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Stephen Hawking funeral: His city stops to salute genius who unlocked secrets of the universe

The hearse arrives at University Church of St Mary the Great in Cambridge, as mourners look on (Joe Giddens/PA Wire)
The hearse arrives at University Church of St Mary the Great in Cambridge, as mourners look on (Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

THOUSANDS of mourners said their final farewell to Professor Stephen Hawking as he was laid to rest in Cambridge.

The funeral service for the world-famous scientist took place yesterday afternoon at the University Church of St Mary the Great, attended by a host of celebrities, friends and family.

Hundreds of people lined the streets of the town, listening as the church bell tolled 76 times, once for every year of Hawking’s life.

Professor Stephen Hawking

A round of applause broke out as the solid oak coffin was carried inside by six porters from the physicist’s former college, Gonville and Caius, where he was a fellow for 52 years.

His family, including his three children, followed quietly behind them into the church.

More than 500 guests had been invited to attend, with many familiar faces seen arriving to pay their respects including Cambridge University graduate and model Lily Cole, Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May, and comedian Dara O Briain who made a documentary about the professor.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and playwright Alan Bennett had also been on the guest list.

Actor Eddie Redmayne, who played the scientist in the 2014 film The Theory of Everything, gave a biblical reading entitled Everything Has Its Time, while Astronomer Royal Martin Rees also spoke.

Robert Hawking, who is Professor Hawking’s eldest child, delivered the eulogy for his dad, who died peacefully at his house in Cambridge on March 14.

Despite having said he is an atheist, Prof Hawking’s family, including ex-wife Jane Hawking, son Timothy Hawking and daughter Lucy Hawking, who were pictured leaving the church in tears, felt a traditional Anglican service would give his friends in the city a chance to pay tribute.

Jane Hawking, the first wife of Professor Stephen Hawking and their son Timothy (Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

In a statement before the service, his children said: “Our father lived and worked in Cambridge for more than 50 years.

“He was an integral and highly recognisable part of the university and the city.

“For this reason, we have decided to hold his funeral in the city that he loved so much and which loved him.

“Our father’s life and work meant many things to many people, both religious and non-religious.

“So, the service will be both inclusive and traditional, reflecting the breadth and diversity of his life.”

The funeral was followed by a private reception at Trinity College. Prof Hawking’s ashes will be interred close to the remains of Sir Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey on June 15.

Actor Eddie Redmayne, who played the role of the late Professor Stephen Hawking in the 2014 biographical drama The Theory of Everything (Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said: “It is entirely fitting that the remains of Professor Stephen Hawking are to be buried in the Abbey, near those of distinguished fellow scientists.

“Sir Isaac Newton was buried in the Abbey in 1727. Charles Darwin was buried beside Isaac Newton in 1882.

“We believe it to be vital that science and religion work together to seek answers to the great questions of the mystery of life and of the universe.”

Professor Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in his 20s, but continued his work to become the most famous theoretical physicist of his time.

He authored books on the mysteries of space, time and black holes, with his book A Brief History of Time becoming an international best seller.