THE day began dull and damp. The streets of Leicester were
washed with rain, and gusts of wind whipped vestments and caused
hats to be firmly clasped to the head. But the weather proved to
match the dynamic of a service that was first solemn, and then
joyful and uplifting.
The Public Orator of the University of Leicester, and one of the
liturgists who worked on the service, Professor Gordon Campbell,
told the story of Richard in his eulogy of this "son of the
Midlands", whose posthumous reputation he described as "less than
glorious", but who had the greatest following of all monarchs,
excepting the present Queen. People had assembled today in a spirit
of reconciliation, he said, and the purpose was "not to enter into
argument about whether Richard was a good king, or even a good
The coffin remained shouldered as the eulogy was read, and the
cathedral procession then led the bearer party to a plinth in front
of the altar, where it was laid. The opening prayer, from the Dean
of Leicester, the Very Revd David Monteith, was from the medieval
rite of reburial, and the opening hymn, G. K. Chesterton's "O God
of earth and altar", arranged by Vaughan Williams, contrasted the
imperfections of earthly life ("not least as exemplified by our
faltering rulers", an explanatory note suggested).
Woven into the service from the beginning was the parallel story
of the mortal remains of Joseph, carried by Moses and the Egyptians
to his homeland. "That passing over Jordan we celebrate today as we
commend the soul of Richard to God," the Dean said in his greeting,
declaring: "Here, in the cathedral, history meets the present. Here
eternity breaks into time."
Footsteps penetrated the deep silence as the Duke of Gloucester
reverently placed Richard's Book of Hours, the personal prayer book
retrieved from his tent on the battlefield, on a white cushion by
the coffin. The Collect that followed the Lord's Prayer, found only
in the medieval rite, made direct reference to the journey of
Joseph's body, concluding with the words: "Kindly and mercifully
receive us with your servant Richard, whose bones we transfer to a
new tomb today."
The male voices of the choir lent a strong monastic flavour to
the singing of Psalm 114, accompanied by the plainsong Latin
antiphon "In Paradisum". The psalm, with its focus on the miracles
of God in bringing his people out of Egypt, was followed by the
Duke of Norfolk's reading of that story from the book of Exodus.
More of it followed in Psalm 138, accompanied by the plainsong
Latin Antiphon "De terra".
In his sermon, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens,
alluded first to the triple mandate given to the Looking for
Richard Project: "Search. Find. Honour." Richard belonged, he said,
"not just to archaeologists, chroniclers, and curators, but to all
of us." Crowds in their tens of thousands had been captivated, and
had come to this ancient place of prayer "not to judge, condemn, or
praise, but to stand in rapt and reverent attentiveness".
He said: "Whether we are Ricardians or Shakespeareans, whether
we see through the eyes of Olivier, McKellen, or Cumberbatch,
whether we recognise a warrior or a scholarly, pious thinker, today
we come to accord this King, this child of God and his mortal
remains, the honour and dignity denied him in death."
The Leicester cityscape of friaries, abbeys, and castles from
which Richard had ridden to battle 500 years ago was now
embellished by mosques, temples, and gurdwaras, the Bishop said. He
is widely liked and acknowledged by the faith communities here as
the spokesmen for all of them on matters of religion. "This city,
which will be home to Richard's grave, now strives to build harmony
in place of conflict: to offer to a war-torn world a vision of
mutual respect and honour across language, culture, and belief," he
He reflected on where the coffin lay: between the chapel of
Christ the King and the high altar. "We are reminded that God's
power is not like that of kings, presidents, or prime ministers.
God is not an infinitely magnified mirror of human control. We may
no longer believe in the divine right of kings, but we still have
some way to go before we recognise the God of power whose mercy is
most fully seen in weakness."
It was not reputation, but God's mercy that was "the last word
for any of us", he concluded.
The bearer party shouldered the coffin to take it through the
gates of the Nicholas Screen to the newly created ambulatory, east
of the main sanctuary and west of the chapel of Christ the King.
The Countess of Wessex and the Duke of Gloucester, bringing up the
Book of Hours, stood by the coffin as the Archbishop of Canterbury
first asperged the coffin with water from the font, and then censed
It was the most moving part of the service, accompanied as it
was by the anthem "Ghostly Grace", specially written by the English
composer Judith Bingham. It was a mystical, deeply atmospheric
piece, the words drawn from the Revelation of St Mechtilde; Psalm
42, from a Wycliffe Bible; and the epitaph of Marmaduke Constable,
one of Richard III's inner circle: "And now he abydith God's mercy
and hath no other socire, for, as ye see him here, he lieth under
Prayers from the Archbishop began with a prayer from the
Almighty and eternal God
Creator and redeemer of souls,
Who by the prophecy of Ezekiel deigned
To bind together dry bones with sinews,
To cover them with skin and flesh,
And to put into them the breath of life:
As we return the bones of your
servant Richard to the grave,
We beseech you to grant him a
peaceful and quiet resting place,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever.
