Monday 23 February 2015
Soon King Richard III will be reburied in Leicester Cathedral, watched by very many people around the globe. The interest is intense and Leicester, city and county will be in the spotlight. Completing all the arrangements has taken months of focused planning. But throughout, the intention has always been to accord him in burial the dignity we, or any other human being, might wish for or deserve, and to give him the honour due to an anointed king of this country. May he now rest in peace.
The programme for the week very clearly picks up these intentions. His bones, the subject of archaeological interest, will now rest in a coffin and, making their final journey from the battlefield to the Cathedral, recover the lost dignity of that earlier ignominious journey some 500+ years ago. But this is not just about one man, for that journey will also recall the many who died on Bosworth Field, that turning point in English history. Which leads us also to remember other turning points and deaths on the field of battle.
King Richard III remains a controversial figure in death as in life, and we may never know the truth of it. His tomb will not be a place of veneration, for no saint is to be buried in Leicester Cathedral. But, through his presence there, because of the very public ongoing debate about his life, he will remind us of our own capacity to be both saint and sinner. Here we have a flawed human being, striving, in faith, to reach God – as we know from his well-thumbed Book of Hours, his daily prayer book. Reburial liturgies will reflect both the prayer rhythms of then and now, reminding us of the continuity of prayer over the centuries, a continuity which lies at the heart of Cathedral worship and in all our mediaeval parish churches.
Among those present at the reinterment will be people whose role or historical connections take us right back to the Battle of Bosworth, as well as today’s civic and Church leaders alongside many members of the general public. We are thus reminded also of the continuity of history, and the weight of authority and responsibility which reside in our national structures. Reinterring an anointed King is a fitting occasion to reflect upon the role of monarchy, Government and civic authorities – and what the relationships between them are.
King Richard III’s tomb design provoked animated discussion. The Cathedral has been reordered, creating both an appropriate location for the tomb, alongside an excitingly larger and more effective worship space, while retaining the natural beauty of the building, including the screen. With an incised cross and facing the great east window, with its figure of Christ triumphant, the tomb speaks of resurrection hope, which lies at the heart of both King Richard’s faith and ours. In considering not only tomb design, but the manner in which King Richard is reinterred, including the words and liturgies spoken, we may be challenged to reflect upon our own understanding of life and death.
King Richard III’s reburial date is 26 March – three days before Palm Sunday, when the Church remembers Jesus riding into Jerusalem prior to his brutal and untimely death. The juxtaposition of this warrior king riding into battle at the forefront of his army also shortly to die – the last English King so to do in battle – contrasts starkly with the King of kings riding into the Holy City on a donkey or foal. King Richard III’s golden crown (whose replica we shall see in the Cathedral) contrasting with Jesus’ crown of thorns. Heavenly and earthly authorities, the relationship between them and our place within that – plenty here too to ponder!
Hopefully reinterment week will be for you and for many a time of great interest but also of solemnity, reflection and prayer, as we finally lay the mortal remains of an earthly king to rest, while at the same time begin to anticipate the death and resurrection of our heavenly King, just over a week later. As you watch the King Richard III ceremonies on TV, do engage with both the words and ceremonials, all of which aim to take us on a journey far beyond simply the burial of a set of bones – a spiritual encounter, no less.
P.S. Check out the www.kingrichardinleicester.comfor more information about what is happening, interesting updates and for further thinking on the legacy themes touched upon in this article.
The Revd Canon Alison Adams
Leicester Cathedral and King Richard III education and community legacy lead