LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster said the faith of Queen Elizabeth II “has been an inspiration” to him, upon learning of her death on Thursday at the age of 96.

The queen came to the throne in 1952, serving as head of state for the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms – including nations such as Canada, Australia and Jamaica – for 70 years.

The royal palace said Elizabeth died peacefully at Balmoral Palace in Scotland during the afternoon. Her family had gathered to be by her side, and Charles – now king – will return to London on Friday.

In his remarks, Nichols remembered the queen’s decades of service.

“On April 21, 1947, on her twenty-first birthday, Princess Elizabeth said, ‘I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.’ Now, seventy-five years later, we are heartbroken in our loss at her death, and so full of admiration for the unfailing way in which she fulfilled that declaration,” the cardinal said.

“Even in my sorrow, shared with so many around the world, I am filled with an immense sense of gratitude for the gift to the world that has been the life of Queen Elizabeth II.”

Nichols also noted the strong faith of the queen, who served as head of the Church of England, and often referenced Christian themes in her messages to the people, especially at Christmas.

“This faith, so often and so eloquently proclaimed in her public messages, has been an inspiration to me, and I am sure, to many,” he said.

“The wisdom, stability and service which she consistently embodied, often in circumstances of extreme difficulty, are a shining legacy and testament to her faith. Our prayer is that she is now received into the merciful presence of God, there to be reunited with her beloved Prince Philip,” the cardinal continued, referencing the queen’s husband, who died last year at the age of 99.

Bishop Hugh Gilbert, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, also offered his condolences.

“It was with great sadness, that we learned today of the death of Her Majesty the Queen. Her life of outstanding service during a reign of 70 years stands as an example of dedicated public service in our own country, across the Commonwealth and around the world,” he said.

“Her determination to remain active to the end of her long life, has been an example of Christian leadership, which demonstrated her great stoicism and commitment to duty and was undoubtedly a source of stability and continuity in times of great change,” the bishop added.

In a statement on Twitter, Archbishop William Nolan of Glasgow said: “In her long reign Queen Elizabeth was a powerful witness to Christian faith and an extraordinary example of fidelity to duty. We mourn not just the death of our queen but the death of a good woman. May she rest in peace.”

During her lifetime, Elizabeth met with five popes, beginning with Pius XII in 1951 before she ascended the throne.

As queen, she met with John XXIII in 1961; Pope John Paul II in 1980, 1982, and 2000; Pope Benedict in 2010, and Pope Francis in 2014.

During her reign, there have been 15 British prime ministers, beginning with Winston Churchill. The 15th is Liz Truss, who was only appointed by the Queen on Tuesday.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome