Britain held a National Service of Thanksgiving in honour of Queen Elizabeth on Friday, launching a weekend of events to mark the official 90th birthday of the country’s oldest and longest-reigning monarch.
The service at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, attended by a host of dignitaries including other members of the royal family and Prime Minister David Cameron, was a double celebration for the queen with Prince Philip, her husband of 68 years, marking his 95th birthday on Friday.
In a ceremony laden with the pageantry that accompanies significant royal events, the monarch was greeted at St Paul’s by a trumpet fanfare while the entrance to the cathedral was flanked by her Bodyguard of the Yeoman of the Guard, veteran soldiers dressed in scarlet uniforms.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, said the country looked back at her decades of service to the nation, through war, hardship, turmoil and change, with deep wonder and gratitude.
“Your Majesty, today we rejoice for the way in which God’s loving care has fearfully and wonderfully sustained you, as well as Prince Philip marking his 95th birthday today,” Welby said in his sermon.
“And we rejoice Your Majesty for the way in which the life God has given you, in turn you have given wonderfully in service to this nation. You have been an instrument of God’s peace.”
The queen, who has been on the throne for 64 years, turned 90 in April but in keeping with a tradition dating back to 1748, she also has an official birthday, usually in June, to ensure celebrations take place when the weather is likely to be better.
To mark the occasion, the sixth and final portrait in a series of official birthday pictures taken by U.S. photographer Annie Leibovitz was released, showing the monarch with her husband at her Windsor Castle home, west of London.
On Saturday, Elizabeth will attend the traditional Trooping the Colour parade of soldiers in ceremonial uniforms in central London followed by a fly-past of Royal Air Force aircraft over Buckingham Palace.
To conclude celebrations, the queen hosts “The Patrons Lunch” for 10,000 guests at the largest street party ever to be held on the Mall, the grand avenue that leads to Buckingham Palace, an event organised by her grandson, Peter Phillips.
The guests will come from some of the more than 600 charities and other organisations of which she is patron with the festivities beamed to large screens in the capital’s parks.
The government has said millions of Britons are expected to join the occasion at local street parties across the country.