In the basement of St. James Cathedral, a rare relic of Diana’s visit to Toronto

When Diana, Princess of Wales left Toronto in October 1991, after a trip with both sons and her husband in the last year of their marriage, a treasure now worth thousands of dollars was tucked away underground at King and Church Sts.This week — which marks 20 years since her death on Aug. 31 — St. James Cathedral archivist Nancy Mallett rifled through shelves in their basement to find the non-descript box it was filed away in. At first, even she didn’t know for sure where it was. Read more:Diana died 20 years ago Thursday. Here’s how the Star covered the death of ‘England’s rose’Princes William and Harry visit Diana memorial garden as anniversary of her death approachesWould Princess Diana have retained her royal magic 20 years later? DiMannoOnce located, the box was opened to reveal a bible: time-worn since it was gifted to the church in 1860, with gilded pages and thin red lines hemming in large-font verses. As per tradition, its pages bears over 100 years of signatures from visiting royals and dignitaries. But, among the splendor, one page in particular stands as a historical rarity.The signatures of Diana, her husband Prince Charles, and their two boys — all in a neat line down one page. Pen met paper on Oct. 27, 1991, when the entire family attended a 10:40 a.m. service at St. James, just hours before sailing away on the Royal Yacht Britannia. “Nobody really thought about the children signing the bible, but Harry had just learned to write his name, as the story goes,” Mallett explained. “When he saw his father signing, he wanted to sign his name.”William, she said, just had to sign after his little brother had been allowed to. Both boys mimicked their father’s straight line beneath the signature, with a deliberate period after their names. Diana’s famous, loopy script came last, with the same punctuation but the line below distinctly ajar. The royal couple would separate just one year later. Mallett believes that left the St. James’ bible and one other in England as the only copies of the entire family’s autograph in existence. Daniel Wade from Paul Fraser Collectibles valued the single page, not even factoring in the bible as a whole, at $8,000. “Royal signatures are in general scarce because royal protocol forbids signing autographs,” he said, adding that William and Harry’s were “extremely rare,” even alone. Documents as simple as an old go-kart waiver, signed by Diana, William and Harry, have been listed on online auction sites for thousands of dollars.But in that moment, in a Toronto cathedral, all four willingly penned their names into a register that the church has held for hundreds of years. “You know, there’s a very sweet picture of everyone signing it,” Mallett added.Though the royal visit seemed to be snapped from every possible angle, only cathedral photographer Michael Hudson was privy to that moment.“I was shadowed by a Scotland Yard security officer on my shoulder,” Hudson recalled via email. “Charles and Diana seemed to chat a little bit together but mostly she was attentive to William and Harry.” “I wasn’t listening, just trying to get the shots” — he confirmed that there was a moment when the entire family began to laugh at something the pint-sized prince either said or did. Some details of the moment are clearer in his memory. Nine-year-old William signed with his left hand. Diana was wearing the now-famous blue sapphire ring. Other, vibrant details were preserved in film. Diana was enveloped in the dual colours of the Canadian flag, all ivory and scarlet. Standing to the right of the family in golden-hued vestments, Rev. S Duncan Abraham, dean of Toronto, looked over their shoulders as they autographed the holy book. On the phone from his cottage, Abraham remembers how many people wanted to come to the service that day. Police estimated as many as 2,500 people swelling through the streets outside the cathedral during the service. Complicating things further, the church had already booked a special service that day for the 150th anniversary of Trinity College.“One of the things that’s always stuck in my mind when we were planning for that service was in picking the hymns,” Abraham said. One called “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation,” played at Diana and Charles’ wedding, seemed appropriate at the time.“We didn’t know about the stresses and strains on their marriage at this stage,” Abraham said. “We made a boo-boo on that one, I’ll tell you.” But any strain on the royal marriage didn’t stand out to those who attended the Sunday morning Matins service. Parishioner Gloria Weibe has seen her fair share of royal visits to St. James, but that day sticks out in her mind.“I think this was very special, because it was the family,” she said. She called Diana “such a presence, really,” recalling her physical beauty and sense of fashion. But in the church, they were a family like any other. “Once you’re seated the service just carries on. For me, that’s the way it should be,” Weibe said. “You feel a connection with them in that they’re coming to worship and attend church with us.”