When the hearse carrying the body of Professor Stephen Hawking arrived at the university church of Great St. Mary’s in Cambridge, the bell rang 76 times — to mark each year of the renowned physicist’s life.
His coffin was draped with white flowers — lilies for the universe, roses for the polar star. Six pallbearers carried the coffin from Gonville & Caius College, where Hawking was a fellow for more than 50 years.
Hawking’s family invited around 500 guests for the private service. His oldest son Robert eulogized him. His former student, the British physicist Fay Dowker, spoke as if she had come to think of him as immortal. The actor Eddie Redmayne, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Hawking in the 2014 film The Theory of Everything, read Ecclesiastes 3.1-11.
The choir of Gonville & Caius college sang “Beyond the Night Sky,” a choral work composed as gift to Hawking for his 75th birthday last year.
Hawking was an atheist. “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail,” he once told the Guardian. ‘There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” But because of his deep ties to Cambridge University, his family chose the customary Church of England service given to longtime fellows here.
Outside the church, there were more admirers. They broke into applause when Hawking’s coffin arrived. Some took selfies, others held up their phones and iPads over their heads, hoping to snap a glimpse of something. Fourteen-year-old Nikos Orginis climbed onto a metal police railing, balancing precariously as he snapped photos.
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Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy: AFP
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