Lellobeetle, a sky full of stars for you!
When and how did they meet and how long did they date?
Much has been made of this question, and I think there has been way too much made over the way they were introduced. Many say it was an arranged marriage through the church, but that is not how it went down. What happened was this: A young King Baudouin had a spiritual mentor (some RC's may think of this like a Spiritual Director who helps you in your spiritual live and journey).
Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens
He knew Baudouin for many years and some who actually knew the two and knew much more of about Baudouin say that he was also a replacement father figure since Baudouin was put in a very awkward position being a young King with a deposed father living in the same house. How painful must that have been? Anyway, they would talk alot and walk on the grounds of the palace in Laeken. He could see how desperately lonely and particularly isolated the poor boy was, so he asked an Irish nun named Veronica O'Brien to come to Belgium to meet with Baudouin. Here's the thing - she met with him about MANY spiritual things across the board.
She met with him at least five hours, but I have heard it was over more than one day. She then wrote him a letter in English that said, "Dear King... May I offer you, on this beautiful Feast of the Annunciation, these precious little books which we spoke about? (The Secret of Mary and Treatise on True Devotion, by Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort.) They are coming to you completely loaded with grace, for since the feast of Saint Joseph, I have faithfully prayed for you every day... Mary is much more interested in your future than you yourself could ever be
Now that is NOT about marriage, is it? That was not her main goal in going there. That's what bugs me about the rumors. Anyway, he did express to her his frustration at not being married. He also wanted a wife that held his VERY strong Roman Catholic views and deep religious convictions. So, the nun, Veronica O'Brien, went back to Ireland and thought and prayed about it. She then offered to help him MEET a nice Roman Catholic girl. Baudouin said he wanted a Spanish girl because the country was more devout than in northern Europe. So, she went there and through her Catholic connections, she came across the name of Fabiola. She met Fabiola and went to her apartment (by then Fab had moved out because she was - believe it or not - sorta modern). When in the apartment she supposedly saw a picture on the wall that she had dreamed about. This is where I lose the story because I just can't relate in that type of divine sign stuff. So, when she saw the picture, she felt like Fabiola was the one.
She told Fabiola she was on a mission to find a nice girl to introduce to the young King of Belgium. Fabiola flipped out and thought it was a cruel joke. She would have nothing of it until the Nuncio (Papal ambassador) in Madrid talked to her and said it was no joke. She reluctantly agreed to meet Baudouin. Their people must have really loved them because they kept quiet about everything like it was a war secret or something. People act like the church arranged the marriage, but as you can see, the church arranged the introduction. From there, the information is sketchy, except to say that they met at least a few times...some of them at Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral (famous for Marian apparitions), the popular Roman Catholic pilgrimage destination in Lourdes, France. Baudouin (and Fabiola) didn't do anything quickly or on a whim. They were very sober and intentional about taking on the institution of marriage.
So they went there at least two times, and Baudouin went there on his own also seeking direction through his faith. He slept in the grotto (cave) there that is so popular you have to make reservations before being allowed to stay there over night. There is a bit of information that states the two were driving back from Lourdes when Fabiola said let's pray the rosary. After doing so (maybe she for strength, I don't know), she said to Baudouin that she would give up her life in Spain, family, work and not look back and marry him. It seems as though he asked her more than once, because she said, supposedly (however sure we can be) "this time it is yes."
All of this took place very quickly. I think he met the nun, Veronica O'Brien, in the spring. He was going to announce his engagement in July, but things exploded in the Belgium Congo so he waited until September and they were married December 15th of that year, 1960.
Fabiola had turned down previous requests for marriage, supposedly. Certainly Baudouin had the pick of Europe as a reigning King, and he wasn't bad lookin' either - or obnoxious - or drunk, etc. I personally would NEVER buy the line that they were directed to marry. I think after they met they probably had so much in common and such similar views that it just clicked very quickly. My husband and I met August, 1996 and were engaged December 31st of that same year. That's pretty quick too.
The other reason I dislike the "arranged marriage" line is because I really don't see any difference between a friend setting you up on a blind date or royals meeting young eligible women from other royal houses. This was the same, except the introduction was made through the church. This makes so much sense to me because of Baudouin's deep faith and religious convictions.
Anyway, that's what I know of it. It hasn't helped that whenever they were asked about meeting, the two of them would say it would be a story to tell their children, but they never had any, so now this mythology has sprung up around the issue. Hope that helps.