The funeral at Westminster Abbey began at 11am, and is followed from 4pm by the committal at St George’s Chapel, Windsor
There was a comforting ring of familiarity to the words and music for the state funeral of the Queen at Westminster Abbey today, and it will be the same later at the committal service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
It is not surprising: much of what was said and sung was the traditional language of the prayer book with which the Queen would have been familiar since childhood. She was nothing if not traditional.
More significantly, however, they are the words that the Queen heard herself at the funerals of those closest to her. From the hymns to the readings, she was consulted on every detail.
The service, the first funeral of a sovereign at the abbey since George II in 1760, was conducted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle. Beforehand the tenor bell of the abbey tolled every minute for 96 minutes, once for every year of Queen Elizabeth’s life.
The funeral service began with the choir singing the Burial Sentences — starting with “I am the resurrection and the life” to a setting by William Croft as the coffin was processed through the abbey. Those five sentences, which are lines of scripture set to music, were sung at the beginning of the funeral of the Queen Mother in 2002 and have been used at every state funeral since the early 18th century.
The service had echoes of the funeral of the Queen’s father, King George VI, which also was held at St George’s Chapel, as had been the tradition for the previous 200 years. That was a shorter service than this — only one lesson and one reading, and no anthems — but the choir did sing Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd, just as the congregation sang for the Queen.
The hymn was sung, too, at the wedding of the then Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten in 1947.
The hymns that the Queen chose for her funeral were The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended, The Lord’s My Shepherd and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.
The choir also sang a setting of Psalm 42, Like as the Hart, which was specially composed for the service by Judith Weir, who in 2014 became master of the Queen’s Music. Inspired by the Queen’s unwavering Christian faith, the piece was sung unaccompanied.
The choir sang two anthems — Charles Parry’s My Soul, There is a Country, and Who Shall Separate us from the Love of Christ? which was composed for the service by the Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan.
It is worth remembering that sovereign’s funerals do not usually feature a eulogy, although the Archbishop of Canterbury gave the sermon. The most noted royal eulogy of recent times was at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, when her brother Earl Spencer made his controversial pledge to William and Harry that “we, your blood family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition but can sing openly as you planned”. Many in the abbey applauded his words. The Queen did not.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal, secretary-general of the Commonwealth, read the first lesson from Corinthians, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
After prayers were said from the high altar, the choir sang O Taste and See, composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams for the Queen’s coronation in 1953. At the end of the service the congregation sang the national anthem.
Before the coffin procession left the abbey, Major Paul Burns, piper to the sovereign, played the traditional lament Sleep, Dearie, Sleep.
The committal, St George’s Chapel
This more intimate service will be attended by those closest to the late Queen, including her personal staff, the choir will sing a motet written by Sir William Harris, the former organist at the chapel who died in 1973. Harris, who was known as “the Doc”, taught Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret the piano. The committal will also feature music by Harris before the service: a prelude, and a setting of Elgar’s Nimrod.
The hymns will be All My Hope on God is Founded and Christ is Made the Sure Foundation.
The Dean of Windsor will read from the Book of Revelation, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth”, which was read by the Bishop of Winchester at George VI’s funeral. It was read at the funerals of the Queen’s grandparents, King George V in 1936 and Queen Mary in 1953.
At the end of the last hymn the camp colour of the Queen’s Company, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, will be placed on the coffin, to be buried with her. The lord chamberlain, Lord Parker of Minsmere, will break his wand of office and place it on the coffin.
The committal service also features a poignant reminder of the Duke of Edinburgh. The choir will sing the Russian Contakion of the Departed, Give Rest, O Christ, To Thy Servant, which was sung at Philip’s funeral in April last year as his coffin was lowered into the royal vault.
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