Last week, the Prince and Princess of Monaco headed to the Vatican for a private audience with Pope Francis.
Prince Albert and Princess Charlene visited with Pope Francis for about 25 minutes in the Apostolic Library, according to Vatican News. The meeting between the heads of state included a traditional gift exchange. Prince Albert offered the Pope a sketch of the chapel inside the Palais Princier, while the Pope gave the couple a special bronze inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan.
With an elegant black dress and veil, Princess Charlene wore pearl stud earrings for the audience. She also placed a rosary made of pearls around her neck.
We’ve seen Charlene with this particular rosary around her neck on at least one other occasion. She shared this photograph on her Instagram account in October 2021, showing her wearing the rosary with a Bible placed before her on a table. She captioned the image “God Bless.”
I’ve seen some questions floating around on social media about the etiquette of wearing a rosary in this manner. As I understand it, most Catholics don’t wear their rosaries this way in general—they’re tools for prayer, not for wear. But as long as the rosary is placed around the wearer’s neck or wrist as a sign of their faith, or as a call to prayer, I believe that would be viewed as an acceptable, reverent use.
It’s only the use of a rosary as a purely secular accessory or adornment that would raise eyebrows, in my understanding. (Madonna’s use of the rosary in some of her videos/red carpet appearances comes to mind.) In both of these outings, I’d say Charlene’s rosary is probably being employed as a part of her expression of faith, not as a fashion statement. (I’m Lutheran, not Catholic, but I do have a bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame, so take my understanding for what it is.)
UPDATE: Posters with more in-depth knowledge than I have noted that this piece doesn’t appear to share all of the hallmarks of a traditional rosary, and that perhaps it’s a different kind of prayer bead necklace, or a piece of religious jewelry intended to be worn as such.
Charlene’s wedding and engagement rings sparkled on her left hand as she and Albert departed after the audience. The other big question I’ve seen raised about this meeting has to do with the color that Charlene is wearing. As the wife of a Catholic head of state, Charlene is entitled to wear white when meeting with the Pope. (It’s called the privilège du blanc.) So why wasn’t she wearing white for this audience?
The answer is that sometimes Charlene wears white when meeting with the Pope, and sometimes she doesn’t. There doesn’t seem to be an identifiable pattern to the instances where she wears white vs. black. I’m guessing it’s just a personal decision on each individual occasion. Above, for example, Charlene wears white for a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican in January 2013.
Here, in March 2013, she wears black for Pope Francis’s inauguration mass in St. Peter’s Square.
And here, in January 2016, she wears white for a private audience with Pope Francis. This photograph was taken during the gift exchange at that audience. If you look very closely at the box in Charlene’s hand, you’ll see the outline of pearls. I’d wager that this is her pearl rosary—a gift from the Pope himself. Perhaps her use of the rosary at last week’s audience was also a gesture to show the Pope how much she treasured the gift?
Here’s one more view of the rosary accompanying Charlene at Wednesday’s audience at the Vatican.
UPDATE: The Royal Couturier, who chronicles Princess Charlene’s fashion, reached out to clarify that the necklace is indeed just a necklace, not a rosary. It was made by Repossi, the same jeweler that made Charlene’s engagement ring, and it’s been in her collection since 2011. The box held by Charlene in the 2016 may indeed contain pearls, but it doesn’t contain this particular pearl necklace. Thanks, TRC!