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Shoghi Effendi:

by Ugo Giachery

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Chapter 16

[page 175]


Events connected with the passing of Shoghi Effendi

"... and when he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine, That all the world will be in love with night, And pay no worship to the garish sun." Shakespeare [30]

    [30] The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet III:ii

Events connected with the passing of Shoghi Effendi written a few days after his funeral 9 November 1957

Monday, November 4th. This being a national holiday in Italy I am at home. The telephone rings about 2.10 p.m. and I am told by the operator to stand by for a long-distance connection. At 2.15 I hear the voice of Ruhiyyih Khanum, calling from London. 'The Guardian is dead!' Reeling under the impact of such crushing news, with little strength and reason left, I manage to book an air passage by telephone, to prepare a bag, and reach the airport in time to board a plane leaving Rome for London at 4.55 p.m.

The journey is uneventful until we reach Switzerland; after that the weather becomes bad and we land in London half an hour later than scheduled, with the elements raging all around us. One and a half hours later I join Ruhiyyih Khanum, Hasan Balyuzi and John Ferraby, and together we go to the Haziratu'l-Quds at 27 Rutland Gate. The wind and the rain lash London all night; it is impossible to rest or accept with one's reason the reality of such a catastrophic situation.

Tuesday, November 5th. Dawn brings more rain and a deeper sense of despair, as we are faced by many complex problems to be dealt with at once. The morning is devoted to communications either by cable or by telephone to all parts of the world. A special call is made to Stuttgart to request Dr. Muhlschlegel to come to London to assist in the final preparation of the Guardian's earthly remains, before burial. A call is sent to all Hands of the Cause [and] National Assemblies [about the funeral] to be held on Saturday, the ninth.

At night the first Hands of the Cause arrive, namely, Milly Collins from Haifa, which she had reached from America only twenty-four hours before, Adelbert Muhlschlegel and Hermann Grossmann from Germany.

In the afternoon Ruhiyyih Khanum, accompanied by myself and Hasan Balyuzi, visits two London cemeteries to select an appropriate burial plot. The rain keeps falling steadily and after visiting one cemetery, which proved absolutely unsuitable, we reach the Great Northern London Cemetery a few minutes after 4.30 p.m. It is immediately felt by all that this spot possesses all qualifications as to beauty and upkeep, to be worthy of entrusting to it the most precious of all earthly remains in over a generation. With the assistance of the superintendent, Mr. Stanley, a very suitable plot is selected in which the grave is to be prepared. It lies between one of the main paths and a row of graves, in the shadow of two ancient trees which in the springtime form a bower, a protecting canopy, over the tomb.

We leave the cemetery at dusk and drive to the office of Mr. Leverton, the funeral director, for the selection of an appropriate coffin. The choice falls upon a solid and sombre coffin of polished bronze, lined with a sheeting of lead, to be hermetically soldered, so as to render possible the transfer of the Guardian's body anywhere, if conditions will in the future permit it. Then and there it is also decided to order a bronze plate to be placed on the upper lid of the coffin, with an inscription, the text of which is communicated to Mr. Leverton the next day.

In the evening believers from many parts of Europe and England start to arrive. The faces I remember, among the first, are those of Bahiyyih Varqa, Miss Fatheazam and her brother. Telegrams and telephone calls are coming to the Hazira without interruption, and the British National Spiritual Assembly has set up a body of volunteers to handle messages and the throng of visitors.

Sorrow, despair and anguish are depicted on every face; human bodies moving without will or control; unspoken words of incredulity are on every lip. Can it be true that God has removed His Sign from this earth?

Wednesday, November 6th. This morning Ruhiyyih Khanum and Milly Collins have gone to purchase the silk cloth for the shrouds. This forenoon many more believers arrive in London and there is a continuous stream of visitors at the Hazira. In the afternoon Ruhiyyih Khanum, accompanied by myself, Hasan Balyuzi and the funeral director, go to make official declaration of the passing of the Guardian. Certificates of his death are issued immediately.

This night the Iranian Hands of the Cause, Khadem and Faizi, arrive, but are not seen on account of Khadem's illness.

