Silence, solemnity and personal farewells: inside Westminster Hall, where thousands of people say goodbye to Elizabeth II | International
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Silence impresses. And the warm heat that prevails in Westminster Hall, the majestic stone hall that houses the coffin of Elizabeth II. EL PAÍS has accessed the venue half an hour after the first citizens began to parade. They will reach at least half a million, and for hours before they were waiting patiently in a queue of several kilometers on the south bank of the Thames. The silence is impressive, favored by two enormous ochre-colored rugs that have been arranged on both sides of the catafalque, and which cushion the footsteps of visitors. On the stone floor, the rattle could have been deafening.
But it’s not just the carpets. The silence of the citizens who parade is overwhelming. Some faces seem more sincere than others; some seem rehearsed for the occasion; others are astonishing; those of the children, out of curiosity. But all make up the gesture of sobriety that, in the opinion of each one, imposes the occasion. There are two rows, which descend to the lobby from the stairs on the south side, under the impressive stained glass window that remembers all the parliamentarians and workers of both Chambers who died in World War II. In front of them you can already see the catafalque, on a carpeted platform with four levels. Elizabeth II’s coffin rests in the middle. Above him, the Crown of State, the Orb and the Scepter that the queen carried during her coronation ceremony. Ten soldiers – four beefeaters from the Tower of London; two from the Royal Guard; two Royal Cavalry and two Grenadiers—stand guard around the coffin.
The line moves fast, but jerkily. Because each citizen uses the seconds he has in front of the coffin in his own way. Some women stop to take a full bow. Others cross themselves. Many cry, but in a discreet way. They too. Curiously, the least formal end up being the most sentimental. Like the man in black, with long gray hair gathered in a ponytail, who kneels down completely, crosses himself, cries like a child and lets out a “buaah!” of relief when he leaves the lobby. Or the ruddy man, in camo shorts, camo jacket, tattoos on every exposed inch of his skin, and a shaved head. He couldn’t hold back the tears.
And another man, almost a teenager, was throwing kisses at the coffin with his hands.
Most, however, showed restraint. Most wore black. The men, especially the younger ones, clasped their hands in front of their waists as they walked, in search of the necessary solemnity. Some visitors wore tails – members of the House of Lords; many, suit and jacket. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the eurosceptic who set the political debate on fire with Brexit, blended in with the rest of the visitors, with a sober gesture.
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At 5:40 p.m. (6:40 p.m., Spanish peninsular time), the policemen and ushers who put order in the lobby – with little work, people already come from home in order – stopped the flow of visitors. From the stairs in the north corner, the four soldiers who are going to replace the guard began to descend. This will be every 20 minutes until early Monday morning. They do walk down the center of the hall, their footsteps echoing loudly on the stone.
Nobody wants to leave completely. At the end of the tour, many citizens turn their eyes towards the coffin and stop. Reverence is again inevitable. Some impeccable. Others doubtful. Some bow just their heads, others bend their waists forward exaggeratedly.
It is a moment of homage and remembrance, and the citizens wear everything that links them to the queen. Veterans, their uniforms or medals. Duncan, the Scotsman from the Highlanders regiment with whom the correspondent had chatted hours before, in the waiting line on the banks of the Thames, advances alone, with a serious face. The common norm, in all those who have come to say goodbye to Elizabeth II, is to delay their definitive departure from the lobby, while still turning their necks and looking at the coffin.
At sunrise, the sun is radiant. The bustle, intense. Some trucks pick up the scattered earth in anticipation of the arrival of the horses of the funeral procession. Noise from the street is heard. Parliamentarians and workers of the institution chat among themselves. The background noise contrasts with what is experienced inside the hall, and confirms that the era of Isabel II already corresponds to another sphere of time.
At 2:20 in the afternoon (3:20 in Spanish peninsular time) began the first great solemn act of what will be the last days of Elizabeth II in London. Preceded by members of the Royal Guard, a military chest on which the coffin of Elizabeth II rested, covered by the royal standard, has left Buckingham Palace. The State Crown, the symbol of monarchical authority, also rested on the coffin. In military uniform, Carlos III has walked behind the coffin, with the solemn and slow rhythm imposed by a funeral procession observed by thousands of citizens along the route. At the height of the monarch, also in military finery, walked his brothers, Princess Anne and Prince Edward. Andrés, the Duke of York, removed from his public functions due to the scandalous relationship he had with the American millionaire and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, also paraded with them, but in civilian clothes.
Just like Prince Henry, also relegated from the activities of the royal family. He walked in the second row, just like his brother William, now Prince of Wales. As heir to the throne, he paraded behind his father, also dressed in full military uniform. Forty minutes of procession followed all the way by thousands of citizens who had waited patiently for hours. Some bowed their heads as the coffin passed. Others drew a timid applause. More than one gave a military salute to someone who, at some point in his life, had been his commander-in-chief.
Throughout the procession, cannon salvos could be heard every minute, from nearby Hyde Park. The legendary Big Ben, the clock located at the top of the Isabel Tower, also chimed during these intervals. Arriving at Westminster Hall, eight members of the Royal Guard, respectfully stripped of their bearskin caps, carried the coffin to the catafalque in the center of the great nave. The British Prime Minister, Liz Truss, the head of the Labor opposition, Keir Starmer, parliamentarians, members of the royal family and relevant British personalities were waiting for the monarch there. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave his blessing in a short religious ceremony. Outside, waiting in a row several kilometers long, were the real protagonists of the coming days, until the state funeral is held next Monday: all the citizens whose lives have been marked by the reign of Elizabeth II, ready to say goodbye definitely the queen.
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