Belgium on Friday laid to rest its much-loved former queen Fabiola, the widow of the popular King Baudoin, in a rain-lashed funeral ceremony attended by royals from across Europe and Asia.
Japan’s Empress Michiko, Denmark’s Queen Margrethe, Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and Thai Crown Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn were among the mourners for the 86-year-old, who died a week ago.
Soldiers on horseback accompanied the hearse that took Fabiola’s flag-draped coffin to the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula in Brussels for the funeral service, before she was buried in the crypt at the royal church in Laeken.
Fabiola’s death sparked a week of national mourning in Belgium, where the devout Catholic was seen as a unifying force in a country deeply divided between the two linguistic communities.
Fabiola, who was born Dona Fabiola de Mora y Aragon on June 11, 1928 in Madrid into an aristocratic Spanish family, was the fifth queen of the Belgians from her marriage in 1960 until Baudouin’s death in 1993.
She was best remembered for bringing a much-needed spark to Baudouin, the “lonely king”. They had no children.
– Mourners brave the rain –
Hundreds of mourners braved high winds and driving rain to watch the cortege pass.
A day of solemn pageantry began with Fabiola’s coffin, covered with the black, red and yellow Belgian flag, being taken from the Royal Palace in Brussels where it has lain in state since Tuesday night.
The cortege made its way to the cathedral a few hundred metres away for a service attended by around 1,000 people.
European royals turned out in force, with Spain’s former king Juan Carlos representing the country of Fabiola’s birth.
– ‘Historic day’ –
Morocco and Kuwait also sent members of their royal families, but Britain, whose Queen Elizabeth II is one of the world’s longest serving monarchs, was represented by its ambassador to Belgium.
Weakened by illness, Fabiola had not been seen in public since July 2013.
Her last years were troubled by a row that erupted in 2012 with the creation of a private foundation that was widely perceived as a way to avoid paying Belgium’s 70-percent inheritance tax.
But all that was forgotten by the mourners on Friday.
Joellembumba Mbeka, a 51-year-old healthcare worker of Belgian-Congolese origin, was moved by the funeral ceremony.