The priest had barely read out the 10 Commandments to guide them in their life when one member of the family took out a plastic bag, removed a heavy gold crown and put it on Iulian's head. 'This is the emperor of gypsies from everywhere,' said the gypsies around Iulian, embracing him, while the priest retreated into the altar chamber.
Bands of gypsies and curious Romanian onlookers attended the ceremony in Sibiu, the first religious marriage of a gypsy couple from the 'nomad coppersmith tribe' and the first crowning of a gypsy 'emperor'. The crown, made of 40 gold coins set with rubies and diamonds, was produced by an artist from Sibiu. It was insured for 70m lei ( pounds 59,000), Iulian said.
Iulian and his bride had lived together for 35 years and have four children. 'This religious marriage and the civil wedding last week are steps towards integration into society,' Iulian said.
In the tradition of the nomad coppersmith gypsies, parents decide on the man for their daughters when the girls are 11 or 12. The 'marriage' of this young couple takes place under gypsy law. Never before have the marriages been registered at local city halls or in church. 'I was only 12 when my parents, coppersmith gypsies, decided to give me away, to Iulian,' said Veroleana, a radiant, fair-skinned woman with long brown hair.
Romania's 23 million people include 410,000 gyspies, according to a 1992 census, but gypsy leaders claim the real number is as high as 3 million. The gypsies are grouped in nomadic and non-nomadic tribes by occupation such as the coppersmiths.
'I am here with my children to see this unique event . . . It's the first time we have seen the gypsies in the church,' said Monica Mateescu, a local resident who joined the ceremony.
Iulian, tall and chubby, was dressed in a brown suit, white shirt and flowery silk tie. He was sweating profusely from the heat of television lights and the camera flashes of local journalists observing the event. His bride, wearing golden sandals, rings and armlets, was wrapped in a bright shimmering blue long dress. 'Blue is the colour we love. It represents the sky, which is our roof,' she said. Hanging around her neck were nine 24- carat gold coins that had been minted in 1915 and bore the name of Emperor Franz Josef.
The couple did their best to respect the Orthodox rites, but Veroleana dared not take her groom by the hand during part of the service, as is Orthodox custom; 'Man is our master. I am his subordinate,' she said.
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