One week in Leicester –
a personal reflection on Richard III’s Reinterment Week
In March this year, concluding a month-long trip through Europe, my husband and I spent a week in Leicester. But not any old week, but the week, Richard III’s Reinterment Week. For me, and undoubtedly many others, this was a once in a lifetime experience. What follows is a very subjective trip down memory lane.
We arrived Sunday early afternoon by coach. As we walked through the crowded city to our hotel, we could feel the excitement. After checking in, I made my way to Jubilee Square – after catching up with several friends from New Zealand, who were just arriving at the hotel. At Jubilee Square, I met up with some other friends to wait for the cortege. The square was packed with people of a wide variety of cultural background, all waiting in anticipation, which gave it a very festive atmosphere. Eventually we heard the helicopters coming closer and closer, circling over for a short stop of the cortege at St Nicholas Church. And then the moment was there: we saw King Richard’s coffin pass by. The crowd fell silent and the previously festive mood changed to a more solemn and respectful one. The simple oak coffin was exposed and the sunshine showed the woodgrain in all its beauty.
Monday offered the chance to catch up with more friends at the Richard III Society Buffet. I had been lucky to win a ticket for the Society Memorial Service in the evening. It was both dignified and poignant and also spoke to me on a religious level. After getting to know a woman from Toronto and a man from Derby in the queue while waiting outside, we happened to sit in St George’s Chapel, which meant that though we could not see the proceedings of the service, we had a good view of Richard III’s coffin. The sermon was given by Tim Stevens, the Bishop of Leicester, who reflected on King Richard’s unity with Christ through baptism, which applies to all of us. The music was beautiful. For me it was particularly poignant to hear Graham Keitch’s ‘In memoriam: Ricardus Rex’ sung by such a wonderful choir with the acoustics of the cathedral. This piece has been a favourite of mine since obtaining Graham’s permission to play it at the Australasian Convention in Sydney in 2013. After the service, we had the opportunity to pay our respects at Richard’s coffin and admire the magnificently embroidered pall.
On the Wednesday, we went to Bosworth. A quick look around the picturesque village of Market Bosworth, before we caught the shuttle bus to the Battlefield Centre. We took part in a trip to the actual site of the battle and in the evening listened to Richard Knox and Dominic Smee talking about “Arming King Richard III for Battle”, a fascinating insight into medieval armament. However, the most interesting part was a chat with Richard and Liz of the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Society about the latest interpretations of the finds on the battlefield. We can’t thank both of them enough for taking this time out of their busy schedule to talk to us.
As Thursday started rather grey and drizzly, I watched the actual Reinterment Service on TV, together with some friends from the NSW Branch in the lobby of our hotel. While I thought it was beautifully done, it did not have the same immediacy of the Society Service, when I had been in the church. The normal hotel activities continued in the background and the captions on the TV screen were sometimes quite unintentionally funny. For instance, a prayer ended “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, are men” and there was talk of the “profits of the Old Testament” (instead of “prophets”). All these distractions, not to mention an eye-rolling historian on the screen, just did not allow for the same solemnity. In spite of this, the most incredible moment was, when Richard’s coffin was lowered into the grave, the clouds separated and the sun came through, at least where we were sitting.
It was a nice touch to see Richard reunited with his Book of Hours – and, when we went to explore the New Walk Museum a couple of hours later, to be able to see it afterwards for myself.
In the evening, we attended the one-off performance of the Middleham Requiem by Geoff Davidson in the packed church of St James the Greater. An experience which won’t easily be forgotten.
On Friday, Richard III’s tomb was revealed in a special service. A few hours later, the queues were not too daunting and we were able to see the tomb for ourselves. When I had first seen the plans, I had not been sure whether I liked them. However, seeing the tomb “face to face” convinced me that it is absolutely right. The Swaledale limestone with its embedded fossils is beautiful. The surrounding tiles with the little roses carved into some of them were a lovely touch.
At this time, the flower arrangements by Rosie Hughes and the floral team could be admired in all its glory. In the beginning of the week, the Cathedral had only been decorated with foliage, which all came from plants which are native to Britain and which Richard would have known in his life time: holly, yew, ivy, rosemary, and willow. Now there were flower arrangements everywhere. They included Madonna Lilies, which have for a long time been associated with the Virgin Mary in Christian paintings, and the day of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (25 March) fell this year on the Wednesday during Reinterment Week. With particular relevance to Richard III, there were white roses for the House of York and genista for the Plantagenet Family.
While we were waiting to enter the Cathedral, candles in the Cathedral Gardens were being lit. These were some of the approx. 8000 candles, which were set up in the area around the Cathedral and Jubilee Square as part of “Leicester Glows”. I was amazed how long the candles burnt, they were lit at approx. 5 pm and lasted the whole evening. The event concluded with fireworks, which we watched with a group of friends in front of the Cathedral. It was a fitting finale of all the various events of Richard III’s Reinterment Week.
There were so many other events during the week that it was impossible to fit them all into our schedule. We did, however, manage to visit some of the other sites of historical interest in Leicester, like the Castle, Wygston’s House with its impressive ceiling, peaceful Abbey Park and the impressive Visitors’ Centre. A special ‘thank you’ to a local friend for taking a friend and me on a guided tour of the remains of the Church of the Annunciation and Trinity Hospital.
I would like to express my thanks to the clergy of Leicester Cathedral, who not only gave Richard a dignified and respectful reinterment, but were outstanding in their interaction with the public. Having experienced a church where the minister found it hard to chat with his own parishioners, never mind the general public, this was inspiring.
I would also like to thank Leicester City Council and all the people of Leicester, who gave all the visitors who invaded their city such a warm welcome. The city has been regarded as a success story in multiculturalism and this is an impression that even a short time visitor like me can take home.
And last, but by no means least, Reinterment Week offered me a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old and new friends from all over the world. There were friends whom I hadn’t seen in years due to distance, people who had become good friends via Facebook whom I could finally meet face to face, and others whom I only met during the week, but who will remain friends. All these memories will stay with me – thank you!