I find many of the old prayer cards commemorating deceased members of the Belgian royal family to be quite touching and sobering, as well as helpful in shedding light on traditional Belgian religious practices. Here are memorial cards to Prince Baudouin (1869-1891), the handsome, pious and gifted elder brother of King Albert I.
Netley Lucas, in Albert the Brave: King of the Belgians, captures the mood of the Belgians during the tragic family illness that so suddenly took the life of the heir to the throne. The shattering effect of the loss of his nephew upon the ostensibly cold, formidable and impervious King Leopold II is especially striking.
Towards the end of 1890, Prince Albert caught a bad cold, which developed quickly into a species of influenza. From the Prince the illness spread to his sister Princess Josephine, and from her to Princess Henriette, whose condition grew gradually worse until it was considered necessary to publish bulletins. The life of the Princess was for some days in danger. The anxiety of the Count and Countess was lightened by the manifestations of popular sympathy with which they were overwhelmed. The Palace of the Rue de la Regence was besieged with streams of callers of all ranks and classes, who begged for the latest news or brought gifts that, in the case of the poorer donors, were indicative of the very deep sympathy felt by everyone.
The malady ran its course, but happily the constitution of the Princess, strengthened by the simple, wholesome life she had led, withstood the strain. Towards the middle of January, 1891, Princess Josephine was pronounced out of danger. But no sooner were her parents relieved of one anxiety than another arose. On January 17th, only a day after the hopeful report of the Princess had been published, Prince Baudouin was taken ill. He took the disease in a lighter form, and though his condition gave rise to anxiety, he was not at first so ill as had been his sister, and no bulletins were issued. He was indeed well enough to take a walk. Unhappily, the illness increased suddenly, and despite every precaution, Prince Baudouin developed pleuropneumonia. He grew steadily worse, after less than a week's illness, he passed away on January 23rd, 1891.
Prince Baudouin was in his twenty-second year. It was stated that he would probably have married his cousin Princess Clementine. By a sad coincidence his death took place on the fiftieth anniversary of the death of King Leopold's only son. Queen Victoria and all the crowned heads of Europe hastened to express their condolence with the bereaved parents and King Leopold. Court mourning in Belgium was ordered for three months.
The funeral took place on January 29th, amidst universal signs of sorrow. The service in St. Gudule was deeply pathetic. The coffin was followed by King Leopold who, said the representative of The Times, "was quite overcome by emotion and walked with halting steps, supported on his left by the Count of Flanders, who was himself weeping bitterly...The young Prince Albert, the sole surviving son of the Count of Flanders, who walked by his father, also betrayed profound grief."(pp. 29-30)
Above is a highly symbolic scene, featuring the Cross, flowers, dynastic heraldry, mourning ribbons and a drooping Belgian flag, with the words:
"The entire Nation weeps for the beloved prince whom cruel death has snatched from our hopes."
Here, Belgian Catholics are entreated to pray for the repose of the soul of their prince, while being reassured that he died with the benefit of the Sacraments of the Church. Pious thoughts are also offered:
"My kingdom is not of this world."
"It is the Lord who heals their broken hearts and binds their wounds."
"God will clothe him in a mantle of justice and place on his head a crown of glory."
"Merciful Jesus, give him eternal rest."