Antigua and Barbuda say quiet farewell to Queen Elizabeth

·2-min read

Antigua and Barbuda bid farewell to Queen Elizabeth Monday with a service in an imposing cathedral that was once feared as a symbol of England's power over its former colony in the Caribbean.

Fans whirred and voices soared inside the Cathedral of St John the Divine as dignitaries, politicians and the military turned out to honor the late queen, who remained as head of state to the tiny nation after it went independent in 1981.

"We gather together to express our grief over the death of her late majesty Queen Elizabeth II," the Very Reverend Dean Dwane Cassius told the congregation, who were mostly clad in formal black.

"Grief is very capable of raising up both positive and negative emotions," he continued. "We choose to keep a check on our emotions."

After the service, members of country's military armed with bayonets marched the national flag out of the cathedral overlooking the capital, St John's, before parading through the streets towards Government House.

The flag's pole was capped with a golden crown -- a visible demonstration of where the monarchy ranks in the nation's ceremonial order.

That will soon change, if Prime Minister Gaston Browne -- who was in London on Monday attending the queen's state funeral there -- gets his way.

Browne has said he aims to have a referendum on whether to remove the British monarch as Antigua and Barbuda's head of state within three years, part of a wave of republicanism sweeping the Caribbean.

So far, Antiguans have been reserving judgement on the matter. Monday was designated as a public holiday in honor of the queen, and the parade was watched by just a handful of people in the capital's largely deserted streets.

The marchers passed Government House and arrived again in front of the cathedral, which has been rebuilt twice since a building was first erected there in 1681.

Planters in the former slave colony used to call the cathedral "the big church," and as a symbol of English power on the island it made people afraid, according to an excerpt from Antiguan workingman Samuel Smith's memoirs published on the Antigua Nice website.

On Monday the security forces came to a halt before the cathedral -- then, with smiles and comments about the heat, they relaxed and drifted away.