LEICESTER Cathedral, formed in 1927 from the Church of St
Martin, is architecturally unprepossessing and has modest
resources; and yet we have discovered that these are not
impairments to Christian witness.
A recent report from Theos, Spiritual Capital, in which it was one of
six cathedrals researched in depth, showed that 88 per cent of the
respondents affirmed Leicester Cathedral to be a "beacon of the
Christian faith" (
Comment, 19 October). The new gardens scheme (News,
28 September) signals a growing confidence - the cathedral
literally taking its place in the public square.
We believe that the finding of what could be the remains of King
Richard III (
News, 14 September, 5
October), which may be reinterred in the cathedral, will assist
us even further to develop Christian confidence in a public
Miroslav Volf's A Public Faith (Brazos Press, 2011)
emerges from his background in the former Yugoslavia, which, like
Leicester, is a multifaith area. He shows that the debates about
faith's acting in the public square tend to emphasise how faith
malfunctions. It can become "idle", spinning self-referentially
like a "tyre stuck in an icy hole", he says.
It is often said that Churches that become concerned with
themselves become unable to act or speak. At the other pole, and
with countless examples of faith wedded to violence, he shows how
faith can become "coercive".
Our experience in Leicester over 20 years suggests other
possibilities. The English Defence League has come twice recently
to our city to protest, making the Muslim community feel
threatened. Each time, the cathedral became the natural default
venue, where people of all faiths and none gathered in solidarity
with those under attack.
Volf's "idle faith" would result in the cathedral's ignoring
what was going on in its community, or failing to recognise that it
had something to offer. Coercive faith would lead to Christians'
and others' fuelling the fires further, through a misreading of
Islam, or a patriotism defined narrowly by a selective Christian
IN MOMENTS such as these, we have recognised that it is the
presence of our neighbours - people from other faiths, those in our
civic and church gatherings - who have pulled us from idleness and
saved us from coerciveness. In addition, their questions mean that
we need constantly to give an account of the "hope that is within
us" (1 Peter 3.15). So how will Richard III help?
First, monarchy points beyond the transient to the eternal. The
Queen began her Jubilee Tour in Leicester. At the heart of that
visit was a service in the cathedral. Young people read texts from
the world religions, celebrating faith.
Thousands gathered on the day, and thousands kept coming to the
cathedral the next week. This was more than being close to
"celebrity", because huge numbers lit candles and left prayers -
some for the Queen, but many for the sick, the unemployed, and the
They were drawn by monarchy; they encountered spirituality and
the eternal. Richard III came from turbulent times: history now
helps us to see beyond that uncertainty to a confidence in God.
SECOND, there are no tombs in the cathedral, although there are
many memorials. The early Christians gathered near the graves of
their brothers and sisters. They redefined the geography of their
cities by creating cemeteries around their churches. Death was no
longer confined to a necropolis. Faith in the death and
resurrection of Jesus was demonstrated publicly by bringing the
living and the dead together in one place.
With Richard III, we have someone who seems to have been buried
in haste near the cathedral. His story and potential reburial will
enable us to talk more about death and human dignity, in a culture
that tries to deny it. This contrasts with Volf's idle option,
which believes that faith has nothing to say to a contemporary
experience of death.
Alternatively, death can be so misunderstood that it cheapens
life. This is Volf's coercive option. Here, religious-based
violence forfeits us a place in the conversation, because phrases
such as "the sanctity of life" become meaningless. Instead,
Christian faith can claim death as part of life: it can foster
human worth, and address our fears, shaping our ethics and how we
deal pastorally with death.
THIRD, forgiveness and redemption need to be made real. Thomas
More and Shakespeare have provided us with one version of Richard
III, which emphasises his disability, frailty, and possible
involvement in the murder of the Princes in the Tower. Other
accounts now reject this as Tudor propaganda, and emphasise the
King's political skill and effectiveness.
If interred in the cathedral in the dust of the earth, a
defeated king, not afforded the full dignity of an anointed
monarch, would force us to ask what we believe about the redemptive
power of God.
A 17th-century epitaph to Richard concludes: "Reader, whoe'er
thou art, thy prayers bestow, T'atone my crimes and ease my pains
below." As the public condemns the "undeserving poor", and media
sometimes exercise more judgement than the courts, we urgently need
to recapture a Christian proclamation of redemption. No one should
be written off, whether defeated or victorious, politically astute
The idea of redemption recognises the necessity and gift of
forgiveness, because the death and resurrection of Jesus offers a
critique of all our actions, holding out the promise of absolution.
Institutions and public figures may have feet of clay, but
Christians remain more hopeful. This is good news for the common
If Richard III is reinterred in Leicester Cathedral, we hope
that many will encounter the Christian faith afresh. Like the
population of our city who have come from afar, and have often
known conflict, we will provide him with sanctuary, and dignified
Mission proceeds from a confidence in Christ, whose love is
eternal, who has embraced and conquered death, and whose redemption
extends to every aspect of society. A medieval king will inspire
fresh expressions of Church.
The Rt Revd Tim Stevens is the Bishop of Leicester, and the
Revd David Monteith is Canon Chancellor of Leicester