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Funeral service pays tribute to Prince Rainier

Monaco held a funeral service Friday for Prince Rainier III.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Below a golden crown, Prince Rainier III was given a tearful farewell Friday at a funeral in Monaco’s cathedral, closing a fairy tale that started nearly 50 years ago with his marriage in the same spot to Hollywood beauty Grace Kelly.

The pomp-filled, televised service for Rainier, who ruled Monaco for 56 of his 81 years, drew VIPs from around the world to the tiny, sun-kissed Mediterranean principality.

The fabled Monte Carlo casino was closed, as were other businesses, and security was tight as the funeral attracted more than half a dozen heads of state and other dignitaries from some 60 countries. They included French President Jacques Chirac, Irish President Mary McAleese, Belgium’s King Albert II, Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia and royalty from Sweden, Luxembourg and elsewhere.

The cathedral later was closed to the public for Rainier’s burial in the family crypt alongside his beloved Princess Grace at a private service Friday night. She died in a car crash in 1982, and Rainier never remarried.

Their children — son and heir Prince Albert II, and Princesses Caroline and Stephanie — blinked back tears during the Mass as Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” mournfully echoed through the 19th cathedral that overlooks the sea.

Known as 'builder prince'
Rainier’s coffin was draped in a white and red flag bearing the coat of arms of his Grimaldi family. It includes the royal motto “Deo Juvante” — “With God’s Help” — and two monks brandishing raised swords, a reminder of how the Grimaldis seized this rock in 1297.

Rainier was Europe’s longest-serving monarch. The royals, nobles and other VIPs who flew in for the funeral underscored how he helped overcome Monaco’s reputation as a “sunny place for shady people” and a haven for tax evasion, money-laundering and gambling, and oversaw its modernization.

In his eulogy at the Mass, Archbishop Bernard Barsi said Rainier was affectionately known as the “builder prince” who oversaw a 20 percent expansion in Monaco’s territory by land reclamation from the sea. It still remains, however, no bigger than New York City’s Central Park.

“For all of us, the prince was, of course, the sovereign, but he was also a friend, a member of the family,” Barsi said. “His family cries for him.”

But it was Rainier’s 1956 marriage to Kelly that became Monaco’s true claim to fame.

The archbishop said they were “an exceptional couple, united by the heart and spirit” and that Rainier bore “with dignity the terrible ordeal of the brutal death of his wife.”

“We are convinced that those who were united here below by the fidelity of their conjugal love are forever united in the fullness of God’s love,” he said.

The service began when members of the 170-member staff carried his coffin from the palace’s 17th-century Palatine Chapel where he had lain in state since his death April 6 of heart, kidney and breathing problems.

Soldiers carry coffin out
In accordance with Rainier’s wishes, soldiers from the Prince’s Company of Carabineers, red and white plumes on their blue hats shuddering slightly in the breeze, then carried his coffin out of the palace via the Gate of Honor. They beat drums covered with black cloth.

Albert, flanked by his sisters who wore headscarves of black lace, as well as some of Rainier’s grandchildren and other members of his close family, walked behind the coffin as it was carried to the nearby cathedral.

Rainier’s 6½-year-old dog Odin, a present for the 50th year of his reign, formed part of the funeral cortege, limping slightly. The Gate of Honor was closed symbolically after Rainier’s body was carried out.

Some of the VIPs bowed as the coffin was carried up the aisle. Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld’s white hair made him easy to spot.

The coffin rested in the center of the cathedral, below a golden crown from which hung purple strips of cloth. A sword was placed on the coffin.

Barsi, opening the service, said Rainier had “entered into the sleep of death” and had been a father “both loving and loved.”

For many in Monaco, the day marked the end of a golden era that began with the marriage to Princess Grace. Rainier often cut a lonely figure in his latter years.

“I like this family. ... It’s thanks to Rainier that Monaco became what it did,” said Arthur Alves, 60, who works in the thriving building sector. “It’s a bit the soul of Monaco, its image around the world that we are saying goodbye to today.”

Security was at a maximum in this enclave usually devoted to fun and making, spending and banking money. Some 1,300 police were on hand, and even funeral wreaths were scanned for bombs.

Parked cars were removed from the streets, where only black-garbed mourners and white-gloved policemen were seen. Matches at the Monte Carlo Masters tennis tournament were delayed until the afternoon out of respect.

The crypt in the cathedral also holds the remains of Rainier’s three immediate successors: Prince Charles III, who ruled from 1856 to 1889; Prince Albert I, who ruled from 1889 to 1922; and, Rainier’s grandfather, Prince Louis II, who ruled from 1922 to 1949.