BRUSSELS – In a state funeral Friday at the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, Belgians paid their last respects to dowager Queen Fabiola, who died a week earlier at the age of 86.
The Spanish-born queen was the widow of late King Baudouin I, who ruled from 1951 until his death in 1993.
Fabiola was childless and so became the aunt of Belgium’s current titular head of state, King Philip, who was present at the funeral along with Queen Mathilde and the rest of the Belgian royal family, including Crown Princess Elisabeth and her brother, Gabriel, who entered the cathedral holding hands.
The late queen’s white casket was transported from the Royal Palace early in the morning, escorted by 130 troops of the royal cavalry regiment.
The white color symbolizes not only life but also the resurrection, the spokesman for the Belgian bishops’ conference, Tommy Scholtes, told RTL television, stressing that Fabiola was a deeply religious person.
The daughter of a title-laden Spanish aristocrat, Fabiola was born in 1928 in Madrid and before and after her marriage, in 1960, to King Baudouin, was known for her involvement in social and humanitarian causes and for her strict devotion – which she shared with her husband – to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Although most of her life was spent in Belgium, she never forgot her Spanish identity.
At Friday’s funeral, Fabiola’s cousin, the marquise of Blanca Ahumanda, played the castanets while the choir sang the “Salve Rociera,” a hymn of praise to the Virgen del Rocio (Virgin of the Dew), a revered piece of statuary that is the object of a colorful annual pilgrimage in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia.
Once the casket was inside the cathedral, the “Magnificat” by Johann Sebastian Bach was played, the same piece performed at the marriage ceremony of Fabiola and Baudouin.
Many Belgian and European political figures attended the funeral, including President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles Michel, and the Ministers of Interior, Jan Jambon, and defense Steven Vandeput.
King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia represented Spain at the funeral that was also attended by the Grand Dukes of Luxembourg, Empress Michiko of Japan, the kings of Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, as well as representatives of royal houses of Sweden, Lichtenstein, Princess of Thailand Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, and Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco.