As the world watches an enormous change unfold — the procession of Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin has arrived at Windsor Castle — we seek comfort in things that stay the same. The monarch’s funeral was held today in Westminster Abbey, a sacred structure that saw the Queen through many major events in her life — among these, what are arguably the two most important: her coronation and her burial.
Westminster Abbey, which dates back to the reign of Henry III in the 13th century, is where Queen Elizabeth’s wedding ceremony was held. The monarch married Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh, on November 20, 1947, in a lavish ceremony that began with a carriage procession. Just five years later, on June 2, 1953, The Queen’s coronation took place in the very same church. Blue carpets made in Glasgow were laid in the nave, and woven blue velvet covered the church’s chairs and stools for a ceremony that lasted three hours. It was the first royal event of its kind to be broadcast on live television, marking the beginning of a new era filled with political and socioeconomic world changes.
Queen Elizabeth attended major events — both joyous and somber — at Westminster Abbey throughout her reign. She was there for the wedding of her sister, Princess Margaret, on May 6, 1960, and she was there for the wedding of her daughter, Princess Anne, on November 14, 1973. On September 6, 1977, the world watched as she arrived at Princess Diana’s funeral and walked inside the church with the Dean of Westminster.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Westminster Abbey became the historic location of the monarch’s funeral today — the final bookend to her reign. Though the Gothic abbey church will not be the Queen’s final resting place (her coffin was just lowered into the royal vault at St. George’s Chapel, where it will remain until a private burial service later today), it stands as an important fixture in the story of her life, and that of the royal family.
On a day that marks the end of an era, the Queen’s 1953 coronation speech is remarkably fitting, and reminds us of the symbolism in her funeral procession:
“The ceremonies you have seen today are ancient, and some of their origins are veiled in the mists of the past. But their spirit and their meaning shine through the ages never, perhaps, more brightly than now … I have behind me not only the splendid traditions and the annals of more than a thousand years but the living strength and majesty of the Commonwealth and Empire; of societies old and new; of lands and races different in history and origins but all, by God’s Will, united in spirit and in aim.”