PEOPLE from Leicester and across the country turned out in their
thousands on Sunday to witness the final journey of King Richard
III. His remains were conveyed from the battlefield where he fell
in 1485 to his final resting place in Leicester Cathedral. An
estimated 35,000 thronged the city streets alone, and there were
similar numbers along the route through the villages surrounding
the Bosworth battlefield, where key events were marked.
White roses were tossed on to the coffin as it passed. It was
accompanied by two mounted knights in medieval armour, and borne
with the dignity and honour that has been the watchword for the
events that began with the discovery of the remains in August 2012
(News, 14 September
The story of the bones' unearthing in a council car park on the
site of the Greyfriars Priory, the tenacity of those who initiated
the excavation, and the science that went into the bones' DNA
identification at the University of Leicester, captured the public
Outside the cathedral, the remains of "Our brother, Richard"
were formally and solemnly handed over by the University to the
entrustment of the Church. The Duke of Gloucester followed the
coffin into the cathedral, along with four "mourners": the White
and Red Bosworth Peers - a group of four descendants of Peers of
the Realm who fought in the Wars of the Roses.
The monastic service of compline that followed was sublime. The
simple coffin of English oak, made by Michael Ibsen, a
cabinet-maker and a descendant of Richard III, whose DNA was used
to identify the king's bones, was placed east of the font.
Ceremonies involving symbols of unity with Christ followed,
including the censing of the coffin and the placing on it of a copy
of a 15th- century Vulgate Bible, and a crown set with enamelled
white roses, garnets, sapphires, and pearls. Most dramatic of all
was the first sight of the pall, a stunning piece of embroidery by
Jacquie Binns, which glowed with vibrant colours on black
A profound stillness followed its appearance. Designed to merge
past and present, the pall depicts six seraphim and, in groups of
three, a medieval bishop, friar, and priest; a second generic
medieval trio; key modern figures in the discovery of and work on
the remains; and - in a trio with the elected Mayor of Leicester,
Sir Peter Soulsby - the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Tim
Stevens, and the Dean, the Very Revd David Monteith.
The artist told the Church Times afterwards that, given
access for a moment after the service to stand alone by the coffin
in silence, she had burst into tears at the thought: "I am one foot
away from Richard III."
Most of the music for compline was by English composers, all
immaculately sung as plainsong by the senior trebles and adults of
the cathedral choir. The centrepiece of the service was Herbert
Howells's motet, "Take him, earth, for cherishing", based on a poem
by the Roman Christian poet Prudentius, and composed for John F.
Kennedy's memorial service.
The RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols,
preached a sermon that emphasised the brutality of medieval wars
and the tumultuous life and times of Richard III, a "child of war",
a "refugee in Europe", whose reign was marked by unrest and who
remained a controversial figure in the continual re-assessment of
the Tudor period, "when saints can become villains and villains can
Baptism did not give holiness of life but gave it enduring
shape, he reflected, describing the king as "a man of prayer, of
anxious devotions". The Franciscans, Cardinal Nichols believed,
would have buried Richard with prayer, even though that burial -
which followed the ignominious parading of his naked and violently
wounded body through the streets after the battle - had been hasty.
He ended with the prayer that Richard "be embraced in God's
The coffin, which lay in repose until the reinterment service on
Thursday, was viewed by 5000 people from the UK and abroad in the
first five hours of the cathedral's opening its doors on Monday
morning. They queued good-naturedly for up to two hours to file
past the coffin, the line snaking back to Jubilee Square through
the surrounding streets. The cathedral has an artist-in-residence
recording the week's events, Michael Harrison, whose consequent
sequence of paintings, Sanctuary for a King, will be
exhibited in May.
The cathedral has worked closely with the RC Church in
Leicester, and Bishop Stevens was among ecumenical representatives
at a requiem mass for the repose of the king's soul, held on Monday
at Holy Cross Priory, a church served by the Dominican order.
There was plainsong at this service, too, from a gallery above a
packed congregation, who had balloted for tickets to be there.
Mention of "Richard" throughout, with no title, emphasised that the
king was simply another soul to be prayed for. There was a moment
of theatre as clouds of incense drifted above a startlingly
beautiful Tree of Life, bearing arched branches of white roses.
Cardinal Nichols, the celebrant, said that mass for Richard's
soul was being offered in many RC churches that week, and that
praying for the dead was "a profound and essential Christian duty".
Wearing a chasuble recorded as belonging to the Royal wardrobe of
Richard III, he said that it could be "reasonably speculated" that
Richard had participated in a mass at which that same vestment was
Richard was not a man of peace, he acknowledged. "The time into
which he was born, and the role into which he was born, did not
permit that. But now we pray for his eternal peace."
All other faiths in Leicester were invited by George Ballentyne
of Leicester City Council to reflect on Richard III and his legacy
for this, Britain's most plural city. The Leicester Friends of the
Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies described him as "a fallible man,
embodied in his physical shortcomings, seized upon and exaggerated
by his successors and detractors", and concluded: "It is fitting
that we are now able to treat this fallen king with respect."
Muslims much approved of the rituals and reverence around the
burial as a final act of service. "The monks at Greyfriars would
have done what they could to ensure his dignity, but we saw how the
grave was dug relatively shallow, too small for the body, which was
placed within it at an awkward angle, the head to one side, wrapped
only in a shroud, without benefit of a coffin," a statement from
the Federation of Muslim Organisations said.
"It is fitting that he receives a send-off fit for a king, 530
years later. And once again, Leicester rises to the occasion."
For an account of the reburial on Thursday see