A choir heralded the arrival of the Queen’s coffin in Westminster Hall – the setting for some of Britain’s most historic moments now bearing witness to surely one of the biggest occasions of all.
A family grieving for their matriarch walked behind the coffin, bringing her to rest in a place where the public will bid a final farewell in their hundreds of thousands over the coming days.
The ancient Westminster Hall is somewhere the Queen brought joy and laughter to in the past, but on Wednesday the prevailing mood was sombre, with an overwhelming silence, people in dark clothing, heads bowed and faces solemn, looking on as an era ends.
The Queen’s coffin, draped in the Royal Standard, with the twinkling Imperial State Crown and flowers on top, was carried into the vast hall at just after 3pm.
The reflection of the coffin and those walking behind it could be seen on the sparkling clean glass of the tall entrance doors.
As the expected arrival time approached, dozens of MPs and peers took their place at one end of the hall.
Then seven of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, all dressed in black, took up their position close to the entrance.
Relatives of the Queen arrived and stood in a long line, with a couple of women choosing to sit.
Then some of the Queen’s closest family members appeared at the door – her grandchildren Zara Tindall, Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice, joined by their husbands, and Lady Louise Windsor and Viscount Severn.
Soon after that, the Queen Consort, the Princess of Wales, the Countess of Wessex and Duchess of Sussex arrived together.
The four women stood close to the door where the Queen’s coffin, accompanied by their husbands, would be arriving imminently.
Kate, Sophie and Meghan stood with their hands joined in front, whilst Camilla stood with her arms by her side.
Kate could be seen briefly speaking to both Camilla and Sophie, while at other points she kept her eyes fixed towards the floor.
Meghan was holding black leather gloves, and at one point rested her left hand in her pocket.
The former actress could be seen momentarily chatting to the Duke of Kent who was standing to her left.
Soon bells tolled and music could be heard in the distance, gradually feeling as though the sounds were getting closer to the Palace of Westminster.
As the music swelled the royal women’s glances towards the entrance door became more frequent and lingering.
Before long, at just after 3pm, there was one final drum beat and the sound of a bell.
The Queen’s coffin made its way into the hall for the symbolic handing over to the nation.
Camilla, Kate, Sophie and Meghan all curtseyed as the coffin was carried past, before joining their husbands at the door for their procession up the centre of the hall.
The coffin was placed on a catafalque which was dressed in royal purple material with a golden trim.
Once in position, led by the King and the Queen Consort, the senior royals stood and looked towards the coffin for the duration of the service.
The event perfectly brought together two of the things most important to the Queen – her Christian faith and her family.
At one point a cross was placed at one end of the coffin as silence fell upon the hall.
When the service ended, female members of the royal family curtseyed at the coffin, while the men bowed their heads.
As they made their way out, some of the royal couples – Harry and Meghan, Zara and Mike Tindall, and Beatrice and Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi – held hands.
Once the royals had left, MPs and peers, including Prime Minister Liz Truss and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, filed past the coffin along a freshly laid blush-coloured carpet, stopping momentarily to bow and reflect.
During it all, above the entrance door, daylight streamed in through the Diamond Jubilee window above – a gift to the Queen from Parliament in 2012 to celebrate her 60-year reign.
Artist John Reyntiens created the three-panelled stained glass monument, which is based on the royal coat of arms, features up to 1,500 pieces and is positioned in the centre of the north window.
On Wednesday morning, he told the PA news agency: “Both the Lord Speaker and King Charles III have commented on the window as an ongoing reminder of the Queen’s presence, and that feels very special, as does the fact that my window will be looking over the Queen.”
He added: “I am feeling incredibly sad that the Queen has died, but I feel that my work will help look after her during the four days of lying in state, and if there was a problem I like to feel the knight, the lion and the unicorn in the window would come alive and sort any problems out.”
The Queen herself has spoken of the significance of Westminster Hall, while standing on its steps with her beloved Duke of Edinburgh sitting behind her.
In the speech to mark her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the Queen told MPs and peers: “We are reminded here of our past, of the continuity of our national story and the virtues of resilience, ingenuity and tolerance which created it.
“I have been privileged to witness some of that history and, with the support of my family, rededicate myself to the service of our great country and its people now and in the years to come.”
In the speech she took the opportunity to highlight the importance of her family and the invaluable steadfast support of her husband Philip.
“During these years as your Queen, the support of my family has, across the generations, been beyond measure,” she said.
Her comment that “Prince Philip is, I believe, well-known for declining compliments of any kind”, brought laughter from the guests and she added “but throughout he has been a constant strength and guide”.
To loud laughter and applause that day the Queen joked: “Since my accession, I have been a regular visitor to the Palace of Westminster and, at the last count, have had the pleasurable duty of treating with 12 prime ministers.”
The Queen used the word “treating” in a context to mean negotiating with someone, especially an opponent.
By the time of her death, the Queen had dealt with 15 prime ministers – from Winston Churchill in the 1950s to Liz Truss just two days before she died – fulfilling her duties up until the very end.
The route the procession took on Wednesday – from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster – was a well-trodden route for the Queen.
In the House of Lords, just a short walk away from Westminster Hall, she carried out some of her most important constitutional duties at dozens of State Openings of Parliament during her 70-year reign.
Westminster Hall dates back more than 900 years and has witnessed the trials of Guy Fawkes and King Charles I, and the lying in state of William Gladstone, Sir Winston Churchill, King George VI and his wife, the Queen Mother – the last person to lie in state in the UK.
On top of her coffin in Westminster Hall was her coronation crown, set with the Koh-i-Noor diamond, and a hand-written message from her daughter the Queen, reading: “In loving memory, Lilibet.”
An estimated 200,000 people turned out to pay their respects to the Queen Mother over three days in 2002 – a declaration of public mourning and affection set to be repeated 20 years on for her daughter.
Mourners who have queued for many hours will be able to see Europe’s largest unsupported medieval roof as they pass through the vast hall.
Despite a fire which destroyed the original Palace of Westminster and the dropping of a dozen German bombs in 1941, the hall still stands as a proud reminder of British history.
Thanking peers and MPs for the Diamond Jubilee window in 2012, the Queen said: “Should this beautiful window cause just a little extra colour to shine down on this ancient place, I should gladly settle for that.”
Perhaps, over the next four days as the Queen lies in state and mourners file past, there may well be “a little extra colour” shining down before the nation’s longest-reigning monarch departs Westminster Hall one last time to proceed to her final resting place.