On Sunday 24 April 2016, two windows inspired by the life of Richard III were hallowed at the scene of the English king’s reburial which took place over a year ago.
The windows are approximately 2.5m (8ft 2ins) and 1m (3ft 2ins) high and were designed by stained glass artist Thomas Denny.
They were previously plain glass and had been for about 100 years, according to the Reverend Pete Hobson.
“It’s not just telling Richard III’s story,” he said. “It’s helping the person who sees them reflect on the questions of life and death that are raised by the life and death of Richard III.”
The windows were blessed by the Right Reverend John Holbrook, in his last public service as Acting Bishop of Leicester. There then followed a presentation of thanks for all of his hard work over the past year.
Below is the video created on the making of the windows, as well as the sermon given at the service by the Very Reverend David Monteith, Dean of Leicester.
Sermon for the Dedication of Richard III Memorial Windows (made by Thomas Denny)
in the Chapel of St Katharine, Leicester Cathedral
24 April 2016
Today we celebrate the completion of the work we set out to accomplish following the arrival of the TV cameras for news of the archaeological ‘find of the century’. The TV cameras are back but now for the football. We are revealing yet again that outsiders are yet again becoming insiders, and the unprepossessing places are turning out to be much more interesting than many thought.
The cathedral’s watchwords of Dignity and Honour which have characterised this work have been vital as we have sought to do right, to do it well and to do it for God’s glory. These windows made possible by many of you here are created in contemporary idiom. They are resonant with tradition and excellence, using the same craft skills of the medieval glass makers. This landmark constructed over Roman remains has stood here for well over 1000 years. Leicester’s fortunes and confidence particularly grew in the 19th century and so this building saw work then by Brandon, Temple Moore, Street, Pearson, Bodley. In other words, these are some of the best of soaring Victorian talent. Then the Arts and Crafts movement contributed the East Window, wonderful furniture and metal work. Now in our time with renewed local confidence, we have made a good start to reveal these old stones and to make them fit for the living stones that inhabit them today whether they be tourist, worshipper, bishop, or penitent rough diamond striker from a local team!
Tom Denny won the commission for these new windows because his response to the brief we set was of a completely different order to the others. Tom was able to drill down into the fragments of the life of such a one as Richard III and rather than be perplexed by the gaps in the story or bewildered by the different accounts of this king who could be held as so good or so bad, Tom could begin to identify some universal human themes and life experiences. He could see that many of these themes are what preoccupy the pages of scripture. He could see how the Christian tradition from its psalms of lament or psalms of hope to the centrality of the cross and resurrection could make more sense of all this. Tom in his own evident sense of spirituality could somehow connect us now and all who will see these windows in years to come to the grace of God. Others may choose to record history or celebrate heraldry but a Christian church and most especially a cathedral has a bigger and deeper vocation to fulfil.
I don’t want to spoil the fun of your exploration of the windows. They have astonishing depth of colour lit by that apparently most unpromising north facing light bouncing of red-brick provincial buildings. Your eyes will catch the fragments and allusions to buried histories reframed by their proximity in glass to the central story of Jesus, displayed in his cross and resurrection.
But let me just choose two rather more obvious vignettes which are easy to spot. First, the most westerly panel shows women dealing with the dead of a battlefield. Above them are allusions to a place called Bosworth and a building resembling maybe Dadlington or Sutton Cheney church with their battlefield dead and another image of somewhere such as Stoke Golding church described as the birthplace of the Tudor dynasty! All that from long ago! Yet here on Good Friday we stood outside in solidarity with people representing all the great world faiths in the days following the events in Brussels in a month that had also seen atrocity in Ankara and the Ivory Coast. Then only days later to stand again together in vigil after all that took place in Lahore.
I of course understand why people are drawn by King Richard’s story, not least this latest chapter from car park to cathedral. And yes I do want them to reflect on what may or may not be the truth of that man. But I also want them to notice that our sisters and brothers today in places so connected now with the diaspora peoples of Leicester and Leicestershire find themselves doing as those women had to do in August 1485. And I want to be able to ask and wonder what I can do in such a world. I want to know whether or not I can still have hope and trust that in words of Archbishop Tutu ‘goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate’.
So this battle panel is flanked by confused travellers walking on the road, maybe even running away from some of the cruel things they have witnessed at the hands of the Romans. Roman capacity and skills in the violence department certainly could stand their own against medieval warfare. These travellers meet a companion and in travelling together, and in sitting down for a meal in a place named Emmaus see for themselves that ‘death is swallowed up in victory’. They find to their surprise that there is still cause to hope even when the story seemed to end with a tomb.
Secondly, we move from the macro-scale of a war to the intimacies of a family. We see a much beloved only legitimate son who was said to have been a sickly child, made Prince of Wales and heir apparent yet by April 1484 the 10 year old is dead. Desperate parents gather around a body like they do in Rainbow’s Hospice in Leicestershire. It is said that the parents were inconsolable, perhaps even contributing to Queen Anne’s own death less than a year later. Richard is said to have wept at the Queen’s funeral in Westminster.
I know it is too easy to read our understandings and experiences of grief back onto people of 500 years ago where life expectancy and the realities of illness all meant that early death was commonplace. But has human attachment changed so much? Is 15th century grief so different? The Bard of Avon speaks of being ‘crack’d in pieces by malignant death’ (Richard III). Or C.S. Lewis in the 20th century wrote as he watched his own beloved suffer and die that ‘the death of a beloved is an amputation’ (A Grief Observed). I watched my own parents’ grief following the death of my sister. Their anguish seemed much greater than my own grief for her as the natural order of things was questioned in the death of their child.
All this is shown in these windows adjacent to one such as King Richard who is being embraced by Christ. Under the shadow of the cross there is redemption. Here in this Christian proclamation suffering is anything but denied and yet suffering love is seen to be the love which saves.
You all would have been disappointed if we had not sung George Herbert’s hymn in this service with the verse ‘A man that looks on glass on it may stay his eye; or if he pleaseth through it pass, and then the heav’n espy’. But Herbert wrote another poem entitled ‘The Windows’. He is particularly writing about clergy that they should walk the walk as well as talk the talk – though I can’t quite imagine Herbert saying it like that! He notes our frailty whether pauper or king and although such be brittle and fractured, never the less those very imperfections can become the place for eternal love and goodness to become real. They can reveal unexpected and transfigurative beauty. Our prayer is that these windows might become part of that work of truth telling, the work of redemption and of making beauty which can be born out of brokenness. So Herbert writes:
‘Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?
He is a brittle crazy glass;
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.’ (The Windows, George Herbert)
© The Very Revd David Monteith