Prince Charles has helped launched a multi-faith memorial to remember those who died during the coronavirus pandemic.
Remember Me will start as an online book of remembrance, but is hoped to become a physical memorial inside St Paul’s Cathedral as life begins to return to normal.
People of all faiths and none are encouraged to leave messages and photographs for free in the virtual book.
Designs for a new inner porch in the North transept of St Paul’s have already been approved, and the physical memorial will be built there subject to funding.
In a video message, Charles, who himself recovered from a mild form of coronavirus, said: “For too many among us, this has brought tragedy and heartbreak. For some, relatives have not been able to be present at the time of their loved one’s passing.
“For many, the loss of their loved ones has been made all the more agonisingly painful by the necessary restrictions on funerals, travel and gatherings.
“For all of us, there has been anxiety in the present as we have wondered what the future will be.”
The prince added: “We give thanks for how our lives have been woven together with theirs and, through this book, you are invited to share their lives with others – so that we and those who follow us can all remember what has been, and build together a better and more hopeful future.”
The Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Very Reverend David Ison, said: “For centuries, St Paul's Cathedral has been a place to remember the personal and national impact of great tragedies, from the losses of war to the devastation of the Grenfell Tower fire. We have heard so many sad stories of those affected by the pandemic, and all our thoughts and prayers are with them. Every person is valued and worthy of remembrance.
“We are all experiencing the devastating impacts of COVID-19 across the country and beyond. Remember Me is an opportunity to mourn every person we have lost to the effects of this terrible disease, an encouragement to offer compassion and support to those left behind, and an ongoing recognition of the impact of the pandemic on the UK.”
The choristers of St Paul’s have recorded a special piece of music to mark the opening of the online book.
One of those to remember a loved one is Oliver Caroe, surveyor of the fabric to St Paul's Cathedral.
His mother Mary died on 5 April aged 81, of COVID-19. She was a Christian, a GP, and one of the founders of the rape and sexual abuse suite for Surrey Police.
Owing to the pandemic, most of her friends and family were not able to see her in her final days or attend her funeral.
He said: “It’s really profound how the virus impacts us all in our daily lives, but especially for the unwell and the bereaved. Many people will have had no time to reflect, to give thanks or remember.
“When my mum was sent off in an ambulance, we feared we would never see her again. Not having any of the closeness, face to face conversations or rituals that you would normally have in place with someone over their last days adds to the deep emotional impact.
“We have also found it so hard that we have not known or been able to thank the huge number of NHS nurses and doctors who cared for mum; there are so many emotions that have no outlet.”
Promising his friends and family a big party to remember her when they can meet again, Caroe added: “I hope the Remember Me memorial will help us all look ahead, past the immediate, painful horizon, in hope.”
Other faith leaders have also offered their support to the project.
Harun Rashid Khan, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “The coronavirus has shaken our lives and reminded us of the frailty of life itself. It affirms how we humans must overcome our differences as we rely on each other.
“At this time of grief, we therefore cherish our NHS staff and key workers who take care of the ailing. We commend the work of all places of worship, charities and volunteers jumping at the chance to help those in need.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said: “As we commence the gradual process of grieving as a nation for the many thousands who have lost their lives to the coronavirus, this new virtual memorial provides a timely and meaningful outlet for that to begin to take place. I hope that this focal point for our collective grief also generates a measure of comfort for the loved ones of the deceased, enabling them to record their recollections for posterity. May the memories of those inscribed in this commemorative space be for a blessing.”
City Sikhs and Hindu Council UK are also among the many religious groups to offer their support to the project.
It’s also supported by those of no faith, including the Lord Mayor of London.
The Gompertz family, whose initiative to place yellow hearts in the window to show when a family had been affected by coronavirus went viral, also offered support.
David Gompertz put the heart in his window after his wife Shiela died.
A statement from the Gompertz family said: “Our family has been touched by how the ‘Yellow Hearts to Remember’ community has provided great support and solace to so many people across the country at such a difficult time. We welcome all initiatives that provide such support to families and friends who have lost loved ones.
“The ‘Remember Me’ online memorial is a fantastic way to continue the message the ‘Yellow Hearts to Remember’ initiative was founded upon - that our relatives are not just numbers, but people, all of whom have families and friends who are grieving for them.
“Anything that gives comfort to people at this difficult time is to be welcomed and we hope that this new online and physical memorial will provide families with an enduring place to remember and celebrate the lives of those we love and so sadly have died too soon.”
More than 36,000 people have died in Britain after having coronavirus.
Those remembered in the book must have been living in the UK.