The coffin was lowered into the grave. The Archbishop scattered
a handful of soils from Fotheringhay, Middleham, and Bosworth,
symbolising the King's birth, life, and death. The words that
followed - "From the earth you formed me, with flesh you clothed
me; Lord, my Redeemer, raise me up again at the last day" -
prefaced a deep silence in the cathedral.
The responsory came from the RC Administrator of the diocese of
Nottingham, Canon Thomas McGovern.
And then came a change of mood and atmosphere, in the shift to
proclaiming and celebrating the hope of resurrection.
You could feel the tension breaking as the choir sang Philp
Moore's dramatic arrangement of Psalm 150, accompanied by the
plainsong Latin antiphon "Omnis Spiritus". Featuring four horns as
well as the organ, it was an outpouring of praise, an allegro of
joining and ever stronger voices. A gust of wind sprang up round
the cathedral, rattling the rafters.
Many familiar faces were present, but celebrities had no special
prominence at a service where everyone who had played a part in the
story was a celebrity in their own right. But Benedict Cumberbatch,
who is soon to play Richard III, read "Richard", commissioned by
the cathedral from the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, and
beginning, "My bones, scripted in light, upon cold soil, in human
Braille. My skull, scarred by a crown, emptied of history. Describe
my soul as incense, votive, vanishing; your own the same. Grant me
the carving of my name."
And then the sun poured through the stained glass, a radiance
that remained throughout the singing by the whole congregation of
the Gospel canticle, based on the Benedictus. The Dean gave the
Dismissal Gospel before the National Anthem, in a fanfare and
arrangement for the service by the Master of the Queen's Music,
Judith Weir. The congregation went out joyfully to Elgar's Organ
Sonata from the cathedral organist, Simon Headley.
The service was not the final chapter in the story. The next
day, the Reveal service was held, at which the tomb, covered now
with a 2.5-ton piece of Swaledale fossil stone, was visible for the
first time. A celebration more local and community than national
and international, it was to emphasise hope and dignity, a looking
to the future, the beating of swords into ploughshares.
Many people in this city, as the Bishop and Dean told reporters
earlier in the week, had known war first hand, and came to
Leicester to escape civil war. This service would speak to the
people of Leicester directly, in a ceremony in which the tomb was
revealed by 80 dancers from Leicester's Curve Theatre.
LEICESTER CATHEDRAL had emphasised from the outset that the
reinterment of Richard III was not to be a funeral. Despite the
King's hasty and undignified night-time burial, it is thought
inconceivable that prayers should not have been said for this
"Hello" rather than "goodbye" had thus been the dominant
thought. But, as the Dean put it to reporters this week: "There is
no escape from the fact that we are welcoming the bones in the form
of the coffin. So we are presiding over the dynamic of death."
Liturgists, historians, and musicians had all contributed to
what was a contemporary service in contemporary language but which
drew from other texts and traditions, particularly a service from
the 15th century for the reburial of high-status individuals. The
King would have organised such events in his lifetime, scholars are
assured. While neither a pastiche nor an "authentic" recreation of
a medieval service, it was very much structured on a rite
discovered in the British Library in 2009 by Dr Alexandra Buckle,
an Oxford historian.
Such a service might have been assumed to be a mass, the Canon
Precentor of Leicester Cathedral, Dr Johannes Arens, said, but it
was based on the regular pattern of prayer used by monks at the
time. The service at which the remains were brought into the
cathedral on Sunday was compline; the reinterment was morning
prayer; and the service on Friday, at which the tomb was be
revealed, was noonday prayer.
"The medieval manuscript was highly interesting," Canon Arens
said. "It showed that, while human remains were in church, the
normal pattern of prayer continued."
Major institutions in the city and county came together in
partnership to bring about the event, and the service was designed
to emphasise that that was part of the impact of King Richard in
the present day, and also the pattern of Leicester's life for the
future. The procession, too, reflected that.
Among the groups with special connections to the Richard III
story - including descendants of soldiers and personnel who fought
at the Battle of Bosworth - were clergy and parish councils
representing the villages and parishes that have had the story as
an integral part of their local heritage for over 500 years.
THE Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim Stevens, is sitting on
a low wall in the bright sunshine of the cathedral gardens, in much
demand by the media, and grateful for his chaplain's watchful
provision of coffee and croissant.
