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Leicester Cathedral and King Richard III

01 March 2013


From the Revd Peter Hobson
Sir, - As someone who is not part of Leicester Cathedral, but works closely alongside it, in charge of St Martins House, next door, I would like to challenge misapprehensions in recent correspondence about the plans for the reinterment of King Richard III, most recently from the Revd Peter Blackman and the Revd Dr Nicholas Cranfield ( Letters, 22 February).

I am not sufficiently versed in medieval history to take direct issue with Mr Blackman's account of Richard's misdeeds on his way to the throne, but I am informed enough to know that the verdict of history is almost always both contested and ultimately unprovable. What is beyond doubt, to me, is that burial in consecrated ground with prayer is not a reward for virtue, but a recognition of the fact that we all stand ultimately before the judgement of God. It should be denied to neither Christian pauper nor prince, whatever their alleged character.

As for the suggestion from both writers that what motivates those responsible for decision-making in Leicester Cathedral is merely some form of competitive tourism, the kindest thing that I can say about that is that it is unworthy of them to suggest that of fellow-clerics. Of course the reinterment, with appropriate prayers, of Richard will be a very significant occasion; and of course his ultimate resting-place will attract significant interest into the future. To imagine anything other would be disingenuous. But it has to happen somewhere, and, wherever that is, these questions will arise.

I know, from close acquaintance with those involved, that foremost among their concerns is managing this unique opportunity to enable those visiting to experience the qualities of life of a working cathedral as a place of prayer; to reflect on the historic ties between Church and monarchy as they are mediated in a fast-changing present context; and to be given food for thought on questions of ultimate meaning in the face of life and death.

Cathedrals are also frequently able to be closer to the heart of the life of their cities and communities than other parts of the Church. Leicester's is certainly widely seen as achieving all of that in one of Britain's most culturally and faith-diverse cities. Laying Richard to rest there has been widely welcomed locally by those of all faiths and none.

To do all this in and through buildings, of course, requires resourcing - as every parish church, let alone cathedral, in the land is aware. If thought is also given to enabling that resource to be found in part by contribution from the many visitors, then is that so surprising? The important question is: how is that to be done?

Suggestions from outside that it is being contemplated without proper thought for all these important matters are disappointing. I live and work here, and I think that we are working hard on getting it right.

St Martins House, 7 Peacock Lane
Leicester LE1 5PZX

From Mr Christopher Wain
Sir, - While I would not want to go so far in King Richard III's exoneration as some of the enthusiasts of the Richard III Society, I think that the Revd Peter Blackman is a little unfair in suggesting that to give Richard a last resting-place in consecrated ground is "inappropriate".

Yes, Richard was a ruthless political operator who, like all politicians down to Tony Blair and David Cameron, had opponents who are inclined to interpret every piece of evidence in the worst possible way - and one of them did so in a hugely memorable work of literature.

Richard (probably) disposed of his nephews, having seen in the last generation the difficult position of a Lord Protector whose thankless protégé was able to take up his place in his own right. But the matter can never be finally resolved, and, as Christians, we should surely give him the benefit of the doubt.

If we are going to refuse Christian burial to those whose policies, for better or worse, involved the massacre of hundreds and thousands, many of whom were innocents who were little threat anyway, we should perhaps start by asking the Dean of Windsor whether we can dig up King Henry VIII.

52 Sutton Avenue
Staffordshire ST5 6TB

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