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Reverend set to lead Queen Elizabeth II's funeral offers insight on what to expect

Royal family pays tribute to Queen Elizabeth
Royal family pays tribute to Queen Elizabeth in Scotland 03:38

London – London's iconic Westminster Abbey closed its doors to tourists on Monday as the nearly-1,000 year-old religious site on the banks of the River Thames prepared for a funeral for the ages. The state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving monarch in the history of Britain's monarchy, will be held on September 19, exactly 11 days after she died at her summer home of Balmoral in the Scottish Highlands. 

Aside from serving as the singular location for Britain's monarchical coronations since 1066, the abbey was also a special place to the late queen herself during her 96-plus years. 

In 1947, at the age of 21, then-Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey's altar.

Five years later, her coronation was held here. Family joy would follow with the marriage of her grandson Prince William to Kate Middleton in 2011. Family sorrow would come, too, with the funeral of the queen's mother, Elizabeth, in 2002, and then the funeral of her husband in 2021.

Westminster Abbey
The flag flies at half mast at Westminster Abbey in London on September 12, 2022, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8. MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

Finally, in a week, the second Elizabethan era will be laid to rest. Her state funeral will be attended by world leaders and televised across the planet in an event roiling a mixture of emotions, from celebration to grief.

"It's very hard to put that into words," the Very Reverend Dr. David Hoyle told CBS News. In 2019, the queen herself appointed Hoyle as 39th Dean of Westminster Abbey, to lead spiritual and community life there. He quickly flew back to London from New York last Friday, right after receiving word of the queen's death.

"Inevitably we have thought about this over many months. And yet, when we get to this moment, I am startled. It's not so very long since we saw pictures of her majesty at Balmoral smiling. In terms of the service itself, it's both a huge privilege to be at the heart of all this — it's also a pretty huge responsibility — so I'm feeling quite a lot of different things all at once."

Hoyle, who will officiate at the queen's funeral, spoke with CBS News on Sunday afternoon inside Westminster Abbey, just before the building closed to public tours for the week ahead.

Reverend Dr. David Hoyle
The Dean of Westminster Abbey, the Very Reverend Dr. David Hoyle, during a service on March 21, 2022 in London, England. Yui Mok / Getty Images

Elizabeth was known to be a supremely devout Anglican, and Hoyle said before she died, he could see "how eager she was to tell me about how important the abbey was to her — the place in which she got married; the place in which her coronation took place. This this building really mattered to her majesty."

As he spoke, he motioned to the black-and-white checkered marble floor in front of the high altar — the exact location where the queen will lie in state from Tuesday. He said that while he did not talk to the monarch about her funeral preparations personally, the family will have planned every detail.

"Very often, the person whose funeral it is has left some instructions behind and, inevitably, some preparations have been put in place long ago," Hoyle said. "I think you can be absolutely certain that some of the things the queen had hoped we would say will be part of the service."

The last time the United Kingdom held a funeral for a monarch was in 1952, for Queen Elizabeth II's father, King George VI. That televised event, in black and white, proceeded from Buckingham Palace to St. George's Chapel on the royals' sprawling Windsor estate. The last time a monarch's funeral was held in Westminster Abbey itself was 262 years ago, for King George II.

Despite that expanse of time, Westminster Abbey says it is prepared for this historic state funeral for the modern era.

"The Church of England has done quite a lot of work on its services over the years, and the queen is fundamentally a faithful member of our church, so she is getting the kind of funeral service that we would provide for any faithful member of our church," said Hoyle. "It's been altered a little over the years, but it's very familiar territory for all of us."

"This is Westminster Abbey. This is her majesty the queen. I think you can assume that you're going to see tradition in action — great, living tradition in action. I think the job of the abbey and the job of people like me, to some extent, is to keep stitching the story together — to say it's possible in pretty divided and volatile times to say, all this can be gathered in, reconciled, redeemed, celebrated. So, her majesty's reign, which started in the abbey, comes to an end in the abbey. It's a bit more of stitching the story together."

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