While Nelson Mandela was laid to rest in Qunu in South Africa yesterday, I happened to be in Stockholm, where I got the chance to observe the ceremonial which accompanies the death of a Knight of the Royal Seraphim Order, Sweden’s highest order, which nowadays is only awarded to royals and heads of state.
While a knight of the order is alive, his or her armorial shield is kept at the Royal Palace, where a selection is displayed in the Seraphim Hall next to the Hall of State. After the death of a knight, the shield is hung in the former royal burial church at Riddarholmen.
At 11.15 a.m. yesterday, Nelson Mandela’s shield was carried from the Royal Palace to the Riddarholmen Church, accompanied by a guard of honour made up of four grenadiers, while the soldiers guarding the Royal Palace paraded in the Outer Courtyard.
In the Riddarholmen Church, the shield was displayed on an easel at the entrance to the chancel, next to a table with a photo of Mandela, two white candles and a bouquet of flowers, guarded by two grenadiers. The bells of the church tolled from noon to 1 p.m.
The so-called Seraphim tolling is done on the day of the funeral of a knight of the order, as long as the Swedish court is aware of the knight’s passing and the date of his or her funeral (it has happened that the tolling has not taken place because the court has not received news of the death of a knight).
As the bells fell silent at the end of the Seraphim tolling, the easel with Mandela’s shield was carried to the northern side nave of the church and placed in front of the wall where it will be hung with the shields of other late knights.
Nelson Mandela received the Seraphim Order when he, as president, hosted King Carl Gustaf’s and Queen Silvia’s state visit to South Africa in 1997. Crown Princess Victoria represented the Swedish royal family (and Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt the government) at the memorial service held in Johannesburg on 10 December, while no Swedish representative was present at the actual funeral yesterday.