When I last visited Leicester in December, Christmas was in the air, and with plans still in preparation for the coming reinterment of King Richard the Third, there was a purposeful calm around the Cathedral. But this week felt quite different , with the precincts strewn with white roses and camera cables. By the time I arrived for the dress rehearsal of the Reburial service, Richard’s coffin had travelled around local sites associated with his life and arrived in the Cathedral, where, rather disconcertingly, the Cathedral Choir (admirably enlarged for the occasion to include men, women and children) were standing inches away from the ‘box’. Rehearsing my own two-minute musical contribution involved frequent creeping past singers and coffin and up and down the organ loft stairs to visit the horn section of the Philharmonia Orchestra, no less – in every way, a rather unusual assignment for us all.
The Leicester events caused huge international interest, inevitably eliciting supercilious reaction from the London media (if Kingly remains were discovered in Islington, what would they suggest?) To me this felt like a wonderful happening for Leicester, an ancient settlement important to the Romans, which has had more than its fair share of destruction and town planning. The events visited an area of English psychology where history and religion merge, while tapping into a genuine folk-cult. It was also the occasion for much beautiful craftsmanship. I was fascinated to learn from the unusually authoritative Wikipedia Reinterment article that, while the bodies of all English kings since the 11th century (with the possible exception of Edward V) have now been found, there are still 25 unburied Norwegian kings, including the well-known King Harald Hardrada whose remains are believed to lie under a major road in Trondheim.