King Richard III’s embroidered funeral pall was revealed at a reception service for the monarch at Leicester Cathedral yesterday (Sunday 22 March)
Created by artist Jacquie Binns, the black pall is beautifully decorated with an intriguing mix of images. Alongside a knight in armour, King Richard’s queen in heraldic robes are the faces of archaeologist Richard Buckley and the Dean of Leicester, the Very Revd David Monteith.
The Pall was draped over the lead-lined oak coffin by the descendants of four peers who fought both for and against King Richard at Battle of Bosworth in August 1485.
Jacquie Binns, who has created pieces for St Paul’s and St Albans Cathedrals, said, “The commission was unique. It has been an honour and a pleasure to create the pall which tells both Richard’s story and the story of those who found his remains and brought them to reburial.”
A portable exhibit of the embroidered pall will form part of the permanent exhibition and interpretation programme at Leicester Cathedral. This has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Drapers Trust and the AllChurches Trust.
Vanessa Harbar, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund East Midlands said, “This coffin pall represents the coming together of past and present. It helps us to reflect on a tumultuous period in our history and what it means for our own times. Helped by Lottery funding, the pall and the permanent exhibition will ensure that visitors to the Cathedral will be able to learn about this extraordinary story and experience parts of the re-internment service for themselves. It’s just one of many ways that Leicester has used its heritage to regenerate the city in recent years.”
A cover for the coffin, which might be for example a fitted rectangular cover made from velvet or other heavy fabric and embroidered or appliquéd with a design showing mourners in the manner of a medieval tomb.
The mourners on one side might be typical 15th Century figures including a friar, a knight, a noblewoman, a priest or bishop.
On the other side, figures from the story of the re-interment, which would include archaeologists and scientists, members of the Richard III Society, civic figures, and the Bishop or Dean of Leicester.
Historic notes and design themes are included below.
The use of palls in historic and contemporary settings
In the medieval period the type of container used for human remains varied depending on whether the burial was in the ground or within a building (in the floor, catacomb or stone tomb).
Ordinary people were buried either in a shroud alone, or in a steeple topped coffin. Such coffins were usually made of oak and decomposed quickly, aiding the decomposition of the corpse.
People of higher status were more likely to be buried within a building. In this case a lead anthropoid (human shaped) coffin would be used, carried in a wooden casket, covered with a coffin cloth or pall.
The coffins of noble persons were flat topped because they carried a representation of the deceased, similar to the figures eventually placed on their tombs.
This practice is symbolised today by the placing of eg a crown, or military cap on the coffin.