King Richard III’s tomb has been designed by the architects van Heningen and Haward, who are the architects commissioned for the reordering of the Cathedral as a more effective place of worship and mission.

Location

The tomb sits within an ambulatory (a walking space) between the newly created Chapel of Christ the King at the east end of the Cathedral and the sanctuary (the most holy place, signified by the main altar) under the tower.  This is a place of similar significance to the chancel where the Grey Friars buried King Richard in their church.

This is a peaceful space for people to visit and reflect.  The location is discretely shielded from the main worship area by the relocated Nicholson screen.  The Cathedral’s primary role as the seat of the Bishop and a centre of mission and worship will be enhanced by this change.

Design

The tomb is designed to help visitors reflect on key Christian themes as well as the story of a particular English king.

The starting point for the design of the tomb was the light breaking through the entrance to the tomb of Jesus – an image of Easter morning and the resurrection.  The deep cut in the stone will allow light to flood through it, symbolising that death is not the end, but that we all receive new life in Christ.

The stone is broadly the shape and size of a sarcophagus, so it takes up the volume of a human being.  It is tilted slightly, as if rising to meet the risen Jesus.  For centuries Christians have been buried with their feet in the east and heads in the west, ready to stand and face Jesus when he returns – usually assumed to rise again in the east just as the sun rises in the east each morning.

The cut is cross shaped, to show that this new life was won through the death of Jesus, a Christian belief which would have been fundamental to King Richard himself (John Ashdown-Hill, in his book ‘The last days of King Richard III’ describes the crucifix found on the field at Bosworth and imagines Richard taking the sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus before battle began.)[1]

Materials

The stone chosen is a Swaledale fossil stone, quarried in North Yorkshire.  It was chosen not only because it will polish to a fine finish, but also because the fossils within it are long dead creatures immortalised now in stone.

The darker Kilkenny marble plinth frames the tomb and provides a beautiful surface for letter cutting – the cut surfaces will appear white – which ensures that the details of Richard’s name, dates and motto can be clearly read.

King Richard’s importance and characteristics are recognised in the inlaid stone coat of arms (pietra dura) which is made in a variety of marble and semi-precious stones.

Burial

In considering the method of reinterment, the cathedral took into account the views of the scientific community, the heritage groups, the Richard III Society and the Church of England.

Richard’s remains are laid in a lead ossuary which is itself placed in a coffin made from English oak.  The coffin is then placed in a brick lined vault below the floor of the Cathedral, before the tomb stone seals it closed.

King Richard III tomb from southAbove: the tomb as seen from St Dunstan’s chapel

More information about the thinking behind the design can be found at the King Richard III in Leicester website.


[1] John Ashdown-Hill, The Last Days of Richard III (Stroud, Glos: The History Press, 2011) p.77-79