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Catholics Observe Reburial of England’s Richard III

Richard III reburial
Guards surround the coffin of King Richard III as his remains lie in repose at Leicester Cathedral during the public viewing of his coffin in Leicester, England. (Photo by Catholic News Service/Andy Rain, EPA)

By Simon Caldwell

MANCHESTER, England (CNS) – One of England’s last Catholic kings was reburied three years after his skeleton was discovered in a coffin beneath a parking lot.

King Richard III – the last monarch of the Plantagenet dynasty and the last English king to die in battle – was originally buried by Franciscan friars in Leicester, a city in the Midlands, after he was slain at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

The priory was dissolved during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and it was widely believed that the king’s bones had been thrown into a river.

But excavation work on the site of the priory in 2012 unearthed the remains and on March 26 they were re-interred in Leicester Cathedral after five days of commemorations.

The events began with an interfaith service of compline in the Anglican cathedral March 22 during which Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, preached a homily.

The cardinal described King Richard as a “child of war” who spent much of his early life as a refugee before he seized power “on the battlefield and only by ruthless determination, strong alliances and a willingness to employ the use of force, at times with astonishing brutality.”

But he also said the king was “a man of prayer, a man of an anxious devotion” who founded chapels, or “chantries,” where Mass was offered specifically for the souls of those who died in the battles of the civil wars that raged in England during the 15th century.

On March 23, Cardinal Nichols celebrated a Requiem Mass for the repose of the soul of the king at the Holy Cross Priory of the Dominican order. He wore the Westminster Vestment, a chasuble dating from the reign of Richard and which might have been seen by him during Masses at Westminster Abbey in London.

Afterward, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, England, who attended the Mass, said “what was most striking was that King Richard III received the same funeral Mass as any other Catholic. We prayed for the eternal repose of his soul, commending him to God’s mercy.”

“It also seemed appropriate that a king who insisted that prayers and Masses be offered for all who had died on each side of the violent conflicts which marked his lifetime should have been likewise remembered in the prayer of the Mass in Leicester,” he said. In the days that followed, more than 20,000 people visited the king’s coffin in Leicester Cathedral.

The March 26 reburial service was presided over by Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury.

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