yrieithydd: (Visitation)
My mum and I were on holiday last week and, as is our wont, we visited a number of churches, mainly around Rutland Water where we were staying, but also one the way too and fro. Mostly they were open; sadly, the one exception was in Ledbury. I say sadly because my granny used to be a church watcher there to help keep it open. Hopefully that tradition continues in the summer months at least, but it wasn't in play on a Saturday in January.

Two churches, however, stood out because of the contrasting ways they dealt with the presence of a famous grave: Leicester Cathedral and Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon.

For Leicester, this is a new opportunity after the discovery of Richard III's body in a car park on the site of the old Grey Friars Friary in 2012 and its re-internment in Leicester Cathedral in March 2015. For Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon, it has been 400 years since William Shakespeare was buried there.

I was worried about how the new tomb for Leicester - in the chancel - would work but they have managed it well, turning the former High Altar into a chapel and making the Nave altar the main one, moving the stalls to the West End, under the organ. We were welcomed at the door and given a guide to the church and a gift aid envelope if we wished to make a donation, but that was clearly voluntary. There were a number of boards around the church exploring aspects of Richard's life and faith and giving a contemporary perspective on the life of the cathedral and posing questions for us to consider about faith in today's world. In one place there was a facsimile of Richard's Book of Hours and also a contemporary Book of Hours with artwork from local schoolchildren relating to various Bible stories. Priority was given to worship, with the Cathedral being closed to visitors for the lunchtime Eucharist; this was publicized over the PA just prior to service, with an invitation to stay for the service which was well attended. On the hour, the chaplain asked us to pause and led us in prayer. There were knowledgeable guides both at the tomb and by the display cabinet for the pall which was over the coffin at the service where he was re-interred. It would have easily been possible to charge for entry to the old Chancel where the grave is but that was had not been done. There is also a Visitors' Centre which gives the story of the rediscovery. We did not visit this partly because I never worked out where it was - it could have been signed more clearly at the south door - "Now visit the Visitors' Centre [location/directions]". Instead we had a nice lunch in the White Rose Café and bought books from the Christian Resource Centre.

Our visit to Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon was very disappointing in contrast. The closest they came to interpretation was a sign in the West End area which welcomed Pokémon Go players and ended with a welcome whether you were seeking Pokémon, Shakespeare or Jesus. There was a charge of £3 to see Shakespeare's grave and this was imposed at entrance to the choir stalls which were to the West of the Central Crossing, so someone wanting to visit as a church was limited to seeing the nave. There was take-round guide as far as I could see. It is possible that there was more interpretation east of the divide but we were so unimpressed with the welcome that we decided against paying to see the rest of the church/Shakespeare's grave. There was also going to be a reading from the AV at 2:30pm. I was impressed by the helpful answer given by the person in the shop when asked by another visitor about the time of the Sunday service as she gave a very full answer explaining how it was a teaching Eucharist and where it happened. It did appear that they celebrate at the High Altar but then come forward to stations for the administration. It struck me how far away the High Altar is, with the choir stalls west of the central crossing, rather in the tradition place east of it in the chancel. I'm no fan of Nave altars, especially if you can see the High Altar behind, but I think a case could easily be made there for turning the Chancel/Sanctuary into a separate area (and charging visitors to see Shakespeare's grave if you must) and having an altar either in the crossing or just in front of the choir stalls (making it into a celebration in the round). A lot more could have been made of interpretation, perhaps with an exploration of faith in some of the plays - for example Measure for Measure - or a consideration of the question "Was Shakespeare a Catholic?".

We made a donation at Leicester Cathedral, but not in Stratford.

The one thing which would have improved the visit to Leicester would have been better signing. It was a bit patchy on the way; telling us to follow "town centre" for the cultural quarter and Richard III then later having a sign for "town centre" straight on and "cultural quarter" to the left and no mention of Richard. We went right and round the innner ring road, failing to make use of a flyover because it was poorly signed and found a car park. This wasn't as bad as our experience in Nottingham last year which involved the same roundabout 3 times, but could have been better. Leaving though was another matter. We came out of the car park in a different place and the first sign mentioned the M69 and M1 and assorted local places which meant nothing so we chose a direction which turned out be west when we wanted east. We then made our way back and did at least one loop. Eventually we passed the railway station which I have used on my previous visits to Leicester and which I could relate to the roundabout where we'd joined the inner ring road that morning. That, however, is an issue for the City Council not the Cathedral. Stratford being smaller was not quite as bad although we did drive around a bit before finding a car park, partly because ones were signed at big junctions but then were not obvious when you got to them.

So many thanks to the team at Leicester for their work in caring for Richard's legacy and interpreting the Christian Faith for today.

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yrieithydd

July 2017

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