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Bells muffled and Big Ben silenced for Lady Thatcher’s funeral

15 April 2013


A SINGLE half-muffled bell will toll for the arrival of the cortege, before a service steeped in the  "secular patriotism" of the woman who devised it all in meticulous detail. The order of service for the funeral of Lady Thatcher of Kesteven, who died last week, was published on the website of St Paul's Cathedral on Sunday.

It is understood that Lady Thatcher began preparations for her funeral about eight years ago. Her choices reflects her upbringing in the Methodist Church, where her father, Alfred Roberts, was a lay preacher. The congregation will sing "Love Divine, all loves excelling", by Charles Wesley, and the President Designate of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Ruth Gee, will be among five clerics leading the prayers.

Lady Thatcher also chose "He who would valiant be" by John Bunyan, "I vow to thee, my country", with words by Cecil Spring-Rice set to a tune by Holst, and the setting by Brahms of verses from Psalm 84, the last of which Lady Thatcher also chose for the funeral of her husband, Denis, in 2003.

Lady Thatcher referred to "I vow to thee, my country" in her speech to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1988: "I always think that the whole debate about the Church and the State has never yielded anything comparable in insight to that beautiful hymn." She went on to praise its "triumphant assertion of what might be described as secular patriotism, a noble thing indeed in a country like ours".

This patriotism is reflected in the dominance of British composers in the music of the service. Before the service beings, compositions by  a handful of composers, all born in the 19th century - including Edward Elgar, Hubert Parry, and Ralph Vaughan Williams - will be played on the organ. As the service closes, the organist will play an arrangement of "Nimrod" from Elgar's Enigma Variations.

The service is expected to be attended by 2300 people. At 10.45 a.m., the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, will arrive and be received by the Chapter, the Bishop of London, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. She will be preceded by the Lord Mayor, bearing the Mourning Sword. At 11 o'clock, the coffin will be carried into the cathedral and placed on a bier under the dome. The grandchildren of Lady Thatcher, Michael and Amanda Thatcher, will place cushions bearing the insignia of the Order of the Garter and the Order of Merit on the dome altar.

Lady Thatcher's coffin will be carried into St Paul's by bearers including members of units who served in the Falklands War. The west steps of the cathedral will be lined by pensioners of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Instead of flowers, guests have been asked to consider making a donation to the hospital.

After the Sentences, set to music by the William Croft ("I am the resurrection and the life . . ."), the bidding will be delivered by the Dean of St Paul's, the Very Revd David Ison, who will give thanks for Lady Thatcher's "leadership of this nation, her courage, her steadfastness, and her resolve to accomplish what she believed to be right for the common good". He will then lead the congregation in the Lord's Prayer.

Amanda Thatcher will deliver the first reading, Ephesians 6.10-18 ("Put on the whole armour of God . . . For we wrestle . . . against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.")

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, will give the second reading, John 14.1-6 ("In my Father's house are many mansions . . . I am the way, the truth and the life: no man commeth unt the Father, but by me.") Both readings will be taken from the Authorised Version, as specified by Lady Thatcher, who also stipulated that the Prime Minister of the day, regardless of his or her political affiliation, should do the reading.

The address will be delivered by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres. Prayers, beginning "Man that is born of a woman . . .", will be led by the Revd Sarah Eynstone, Minor Canon and Chaplain at St Paul's Cathedral; the Speaker's Chaplain, Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin; the Roman Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Liverpool, the Most Revd Patrick Kelly; the Revd William Hall from the American Church; as well as the President Designate of the Methodist Conference.

After an anthem, "In pardisum" from Fauré's Requiem, the Bishop of London will lead the commendation: "God forth upon thy journey frmo this world O Christian soul . . .", before a contribution from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby: he will give a blessing at the end of the service.

The printed order of service opens and closes with lines of poetry, which will not be read at the service. The first is from the final movement of Little Gidding from Four Quarters by T. S. Eliot, and includes the lines: "So, while the light fails On a winter's afternoon, in a seculded chapel History is now and England. We shall not cease from exploration . . ." At the end is the "Ode: Intimations of Immortality"from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth ("But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home.")

At the end of the service, the St Paul's Cathedral Guild of Ringers will ring "Stedman Cinques" with the Cathedral's bells half-muffled. The coffin will be taken to the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, announced on Monday that the bell of Big Ben would be silenced during the funeral. The same tributed was accorded to Winston Churchill in 1965.

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