Earlier today, an article in The Guardian read ‘Leicester deserves better than the bones of Richard III’. In this, David Priestland writes that, ‘The hullabaloo over the king’s reburial suggests an unhealthy nostalgia for our royal past and does not well serve a youthful, multi-ethnic city’. Just a few hours later, the same paper reported that ‘Thousands line Leicester streets for glimpse of Richard III’s coffin’. These two accounts do not seem to fit – has Leicester been wronged? Just how cohesive was yesterday’s service and the week of events planned?
One of the things that was never far from our minds in committee meetings was how best to represent the multi-faith residents of Leicester in the three services we were charged with planning.
From the moment the doors of the university opened yesterday and the remains of Richard III were released to the public, it was clear that this was going to be an inclusive event. The short ceremony at the university was secular and incorporated elements of many of the key faiths represented by the community of Leicester. Indeed, there were prayers drawing on the Christian, Hindu and Buddhist faiths and the closing prayer turned to Islam.
The five-six strong crowds of onlookers lining the streets of Leicester yesterday were not just white British, but representatives from all corners of the world. Indeed, Sonali Shah, reporting for Channel 4, spoke to many different residents of Leicester, of many different faiths, and it was clear to see that all were enjoying their part in national history – and, most importantly, Leicester’s history. This cohesion was echoed in Cardinal Vincent Nichol‘s sermon, which was received by a multi-faith congregation. The Friday service, the ‘Reveal’ service, will, in particular, welcome Richard III into a very modern-day Leicester (sadly not televised). Representatives of many different faiths will contribute to this celebratory service and show that Richard III is part of everyone’s Leicester. Nobody forced the queue of those waiting to pay their respects to the remains of King Richard to extend to a waiting time of over four hours and nobody forced the residents of Leicester onto the streets yesterday – there is an overwhelming sense of pride in Leicester, and perhaps just a little amazement that it is their city receiving something normally reserved for Londoners.