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Saint Diana?

PRINCETON – Ten years after her death, Princess Diana still has star power. The media are filled with tributes and retrospectives, and all over the world, the public seems to be avidly soaking it up. Has Diana become a new kind of saint, and if so, what does that tell us?

I encountered the cult of Diana in 2004, when I was in Hyde Park on the day the Queen opened the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. I found myself among a group of middle-aged women wearing jackets and hats covered with badges. They looked like football fanatics, except that the badges bore Diana’s face, not David Beckham’s.

I started chatting with them, and learned that their clothing, handbags, and shoes were patterned after those that Diana had worn. Some had a “Diana room” in their homes, filled with memorabilia of the princess. Their lives, it seemed, now revolved around a woman who had been dead for seven years.

The Italian sculptor Luigi Biaggi offered his view of this phenomenon with a statue of Diana in a pose and robes suggestive of the Virgin Mary. Celebrities, his work was saying, have replaced religious figures. Margaret Evans, a British researcher, studied tributes people left for Diana after her death and found that some referred to her as a saint, or an angel, and a few compared her directly with Jesus.