LONDON (CBSNews/AP) — Hundreds of people lined the streets of the English city of Cambridge on Saturday, breaking into applause as the hearse carrying the remains of famed British scientist Stephen Hawking arrived at the church.

Some 500 guests had been invited to the private funeral at St. Mary the Great church for the service honoring Hawking, who died on March 14 at age 76 after capturing popular imagination with his writings about space and time.

181169099 Hundreds Line Streets Of Cambridge For Stephen Hawkings Funeral

(ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Images)

Actor Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed Hawking in the 2014 biographical drama “The Theory of Everything,” gave a reading from Ecclesiastes during the service. There was also a reading by Astronomer Royal Martin Reese and eulogies by one of Hawking’s children and a former student.

The bell at Great St. Mary’s, as the church is known locally, tolled 76 times at the start of the service. A private reception was being held later at Trinity College.

The service was officiated by the Rev. Cally Hammond, Dean of Cambridge University’s Gonville and Caius College, where Hawking was a fellow for 52 years.

Flags were lowered to half-mast in many parts of Cambridge to pay tribute to Hawking.

Hawking transformed our notion of space and time, and the nature of black holes, and did it all while confined to a wheelchair and deprived of speech. Born in the English university town of Oxford in 1942, and a less-than-stellar student at first, Hawking was just 21 when he was diagnosed with ALS — Lou Gehrig’s disease — and told he had just a few years to live.

Undaunted, he defied his prognosis by decades — pursuing his research at Cambridge while communicating through computerized speech, astonishing even himself, as he once told “60 Minutes”: “For me, it is quite an achievement. I never thought I would get so far.”

Hawking became a celebrity in 1988 with the publication of his “A Brief History of Time” — one of the best-selling books about science of ALL time. His public honors were almost beyond counting. He received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. And he even made cameo appearances on “The Simpsons.”

Hawking will be cremated at a later date and his ashes are to be interred at London’s Westminster Abbey near the remains of fellow scientist Isaac Newton.

(© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)