Thousands of mourners lined the streets of Cambridge, England, on Saturday for the funeral of Stephen Hawking.
The world-renowned physicist, who had motor neurone disease, died on March 14 at the age of 76. His funeral was held at Great St. Mary’s Church — steps from Gonville and Caius College in the University of Cambridge, where he spent 52 years as a research fellow and lecturer.
Family and friends attended the service, including actor Eddie Redmayne. The 36-year-old actor has a special connection to Hawking, having won the Best Actor Academy Award for his turn playing him in the 2014 movie The Theory of Everything.
Redmayne was also one of the first people to mourn Hawking after his death, telling PEOPLE in a statement: “We have lost a truly beautiful mind, an astonishing scientist and the funniest man I have ever had the pleasure to meet. My love and thoughts are with his extraordinary family.”
At Saturday’s service, Redmayne was one of several speakers, the BBC reported — reading from Ecclesiastes 3.1-11. Hawking’s eldest son Robert gave his father’s eulogy, as did Astronomer Royal Martin Rees and former student Fay Dowker.
Two bouquets of flowers were placed upon his coffin, the BBC reported, as his body was transported from his home in Cambridge to the university church. One, of white lilies, was put there as a symbol of the universe; another, of white roses, were meant to represent the polar star.
Bells from the church rang out 76 times to remember each year of Hawking’s life, the BBC reported.
Though Hawking was an outspoken atheist, his family said they wanted a traditional church funeral so that many people whose lives he touched could pay their respects.
“On behalf of our whole family we want to express our huge gratitude to all the wonderful tributes to our father and to those who have sent us messages of condolence,” Hawking’s children Lucy, Robert and Timothy said in a statement obtained by The Telegraph.
“Our father lived and worked in Cambridge for over 50 years. He was an integral and highly recognizable part of the university and the city. For this reason, we have decided to hold his funeral in the city that he loved so much and which loved him.”
The statement continued: “Our father’s life and work meant many things to many people, both religious and non-religious. So, the service will be both inclusive and traditional, reflecting the breadth and diversity of his life. We would like to thank Gonville and Caius College, the University of Cambridge and Trinity College, Cambridge for their assistance with our father’s funeral service.”
Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurons disease at 21 years of age in 1963 and was given two years to live. As his condition worsened, Hawking gradually began to lose his ability to move, slowly being able to communicate by using a single cheek muscle that was attached to a device that allowed him to speak.
Despite his diagnosis, he continued his studies at Cambridge University and went on to change the subject of cosmology.
Westminster Abbey will host a Service of Thanksgiving later this year in Hawking’s honor, NBC News reported. His ashes are expected to be placed near Sir Isaac Newton’s grave in the Abbey.