Page 11, 31st October 2008

31st October 2008
Page 11
Page 11, 31st October 2008 — Mary Queen of Scots: the campaign to remove her body is more political than religious

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Mary Queen of Scots: the campaign to remove her body is more political than religious

From Mr Bernard J Barrel!

SIR — The proposal (Report, October 17) to remove Mary Queen of Scots from her resting place in the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey has a greater political than religious dimension.

Mary was first buried in a huge lead sarcophagus at Fotheringhay, and removed on the instructions of Elizabeth I to Peterborough Cathedral. In 1605 James I gave instructions for a monument to be built to honour his mother in Westminster Abbey. The scheme took over seven years to complete. On completion he ordered the removal of his mother's body to the crypt beneath the monument. During the next century a number of her descendants were laid to rest in the same vault. It would now prove almost impossible to remove her coffin without seriously disrupting the contents of the crypt, and dismantling the fragile choir stalls adjacent to it.

As a Catholic layman, and voluntary assistant/guide at the Abbey for 40 years, I see this proposal as a disservice to the cause of Church unity. It may be suggested that Mary was never afforded a Catholic burial, but at least it may be said that she rests in a chapel steeped in Catholic and Marian ambience. Mary had the misfortune to have lived in an age when religious persecution and strife were rampant throughout Scotland and England.

Scottish nationalism in its present phase seems determined to lay claim to all things Scottish: witness the return of the Stone of Scone in 1996, creating a precedent, and an attempt to re-write history. Where will this stop? Do we also disinter King James, Charles I and Charles II?

As for canonising Mary Stuart, she died because of political intrigue and alleged treason, Her Catholic faith is incidental to her eventual downfall. Her scandalous involvement in the deaths of Darnley and Riccio cannot be dismissed lightly, and remains an impediment to her Cause. To remove her body would be to destroy the context of what must surely be the finest monument of the Elizabethan and Jacobean age. King James, in setting up the entire scheme, not only did honour to his mother, but also gave due prominence to Scotland at a time when the United Kingdom was a distant dream. It is this political dimension that gives cause for concern. Let the Scots have independence if that is their objective, but do not destroy the heritage of two nations in the process.

Westminster Abbey in its long history is the depositary of Catholic and Anglican history in equal measure. In no other great Christian building in England can you find numbers of Catholic and Protestant burials close together. It is the one great Benedictine house that was spared the iconoclasm of the Reformation, and remained a seat of pilgrimage throughout the times of religious turmoil. The Queen of Scots rests here alongside St Edward the Confessor, in tribute to the ecumenical character of this sacred place.

Yours faithfully, BERNARD BARRELL Homchurch, Essex

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