LONDON – Margaret Thatcher’s life began in a simple grocer’s shop but it was the complexity of her legacy that was marked Wednesday at funeral that drew thousands from around the world.
“If you seek his monument, look around you,” reads the epitaph to Christopher Wren, architect of the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral and the 2,300 guests gathered for Thatcher’s funeral were a living monument to Thatcher’s influence, much as the protesters who lined the streets were proof of the continued divisiveness of her time as British prime minister.
Among the assembled were the Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, seated on red-cushioned chairs, with their feet resting on a carpet specially laid on the marble floor, facing the simple altar and bier which held Thatcher’s flag-draped coffin.
Nearby were an assembly of political leaders from past and present, representing 170 countries, including Canada. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney sat in the front row and behind him was current Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen.
“The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs. Thatcher who became a symbolic figure — even an -ism,” Richard Chartres, the bishop of London, said in his sermon.
“Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service. Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.”
Thatcher, who served as prime minister from 1979 to 1990, died last week at the age of 87.
Joining the dignitaries at her funeral were others from a more personal side, including cleaners who worked at her office and those who nursed her in the final days of her life.
During her time as prime minister, she privatized state industries, fought tense battles with unions and deregulated the British economy, leading to London’s status today as one of the world’s financial centres.
She’s also credited with helping bring about the fall of the Soviet Union; it was her opposition to communism that earned her the nickname the Iron Lady.
The dean of St. Paul’s, David Ison, recalled “her courage, her steadfastness and her resolve to accomplish what she believed to be right for the common good.”
But at a cost of approximately $15 million, the military pomp accorded to her was seen by some as overly extravagant in a time of fiscal restraint.
“Like anyone else she deserves a decent funeral, but not at the expense of the taxpayer,” said protester Patricia Welsh, 69.
Yet, Thatcher herself wanted a simple funeral and hand-picked much of the music and the readings featured in the nearly hour-long ceremony.
In the cool air of the cathedral, with sunshine trying to break through the artificial day of the camera lights, her granddaughter Amanda’s voice was strong as she read a passage from the King James Bible, following by a reading from British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Before the service, Thatcher’s coffin was carried from the Houses of Parliament to the church of St. Clement Danes for prayers.
From there, the coffin was borne on a gun carriage drawn by six black horses from the Royal Horse Artillery to St. Paul’s.
More than 700 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel lined the route to the cathedral and around 4,000 police officers were on duty. Security was stepped up after Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded more than 170.
Spectators lining the route broke into applause — and scattered boos — as the carriage passed by.
Many remained on the sidelines as it left the cathedral en route for a private ceremony, as the guests splintered off for various receptions.
Harper was to attend an event at the home and office of the Lord Mayor of London and after which he and his wife were scheduled to join Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife for a private lunch.
– with files from The Associated Press