The funeral crown for Richard III @John Ashdown-Hill

Looking For Richard Project Announcement: Updates on Richard III’s Tomb and Visitor Centre

The Looking for Richard Project team has announced several updates on their website this evening regarding the Richard III Visitor Centre displays, King Richard III’s tomb and the repeated requests to have Richard III’s remains removed from the University of Leicester and taken to a religious environment.

Update on Richard III Visitor Centre, Leicester

As you know, we have voiced several concerns about aspects of the Visitor Centre. Members of the Looking For Richard Project and Richard III Society have now met with representatives of the Leicester organisations involved (the Board of Trustees, the City Council, the University and ULAS).

As a result we are pleased to say that an initial agreement has been reached, and we hope to hear further about other outstanding matters. As a first step they have agreed to restore the text of Philippa’s LFR story to its original, and to include further recognition of the work of John Ashdown-Hill. This will be done as soon as practicably possible. They also plan to include acknowledgement of the crucial funding received via the Ricardian International Appeal, and we are currently exchanging some exciting ideas about representing this visually.

Areas of agreement on Richard III’s reburial

Several months ago the Looking For Richard Project requested a round-table meeting with the Leicester authorities in charge of Richard III’s reburial, which took place on 23 June 2014, with the Richard III Society. A number of issues were raised, including our representations relating to the Cathedral’s tomb, which we learned was not up for discussion. However, we offered a number of suggestions of which some have been implemented:

A. There is now a plinth under the tomb to display symbols personal to Richard III

B. Royal arms on the plinth

C. Richard’s coffin will be crafted by Michael Ibsen, his nephew in the 17th generation.

Rosary 2We have now received a final written response from the Leicester Cathedral Quarter Partnership Board dealing with the rest of our concerns. You will be pleased to hear of several areas of major importance where our views have been taken into account:

D. Richard III’s remains will be laid out in a fully articulated manner, as a human being, not placed as a pile of bones in a box.

E. A rosary will be placed in the coffin, gifted by John Ashdown-Hill. (The rosary bears a copy of the fifteenth-century Clare Cross, which may have been owned by Richard III’s mother – see illustrations.)

F. Four floor-tiles, carrying images of a white rose, will be laid into the Ambulatory floor at approximately the positions where one would expect the usual floor-standing candles.

G. There will be a number of moments within the 7-day programme where Catholic clergy will be present and Catholic prayers will be used.

H. The burial crown commissioned by John Ashdown-Hill for the re-interment will be included within the services. Details are to be confirmed.

3. A Place of Sanctity and Rest

Sadly, the news on this is deeply disappointing. We raised it as a primary concern at our round-table meeting, but this key issue has been rejected in the Cathedral Board’s final response. You can read the Richard III Society’s media release here:

Our request is one that relates to the basic religious decencies that would be afforded to any deceased individual with a known religious faith, i.e. for his remains to be taken to a place of sanctity and rest to allow coffining and repose in a spiritual environment while awaiting reburial. This procedure was originally promised by ULAS in its agreement with Philippa Langley, who subsequently took on board the Cathedral Board’s reservations and produced for them a very workable proposal which came with full endorsement by the local Catholic community. However, the Cathedral Board has now informed us that coffining of the remains will take place in a laboratory at the University. We note that its objections to the spiritual location are not of a religious nature; they are as follows:

1. The fragile nature of the bones, and the need to avoid any unnecessary further damage by moving them to another location.

2. The need, as they perceive it, for the remains to stay on UoL premises in accordance with the responsibilities placed upon the University by the licence issued by the Ministry of Justice.

The ‘fragility’ of the remains

Over the past two years the remains of Richard III have been continually moved by the University during the course of their custody, both for scientific analysis and private media and academic viewing. The remains have also travelled extensively, being taken on numerous occasions to a variety of scientific facilities including Loughborough University (around 30 miles) for 3d image production.

Therefore it seems that the ‘fragility’ of the remains is not and never has been a genuine material issue. Moreover any transfer to the proposed place of sanctity in Leicester would involve only a very brief local journey (maximum round trip of 3 miles).

Retention of remains on University premises to comply with exhumation licence.

The University has on numerous occasions taken the remains off its premises and across the country while presumably complying with the exhumation licence, and can therefore follow the same procedure in respect of the place of sanctity and rest. If permission was needed for those previous removals, no doubt it can be obtained again. Richard III’s remains would continue in the University’s custody throughout, and indeed the suggested place of sanctity would be within a church which actually functions as the University’s own chaplaincy. It should be noted that the exhumation licence requires the remains to be kept by the university, and not necessarily at the university.

As a result we conclude that the claim that the remains must stay on University premises throughout is also not a genuine material issue. We believe that the University needs to explain why, when Richard III’s remains are at last to be allowed to return to dust, it suddenly sees them as too fragile to be moved and in need of careful preservation. Nothing in the exhumation licence prescribes anything of this nature.

Our message to you

The Looking For Richard Project and Richard III Society have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to preserve what dignity and honour we can for the remains of the king. We hope that the progress we have achieved so far in Leicester may go some way to alleviating a number of the many concerns raised with us in recent months.

In terms of the transfer of the king’s remains to a place of sanctity and rest it seems that we can do no more. Many of you have been waiting for this decision and will now wish to act. For those who have urged that this take place, we can only suggest that you now write to the University of Leicester and Leicester Cathedral, and to any persons and institutions that may be able to influence them in this matter such as your MP, the Ministry of Justice and the Head of the Anglican and Catholic churches, to whom we shall also be writing formally.

Our purpose in retrieving Richard III’s remains from oblivion was not to unearth a trophy or scientific specimen, but to afford a fallen king an interment conducted with dignity and due respect for his religious faith. To be prepared for burial in a Christian environment is a simple and basic request, and we cannot understand the Cathedral Board’s refusal. We hope you will join us in taking our request to higher authorities. We will never get this opportunity again to offer a pre-reformation monarch an appropriate ritual of his own faith, and in so doing, give him what he was denied when killed in battle in 1485. This was, from its earliest inception, the abiding ethos of the Looking For Richard Project. It was set out in the Reburial Document given to all parties in Leicester, and established in good faith in Philippa’s written agreements with Leicester City Council and University of Leicester Archaeological Services, before the tarmac was cut.

Those of you with time constraints have asked that we offer you a template letter, and details of those persons you may wish to write to. You can find these below.

Many thanks for your patience

Looking For Richard Project team

Should you wish to express your concern you can find a template letter and contacts on the Looking for Richard website.