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Shop windows are full of King Richard III books and souvenirs. And white roses.

Today was our chance to meet up with our old friends John and Mary Holding, daughter Ann and adorable 10-month-old grand-daughter Evey, who are all staying nearby for a family wedding.  We decided to meet at Leicester Cathedral, since we all wanted to visit the tomb of King Richard III, who was reburied there less than two weeks ago, after spending over 500 years in an unmarked grave in the former yard of Greyfriars Abbey.  In case you missed the wonderful story of the king who was found in a parking lot, you can find more details here.

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The City of Leicester has given precedence to Richard III on its signage – they know it’s him people have come to see!

We left in good time, with Barry coping beautifully with driving on the “wrong” side of the road and shifting gears with the “wrong” hand, and even remembering to yield to traffic approaching from the right in the roundabouts.  In the end it was not the driving, but the stopping, that caused us trouble.  Our GPS was happy to have us  circle Leicester Cathedral forever without ever quite landing, because the church is in a “pedestrian only” area.  Eventually we did park, and set off on foot to look for it.

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The main approach to the Cathedral of Leicester, with a statue of King Richard III in foreground, king of England 1483-1485. He holds a sword in his right hand and raises up a crown in his left.

It’s a good thing the bells were pealing because, although it dates back 900 years, Leicester  is the smallest cathedral I’ve ever seen and we couldn’t find it by looking upwards for the steeple over the rooftops.  We followed the sound of the bells to a modest church and entered by the side door – which turned out to be the main entry, actually.  It has always been known as St. Martin’s church, and only became a cathedral in 1927, so I guess it still has some catching up to do.

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The tomb of King Richard III. People were gathered around it in a circle, and some visibly moved.

A wedding was about to be held (it was the practice session of the bell-ringers we had just heard), so we had to make our tour fast.  Leicester was overrun by charmingly aggressive and eager volunteer guides, and we had to keep moving, smiling and nodding to avoid receiving more information than we had time for.

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Raised embroidery from King Richard III’s pall, on display nearby the tomb. One side showed the modern people involved in his reinterment.

King Richard’s tomb was solid – 2 tonnes – and simple, with a cross carved deeply into it.  I was surprised by how close people came to it, standing right over the royal coat of arms to photograph it, and even touching it.  I swept two fingers over one corner myself and wished RIII “Rest in Peace” in my thoughts.

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Raised embroidery from King Richard’s funeral pall, showing figures from 1485, the year of his death.

The way out led through a side chapel, and since I’d had luck finding old graffiti in a side chapel at Ely, I slid my eyes up and down the walls to see if I could spot any more.  The walls were clean and bare, and I think I discovered the reason why:

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The descendants of the Herrick family apparently paid to have the chapel completely cleaned up and “made fit for divine service,” thus eliminating any evidence of medieval graffiti.

However, there was a very intriguing stone in the chapel, very dense in text, and I photographed it to read later, and next to it a similar one, but only half-filled.  The empty space was covered with graffiti – so thickly that it was difficult to sort out.  But there was a very obvious “M,” which is probably an invocation for the protection of the Virgin Mary, and very common in churches and wooden beams during the years 1450-1750:

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The letter “M” for the Virgin Mary, about 2″ high, carved into a memorial stone, and surrounded by lots of other scratches.

There were also a large number of initials, and a series of circles, probably drawn with a compass, which could also be quite old:

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Traces of a circular engraving in the centre, probably made with a compass, and lots of other carving, including initials.

And that stone turned out to have a very interesting inscription:

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“Here lyeth buried ye bodie of John Heyricke, late of this parrish, who departed this life the 2nd of April 1589, being about ye age of 76.  He did marry Marie, the daughter of John Bond of Wardend, in the countie of Warwick, esquire,

Who lived with ye said Marie in one house full 52 yeares, and in all that tyme never buried man, woman nor childe, though they were sometimes 20 in houshould.

He had issue by ye said Marie, 5 sonns and 7 daughters, vz (namely) Robert, Nicholas, Thomas, John and William, and daughters Ursula, Agnes, Marie, Elizabeth, Ellin, Christian and Alice.

The said John was maior of this towne in anno 1559 and again in anno 1572.  The said Marie departed this life ye 8th of December, 1611, beinge the age of 97 yeares.

She did see before her departure, of her children, and children’s children, and their children, to the number of 142.”

It must have seemed like the most extraordinary blessing for a man like John to see twelve children brought into the world, and to have lived together with his wife for 52 years, with the first death in all that time to be his own.  And for Marie to have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren adding up to 142 lives – almost miraculous!

Moreover, the Herrick children were by and large very successful as goldsmiths, mayors and other educated professions,  and one of John’s grandchildren was Robert Herrick, the poet.  I knew him in school as the author of “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” and “Fair daffodils, we weep to see you haste away so soon.”

Robert Herrick’s theme is always that “life is short, the world is beautiful, love is splendid, and we must use the short time we have to make the most of it.”  I wouldn’t be surprised if he learned that from his Grampa John.

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