Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

"(B)y entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." - Pope Paul VI to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Burying King Richard III of England

Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet kings of England was found buried underneath a city council parking lot in Leicester, England last August 25. The parking lot was once the site of Greyfriars, a Franciscan friary and church dissolved by Henry VIII's Reformation. A male skeleton was found buried in what was once the church's choir. The skeleton was that of a man in his 30s and was scoliotic. Based on sketchy written accounts of his death in the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485 that sealed the fate of the Wars of the Roses, the king fell off his horse and bludgeoned and hacked. Stripped of his clothes and strung across a horse, his body was paraded and then buried in the Franciscan friary. The Wars of the Roses resulted in the victory of the Lancasters and the ascent of Henry Tudor as King Henry VI. His son became the famous multi-matrimonial Henry VIII, founder of the Church OF England.

Tudor propaganda has given Richard a bad press. He was portrayed to be an evil, scheming king, hunchbacked and deformed. No doubt Shakespeare's "Richard III" made the libel almost for the ages until the skeleton was found during what can be called archaeology's biggest successful sleuthing in years.

DNA tests and evidence confirmed the identity of the skeleton as that of the king and Leicester University who led the research with funding  support from the Richard III Society made the announcement last February 4. This was made possible with DNA samples from one of the king's direct descendants, a Canadian living in London.

Now that he has been exhumed, it is time to give him a Christian burial befitting a former sovereign. Here is the controversy. The King willed that he be buried in York Minster, but the government of the day and the Church of England has decided to bury in in Leicester Cathedral in what is likely to be ecumenical rites. Richard's descendants have petitioned that their ancestor be buried in York, but the Cathedral has rejected this.

The other question is what funeral rites should be done? Some Catholics and a few Anglicans say that he be buried according to the rites of the Roman Church since he was Catholic and there was no Anglican Church then. There was a Church in England which was established and had English peculiarities but that church was in communion with Rome. Henry VIII broke away from the Church in England and established the Church OF England, a totally separate and Protestant body from the Catholic Church headquartered in Rome.

Some Anglicans say that their church should do the honours since theirs is a continuation of the Church IN England albeit reformed. Of course this is debatable. Nonetheless none of Catholics and Anglicans could countenance an ecumenical ceremony. The British establishment and surprisingly the restored Roman hierarchy in England agree that Britain is now a multi-faith society.

One suggestion is to let the Ordinariate do it. But that is a long shot since Richard was not a member of the Anglican Ordinariate, which is really an oxymoronic situation since there were no Anglicans before the Reformation and obviously there couldn't be former Anglicans then!

So it should be Catholic rites then. But what rite? The modern Roman Rite or the old Sarum Rite or the Tridentine Rite? Some say the Sarum and some say the modern Roman Rite. Nonetheless, the modern Roman Rite sounds with the new translation Anglican anyway! So why not the Sarum which was the rite used in much of England then?

The problem is no one knows for sure whether it is licit to celebrate the Sarum Rite. Also some Catholics and Anglicans insist the York Rite be used since that is a rite peculiar to York (that is if the Dean and Chapter of York Minster agree to the burial in their church). But who can celebrate the Mass in the York Rite?

And so alas poor Richard. He rested in peace unknown in Leicester and now he is the focus of contention!  York and Leicester Cathedrals think he can become a historical tourist attraction and also Westminster!

But it is traditional that if the remains of a person is to be buried it is in the rite of the person's faith, if we know what faith that is.  Burying Richard III in Anglican or even ecumenical rites is absurd. It is like burying  WWII Japanese soldiers remains in a Christian rite knowing that they were Buddhist!


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, history can be interesting. As a Protestant Christian, I believe mercy should be given to the former English King. I do not know if what has been said about him is true or false. We should let our Lord and Savior make the decision concerning Richard's eternal destiny. Concerning his funeral, I feel there should be both a Roman Catholic and an Anglican service. He should be given a burial with honor and dignity. Let us all remember, both Catholics and Protestants, that the War of Roses is over.

    2. A Catholic service with Anglicans participating is I think most appropriate. There have been many precedents for this. As Christians, we have to commit him to God who is the final judge of our acts.

  2. I live in Chesapeake, Virginia and am a descendant of Sir John Wynn of Gwydyr in Wales. Sir John's father was Morris Wynne of Gwydyr and his mother was Jane Buckley, daughter of Sir Richard Buckley. Sir John's father later married Catherine Tudor of Baraine. Sir John's stepmother was a great-granddaughter of King Henry VII, the man who overthrew Richard. Sir John was also a descendant from King John of England, also a member of the House of Plantagenent through his father. Through his real mother, Jane Buckley, Sir John was a descendant of King Edward III, another Plantagenent King. Therefore, I am a distant relative of Henry Tudor and Richard. Richard III should be buried at Leicester Cathedral with a modern Roman Catholic service and an Anglican service as well. Only God and the redeemed in heaven know if Richard III is in paradise or not. We will all know one day. I certainly hope he did not murder all those relatives of ours. Charles E. Miller, Jr. BA,MA

    1. He can be given Catholic rites with Anglican participation. There have been many precedents. If Richard is guilty of murder then he will account for this to God.

  3. I suppose you are not going to publish my opinion about my distant relative,Richard III. In any case, he should be buried at Leicester Cathedral with a modern Roman Catholic service as well as an Anglican service. I am a member of the Methodist Church, a granddaughter of the Roman Catholic Church and a daughter of the Anglican Church.

  4. Just bury him in a respectable grave with a casket and vault.


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