After the presentation the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, who has been having palliative treatment in hospital for the past week, had a private audience with the Queen.
A spokesman for Cardinal Hume, who is Archbishop of Westminster, said: "The Cardinal had signified that it was his fervent wish to go to the Palace to receive the award from the Queen. He returned to Archbishop's House for a brief meeting with his staff before returning to hospital."
Cardinal Hume is the first Roman Catholic bishop to be appointed by the Queen to the Order of Merit. The appointment is the Queen's own choice and is awarded, without ministerial advice, to individuals of exceptional distinction. The Cardinal said he was "deeply touched" by the appointment, which is the 161st since the Order's foundation in 1902 by Edward VII.
The Cardinal, 76, revealed six weeks ago that he had cancer, saying it was "not in its early stages". In a letter to his clergy he expressed his wish to carry on working as much as possible for as long as possible. But yesterday he cancelled an engagement at a flower festival which forms part of the Corpus Christi celebrations at Arundel Cathedral, West Sussex.
The spokesman said: "His condition is comfortable, but he has a terminal illness which is inevitably restricting him. He is following his doctors' advice as to the engagements he undertakes and he is consulting them about his future care."
The Order of Merit is limited in numbers, to the Sovereign and 24 members. Present members include the Duke of Edinburgh, Baroness Thatcher, Dame Joan Sutherland, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, Sir John Gielgud, Sir Norman Foster and Sir Dennis Rooke. President Mandela was appointed an honorary member in 1995.
Past British members included Florence Nightingale and Lord Lister, for their contributions to medicine, the artists Alma Tadema and Holman Hunt, the sculptor Henry Moore, the composer Edward Elgar, the writers Thomas Hardy and Graham Greene, and the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell.Reuse content