Medieval Italian town prepares for Cruise-Holmes 'wedding of the year'

A medieval lakeside town outside Rome and its residents prepared Friday for an onslaught of fans, celebrities and paparazzi on the eve of the eagerly awaited wedding of movie stars Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

Streets were cleaned, the grass cut and weeds pulled. Road signs outside Bracciano warned drivers that the center of town would be closed to traffic all of Saturday to free the area around the 15th-century Odescalchi Castle the likely venue for the celebrity wedding.

The historic town's narrow streets teemed with journalists and camera crews, and shops adorned their windows with fond messages wishing the couple well.

"Wishing you love and happiness," read one written in English and taped to the window of a coffee shop.

"Congratulations Tom and Katie," said a sticker on the window of a clothing store, whose two other windows sported a wedding dress with a photograph of the couple, and a "Top Gun" theme with aviation outfits and jackets, and a poster of Cruise as Maverick, the pilot he played in the movie.

Nearby, a store had an arch of white balloons over its doorway, except for one red one shaped like a heart. A picture of the couple and a postcard of Bracciano hung from the red balloon.

"This is good for the town. It's a beautiful thing that will make Bracciano known to the whole world," said Iolanda Barbarani, who owns a hardware store.

Lidia Sabbatini, who owns a flower shop, said residents were besides themselves with excitement.

"Everybody is so enthusiastic. ... it's not an everyday thing to have a Hollywood star as a guest," Sabbatini said. "That's all anyone is talking about. Wherever you go, they're talking about it. People aren't even taking the time to buy bread!"

On Thursday, Bracciano Mayor Patrizia Riccioni said the celebrity couple would likely wed Saturday in a Scientology ceremony at the castle, 43 kilometers (27 miles) north of Rome.

While she stopped short of confirming the actual date of the wedding, the town's Web site had a picture of Cruise and Holmes under the headline, "The wedding of the year in Bracciano, Saturday, 18 November 2006."

Riccioni, who met with the couple Wednesday at an undisclosed location and gave them a gift, said Friday she had received a large bouquet of white flowers, including roses, from the couple.

"These beautiful flowers arrived from both of them with a thank you note," Riccione told The Associated Press, adding that she was "almost moved" by the gesture.

Riccioni described her meeting with Cruise and Holmes and baby Suri, who was born April 18, as "intimate," saying that "they seemed to be a couple in love who is ready to take the big step of getting married."

She said that her office had not received any request to celebrate a civil wedding as of late Friday morning, and that she believed the ceremony in Bracciano would be Scientology rite.

Scientology ceremonies contain many elements of traditional weddings rings, procession, vows, etc. But they also include certain Scientology fundamentals, including vowing to never to go to bed without communicating about any differences. They also stress the Scientology tenet known as ARC _ A for affinity, the closeness between a couple; R for reality, what a couple agrees on; C for communication, the exchange of ideas and thoughts.

A spokesman for the Church of Scientology for Rome, Fabrizio D'Agostino, said an exchange of vows with a Scientology rite was not legally recognized in Italy, and would have to be preceded or followed by a civil union.

The medieval castle with its frescoed library and a loggia looking out on a lake and the town that surround it have seen celebrity weddings before. CNN foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour and U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin married there in 1998.

The same year, Italian pop star Eros Ramazzotti and his bride, TV personality Michelle Hunzicker, had their reception at the castle, gathering a crowd of TV celebrities and pop stars, including Tina Turner.

Cruise and Holmes have been staying this week at a luxury hotel near the Spanish Steps in Rome. They dined out Thursday night with about 50 guests at a small, nearby restaurants, reports AP.

Those spotted coming and going into the restaurant included "Mission Impossible III" director, J.J. Abrams, Brooke Shields and Jennifer Lopez and Lopez's husband, singer Marc Anthony.

Meanwhile, more VIP guests were expected to fly into Rome on Friday. Will Smith arrived at the city's small Ciampino airport, and soccer star David Beckham and his pop-star wife Victoria were expected later in the day.

Cruise and Holmes were first photographed together in Rome in April 2005. They became engaged in June 2005.

Cruise flew into Rome on Monday with an entourage of 10.

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