. If you have any warm-n-fuzzy stories to tell (a grandparent or cousin who was married or buried in the church, for instance), be sure to get them in there. And, of course, a plate of killer homemade chocolate-chip cookies never hurt.
If you're planning to marry in a church in Paris, but aren't currently living in France, honestly- you have your work cut out for you. Your emails will more than likely go unanswered. If you try to phone the church directly, you will probably never make it past the church secretary. The best suggestion that I have is to find a friend or relative with strong, personal ties within that specific Parish to make the plea on your behalf. This should be someone that you are on very good terms with, because it may require more than a few visits with the priest before you get your final answer.
And speaking of final answers-, as anyone who has spent any time at all in France knows, the first answer is always "non"- just ignore that one and ask again in a different way. If, after the fourth or fifth ask, the answer is still no, then I would suggest you move on to Plan B- a symbolic ceremony in a private chapel, or maybe a blessing ceremony in a non-denominational Parisian church.
If you are one of the lucky few to receive direct permission to marry in a French church, Felicitations! You are one step closer to realizing your fantasy of a storybook wedding in a beautiful old church in Paris. But don't unbuckle your seat belt just yet- there's still quite a bit of paperwork involved. Ah, paperwork- France just wouldn't be France without it. But no worries- Your American Wedding Planner in Paris comes through again! Here are the paperwork requirements needed to marry in a Catholic church in France:
A cover letter, written on formal letterhead, from your parish priest (the priest in the church that you attend in your home town) that gives you the "official" go-ahead to marry in a foreign country. The letter basically says that the priest knows you and that there is no reason that you shouldn't be able to marry in France. It should include the name of the French church that you'll be marrying in, as well as the date of the wedding. He needs to include your original Pre-Nuptial Inquiry form, which will then need to be stamped with an official seal from the Bishop. Also, your priest will need to include a copy of a certificate proving that you have completed Pre-Cana classes.
Another letter, also on formal letterhead, from the Bishop of your parish. This letter pretty much says the same as the priests' letter- it gives the name of the French church, the wedding date, and states that the Bishop knows of no reason why you cannot marry in a Catholic church in France.
Baptism and Confirmation certificates which have been issued within 6 months of your wedding date. These certificates must also have the official seal from your Bishop on them in order to be accepted by the church in France.
If your spouse-to-be is not Catholic, then you'll need to send a completed and signed Permission for a Mixed Religion document. You must get this from your parish priest as well.
If one or both of you have been divorced, you are not allowed to marry in the Catholic Church in France unless an annulment has been granted. You will have to submit proof of this along with your documents.
Your marriage certificate as proof of your civil ceremony. Remember: you can only be married in a Catholic church in France *after* you have had a civil ceremony.
All of the above documents need to be submitted to the priest of your French church at least 2 months before your wedding date, in order to give you enough leeway in case there are any unforeseen hitches. As some of the documents are time sensitive, I typically suggest that you give yourself 4 - 6 months before your wedding date to start accumulating your documents. This is after you have received confirmation directly from the French priest that he will marry you in his church, of course.
Being married in one of the dozens of beautiful, historic churches of Paris is a chance of a lifetime. Although the process to get there may seem a bit daunting, the memory of your unforgettable Parisian celebration will make the journey worth it.
�2007, Kimberley Petyt. Kimberley Petyt is the Founder and Managing Director of parisian events, the premier wedding and event planning agency catering to the English-speaking community in Paris, France. With over a decade of experience in planning corporate and social events both in the U.S. and in France, she has been coordinating weddings professionally since she created parisian events in 2005. She has brought her professionalism, creativity and stylish flair to celebrations in stunning French venues such as the magnificent Basilique St Remi in Reims and the exclusive Automobile Club de France and Cercle de l'Union Interallie in Paris. She sat on the Board of Directors and was Vice President of Special Events for AAWE, one of the oldest American women's groups in Paris, and was a columnist for the nationally-distributed French monthly, The French Paper.
At the forefront of wedding and event trends in both France and the U.S., Kimberley remains one step ahead by constantly advancing her craft. She is a member of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, and is an active participant on several exclusive online forums for wedding and event planning professionals. As the author of the popular blog, "Parisian party: tales of an American wedding planner in Paris", she has proven herself to be the preeminent resource for those planning a wedding or special event in Paris.
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