Thursday, November 7th. Ruhiyyih Khanum and Milly Collins have gone to make the floral arrangements for the chapel at the cemetery and for the floral blanket of roses, gardenias and lilies of the valley to be placed on the coffin. I bring the silk cloth to the Hazira to have the Iranian ladies prepare the shrouds to be used this afternoon. Ruhiyyih Khanum having again visited the chapel at the cemetery, to make final arrangements for the floral decoration, has purchased a large piece of green velvet which is to be used to cover the platform or catafalque on which the casket will rest. The sewing of this covering is also done by the Iranian ladies gathered at the Hazira.

In the afternoon Ruhiyyih Khanum, accompanied by Adelbert Muhlschlegel, has gone to the place where the Guardian's body is being kept, and in about two hours Adelbert completes the washing of the body and its placement in the first shroud. Then he, together with Ruhiyyih Khanum, places the body of the Guardian in the second shroud and then in the coffin. Attar of rose given to me by the Guardian, some time ago, and brought by me from Rome, is used to anoint the body. A Bahá'í ringstone which I carried in my pocket is placed in the Guardian's mouth. His body, entirely shrouded with the exception of the face, is covered with rose petals brought by Milly from the Shrine of the Báb. I have been told that in the stillness of death the body of Shoghi Effendi irradiated an unusual beauty. Never during his life had his countenance been so luminous or so hieratic. His expression, often travailed by adversity and sufferings during the long thirty-six years of Guardianship, is now that of beatitude; the saintly glow of him who, for the sake of humanity, immolated himself to the great Cause, emanated from his brow. Glory, eternal glory, to him who led a life of sacrifice for the whole of humanity!

Friends are still arriving. The entire American National Spiritual Assembly, with the exception of Horace Holley,[*] will arrive tomorrow.

Telegrams by the hundreds and telephone calls are still coming to the Hazira.

    * Mr. Holley was then in hospital and unable to travel

Friday, November 8th. The sealed casket has been brought to the chapel of the funeral director. The Hands of the Cause present in London keep vigil by the casket, banked with flowers, the entire day. The bronze plate is in place at about the middle of the upper lid of the casket. It is engraved in good characters. Final arrangements are made for the funeral cortege which will take place tomorrow.

The afternoon is spent in attending to other pressing matters and to arranging transportation back to Haifa. The members of the American National Spiritual Assembly have arrived. Leroy Ioas has telephoned that he will arrive early on Saturday; he was told to bring a rug and a silk covering from the inner Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh.

In the evening there is a meeting of all the Hands of the Cause present: Ruhiyyih Khanum, Mason Remey, Milly Collins, Ugo Giachery, Paul Haney, William Sears, Adelbert Muhlschlegel, Hermann Grossmann, John Ferraby, Hasan Balyuzi, A. Q. Faizi and S. 'Ala'i, to make a definite programme for tomorrow's ceremony. It is quite late at night when we disband.

Saturday, November 9th. Mr. and Mrs. Mottahedeh have gone to the airport to meet Leroy Ioas and have brought him to town. He has the rug, a piece of Persian silk brocade, a large bouquet of jasmine from 'Akka and a box of petals and flowers taken from the various Bahá'í gardens in the Holy Land. Mr. Samandari has brought some olive and orange branches from the Ridvan Garden in Baghdad.[*]

    * Other Hands of the Cause who arrived in time for the funeral, or soon after, depending on the distances they had to travel, were: Dhikru'llah Khadem, Musa Banani, Enoch Olinga and Rahmatu'llah Muhajir.

The convening hour at the Hazira is 10 a.m. I walk there with Leroy Ioas and Paul Haney; we are taking the flowers from the Holy Land with us. A large gathering of friends is in the street in front of the building. It is almost impossible to enter; the hall, the stairs and all the ground floor rooms are filled to capacity. Sorrow and despair are on everyone's face; a mass of human beings waiting to be told what to do. This morning the weather is better (around 35 degrees), the sun is shining, lending a note of solace to eyes that have no more tears. At 10:30 word is passed to start to board the sixty or more automobiles waiting nearby. Ruhiyyih Khanum, Milly Collins and Mason Remey enter in the first car. Myself, Leroy Ioas, Paul Haney, Hasan Balyuzi, Adelbert Muhlschlegel and T. Samandari in the second car. It is impossible for me to see who enters the other cars. Slowly all automobiles are filled and, after some irrelevant delays, the first car moves, crossing from Rutland Gate to Hyde Park, followed by the rest. Some constables on motorcycles pass us by in both directions, keeping the traffic moving and preventing stoppage of the cortege. It is so strange to drive through London, a city so unaware of the tremendous drama which we are living moment after moment!

