The Accidental Philanthropist

On Tuesday 2 October 2018 an evening of sound and light took place in the Cathedral when we told some of the stories the chapels hold. The scripts for the evening are shared here. The first tells the stories of the chapels and the second are some words spoken by the Dean that pulling the stories together adding a layer of context that relate to the evening.


I am the Chapel of Saint Katherine

I tell stories of how faith has inspired ordinary individuals to do great things.

St Katherine was tortured on a wheel of spikes and then executed with a sword for not giving up her faith. We are reminded of her great courage when the Catherine Wheel blazes on Bonfire Night.

I also have memorials to the Herrick family, who bought the land where the Greyfriars had stood until the Reformation.  Inadvertently, therefore, they preserved the original resting place of Richard III until he was rediscovered. Today, the Redemption windows are here, which use Richard’s story to reflect on the human experience of journey, family, grief, betrayal and death.

Elizabeth Herrick, who flourished in the nineteenth century, was a philanthropist and campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade, at a time when women did not have a strong political voice. She was a founding member of the anti-slavery society and encouraged grocers’ shops in Leicester to stop stocking sugar from the West Indies. Sadly, Elizabeth died two years before the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 was passed.

I am the Chapel of Saint Katherine.

I tell stories of how faith has inspired ordinary people to do great things.


I am the Chapel of Saint George

I tell stories of ordinary men who lived extraordinary lives.

Since 1921 I have flown the colours and been the regimental chapel of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment, now remembered as ‘The Tigers’. Our famous rugby club takes its name and colours from this regiment.

I am a place to honour and remember the lives of those who served their country from within Leicestershire. On plaques I record and remember the names of those killed in the Crimean, South African and two World Wars.

There was Private Herbert Orton. He rescued a silver cross from the burning ashes of St Martin’s Cathedral in Ypres. It rests here, in this chapel, for all to see and reflect upon. Not much is known of the brave soldier who rescued it, save that he was the son of a carriage builder and, before enlisting, was a carriage builder himself, who lived at Thornleigh Cottages in Countesthorpe.

And I honour the memory of four soldiers from the Leicestershire Regiment who received the Victoria Cross.

There was Lieutenant Colonel Philip Bent who received a commission in the Leicestershire Regiment in November 1914. He was killed in the fighting around Ypres in October 1917 when leading the Leicesters in a successful counter attack. He went ahead of his men waving his revolver and shouting “Come on the Tigers”. He died aged 26.

These were ordinary men who did extraordinary things.

I am Saint George’s Chapel and I honour and remember them.


I am the Chapel of Christ the King

I tell stories of the dedication of ordinary people to transforming the quality of life for others.

I have three windows dedicated to the Vaughan family. They were vicars of St Martins throughout the nineteenth century. David Vaughan – whose translation of Plato’s Republic was reprinted 19 times – made every possible attempt to help the working classes. He even turned down a lucrative position in Battersea to stay here. In 1862 he founded the Working Men’s Institute in Leicester’s Union Street, to bring educational opportunities to Leicester’s working classes, at rates affordable at even the lowest wage. It eventually became Vaughan College which, in 2012, celebrated its centenary.

I have a plaque to commemorate Gabriel Newton. He was a wool comber by trade who became landlord of the Horse and Trumpet Inn and in 1732 was elected as Mayor of Leicester. He left his fortune to the education of the poor, resulting in the establishment of a charity school in Leicester known as the Greencoat School, because of the uniform worn by the pupils. His school later became Alderman Newton’s School and survived until 1999.  Newton is one of the four men portrayed on Leicester’s Haymarket Memorial Clock Tower.

These were ordinary people, inspired by their faith to do wonderful things.

I am the Chapel of Christ the King and I remember them.


The Dean’s Address

Cathedrals are packed with accidental philanthropists.

People who didn’t set out to be so, but are captured by a cause or a belief and find themselves behaving in a way they didn’t anticipate.

You have heard some stories tonight about ordinary people who found themselves, because of their beliefs or circumstances, capable of unbelievable bravery or generosity.

For I use philanthropy here in its widest and most literal sense – “the love of humankind”. Indeed, Sir Francis Bacon in the 1600s considered philanthrôpía to be synonymous with ‘goodness.’

And where better to honour and remember such philanthropists than in our Cathedral?

For cathedrals are about worship, welcome and witness. These are what we exist for.

It’s quite dark this evening, so I don’t expect you will have had a good chance to see the building in detail. But many of you will be familiar with it.

Porch and chapel; pillar and spire; window, ceiling and altar – they are the product of the Victorian prosperity and the Arts & Crafts spirit of pioneering reform. The Cathedral, as it is seen and experienced today, is essentially the work and vision of philanthropic entrepreneurs from 150 years ago.

And this story of philanthropy goes on.

Our £11.3m project is about restoration of the fabric of the building, freeing up the sacred spaces, protecting the historic setting and improving visitor flow.  It’s about creativity too – a new Heritage Learning Centre – providing better interpretation, offering more hospitality, delivering inspirational learning.

Half of the project will be paid for by philanthropists. Many of them accidental!

And now I use philanthropy in its more usual sense.

Have you ever been caught in the street or at the railway station by a nice person trying to sign you up for a charity? Sometimes they capture you at the right moment, they strike a chord with your own thinking and feelings, and the next thing you know you have set up a direct debit.

But you know, the philanthropic gesture wasn’t in setting up that direct debit. It was in not cancelling it.

We are dreaming the dream about what a cathedral can be in this still young century…

It is my fervent hope that tonight we have captured you, that our music has drawn you in, that the human stories we have told you have touched your heart, that you share our vision for the Cathedral, and that you will want to help us bring it to fulfilment.

Thank you for coming. Thank you for listening. And thank you for helping.