Queen’s life of service hailed ‘a rare jewel’ at St Paul’s Cathedral

·5-min read
Queen’s life of service hailed ‘a rare jewel’ at St Paul’s Cathedral

The Queen’s life of service was hailed “a rare jewel” at the first significant religious event marking her death – where hundreds of mourners sang God Save the King.

Prime Minister Liz Truss joined around 2,000 members of the public for the service of prayer and reflection at St Paul’s Cathedral on Friday evening.

The famous place of worship fell silent as the congregation, who secured tickets on a first-come-first-served basis, listened to audio of the King’s televised address to the country.

Prime Minister Liz Truss at the service of prayer and reflection (Ian West/PA) (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Liz Truss at the service of prayer and reflection (Ian West/PA) (PA Wire)

At 6pm, the unmistakable voice of Charles – referred to as “our new King” – filled the cathedral – a historic setting fit for the momentous occasion of a nation hearing its new monarch speak publicly for the first time.

As people gathered around television screens from John o’ Groats to Land’s End, mourners sat side by side in the packed cathedral almost 24 hours after Buckingham Palace announced the Queen’s death.

Among those attending were London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.

A life lived in the service of others is a rare jewel. It is a jewel that Her late Majesty The Queen wore as a crown

Dame Sarah Mullally

At 7.05pm, after the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby delivered a blessing, the first official public rendition of God Save the King took place as the service neared its conclusion.

The sound of the congregation singing the national anthem filled the vast cathedral, and mourners remained on their feet afterwards.

People had begun making their way into the cathedral almost three hours earlier – before 4.30pm – and the sound of quiet conversation could be heard as the organ played.

Following the King’s address, the service got underway.

Members of the congregation were tearful during the service as the choir sang, and one woman was seen using a handkerchief to wipe her eyes.

Ms Truss, who delivered a Bible reading from Romans 14.7-12, sat in the front row.

As a lament was played on bagpipes at just after 6.50pm, people stood, many with their heads bowed.

During her address, Dame Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London, told the congregation: “A life lived in the service of others is a rare jewel.

“It is a jewel that Her late Majesty The Queen wore as a crown.”

She referred to the Queen’s dedication to her Christian faith, and recalled early June when the cathedral was the setting for a much happier occasion – the service of thanksgiving for the monarch, attended by the royal family, during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral in June (Richard Pohle/The Times/PA) (PA Wire)
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral in June (Richard Pohle/The Times/PA) (PA Wire)

On that day, the cathedral’s mosaics and carvings were drenched in the sunlight of early summer.

While the chandeliers twinkled as usual on Friday, evening was beginning to fall on the renowned building and the mood, sartorial choices and atmosphere were more sombre.

Gone were the brightly coloured hats and fascinators, and in their place more muted tones.

Dame Sarah told the congregation: “Today, we gather in this Cathedral Church, with those across our nation, the Commonwealth and the world, with a profound sadness as we mourn her death.”

She said those gathered were celebrating the life of the Queen “which was dedicated to others”.

She has been this nation’s unerring heartbeat through times of progress, joy and celebration, as well as in much darker and more difficult seasons

Dame Sarah Mullally

Dame Sarah said: “Most of us have not known life without the Queen. When she ascended to the throne, the world and the country were both very different places.

“For seven decades, Her Majesty remained a remarkable constant in the lives of millions: a symbol of unity, strength, forbearance and resilience.

“She has been this nation’s unerring heartbeat through times of progress, joy and celebration, as well as in much darker and more difficult seasons.”

Dame Sarah pointed out the Queen’s position as a much-loved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, saying: “All of us are grieving the loss of our head of state, head of the Commonwealth and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

“But the royal family are grieving the loss of a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother.”

On June 3, the second day of Platinum Jubilee celebrations, the Queen pulled out of attending the service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s due to the physical demands involved.

She instead watched the service on television from Windsor Castle after she suffered “discomfort” following a busy first day of festivities including a double balcony appearance and a beacon lighting.

During the service there were smiles from the royals and ripples of laughter from the congregation as the Archbishop of York compared the monarch’s well-known love of horse racing to her long reign, suggesting it “reflects the distance of Aintree more than the sprints of Epsom”.

The Service of Thanksgiving saw more than 400 hundred people who have served the nation, many during the pandemic, invited to be part of the celebrations marking the Queen’s 70-year reign.

They were among a 2,000-strong congregation which included the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was booed by the crowd outside, Cabinet ministers, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, first ministers of the devolved governments and every living former prime minister.

It was the first time the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had been on full public view alongside the Windsors in two years.

On the back page of Friday’s order of service there were two quotes from the Queen.

The first was from April 21 1947, when she said: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

The second, was from September 21 2001, when she told the people of New York: “Grief is the price we pay for love.”