Queen Mother Helen returns.

On a dark morning at Geneva’s international airport, a coffin, covered in a royal standard, was loaded onto the rear of a Romanian military transport plane. The casket contained the mortal remains of Her Majesty Queen Mother Helen of Romania, Princess of Greece and Denmark and the senior Greek Princess of her generation. Helen is the latest (and probably one of the last) members of a royal family of a former Eastern Bloc country whose remains have been repatriated.

At the time of her death on 29 November 1982, Queen Mother Helen was living in an apartment in Lausanne. Given that Romania was at that time ruled by a communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, who would certainly not have countenanced the interment of a member of the country’s former royal family in his fief, a plot had been purchased in the Boix-de-Vaux cemetery in Lausanne as a resting place for Helen. Yet, she was not to be alone: Helen’s cousin Olga’s husband, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia, had already been interred there following his death in 1976, as had the mortal remains of his son Prince Nicholas who had died in a car accident in England in 1954 (his body had been brought over from the churchyard near his late Aunt, Princess Marina’s former home at Iver and reinterred in Lausanne at the request of Princess Olga). In 1997, Princess Olga was herself buried in the Bois-de-Vaux following her death at the age of 93.

However, following the ‘rehabilitation’ of Prince Paul by the Serbian High Court in 2011, he, Olga and Nicholas’ bodies were exhumed and reburied, with great ceremony, in the crypt of the Karageorge Royal Mausoleum at Oplenac in Serbia, on 6 October, 2012.

Meanwhile, since the fall of the Ceausescu regime in December 1989, the popularity of the former Royal Family was gathering pace in Romania. Much of this can be attributed to the dedicated involvement of Queen Mother Helen’s eldest granddaughter, Margareta (who now lived in Bucharest) and her Princess Margareta of Romania Foundation. Indeed, as early as 2003, Helen’s ex-husband, King Carol II’s mortal remains had been reburied in his homeland (from their original resting place in the Braganza Pantheon in Lisbon) in a side chapel of Curtea de Argeș Cathedral in the Carpathians. On 16 December 2017, his son King Michael I was also buried at Curtea de Argeș, although in a newly-constructed Royal Mausoleum, beside the remains of his late wife, Queen Anne, who died in August 2016.

Yet, all this while Queen Mother Helen’s mortal remains still languished in Lausanne. However, in early September, it was announced that Her Majesty body was to be returned to Romania and reinterred at Curtea de Argeș. Which brings me back to Geneva International Airport on the morning of 18 October: Having obtained the necessary air clearance, the Romanian military aircraft flew to Otopeni Airport, Bucharest where Her Majesty’s coffin was received, just after 11am, by an Honor Party formed by the 30th Guards Brigade and carefully taken out of the plane preceded by a large wooden cross bearing the inscription ‘Elena-Regina 1896-1982’. Looking on were the Custodian of the Crown of Romania (Margareta), her husband Prince Radu and two of Helen’s other granddaughters (Princesses Sophia and Maria.) Also present were a plethora of politicians and representatives of Romanian religious denominations and, particularly apt, of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Following a brief religious service, Her Majesty’s coffin was later taken to the Elisabetha Palace, where it lay in state for a short while in the King’s Hall. The funeral cortege then processed northwards to Curtea de Argeș, arriving in the late afternoon to a warm greeting from a large crowd. The coffin-still draped with the royal standard-was then placed on a bier at the Old Cathedral. The public were subsequently allowed to pay their respects. Touchingly, the President of Romania, Klaus Iohannis, issued a statement describing Queen Mother Helen as ‘ a powerful symbol of dignity, honour and courage and a special figure of moral conduct in the dark twentieth century.’

Just prior to noon on 19 October, members of the Romanian Royal Family and representatives of foreign royal houses (the Earl of Rosslyn represented the Prince of Wales) gathered in the Old Cathedral for the religious service. Thereafter, Queen Mother Helen’s coffin, containing her mortal remains, was borne by soldiers to the new Royal Mausoleum nearby. Her Majesty is buried alongside her beloved son King Michael and Queen Anne. The remains of her former husband, King Carol II, also rest nearby, having been transferred to the new Royal Mausoleum in the spring of this year.

Please read my various recent blogs on the life of this unique and charming Greek Princess and Queen Mother of Romania who surely ranks as one of the royal icons of the 20th century.

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