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Shortly after 6:30 on the evening of Dec. 22, the guests were invited, without fanfare, to take their seats. Guided by the glow of hundreds of candles, Gwyneth Paltrow, Rupert Everett, Donatella Versace, a kilt-clad Sting and some 55 others gathered near the foot of the grand staircase in the Great Hall of Scotland's 19th-century Skibo Castle. As the skirls of a lone bagpiper gave way to the music of French pianist Katia Labèque and a local organist, the wedding ceremony of Madonna Louise Ciccone, 42, and film director Guy Ritchie, 32, began.

Madonna's 4-year-old daughter, Lourdes, shoeless and draped in a long ivory dress with short sleeves and a high neck, led the processional. Descending the staircase—its balustrade laced with ivy and white orchids—she tossed handfuls of red rose petals from a basket, almost exhausting her supply by the time she reached the front row, where she sat in her nanny's lap. "As soon as they saw Madonna's daughter throwing rose petals," says a guest, "people were crying."

Ritchie followed, turning guests' heads as he entered in a vibrant teal blazer, a Hunting Mackintosh plaid kilt of navy and green and antique diamond cufflinks, a wedding gift from his bride-to-be. (Sitting quietly nearby in the arms of a nanny, the couple's 4-month-old son, Rocco, wore a matching kilt.) The two best men—Matthew Vaughn, who produced Ritchie's two films, and London nightclub owner Piers Adam—followed close behind Ritchie, trailed by maid of honor Stella McCartney, who wore a gray-and-beige silk pants outfit of her own design.

As the bride ascended the stairs, says a guest, "everyone kind of gasped. She looked like a princess." Madonna, who had assumed a '50s look for her first visit to the altar with Sean Penn in 1985, this time cast back more than a century. Her strapless ivory silk gown, designed by McCartney (who also did Lourdes's gown), boasted a fitted corset bodice and a long train. An antique veil, embroidered with 19th-century lace that covered her face and cascaded toward her Jimmy Choo shoes, was topped by an Edwardian diamond tiara loaned by Asprey & Garrard of London. Her pearl and diamond bracelets were courtesy of Adler of London, and the 37-carat, 2½-in diamond cross that hung to her cleavage was custom designed—per Madonna's approval—by the House of Harry Winston in New York.

Over the next 20 minutes the Rev. Susan Brown, 42, the United Kingdom's first female minister in charge of a cathedral, guided the couple through the Church of Scotland's nine-part wedding sequence. "They were very good on their lines," says Guy's father, John, 72. "They read them out very clearly and precisely. It was lovely."

And true to the high priestess of the chameleonic code, quite unpredictable. Whereas her 1985 Malibu wedding to Penn, which led to divorce after four years, was a high-octane event packed with 220 guests (plus news helicopters clattering overhead), Madonna chose this time to hermetically seal herself around a tight coterie of friends and relatives. She and Ritchie, the brash British director of the forthcoming Snatch and 1998's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, had met more than two years ago during lunch at Sting and wife Trudie Styler's country home. If Penn was Madonna's temperamental match and boyfriend Carlos Leon, father of Lourdes, her physical ideal, Ritchie—who reportedly calls his new wife "Madge" in private—is a man who holds his own against his high-powered bride. "He's really stubborn, and so am I," Madonna told Britain's Daily Mail. "I want someone who is opinionated and strong." The English-born director also bears the scars of a broken home, his parents having split up when he was 5, the same age at which Madonna lost her 30-year-old mother, Madonna, to breast cancer.

The couple's intimacy was on display as they stood before Skibo's bay window of century-old stained-glass panels, intoning the vows they had helped write. After the pair exchanged unmatched wedding rings—hers a simple platinum band with several small diamonds—they shared what one guest called a "pretty juicy" kiss, then descended the stairs to loud cheers. "It was obvious," said Reverend Brown, who accompanied them to the plush drawing room where the newlyweds signed the marriage schedule in black ink with a fountain pen. "They were very happy."

And perhaps a bit triumphant as well. Eager for an intimate, private affair to celebrate the joining of the Ciccone and Ritchie clans, the couple—at considerable cost and with a security force of 70—got what they wanted. Arriving at Skibo (purchased in 1898 by Scottish-born Pittsburgh steel magnate Andrew Carnegie) on Dec. 18 after booking all 51 bedrooms on the 7,500-acre Scottish Highlands estate for five nights, the couple and their guests spent the next few days indulging their inner aristocrats. Ritchie, who grew up shooting in Scotland with his dad, went duck hunting with Adam and Vaughn, while Madonna, who went clay pigeon shooting once, mostly strolled the castle grounds, did her yoga and watched displays of falconry with Paltrow, McCartney and Styler from the castle windows. At night, with roaring fires toasting the rooms, there were sumptuous dinner parties awash in expensive wines and traditional fare, including haggis, a hearty mix of lamb, oatmeal and spices. Madonna, says a friend, "had a new frock for every evening."

