Since the remains of Richard III were discovered beneath a car-park near Leicester Cathedral last year, the local church has been left with a perplexing question: what to do with him now? The King’s remains are an important part of English history, and an important tourist attraction, but how should they mark his final resting place?
In response to this issue, Cathedral authorities have launched a design competition asking selected architects to submit ideas for a new tomb for King Richard that will be located in the Gothic Cathedral. The brief is an unusually delicate one; the architects submissions will have to consider appropriate symbolism and practicality in their design, not to mention the challenge of designing, in a modern age, the grave of someone who lived centuries ago. They also need to be mindful of the controversy surrounding the King, as the brief states: “Richard demonstrated both the honorable and dishonorable characteristics of human beings.” Some consider him a great English King, while others, a bloodthirsty tyrant.
Read more about the brief and see an early submission after break…
One of the early proposals is from the Richard III Society, who played a large part in the discovery and identification of his remains. They have suggested a limestone sarcophagus, designed in medieval style but lacking certain features such as a medieval stone effigy. The designers explain: “Our feeling was that this would anchor Richard and his reputation too firmly in the past, the dark days in which he met his end,”.
Although not ruling out anything specifically, the Cathedral authorities have suggested that they favor something more along the lines of a simple ledger stone. They are “reluctant to site a large memorial in the cathedral which would assume disproportionate significance in a modest building.” Also, any attempt at pastiche is strictly out; the brief names and shames the tomb of ‘Reginald, Lord Cobham of Sterborough‘ and the shrine of ‘St Thomas of Hereford’ as examples not to be followed in a modern age.
Bringing it back down to earth, the sheer practicality of housing such a prominent landmark in a functioning Cathedral could make or break this design. While the landmark deserves to be prominant, neither it nor the scores of visitors it will attract, should impede people who regularly use the building for worship. The brief calls for considering its size, shape, location, circulation paths and even lighting,
For more details on the competition and its context, the architect’s brief can be read here.