At a good pace we go through streets, squares, avenues in the immensity of this metropolis basking in the sun of a clear morning. At a certain point of our journey, at a place called Swiss Cottage, we stop for a few minutes; two large vehicles waiting on a side street move in front of the first car. I look at my watch.

It is 11:40. We start again, preceded by a side-glass-windowed car filled with wreaths of flowers, followed by the funeral car bringing the precious body of the beloved of our hearts, Shoghi Effendi, our Guardian. Smoothly, without any further delays or stops, we cover the remaining distance to the Great Northern London Cemetery in about twenty-five minutes.

After passing the gate we reach the esplanade in front of the chapel. A large crowd of believers is already there; they are waiting on the left side of the door, bareheaded and in tears. For five or more minutes we wait for the arrival of all the cars of the cortege Some of the friends have already gotten out, almost impatient to get near to the coffin which is still kept in the special car. Now eight men in sombre dark clothes have come and are taking the casket down. We leave our cars; moaning and sobbing are heard from every side. We must be strong; we cannot let our feelings overcome us at this moment and throw confusion among these heart-broken friends. The casket moves into the chapel; we follow closely. It is placed to rest on the catafalque covered with the green velvet. Upon the casket a large blanket of red roses and gardenias and lilies of the valley - the flowers, I am told, the Beloved preferred - is the symbol of the love of all the friends the world over. The rear wall of the chapel is banked with row upon row of chrysanthemums of different hues and colours. On the transom of the alcove in which is the catafalque there is the 'Greatest Name'; on both sides, on a little higher level than the floor of the chapel, there are several rows of chairs. Ruhiyyih Khanum sits at the right side, Milly beside her; all the Hands are immediately behind. In the second row, with the Hands, sits the Charge d'Affaires of the Government of Israel, Mr. G. Avner. The chapel is now full. There are not enough seats for everyone; one-third of the friends are standing. The air is cold inside the chapel, cold enough to keep us conscious. Someone is lamenting quite loudly. It is Tarazu'llah Samandari; somebody is quieting him. Now all is still; oblivion is what we want most. It is not true, I keep repeating to myself; it is only a bad dream which I must forget!

At once the chant of Abu'l-Qasim Faizi, steady, but interwoven with deep emotion, is in the air. It is the Prayer for the Dead of Bahá'u'lláh. It becomes our cry, our imploring. I cannot stand it, my heart is pounding to the breaking-point. Will God have mercy on us?

The rhythm of the chant rises and falls. I cannot understand the Arabic words but keep on repeating the refrains in Italian; I want to feel very near to the departed spirit. I repeat prayer after prayer almost unaware of the place and the surroundings. Betty Reed, Borrah Kavelin, Adib Taherzadeh, William Sears, Elsie Austin, Ian Semple and Enoch Olinga succeed each other with prayers and other selections from the Sacred Writings. It is now 12.50. Again the pall-bearers take hold of the coffin and place it in the funeral car. We follow on foot, slowly, broken in body and in spirit. This is the end; we only have a few more minutes and the earth will take its trust forever! The sun which shone in the early morning has disappeared; dark clouds are coming up from every direction. We have now reached the site of the grave. The opening on the ground is about seven by four feet. Mats of green straw imitating grass are placed all around. It gives the illusion of being early spring. The grave itself is lined with boughs of cedar studded with flowers. Everyone crowds around it; there is hardly any space to move. It looks like a human fortress, the last stand to prevent the earth from claiming its price. Can it be true that his separation must now take place?