But upon this tableau of turn-of-the-century elegance, the Michigan-born Madonna left her own distinctive stamp. Inverting the traditional love-marriage-baby carriage sequence, she held an evening christening for Rocco the day before the wedding. As hundreds of well-wishers milled outside the 13th-century Dornoch Cathedral in north Scotland, about five miles north of Skibo, little Rocco, outfitted in a white, gold-embroidered gown designed by Donatella Versace, was baptized. After the baby's godmother, Styler, read the lengthy "Lorica" hymn, Sting sang "Ave Maria," while godfather Guy Oseary of Maverick Records looked on. "Rocco was simply marvelous, smiling and never crying once," says his grandfather John Ritchie. "It was very moving and quite a few people cried."

Invitations to the elegant highland fling that followed were extended only to close friends and family. (Madonna's pal Rosie O'Donnell couldn't make it because of the holidays; rumored attendees like Elton John, the Dalai Lama and Brad Pitt weren't there.) The bride's father, Tony, 69, and reportedly all but one of her seven siblings were in attendance. On Ritchie's side were his mother, Lady (Amber) Leighton, and his father, John, accompanied by stepmother Shireen Ritchie and Oliver, 21, her son from a previous marriage. "It means a great deal to Guy to get married in Scotland," says John, a retired advertising executive and former army officer who served in the Scottish Seaforth Highlanders, as did Guy's now-deceased grandfather. "We love the thought of it too."

Meticulous attention was paid to the groom's Scottish attire. Ritchie's wedding jacket, tailor-made by London's Alfred Dunhill (whom Ritchie tapped to help costume his two films), was interwoven with flecks of reddish brown and lovat green—"all the colors that you might see as you look across the Scottish moors," a friend of the couple's explains. The jacket, which was fitted in the couple's London home, was designed in consultation with the pair. "Madonna gave really good input," says the friend.

Ritchie's kilt, custom-made by Britain's Scotch House, boasted his ancestral Mackintosh clan tartan. And what did the groom wear under his kilt? Apparently nothing—as custom dictates. "I said, 'Tell me, are you going to wear it properly?' " a friend of the couple's reports. "And he said, 'Of course! I'm not a wuss!' " For the record, Rocco wore a diaper beneath his own Mackintosh kilt and miniature purse, or sporran.

After the ceremony, friends joined the newlyweds in Skibo's drawing room for champagne and toasts. Before proceeding on to dinner, Madonna threw her bouquet of lilies of the valley into the crowd and tossed her garter from a balcony. Then it was on to the castle's oak-paneled dining room, where a traditional four-piece Scottish band, occasionally playing spoons, entertained guests who drank champagne and Beaujolais and feasted on langoustines, salmon, mussels, Aberdeen angus beef, roast potatoes and red cabbage. Dessert was a caramelized profiterole cake baked by a London chef flown in for the occasion.

During the meal, Lourdes and some of Sting's children ran gleefully around the tables, and guests rose in no particular order to offer toasts. Best man Adam presented a whimsical slide show of Ritchie's youth that left guests howling, as did a telegram from former British soccer star Vinnie Jones, whom Ritchie helped turn into an actor. A second telegram, this one from Luciano Pavarotti, offered more traditional congratulations.

Around 11 p.m. the group reassembled in a makeshift disco in the castle basement, where Madonna appeared in a white ivory pantsuit, also designed by McCartney, and flashing millions of dollars' worth of diamonds on loan from Harry Winston. She was "decked out in diamonds," says Ronald Winston, who designed Madonna's wedding cross. With Miami deejay Tracy Young in charge of the music—which included a judicious mix of Madonna and Sting tunes—the guests danced into the wee hours.

The festive mood lingered at least through Christmas, which Madonna and Ritchie spent at Sting and Styler's sprawling country house in Wiltshire, England. On Christmas Eve they reportedly stopped in at a local pub for a drink and later sang carols during midnight mass at the local church. British bookmakers say the chances are 1 in 3 that the newlyweds' union will last five years. Friends are more optimistic. "This is a very different Madonna we are seeing," says a longtime pal. "They seem really happy together, but it is a real grown-up sort of love. It is lovely to see."

Jill Smolowe
Pete Norman, Joanne Fowler, Caris Davis, Tim Dawson and Peter Mikelbank in Dornoch, Michelle Caruso in Los Angeles and Eileen Finan and Simon Perry in London

  • Contributors:
  • Pete Norman,
  • Joanne Fowler,
  • Caris Davis,
  • Tim Dawson,
  • Peter Mikelbank,
  • Michelle Caruso,
  • Eileen Finan,
  • Simon Perry.