The US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD is known for its age-old traditions. It’s also known for military precision, which even applies to the weddings that take place at the famed Naval Academy Chapel on the Academy grounds.
On any given Saturday during the nicer months of the year, as many as eight back-to-back weddings take place over the course of a day. Like clockwork, the ceremonies are held every hour, on the hour, from as early as 10 a.m. until early evening. Some are small; others have hundreds of guests, but each is expected to begin and end precisely on time.
Every wedding at the Naval Academy Chapel (whether the groom is a graduating Cadet or a retired Admiral on his second or third marriage) is given precisely 40 minutes from beginning to end, and this is how its goes on a typical Saturday until the day’s string of weddings has run its course. This includes the moment the first guests walk through the front door to their pews to that special moment the new couple steps outside through the ceremonial Arch of Swords.
Pulling this off takes the sort of rigorous discipline for which the Naval Academy is famous, and it usually works because at least one in the couple has to be a Naval Academy grad, which means they have been drilled to be on time, at all times, without exception.
Of course, explains Jane Richman, a former US Navy Protocol Officer, if one wedding runs late, “It’s like a domino effect.” The rest will all be late as well. “But most days the weddings go smoothly,” says Richman, who specializes in planning and managing Naval Academy weddings down to the finest detail.
Richman was in charge, and literally every minute, from the time the bride and groom woke up to the departure of the last guest from the chapel, was planned and scheduled.
On this particular day, seven weddings were planned at the Chapel – one every hour from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The wedding we visited was scheduled for noon. This was the wedding of Timothy, a Naval Academy grad and Marine helicopter pilot, to his long-time love, Elizabeth.
With the precision of a military parade, guests began arriving at 11:40 a.m. on the busses set up by Richman who was there waiting for them, having spent the last hour training the officers who would conduct the wedding’s grand finale Arch of Swords ceremony. By 11:45 guests began entering the chapel. There were well over one-hundred, but somehow, they were all in their pews by 11:52, just in time for the seating of the grandparents. At 11:54 Purcell’s iconic Trumpet Voluntary began. At 11:55 ushers seated the mother of the bride. Right about this time, guests began getting teary-eyed as light streamed though the chapel dome onto the altar.
By 12 sharp, the bride was walking the aisle. There was an opening prayer, a first reading, and the exchange of vows and rings, which took place at 12:20 with the Navy Hymn playing in the background. This was followed by a prayer and a final blessing and by 12:26 the newlyweds were trailing back up the aisle to Vivaldi’s Spring Four Seasons. A mere 10 minutes later, they walked through the Arch of Swords to the applause of guests, who then began boarding buses back to the reception just as the 1 p.m. wedding party began to arrive.
Although executed with military precision, it was still the sweetest of ceremonies. Despite the tight compression of time, it all seemed to unfold at a leisurely pace. Weddings here are as beautiful and moving as any wedding anywhere, and perhaps even more so because the chapel itself is actually a magnificent cathedral. At the same time, it is a unique experience, shaped and honed by the traditions of the Academy and the officers trained to protect, honor and serve.
The Naval Academy and its “Cathedral of the Navy” are both breathtakingly beautiful. Adding to the romance of any wedding here is the fact that these weddings are held against the backdrop of Annapolis, MD, an enchanting port town with a history as old as the 13 original colonies. In addition to being home to the US Naval Academy, Annapolis is the sailing capital of the U.S. and is a destination worthy of a honeymoon. The city is known for its Georgian architecture, docks perched on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay and a weekend nightlife that could rival any big city. It’s also an easy walking town with intriguing alleys, a fun downtown, historic hotels, including the Governor Calvert House and Maryland Inn, and has an easy nautical ambiance.
To learn more about Annapolis, MD, visit www.WeddingsInAnnapolis.com
Glenna Musante is an award-winning writer who specializes in bridal, fashion, travel and the textile industry. She is a former writer for the Raleigh News & Observer.
Photo credit: Formica Studios