The inevitable moment of a final farewell is at hand. The coffin is being lowered from the car; it is placed at the head of the grave. There is a moment of hushed silence, and then moaning and sobbing are heard again, this time much louder and more widely spread. It is a struggle to remain standing erect, when the weight of sorrow bends us down, down to the soil, nearer to him whom we loved so much. One by one, with an unprecedented demonstration of supreme love, wanting to empty our hearts for the last time to the hidden, lifeless, beloved Guardian of God's Faith, the friends fall on their knees, sobbing in despair, at the head of the casket. Flowers, attar of roses, kisses, tears, prayers, supplications, promises, vows are the offerings made at such a parting. Women, children, men in the prime of life, old bent men, all believers, pass for well two hours under the drizzling rain to pay the last homage, the last tribute, to him who for thirty-six years gave to them his whole life, his love, his guidance and the inspiration to arise above human limitation. What a debt of gratitude we owe him; it is too late now, our conscience well tells us how much gratitude we placed silently in the balance to recompense him for his labours! The pall-bearers who stand by the grave have a strange expression on their faces. Surely they have seen hundreds of interments, but none like this. They cannot remain untouched by the waves of sorrow and love, of grief and devotion, which are overpowering everyone. Their eyes are filled with tears, their limbs trembling. The Israeli Government representative is stunned. Deep grief is on his face, kindness and sympathy emanate from his body; he is deeply moved and does nothing to conceal it.

Ruhiyyih Khanum is the last one to kneel down; then she places the green pall over the casket and above it, in the centre, the small piece of blue brocade, from the Tomb of Bahá'u'lláh. The friends are pressing in from every side; there is no space for the eight bearers to move. Inching their way, they slowly lift the casket with strips of hemp passed under it, until they reach the opening of the grave. The rug from the inner Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh is already on the bottom of it. It gives an air of domesticity, like a corner of home; a bit of Persia, a symbol from the cradle of the Faith, to receive the great-grandson of Him Who, one hundred and four years ago, was compelled to leave His native land, never to see it again!

The merciless hand of time is at work again. The coffin is lowered to its final rest, the last step of the last journey! Moaning and sobbing are heard again, this time uncontrolled, heart-rending; who can console us now? The jasmine from Bahji is being placed on the casket, in the grave, all around; it will be sealed in the earth as soon as the vault is closed. A female voice intones a chant in Persian; it was not planned, but I understand from her broken tones that she wants to do something unusual, quickly, afraid we may forget him whose love was our solace. As she terminates her chant, 'Ali Nakhjavani intones one of Shoghi Effendi's own orations. Hasan Balyuzi, the Afnan Hand of the Cause, ends with a prayer in English. We must leave the graveside now; we must go somewhere. The masons need much space to work to seal the vault with two large stone slabs.

(4 photos between pages 182-183 in the book)

All the Hands of the Cause, the members of the Auxiliary Boards and National Assemblies slowly move away. We enter our cars waiting near by. The mass of believers disbands. We drive out of the cemetery; around we go without purpose, long enough to give time to the masons to complete their work. In twenty minutes we are back; the grave is sealed, some believers who never left are standing by as in a trance, motionless, with deep sorrow engraved on their faces. We gather around the two large stones which are now between us and him who, only a little while ago, was still a living reality to us. The flowers gathered from all the Bahá'í gardens in the Holy Land are now being placed in little clumps by the Hands of the Cause, upon the stones. The members of the Auxiliary Boards and of the National Assemblies follow, one by one, bringing with tender delicacy the very last offerings that can be made. In turn, prayers in many tongues are recited; I say a prayer of the Báb in Italian. The rain has stopped; the sun comes and goes. We stay around the grave. Some attendants are now bringing flowers: wreaths, bouquets, sprays, which have been sent by the hundreds and kept aside during the morning. They are being placed over and around the grave; it is a fragrant carpet of many colours, of brilliant hues, with a strong scent pervading the cold autumn air. So many flowers! There is no room for all of them. The four little cypress trees which Ruhiyyih Khanum had planted the day before at the four corners of the grave are dwarfed by the height of these floral mementoes.

It is well after 4 p.m. The light of day starts to fade. One last farewell with tears and sobs; our hearts are throbbing without regularity. Life seems meaningless. Where are we going now? Into a world without guidance, in the darkness of despair until God in His mercy will show us the way, heal our hearts and set firm our steps in His service again.

[page 184]

The Sepulchre of Shoghi Effendi

After the passing of Shoghi Effendi one of the urgent tasks to be accomplished was the final embellishment of his grave in the Great Northern London Cemetery. What could be more appropriate than an artistic memorial - simple but impressive - erected above the grave itself? Unfortunately the possibility of bringing his precious remains to the holy mountain[*] he had so greatly beautified had to be discarded - even if seriously discussed because no means of transportation was available at the time that would allow the transfer of the body to the Holy Land in one hour's time, a requirement for Bahá'í burial laid down by Bahá'u'lláh Himself.

