Belgian queen Fabiola’s funeral draws world royalty
Belgium laid its much-loved former queen Fabiola to rest next to her late husband king Baudoin on Friday, after a rain-lashed state funeral 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 Spanish-born Fabiola’s flag-draped coffin to the Cathedral of Saints Michael and Gudula in Brussels for the funeral service, attended by some 1,000 people.
“King Baudoin and Queen Fabiola never stopped searching for peace,” Princess Elisabeth, the 13-year-old heir to Belgium’s current King Philippe, said in a speech at the funeral that she delivered in both French and Flemish.
Fabiola was then interred in the crypt of the royal chapel in the upscale Laeken area of Brussels, lying next to the tomb of Baudoin, the hugely popular Belgian king who died in 1993.
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.
– ‘Belgium’s unity’ –
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.
She was best remembered for bringing a much-needed spark to Baudouin, the “lonely king”. They had no children.
Hundreds of mourners braved high winds and driving rain to watch the cortege pass.
“I came to pay tribute to a women I felt like I had always known because she was very close to the people. And because the royalty is important for Belgium’s unity,” mourner Christian Hanneuse, 61, told AFP outside the cathedral.
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 a host of European royals, with Spain’s former king Juan Carlos representing the country of Fabiola’s birth.
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.
The highly musical service included singers with Spanish-style castanets chanting “Ole”.
– Historic day –
“Fabiola is now with God, and with her husband,” said Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who led the service.
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.
“It’s a historic day for the country,” said student Victoria Schiettecate, 18. “I liked the fact that she was not some kind of ornament, but an independent personality.”
Joellembumba Mbeka, a 51-year-old healthcare worker of Belgian-Congolese origin, was moved by the funeral ceremony.
“Fabiola was a very open women,” she said. “If you had a problem all you had to do was write to the queen without putting her address, just ‘Queen Fabiola’, and she would send help. She helped send the social services to me when I needed it.
“A page has turned for Belgium with her passing.”