LONDON – Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to flock to London’s medieval Westminster Hall from Wednesday to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II, whose coffin will lie in state for four days until her funeral on Monday.
Here's a look at what to expect for the occasion, including its traditions, the waiting route and what mourners will see:
HOW LONG WILL THE QUEEN LIE IN STATE?
People who want to view the queen’s coffin can do so 24 hours a day from 5 p.m. local time (1600GMT) Wednesday until 6:30 a.m. on Monday, the day of the state funeral.
WHAT WILL PEOPLE SEE?
The closed coffin is draped with the Royal Standard, a flag representing the sovereign and the U.K. It is adorned with royal regalia including the orb, the sceptre and the bejewelled Imperial State Crown — the same one the queen wore for her 1953 coronation.
The coffin is placed on a catafalque, or a raised platform, in the center of Westminster Hall. Royal guards in plumed hats and ceremonial uniform will stand 24 hours a day at each corner of the platform.
When the coffin was in Scotland earlier this week, it was topped with the Crown of Scotland and a wreath of white flowers.
The queen’s coffin is constructed out of English oak, lined with lead and was made decades ago, experts say.
Sarah Hayes, manager for the Coffin Works museum in Birmingham, England, says former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the queen’s husband Prince Philip and Princess Diana had such coffins made for them, she said.
“It’s to preserve the body for as long as possible, it’s really about slowing down the process of decomposition,” she said. This is especially important for the queen because her coffin will be eventually placed in a church, not buried in the ground, she added.
The coffin is made of oak from the royal family’s Sandringham Estate according to royal tradition, Hayes said.
British officials have published two waiting routes along the River Thames that the public need to join before they can enter Westminster Hall. The main queue begins on the Albert Embankment and stretches east for miles past the London Eye, the Tate Modern and Tower Bridge. There is a separate, accessible route that people who need it can join from the Tate Britain museum.
Mourners have been warned about long waits, possibly overnight. Hundreds of extra toilets and water fountains will be placed along the route, and some venues along the way, including Shakespeare’s Globe, will open around the clock to provide refreshments and rest breaks. Airport-style security checks are in place near the front of the line before people can enter Parliament.
The lying in state takes place at Westminster Hall, a 900-year-old building with an impressive timber roof. Built in 1097, it's the oldest surviving building of the Palace of Westminster.
The medieval hall has been at the heart of British history for a millennium: It was where numerous kings and queens hosted lavish coronation banquets, and where Guy Fawkes and Charles I were tried in the 17th century. More recently, ceremonial addresses were presented in the hall to Elizabeth during her silver, golden and diamond jubilees.
WHO GETS TO LIE IN STATE?
In the U.K., lying in state is reserved for the sovereign, queen consorts, and sometimes prime ministers.
Queen Mary, King George VI and King George V were among royals who lay in state at Westminster Hall. Winston Churchill was the only British prime minister to have a lying-in-state ceremony in the 20th century.
The last person to lie in state in Britain was Elizabeth’s mother, known as the Queen Mother. Some 200,000 people paid their respects to her over three days when she died in 2002.
WHEN DID THE TRADITION START?
The tradition of lying in state stretches back to the 17th century when Stuart monarchs lay in state for a number of days.
Edward VII set the modern tradition of royal lying in state in Westminster Hall. He lay in state in 1910.
WHERE IS THE QUEEN'S FINAL RESTING PLACE?
After the state funeral, the coffin will be taken to Windsor, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of London. The queen will be laid to rest in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, within St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where her mother and father were interred and her sister Princess Margaret's ashes were placed.
Prince Philip’s coffin, which is currently in St. George's Chapel's Royal Vault, is expected to be moved to the memorial chapel to join the queen’s.
St. George's is where many of Britain’s royals were baptized, married and buried throughout history. It has long been the resting place for the royals, and 10 former sovereigns were buried there.
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