David Brider (davidbrider) wrote,
David Brider

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Following Richard - Leicester Cathedral

I last visited Leicester Cathedral on March 27th 2015, the Friday of the week in which Richard III's remains were taken, in their lead-lined oak coffin, from Leicester University, to Fenn Lane Farm, where it is believed Richard died in the Battle of Bosworth; to Dadlington, burial site of many killed in the battle; to St James church in Sutton Cheney, where it is believed Richard spent time in prayer on the night before the battle; to Boswort Battlefield Heritage Centre; to Market Bosworth, Newbold Verdon and Desford, before arriving at Leicester via the city's Bow Bridge, and finally to the Cathedral, where the coffin remained on display for people to pay their respects before Thursday 26th, when the remains were re-interred. On the Friday, shortly before I arrived, the new tomb was revealed at a special service (I heard some of the service as I was driving around Leicester attempting to find a car park; insert joke here...). Later in the afternoon, I joined a lengthy queue of people waiting to enter the Cathedral and make our way to the tomb. Despite the large crowd, there was no rush as we paid our respects to England's last Plantagenet monarch.

That evening, Leicester was alight. Candles were lit, as were large bowls of fire. People thronged the streets. Some of us made our way to the King Richard III Visitor Centre where we were invited to light candles which were laid in the shape of a crown in the Centre's courtyard. Shortly thereafter, there was a firework display. The mood of sombre reflection gave way to one of celebration, as afternoon gave way to dusk and then to evening. Leicester is clearly proud of its association with Richard.

That pride was no less obvious when I visited again on Friday August 19th 2016. The local council has hung many signs around the city drawing attention to its links with the King, including in and around the Cathedral gardens. The gardens themselves were redesigned in 2014 - the look, whilst quite modern, is still sympathetic to the look and feel of the Cathedral itself. Part of the redesign included the reinstatement of a statue of Richard, sword in his right hand and crown held triumphantly in his left. The statue, which had previously stood in Leicester's Castle Gardens, was sculpted by James Butler and was donated by the Richard III Society to Leicester in 1980.

The Cathedral itself is part of the Church of England. It became a Cathedral in 1927; before that, it was the Church of St Martin, and although much of it was the result of an 1860s restoration by architect Raphael Brandon, the church dates back as far as 1086, so Richard would have probably been familiar with it in some way, shape or form - in life, as well as in death, he and his family had connections with the city.

I had suspected that, being the day before Bosworth Battlefield Centre's annual battle reenactment weekend, there may be heavy crowds again. To my relief, that was not the case. I wasn't alone in my visit - indeed, I'd missed, by slightly over an hour, a guided tour - but there were maybe a couple of dozen other people, at most, in various stages of wandering through the Cathedral. A lady greeted me as I entered the cathedral, and offered me a laminated floor plan of the cathedral. Various areas around the cathedral were numbered, and on the reverse of the sheet each numbered area had a five-line explanation. Very helpful. While I was there, I bought a couple of printed pamphlets - A Short Guide to Leicester Cathedral and Richard's Story, Our Story.

Although the gothic stylings of Brandon's restoration seemed a trifle overbearing, nevertheless the Cathedral was a peaceful place to walk around on a Friday afternoon, reflecting on my own spiritual journey. I was aided in this by the large notice boards dotted around the Cathedral which discuss aspects of Richard's life, death and legacy, connecting them with aspects of the Christian life (these are reproduced in the Richard's Story Our Story pamphlet). Sometimes the connections seem tenuous, sometimes on point. It's worth bearing in mind that Richard himself was a devoted Christian.

The tomb itself is - almost certainly of architectural necessity - tucked round the back of the Cathedral, out of sight of the main congregational area, between St Dunstan's Chapel and the Chapel of Christ the King, occupying its own semi-private space. The tombstone is of a modern, simplistic design - a block of white Swaledale stone, bisected with a cross, atop a plinth of black Kilkenny marble inscribed with Richard's name, dates, and motto - Loyaulte me lie, "Loyalty binds me." Also, in the corner of the area containing the tomb, is a standard bearing Richard's motif, the white boar.

I spent some time there, just as I had the previous March. As I've said before, I don't know - can't even begin to explain - why I feel so drawn to the person of Richard, but it seems to matter to me that I can pay him my respects. It also matters to me that, after centuries in which his reputation has been unfairly maligned, his character has over the past few decades - and increasingly since the rediscovery of his remains - been re-assessed, and now he's been given a decent burial, afforded some actual respect at last.

After my time at the tomb, I continued to walk around the cathedral, eventually making my way to the west doors, near which, in a display case, is the pall which covered Richard's coffin on its journey to the Cathedral. Designed by Jacquie Binns, it's a beautifully embroidered piece containing on one side images representing people who Richard would have known in his life, and on the other, images of people connected with the discovery of his remains. Also in the display case is a crown designed for the re-interment by writer and Ricardian John Ashdown-Hill. Like the tomb itself, both lovingly crafted artifacts serve as poignant tributes to England's last Plantagenet monarch.

After admiring the pall and crown for a while, I made my way to the south door, returned the laminated floor plan to its little cardboard box, and left the Cathedral for a rainy Leicester afternoon.

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