Church of England

Horrible Histories meets Monty Python – the reinterment of King Richard III


According to Leicester Cathedral, the cost of designing a space to accommodate the tomb of King Richard III has been £1.54million. The cost of the reinterment events, interpretation and learning, liturgy and the gardens is £500,000. The central costs, contingency and the preparatory works are covered by a £500,000 grant from the Diocese.

So quite why it looks like a Public Health Funeral with austerity obsequies is something of a mystery. We are burying the last Plantagenet king; the last monarch to die leading his troops into battle. Where is the majesty? Where is the deference? Where is the dignity, nobility and sublimity as befits the burial of a king of England?

Richard III burial

Is this Horrible Histories? A scene from Monty Python? A jousting rehearsal staged on Bosworth Field by the Lewisham Theatre Guild? It is as if we have mistaken the solemn funeral mass for a piece of theatre, and confounded dignity and honour with monkish robes, plastic crowns and postmodern emblems of spirituality. King Richard III may have been a war-mongering, crook-backed, villainous child-killer, but his mortal remains deserve better than this soulless spectacle. What is it to be dug up from beneath the tarmac of a municipal car park and then dumped back above the tarmac, suspended by a couple of sawhorses, to be gawped at by a bunch of archaeologists and academics ?

What ceremony else?

There is, of course, much more to come. But the remains of “our brother Richard” are dying all over again as we try to reconcile medieval theology with faded recollections of history. His was a Catholic era of Purgatory and prayers for the dead; of remedial discipline which the righteous might incur after death – petitions for cleansing, a purifying fire, forgiveness, sanctification and legalistic notions of merit. This, combined with the propitiatory ‘Sacrifice of the Mass’, gave an assurance of hope in the anguish of bereavement.

But we bury this Catholic King in the Reformed and Catholic Church of England, in which Purgatory is deemed unscriptural, and no number of multiplied masses for the dead may move a soul nearer to the light of eternal salvation. And yet..

The 1549 Book of Common Prayer draws on the Sarum Rite – the Latin liturgy developed in Salisbury in the 13th century – and includes:

Let us pray.

O LORDE, with whome dooe lyve the spirites of them that be dead: and in whome the soules of them that bee elected, after they be delivered from the burden of the fleshe, be in joy and felicitie: Graunte unto us thy servaunte, that the sinnes whiche he committed in this world be not imputed unto him, but that he, escaping the gates of hell and paynes of eternall derkenesse: may ever dwel in the region of highte, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the place where is no wepyng, sorowe, nor heavinesse: and when that dredeful day of the generall resurreccion shall come, make him to ryse also with the just and righteous, and receive this bodie agayn to glory, then made pure and incorruptible, set him on the right hand of thy sonne Jesus Christ, emong thy holy and elect, that then he may heare with them these most swete and coumfortable wordes: Come to me ye blessed of my father, possesse the kingdome whiche hath bene prepared for you from the beginning of the worlde: Graunte thys we beseche thee, o mercifull father: through Jesus Christe our mediatour and redemer. Amen.

No doubt the Dean and Chapter of Leicester Cathedral have given much consideration to King Richard’s own traditions of faith, and how its essential catholicity is sustained in England by the Established Church. We must hope that the liturgical integrity of the service of reinterment might transcend all past and present indignities.