It is Wednesday morning of re-interment week, and the crowds
queuing to file past the coffin stretch as far as the eye can
Several of the cathedral canons are out and about among the
crowds, as they have been daily, answering questions, engaging in
conversation, responding to requests for prayer. Cathedral staff in
one section of the queue are offering Cadbury's Roses from a
generously large tin - a gesture that is going down well. White
roses are everywhere, most prominently on and around the statue of
The reinterment is a particularly English event, the Bishop has
just explained to press people from Scandinavia. It is the
Archbishop of Canterbury's constitutional responsibility to preside
at the burials of kings, and what they will see acted out at the
service will demonstrate the Church of England's function of
offering hospitality to Christians of other traditions and to other
"The cathedral has the role of common ground, and the grave of
Richard III can be seen in future as a place of reconciliation," he
said. "We are seeing that in the crowds around the cathedral this
morning, from all backgrounds and faith traditions, and full of
neighbourliness and goodwill. That's what monarchy can do for us,
and it's happening in front of the eyes of the world."
I ask him when he was first aware how big this might all become.
"I remember the moment when it was established beyond any doubt
that it was Richard III. . . I remember any number of moments
thinking, how do we plan a week's events to give expression to what
we believe about this, and to do it in a way that allows a national
and international audience to participate. . ?
"And I remember the moment when we sat down and realised how
much it was all going to cost."
The cathedral raised the money - £2.5 million, which included
the reordering of the church to accommodate the tomb - from private
donations. On the cusp of the main event, the Bishop reflects: "We
see now that the energy, the expertise, the imagination, the
creativity, and the teamwork that has been going on has unlocked a
huge amount of interest, as well as a huge amount of
"I think that's important, because it ought to give us all
confidence that when the Church sets its mind to do something for
the wider community, for the nation, it can do it. We mustn't lose
confidence, and think that our main task is to strengthen our own
position, or build our own work. We are here to serve the nation
and the wider community - that's what the vision behind it is. And
I think you can see how fruitful it is."
The amount of correspondence, and media and public interest when
the re-interment plans were announced, gave cathedral staff some
indication of how big the event might be, the Bishop says. But the
size and scale of the story were not expected in parts of the
media, and some had been quite sceptical: "'Can anything good come
out of Leicester?'" he quotes, mischievously.
Accompanying the coffin on its procession into the city from the
Bosworth battlefield and the surrounding villages, "seeing the
villages with people lined four and five deep, two or three miles
on either side of each village; and then ten miles out of the city,
five deep all the way in, I realised that the people were getting
it, and that, sooner or later, the media would catch up."
The atmosphere and mood of the crowd - "immensely interested,
courteous, respectful, warm, and appreciative" - is what he
describes as "drawing down the best of ourselves. It's making us
sense our pride in our country, our sense of connection to our
national story, our sense of connection to this particular city and
county. That's a gift you can't put a price on.
"Also, it's building ecumenical relationships; so there are now
warm friendships between the leaders of the Catholic churches in
the city, and our cathedral and churches, which are now deeper and
stronger than they were. Far from being competitors with each other
for the memory of King Richard, we are partners, and that's a
partnership which will gain in strength.
"But I think that, above all, this is an unbelievable
evangelistic opportunity to actually say to the world something
profound about what we believe about death and resurrection.
"A lot of historians and scholars argue about King Richard's
reputation, but, at a moment like this, we see something more
important than reputation, and that is that eternal salvation and
our eternal destiny is not dependent on our reputation, but on
God's mercy. That's what we're celebrating tomorrow, and that's
more important than any number of TV personalities or film
People have come here for all kinds of reasons, he reflects,
"some because it's their birthday, some to remember a loved one,
some because they have always had an interest in Richard III. Some
don't know why they're here at all, perhaps just to be part of
something. I think it's a reminder that a lot of people live quite
fragmented, individualistic, and atomised lives, and there's a big
story here that you can participate in, and feel a sense of
connection. That's immensely important."
He retires in July, and acknowledges, "It's quite a good gig to
go out with, really. . . It's been an extraordinary year. I think,
in a way, it's a reminder that when God gets hold of something,
what we're in for is always bigger, deeper, richer, more colourful,
more intense, and more abundant than anything we could have
He sips his coffee and reflects, "I think as I watch the crowds
queuing round this cathedral, that there's something ironic about
it. Because the word of life has been proclaimed, and new life in
Christ has been on offer at the altar in this cathedral for
hundreds of years - but often given only to two or three
"All of a sudden, they are prepared to stand for hours to
receive something. But what I hope they'll go away with is an
understanding that what's important is not just the remains of the
King, but the life of the King of Kings."