Max Van Gorder lost his younger sister Vanessa in a car accident on Christmas Day a few years back. Vanessa was special to him and just as special to his girlfriend, Lydia.
When Max and Lydia married in their home state of Pennsylvania last June, they knew they wanted to honor Vanessa in some way. Their plan was to have Max’s parents release a flurry of monarch butterflies in their daughter’s memory during the ceremony. (A fitting tribute, given that the name Vanessa is also a species of butterfly.)
As “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” played, Max’s parents did just that, but then something surprising happened: The butterflies didn’t want to leave.
“After they were released, about half of them flew off above our heads, while the other half hovered over the groom’s parents and clung onto them,” photographer Jessica Manns told HuffPost. “Max’s dad had a butterfly perched on his finger for the entire ceremony. It just clung to him.”
The beautiful photos, captured at Fox Hill Farm, a barn in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, quickly went viral when Manns posted them on Facebook late last month.
In her post, Manns said the moment was “probably the most emotional thing I’ve witnessed at a wedding.”
“The family’s reaction seemed to be a mixture of awe that they were hovering around them so closely and reverence for the butterflies and what they were witnessing,” she told us. “There was just a lot of emotion as they thought of Vanessa and her spirit.”
Two of the butterflies landed on Lydia’s wedding dress as she walked down the aisle after saying “I do” ― and when cocktail hour rolled around, a few flew onto the bride’s bouquet and chilled there for a bit.
A few hours later, during the speech portion of the reception, a single monarch swooped into the barn, seemingly out of nowhere, and landed right on Lydia’s neck.
“Everyone in the room who could see gasped and Lydia had such a surprised reaction,” Manns said. “It stayed on her face for the remainder of the speeches. It was pretty remarkable since the reception happened hours after the ceremony inside an enclosed barn that was a good distance from the ceremony spot.”
On Facebook, the bride thanked the photographer for capturing “such a special and loving moment” during her big day.
“Vanessa was with us there and throughout the night,” she wrote.
See more of the stunning photos below.