The King Is Dead…

With the Thursday lunchtime weather turning a bit ominous, we headed out into Castle Gardens, with the intention of at least visiting the cathedral. Right on the edge of the gardens we stumbled over the Church of St Mary de Castro – with not a Cuban refugee in site, it translates as St Mary of the Castle (as opposed to St Mary of somewhere else). Only recently (and infrequently) reopened to the public after they had to take down the steeple, we took the opportunity to dive in out of the rain.

St Mary de CastroSt Mary de Castro

The church proved rather fine, and had some nice ceilings too, but the dark skies and dim lighting put the damper on much photography. The photographer’s assistant got into a fairly lengthy discussion with a church guide, and came away with the feeling that said guide rather looked down on the nearby cathedral.

Leicester GuildhallLeicester Guildhall

Leicester Guildhall

Pottering on between heavy rain showers, and aiming for said cathedral, we took the wrong turning, and stumbled instead into the Guildhall next door. Again, a rather fine establishment, and one that is regularly used as a folk music venue. Our friend Pete Morton is playing there shortly, and he’s a Leicester lad, so it should be quite a night. Shame we won’t be there.

Tomb of Richard IIITomb of Richard III

Well call us old fashioned, but unlike pretty much every spiritual establishment our motorhome and narrowboat have taken us to over the last few years, we were singularly unimpressed when we moved next door. Apparently The Cathedral Church of St Martin was only made a cathedral in 1927; maybe that’s the problem.

Since they discovered the remains of Richard III in the car park just across the road, they’ve apparently redesigned most of the interior to fit in his tomb right smack in the middle. This has recently won an RIBA architecture award, which probably tells you all you need to know. The tomb itself and surrounding ambulatory is decidedly impressive. But ripping out the choir (replaced by moveable modern furniture at the West end), and relocating the high altar into the main body of the church just feels wrong. We can see what the lady at St Mary de Castro was going on about. Surely a proper job cathedral has proper misericords!

Even odder (or maybe not, as everywhere in Leicester seems to have become utterl obsessed with Richard III as a tourist attraction – read “economic salvation” – if nothing else), the cathedral was stuffed full of information about that dead king, but we pretty much failed to find any mention of the dead King who kicked the whole Christianity thing off. Mind you, visitors to the cathedral have apparently increased 10-fold, so it’s obviously helping their bottom line.

Can’t help thinking that if you want to plonk a very dead king right in the middle of a cathedral, Worcester did it rather better with King John!

Bishop's Chair, Leicester Cathedral

And finally, if you think we’re being harsh, what does one make of this Cathedra / Bishop’s Chair? Apparently it folds up…

Later we again bumped into the crew of Joss who’d been following us down the Soar. They thought much the same!

We have often thought old religious sites where believers have invested staggering amounts of time and emotional energy, whether Stonehenge, Salisbury or Chartres Cathedral, Midmar Kirk  or the stone circle next to which it is built, a tiny old chapel perched on a Welsh Hillside, or early Christian remains on a Hebridean Island, such places have an indefinable and unique atmosphere that inspires awe, even if only for the people who created them. Whether you believe what they believed or still believe, or not. But somehow Leicester Cathedral didn’t have that effect. Strange.

We decided we didn’t want to pay significant amounts of money to wander round the hugely publicised Richard III Visitor Centre built on the infamous car park (you can have Corporate Events or your office Christmas Party there – again, says it all). So, after a brief reconnaissance of the city centre shops, we retired to the boat for tea and biccies with Joss’’s crew, including Button the dog. We had a voucher for a seriously cheap meal at Café Rouge, so later headed off with our magic key to the Castle Gardens, to the new shopping mall cum entertainment district for some Steak Frites and a bottle of Malbec.

It had been a long day.

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