    * Mt. Carmel, in Haifa

Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum conceived the idea that a memorial of the finest Italian marble, in the form of a column,[**] would most fittingly glorify the existence and honour the labours of the Guardian of the Cause of God. The design was to be simple and yet impressive, denoting in its graciousness some of the characteristics possessed by Shoghi Effendi. After preliminary drawings and inquiries concerning the marble and other details, a meeting was arranged in Rome between Ruhiyyih Khanum and Professor Rocca - the architect for the marble of the Shrine of the Báb and the International Archives. During this conference, ideas were exchanged and technical and artistic details discussed. A final project was drafted and approved, the work to be executed in less than six months in and around the marble capital of the world, Carrara.

** In ancient Rome, from the beginning of the Kingdom through the Republic and the Empire, when a personage was to be highly honoured or an event glorified, the State would erect columns, triumphal arches or statues of rare marbles, adorned with gilded bronze, in the city proper or in the Forum. It is reported that at one time, hundreds of columns and triumphal arches had been erected in the centre of Rome.

Little can this writer understand why the hand of fate made it imperative that he should witness the sad days immediately following the passing of his beloved Guardian and then be called upon to supervise the preparation of the marble and other material needed for the erection of the memorial to the one he so deeply loved and venerated.

The marble chosen was 'Carrara Statuary', from a quarry which has provided the finest stone for countless works of art throughout the world.

The memorial to Shoghi Effendi called for a low platform rising from the ground in three steps, in the centre of which the column would be placed, topped by a beautifully carved Corinthian capital. A model was chosen from the finest and rarest examples of Corinthian art still in existence in the City of Rome.[*]

    * A Temple initiated by Augustus in the heart of Rome, and completed by his son-in-law, Marcus Agrippa, in the year 27 B.C., is still in existence and is known as the Pantheon. In the Middle Ages it was converted into the Christian church of Santa Maria Rotonda. The sixteen huge columns of its front portico hold aloft the capitals taken by Professor Rocca as a prototype.

Placed upon the capital is a globe of the same marble, representing our planet, and traced in low relief with the various continents. It is oriented in such a way that the continent of Africa faces east towards the Qiblih of our Faith, for Africa was one of the continents visited and much loved by Shoghi Effendi. Perched on top of this globe is a gilded, bronze adult eagle, ready to start its flight, with one wing fully extended and the other in the process of opening. Both the eagle and the inscription engraved on the body of the column, half-way between the base and the capital, also face the Qiblih.

The reason the eagle was placed there is twofold: Shoghi Effendi deeply admired eagles because, as he often stated, 'the eagle is the symbol of victory', and for this reason he had placed many marble and lead eagles upon pedestals around the Bahá'í gardens both on Mt. Carmel and at Bahji. Moreover, in his room he had a silver eagle of Japanese origin, mounted upon a piece of hardwood simulating a rock, and this he much admired for its beauty, faultless execution and verisimilitude.

Later, this decorative trophy was brought to Italy and delivered to me. I entrusted it to a sculptor who reproduced the eagle - enlarged six times - first in clay, and then in gypsum. It was then cast in bronze, electroplated in silver, and taken to Florence for fire-gilding.

While the marble work was being executed in Italy, Ruhiyyih Khanum purchased in England a large quantity of Dover-stone balustrade - possibly from some lordly estates now being dismantled - to enclose the plot of land where the monument was to be erected. The balustrade was of fine workmanship with a strong Palladian influence, much resembling the balustrade chosen by Shoghi Effendi for the balconies of the International Archives on Mt. Carmel.

Stone urns - similar to those in the gardens around the Tomb of Bahá'u'lláh - were also purchased by her for the corners of the enclosure, and a beautiful wrought-iron monumental gate for the entrance to the sacred enclave.

During the month of October 1958, hardly one year after the Guardian's passing, Ruhiyyih Khanum was in London to supervise the erection and completion of the sepulchre.

The text of the inscription on the column is taken from the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, as follows:

Shoghi Effendi, 3 March 1896 - 4 November 1957

"Behold he is the blest and sacred bough that has Branched out from the Twin Holy Trees. Well is it with him that seeketh the Shelter of his shade that Shadoweth all mankind."

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