There’s a lot going on behind the scenes in the Cathedral – and I don’t just mean behind the hoardings, though that too. Here’s a quick run-down of some of the things the team and I are working hard on day by day at the moment.
The alterations – this is the major changes to the Cathedral that you see when you come in to visit. So far we’ve removed the old seating; carefully taken the Nicholson screen apart, and removed it in pieces ready to be returned for reassembly in its new position; dug down and cleared the way for the vault, which is now partially in place, with the engineering bricks currently visible, but the final finished lining not yet there; laid the limecrete foundation for the new flooring, and also laid down the piping for the future underfloor heating – which is what you can see in the picture at the top of this Blog, in case you were wondering! Next we place limecrete screed over the pipes, and then lay the finished stone floors over the screed. Meanwhile the screens go back in their new places, and the ambulatory will take shape. Practically every bit of this is specialist, and Rob Pell, our construction site manager, and his team are working ever so carefully. and very hard Meanwhile on the outer side of the hoardings, visitor numbers remain high, with many people queueing to take a peek through the two vision ports. And its good also to hear people generally commenting positively on how we’re managing to maintain the place as a working and praying Cathedral, and our extra visitors appreciating the atmosphere and welcome.
The tomb and its plinth – we recently made a final response to some pressure received from the Richard III Society and the Looking for Richard Project on a number of issues. One of those was on the lying in a place of sanctity before reinterment – you can read our final word on that here. Another was on the nature of the tomb. There’s been much debate over this over the past year or more, but the final design is as approved by CFCE last March. It was never about to change from that, but we were pleased to be able to announce that we are inlaying four white Yorkist roses into the floor of the ambulatory, in a square around the tomb, approximately where you might also put candle stands in such a space.
The swaledale fossil stone tomb itself, and its kilkenny marble plinth, are being made by stoneworker James Elliott, and as I wrote last time, Emma and I recently visited him at his Market Overton workshop in Rutland. The piece of swaledale stone we first saw and selected in Penrith is now with him and beginning its journey from raw stone to worked tomb, but if, like me, you had initially imagined the plinth as one solid piece of marble, I discovered I couldn’t be more wrong. It will be an amazingly engineered piece of work, constructed almost block by block and plane by plane, to bear the weight and load in the right places, and carry the inscriptions and royal coat of arms where we’ve shown it will. James will be putting this in place early next year, following on the completion of the other works, and then it is he who will supervise the final lowering onto the vault of the swaledale monolith, at the conclusion of the service of reinterment on March 26th, ready for its full revelation in the final service of the week the next morning.
The new furnishings – separately from all that, we need to replace the fixed canons’ stalls, removed from the old space, with new more movable canons’ seating and choir stalls. These have been specially designed for us by Luke Hughes and Company, a leading designer of such items for many Cathedrals and larger churches, and the first orders for their manufacture are being placed imminently.
We will also be creating a new cathedra (Bishop’s chair) to replace the old, very elaborate one which formerly stood in the old far east end sanctuary. It will remain in the Cathedral as a work of artistry, but not a functional bishop’s chair, situated in a new location in the north transept, under the window. The new cathedra will be in the new sanctuary under the tower, central to the reordered building.
Telling the story – alongside all of this, of course we want to help our visitors understand what they’re looking at when they come, and to that end we have commissioned a series of interpretative displays. Unlike the interesting and historically informative displays over the road in the Visitor Centre, these are not designed so much to inform or entertain as to stimulate people to think – and maybe also to pray. They will do this by linking aspects of the story of the life and death of Richard III with the stories of our own lives. The displays will also offer a more permanent way of displaying the amazing Pall being made for us by Jacquie Binns, and the replica crown donated to be with King Richard III by John Ashdown-Hill for his reinterment, and beyond. And the windows for St Katharines chapel by Tom Denny will complete the interpretative materials we’re providing – though we don’t now expect these to be ready before next summer.
You will note that I’ve been sparing of detail in all of this account. There will be plenty of time to see exactly what we’re planning as next Spring unfolds, and I wouldn’t want to spoil all the surprises. But I thought it might be of interest to see how much activity is going on behind the scenes to get us to that point. And I’ve only talked about the physical stuff today. What about the services, the invitations, the week of events, the appeal..? Well – more on all of that for another time soon, perhaps. Or else you can pop over to the Project website for the latest news. But you probably know that already.
Meanwhile, I’d like to leave you with a lovely shot of the spire all lit up red for Remembrance Sunday the other week, taken by David from the new Jubilee Square. Behind the ground-floor window with a blue blind to the centre right is my office. Just in case you wanted to know…