The Duke of Cambridge has made a poignant pilgrimage to the final resting place in Jerusalem of his great-grandmother, Princess Alice – famed for saving a Jewish family from the Holocaust.
William visited the tomb of the deeply religious woman, who was formally recognised by the State of Israel for her bravery in harbouring a Jewish mother and some of her children from the Nazis.
At the Western Wall – the holiest site in Judaism as it is the last remnant of Herod’s temple – William, wearing a kippah, or skull cap, as a mark of respect, approached the landmark and followed the centuries-old tradition of placing a written prayer in a crack in the wall.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who joined the duke at the holy site, said: “Today we experienced a moment of history which will live long in the memory of Jews around the world.
“The Western Wall stands at the epicentre of our faith. To see the future monarch come to pay his respects was a remarkable gesture of friendship and a sign of the duke’s regard for the sanctity of Jerusalem.”
A nun for many years, Alice, who was married to Prince Andrew of Greece, died in 1969 and was first laid to rest in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
But it was her wish to be interred at the Church of St Mary Magdalene, a Russian orthodox church on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, near her aunt Elizabeth, the Grand Duchess of Russia, and her remains were moved there in 1988.
Inside, the duke made his way down steps to the princess’s crypt, where he laid flowers, picked from the garden of Philip Hall, Britain’s Consul General in Jerusalem.
Archimandrite Roman, Father Roman, head of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, recited a “prayer for the reposal of Princess Alice’s soul”, while William, bowed his head, closed his eyes and prayed for several minutes.
“Because this is the personal part of his visit, this is his family. Everything else on this trip has been so official and public, this was half an hour of totally personal peace.
“We also shared a little joke. When I was showing him the family tree with the Russian links, I told the prince that I’d read somewhere that someone once asked Prince Philip if he had ever been to Russia, and that he had said ‘They murdered half my bloody family, so maybe I’ll go, maybe not’.
“The prince laughed and said: ‘He would say that’.”
Alice was declared Righteous Among the Nations by Israel for protecting Mrs Cohen and her family, and, during a speech this week, William said of his great-grandmother: “Her story is a matter of great pride for my whole family.”
Later, the duke visited Temple Mount, one of the world’s most contested religious sites, as it is important to both Jews and Muslims.
He was shown around the area by Dr Mustafa Abu Sway, a professor of philosophy and Islamic studies at the city’s Al-Quds University, who told him about the historical significance of the site and why it is so revered by both religions.
The Temple Mount – known in Hebrew as Har Habayit and Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary in Islam – has been the site of religious tension for hundreds of years.
The plot sits on an elevated plaza above the Western Wall in Jerusalem which was the site of both of Judaism’s ancient temples.
Temple Mount is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque as well as the gold-topped Dome of the Rock, one of the most recognised symbols of Jerusalem.
William followed custom and took off his shoes before spending 30 minutes looking round the Dome of the Rock.
The duke lit a candle at the spot where Jesus is believed to have been crucified when he visited the holiest site in the Christian world, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
The church in the old city stands above the supposed site of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection.
There he saw the Stone of the Anointing, where according to tradition Jesus’s body was laid out for anointing by Joseph of Arimathea.
As a mark of respect he knelt down and laid a hand on the stone.
He was also shown the Holy Edicule, a shrine built where the body of Jesus was said to be buried, and a piece of the “one true Cross”.
At Golgotha, which according to tradition is where the crucifixion took place, he lit a candle at the altar.
By the altar, which is where the 12th Station of the Cross is commemorated, there is a glass screen through which the so-called Rock of Golgotha can be seen.
The duke was shown round by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III.
Because the church is controlled by six different denominations, he was also joined by the Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian and the Franciscan custodian of the church, Father Francesco Patton.
The duke also met the Muslim who is the traditional custodian of the keys of the church, Adeeb Jawad Joudeh Al Husseini.
There have been so many disputes between the different Christian denominations that lay claim to the church that when Jerusalem was under the control of the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan decreed that the keys should be looked after by a Muslim family.