Washington has embraced George HW Bush in death with a solemn ceremony and high tributes to his service and decency.

The remains of the 41st president of the United States took their place in the Capitol Rotunda for three days of mourning and praise by the political elite and everyday citizens alike.

With Mr Bush’s casket on top of the Lincoln Catafalque, first used for Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 funeral, dignitaries came forward to honour the Texan whose efforts for his country extended three quarters of a century from the Second World War to his final years as an advocate for volunteerism and relief for people displaced by natural disaster.

President from 1989 to 1993, Mr Bush died on Friday at the age of 94.

In an invocation opening the ceremony, the US House chaplain, the reverend Patrick J Conroy, praised Mr Bush’s commitment to public service, from Navy pilot to congressman, UN ambassador, envoy to China and then CIA director before being elected vice president and then president.

“Here lies a great man,” said House speaker Paul Ryan and “a gentle soul. … His legacy is grace perfected”.

Vice president Mike Pence and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell also spoke.

But political combatants set aside their fights to honour a Republican who led in a less toxic time and at times found commonality with Democrats despite sharp policy disagreements.

Past and incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, exchanged a warm hug with former president George W Bush and came away dabbing her face. Mr Bush himself seemed to be holding back tears.

Ms Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, placed wreaths in the short ceremony before the rotunda was to be opened to the public. It was to remain open overnight.

Sent off from Texas with a 21-gun salute, Mr Bush’s casket was carried to Joint Base Andrews outside the capital city aboard an aircraft that often serves as Air Force One and designated “Special Air Mission 41” in honour of Mr Bush’s place on the chronological list of presidents.

Cannon roared again outside as the sun sank and his eldest son, George W Bush, stood with his hand over his heart, watching the casket’s procession up the steps.

Mr Bush was remembered just feet away from what he called “Democracy’s front porch”, the west-facing steps of the Capitol where he was sworn in as president.

He will lie in state in the Capitol for public visitation until Wednesday. An invitation-only funeral service is set for Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are to attend.

Although Bush’s funeral services are suffused with the flourishes accorded presidents, by his choice they will not include a formal funeral procession through Washington.