THE DEATH OF DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES
(August 31, 1997 — Paris, France)
Westminster Abbey West
(Venue of Diana’s Funeral)
The Official Story
Westminster Abbey, formally titled the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster, is a large, mainly Gothic abbey church in the City of Westminster, London, England, just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is one of the United Kingdom’s most notable religious buildings and the traditional place of coronation and a burial site for English and, later, British monarchs. Since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, all coronations of English and British monarchs have occurred in Westminster Abbey. Sixteen royal weddings have occurred at the Abbey since 1100.
According to a tradition first reported by Sulcard in about 1080, a church was founded at the site (then known as Thorn Ey (Thorn Island)) in the seventh century at the time of Mellitus, a Bishop of London. Construction of the present church began in 1245 on the orders of King Henry III.
The church was originally part of a Catholic Benedictine abbey, which was dissolved in 1539. It then served as the cathedral of the Diocese of Westminster until 1550, then as a second cathedral of the Diocese of London until 1556. The abbey was restored to the Benedictines by Mary I in 1556, then in 1559 made a royal peculiar—a church responsible directly to the sovereign—by Queen Elizabeth I.
The Abbey is the burial site of more than 3,300 people, usually of prominence in British history: at least 16 monarchs, eight prime ministers, poets laureate, actors, scientists, military leaders, and the Unknown Warrior—the first person interred in the Abbey’s Poets’ Corner was Geoffrey Chaucer in 1400.
Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales
The ceremony at Westminster Abbey opened at 11:00 BST and lasted one hour and ten minutes. The royal family placed wreaths alongside Diana’s coffin in the presence of Britain’s living former prime ministers – John Major, Margaret Thatcher, James Callaghan and Edward Heath – and former Conservative MP Winston Churchill, the grandson of World War II-era Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. International guests included Sir Cliff Richard, US First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, William J. Crowe, French First Lady Bernadette Chirac, Egyptian First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, Queen Noor of Jordan, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Sir Elton John, George Michael, Chris de Burgh, Michael Barrymore, Mariah Carey, Richard Branson, Luciano Pavarotti, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Richard Attenborough, Ruby Wax, as well as Imran Khan and his then wife, Jemima Khan. The prime minister, Tony Blair, read an excerpt from First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 13: “And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love”. Among other invitees were the King of Spain, Princess Margriet of the Netherlands, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Japan, the deposed King Constantine II of Greece, and South Africa president Nelson Mandela.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and the Dean of Westminster, Wesley Carr, were also present in the abbey and delivered the bidding, the prayers, and the commendation. The service was sung by the Choir of Westminster Abbey and conducted by Organist and Master of the Choristers, Martin Neary; the organist was Martin Baker. Music before the service included the hymn tune “Eventide”, “Adagio in E”, the hymn tune “Rhosymedre”, Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639, “Fantasia in C minor, BWV 537”, “Adagio in G minor”, “Symphony No. 9”, Pachelbel’s Canon (which was misidentified by the commentator as Albinoni’s Adagio), and Variation IX (Adagio) “Nimrod”. The Anglican service opened with the traditional singing of “God Save the Queen”. The funeral started with the choir singing the Funeral Sentences, composed by William Croft and Henry Purcell. Pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonín Dvořák, Camille Saint-Saëns, Gustav Holst, and other composers were played throughout the ceremony. The hymns were I Vow to Thee, My Country, by Sir Cecil Spring Rice to the tune by Gustav Holst; The King of Love My Shepherd Is by Henry Baker to the tune Dominus Regit Me by John Bacchus Dykes; Make Me a Channel of Your Peace to the tune by Sebastian Temple and Guide me, O thou great Redeemer, by William Williams to the tune Cwm Rhondda by John Hughes. The chant Libera me was sung by the BBC Singers, together with Lynne Dawson, to the tune by Giuseppe Verdi.
During the service, Elton John sang a 1997 rendition of “Candle in the Wind”, with new lyrics written as a tribute to Diana. He had contacted his writing partner Bernie Taupin, asking him to revise the lyrics of his 1973 Marilyn Monroe tribute song “Candle in the Wind” to honour Diana, and Taupin rewrote the song accordingly. Only a month before Diana’s death she had been photographed comforting John at the funeral of their mutual friend Gianni Versace. Files released by The National Archives showed that the Dean of Westminster, Wesley Carr, had personally appealed to senior aides at the palace to secure John’s performance at the funeral, insisting on the “inclusion of something of the modern world that the princess represented”. A solo performance by a saxophonist had been considered as a second option.
Diana’s sister Sarah gave the first reading, a poem titled Turn Again To Life by Mary Lee Hall, and her other sister Jane gave the second reading, a poem titled Time Is taken from Music and Other Poems by Henry van Dyke Jr. Her brother Charles gave the eulogy, in which he rebuked both the royal family and the press for their treatment of his sister. “It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this – a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age,” Spencer said during his speech.
“Song for Athene” by British composer John Tavener, with text by Mother Thekla, a Greek Orthodox nun, drawn from the Orthodox liturgy and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, was sung as Diana’s cortège departed from the main nave of Westminster Abbey. This was followed after a one-minute silence by half-muffled change ringing on the Abbey’s ten bells.
On the same day, services of commemoration and events honouring the Princess were held in various cities and towns across the United Kingdom and many streets remained deserted with the population watching the funeral broadcast at their homes. In Manchester the national minute’s silence started with “a maroon flare fired by mortar from the roof of the Victorian Town Hall” and ended “by the pealing of a single muffled bell”. People gathered in the Albert Square and visited the Town Hall to sign the book of condolences. The Lord Mayor, Gerry Carroll, laid a bouquet as a tribute to the Princess on behalf of the city. In Bolton a memorial service was held with leaders from all churches in attendance, followed by another memorial service in Blackburn Cathedral. In Liverpool people came together at the Parish Church of Our Lady and St Nicholas to pay their respects. In Scotland, the funeral was broadcast to mourners on screens set up at the Ross Theatre in Edinburgh. A memorial service was held in Diana’s honour, at which the Queen’s chaplain in Scotland, Charles Robertson, officiated. In Londonderry, the mayor and deputy mayor laid a wreath at the city Cenotaph. Large crowds showed up in the streets of Cardiff to watch the funeral on screens. A service was held at Llandaff Cathedral, attended by 700 guests, including the Secretary of State for Wales Ron Davies, Cardiff’s Lord Mayor Max Phillips, as well as MPs and volunteers from Diana’s charities. Toll booths on Severn Bridges remained closed during the national minute’s silence.
The Irish National flag was also flown at half-mast on all State buildings on the day of Diana’s funeral. On the same day, a memorial service was held at Washington National Cathedral and was attended by 2,170 people including the British ambassador John Kerr, the US ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson, and chairman of The Washington Post Co. executive committee Katharine Graham. In Tonga, a group of mourners organised a traditional wake, or pongipongi, after the funeral. On Sunday, 7 September, an additional service for Diana was held at Westminster Abbey in response to popular demand.
Television coverage of the funeral was watched by 31 million people in the United Kingdom, making it one of the most watched live broadcasts to date. The world-wide television audience for the event has been estimated between 2 to 2.5 billion people.
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