A colourful way to Thai the knot

LORNA MARSH A husband and wife to-be brought an ancient culture of the East to a restaurant in the heart of Norwich for a ceremony complete with five Buddhist monks and full Thai dress.

LORNA MARSH

Think of a traditional wedding in Norfolk and images of frothy white dresses, churches and grand venues normally spring to mind.

But for Julian Barnwell and his bride-to-be it was tradition of a different kind that yesterday filled their day.

For the couple brought an ancient culture of the East thousands of miles to a restaurant in the heart of Norwich for a ceremony complete with five Buddhist monks and full Thai dress.

The Buddhist blessing took place two days before the couple are legally wed tomorrow at the quint-essentially English Bylaugh Hall - with the events designed to marry the two cultures as well as Mr Barnwell and his wife-to-be LamYai France, who was born in Thailand.

And it could the first of many such blessings in the county as the monks, who travelled from the Buddhavihara Temple in Birmingham to conduct the ceremony, revealed plans to set up a temple in Norwich.

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The Venerable Dr Phramahalaow, who led the blessing, said the temple would cater for the growing Thai community in Norfolk and the increasing number of people from the county converting to the religion.

"We are looking for places at the moment but don't know where to start so we would like people to contact us if they have any ideas.

"We would like to have something here for the Thai people and also for the people who practice Buddhism. It is always very good to have support from the people in this area and for us to give them support," he said.

"We have carried out other ceremonies here before but this is the first time we have done a wedding. It is good to see a lot of Thai and British people here."

The blessing was attended by about 100 people including Ms France's brother and his wife who had travelled from Thailand to Britain for the first time.

Mr Barnwell, 39, and Ms France, 35, were both dressed in traditional bright silk costumes along with four best men and the ceremony included an exhausting 50 minutes of chanting.

The couple met nine years ago at the Thailand restaurant in Pound Lane, Thorpe St Andrew, when Ms France was working there and were introduced by a mutual friend.

And yesterday they were blessed at the Lam Thai restaurant in Upper St Giles in Norwich, which she now owns.

The prolonged courtship culminated in a romantic proposal on Ms France's birthday on New Year's Eve 2004 when they were travelling around New Zealand with a group of friends.

Mr Barnwell said that the ring was bought the next day as shops were open in the town in which they were staying.

He admitted that before he met Ms France he never imagined his wedding would involve a Buddhist ceremony.

"I've been to Thailand obviously, I love the East and I love the culture and it's good to do both things, the blessing along with the legal wedding, there's just a lot to organise."

Ms France said from the day they met he showed an interest in her culture and that she was pleased that her husband-to-be wanted to go ahead with the Buddhist ceremony.

"I am more nervous for this one, because the monks are here, which makes it very special," she said.

Contact the Buddhavihara Temple on 0121 515 1518.