A single cry rang out: 'Mr Aznar, I hold you responsible for the death of my son!'

As members of the congregation filed by the high altar of Madrid's Almudena Cathedral to take communion from the city's archbishop, one relative who had lost a loved one in the bombings two weeks ago turned to Queen Sofia who was sitting near the altar struggling to control her own grief. The Queen grasped the woman's hands, and tears streamed down her face.

As members of the congregation filed by the high altar of Madrid's Almudena Cathedral to take communion from the city's archbishop, one relative who had lost a loved one in the bombings two weeks ago turned to Queen Sofia who was sitting near the altar struggling to control her own grief. The Queen grasped the woman's hands, and tears streamed down her face.

It was the first gesture of warmth in a ceremony rich in pomp, protocol and episcopal purple but otherwise as cold and bleak as the building in which it was held. A man stumbled towards King Juan Carlos, who took his hand then shook out a white monogrammed handkerchief and blew his nose, his face congested with emotion.

More than 30 bishops, cardinals and archbishops presided over the first state funeral that modern Spain has held for non-members of the royal family.

Some 2,000 people filled the cathedral, the Spanish royal family, including Prince Felipe and his fianceé, the two princesses and their spouses, plus political leaders, royals and representatives of more than 50 countries - and some 600 bereaved relatives. Only the cream robes of the Moroccan King's brother, Prince Mulay, and the motley garb of the stricken families broke the black-clad ranks of mourners.

Huge screens and hundreds of chairs were placed outside the cathedral for the public. But the screen provided only mute pictures, and freezing drizzle deterred all but a few dozen. Streets around the cathedral had been closed off from Tuesday in a security operation that compounded the funereal atmosphere.

As the outgoing Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, took his place, before the ceremony opened with the dirge-like Spanish national anthem, one man cried out, his voice breaking: "Mr Aznar, I hold you responsible for the death of my son!" The King and Queen Sofia turned their heads to the sound, but seconds later the organ music and singing began.

It was Mr Aznar's first significant public appearance since the elections that threw him from power last Sunday week. He looked haggard. Outbursts of grief and sobbing periodically interrupted the solemn ceremony while flocks of clerics in billowing gilded robes wove to and fro with candles, chalices and incense burners.

"Great pain has filled your lives and those of your families since that black day in which brutal terrorist violence ended the lives of those whom you dearly loved," the Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Jose Maria Rouco Varela, said in his sermon.

He urged Spaniards to reject "exasperated nationalism, racism and intolerance" and to counter "blind violence and inhuman hate with the fascinating power of love."

High above the altar was draped a vast white sheet hung with a black twisted banner in a symbol of mourning. The monochrome backdrop matched the bleached interior of the cathedral, and contributed to the overall lugubrious chill.

After the service the royal family moved among the pews and greeted each family member individually. The spontaneous expression of royal sympathy sidestepped the rigid protocol of state functions, and kept representatives of the world's political establishment waiting for more than half an hour. Every bereaved relative received a word and a sympathetic ear from each Spanish royal.

The contrast between the elegance of the dignitaries and the crushed demeanour of the families could not have been starker. These were working class Madrileños, some in Sunday best, others in lumpy bomber jackets or fleeces, all wretched with grief. Some wept. Others seemed dazed to the point of catatonia. One woman stood rigid in the aisle holding a photograph of her son. Otherwise, the thousands of rosy flickering candles at Atocha and other stations offered warmer consolation to a nation still grieving.

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