Where better to host your candlelit Celtic wedding than in the magically cavernous confines of a castle in the countryside? For Michelle Spaulding and Jim "Alex" Alexander, advertising execs who met at a Renaissance fair near Charlotte in 1998 (they participate in such festivals several times a year), the task of securing a wedding location that would allow room for their individuality and Renaissance-era sensibility seemed incredibly daunting. Luckily, a few months into planning, they attended a friend's wedding at Castle McCulloch and felt instantly that its architecture and Camelot vibe clicked with their personalities. "We wanted something spirited," says Michelle, "not a solemn, cookie-cutter wedding."
THE BRIDE Michelle Spaulding, 35, account executive
THE GROOM Jim "Alex" Alexander, 38, project manager
THE DATE March 10
THE SCENE Ceremony and reception at Castle McCulloch, Jamestown, NC
THE CEREMONY A massive stone structure with a moat and drawbridge, dramatic turrets, cathedral ceilings, and wrought-iron chandeliers, Castle McCulloch is an hour-and-a-half drive from Raleigh, where Michelle and Alex live. "The ceremony was uniquely ours," says Alex. "Michelle and I wrote our own vows, borrowing inspiration and text from a variety of sources." They relied heavily on the poetic language and ideas highlighted in Anam Cara, by John O'Donohue. Set to Celtic music, the ceremony culminated with a moving hand fasting ritual. Here, the officiant bound the couple's right and left hands together with cord to symbolize the marriage bond. Michelle and Alex also said vows to their children, affirming their unconditional love for them.
THE BRIDAL PROCESSION As the bridal party made their entrance from The Great Hall's majestic staircase, the scene was awash in dark green velvet and tartan plaid. Among the enchanting procession was a "flower fairy" donning a dainty crown of flowers -- with wings made of fabric-covered wire and peacock feathers, and carrying a woven twig basket filled with flowers.
THE BRIDE & GROOM WORE When Michelle emerged, evening sunlight filtered through the stained-glass windows while candelabra caught the luster of her sumptuous period wedding gown. "I was beaming the whole time," remembers Michelle. Fashioned of a heavy ivory satin, the bodice featured an elaborate brocade fabric, with metallic gold ribbon for laces. Instead of a veil, Michelle wore a ring of flowers and ribbons in her hair. She also wore her maternal grandmother's garnet ring. In turn, Alex wore a leather doublet (a European jacket style popular from the 1500s-1700s) with black velvet tights, leather boots, and a hand-tooled leather belt with a pewter buckle.
THE ATTENDANTS WORE Michelle's maids sported an old-fashioned Irish look, in forest green gowns and Royal Stewart tartan shawls around the shoulders. They wore flower wreaths in their hair and carried bouquets combining tulips, roses, dried flowers, Queen Anne's lace, and rosemary, with moss green and ivory ribbons wrapped around the stems. The guys wore, appropriately, Royal Stewart kilts with "moggans" (we'd call them "leggings" today) and black ankle boots.
THE CELEBRATION "We had placed disposable cameras on each table and it was like paparazzi down there," describes Alex, remembering the descent down the staircase and back into the Great Hall for the reception. Everything had an ethereal, otherworldly glow, with candles flickering from the tables, windowsills, and winding walkways. They embraced Celtic traditions and Renaissance esprit throughout the night with dancing, fervent toasting, and other forms of revelry. "We actually had to shoo everyone out," says Michelle. Their guests, reluctant to leave, eventually lined up along the drawbridge and sent the newlyweds off into a swarm of soap bubbles.
-- Amy Elliott
Photographs © Gary Allen Photography
Real Weddings: Theme Weddings