• Originally built to house a holy relic, reputed to be a thorn from the ‘crown of thorns’ said to have been worn by Jesus before his crucifixion
  • The body of Richard III was publicly displayed here after he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth
  • Walls and arches that were part of the church can be seen inside the De Montfort University Heritage Centre

Part of the De Montfort University Heritage Centre

In the basement of De Montfort Universities (DMU) Hawthorn Building, stand two arches which were once part of a medieval church. Today, these ruins form the centrepiece for the university’s Heritage Centre.

Built to house a holy relic

The Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded in 1353 by Henry the first Duke of Lancaster, son of the Henry who founded Trinity Hospital. Henry was one of King Edward III’s most trusted captains in the early phases of the Hundred Years’ War and earned himself a notable reputation. He was a founding member and the second Knight of the Order of the Garter, an order of chivalry founded by the king in 1348. Henry was was made a duke in 1351.

 

A digital recreation of how the interior of the Church of the Annunciation may have looked. DMU Digital Buildings Heritage Group

Upon returning from France, Henry enlarged his father's hospital foundation and built a new church to house a holy relic given to him by King John II of France; a thorn reputed to be from the ‘crown of thorns’ said to have been worn by Jesus before his crucifixion. The relic was housed in a reliquary (container) of gold at the altar and made the church a popular place of pilgrimage.

The church had a chantry function, meaning vicars would have prayed for the souls of the Lancastrian family - and for the souls of any local people who could afford to endow a chapel in the church.

After falling ill, Henry died at Leicester Castle in 1361 and he was buried in the Church of the Annunciation next to his father.

In fact, the church is nationally important as a site of Lancastrian burials as well as the site of the public exhibition of the body of King Richard III after his death at the battle of Bosworth in 1485. A chronicle in the British Library states: ‘they brought King Richard thither that night, as naked as ever he was born, and in the Newarke was he laid, that many a man might see.’

The Reformation

In 1548 the church was demolished during The Reformation and the land sold to private hands. A large house and gardens were constructed on the site, which had various prestigious owners including the Coltmans, a hosiery manufacturing family, and Edward Shipley Ellis, chairman of the Midland Railway Company.

Art school discovery

In 1897 the house and grounds were purchased by the Corporation of Leicester for construction of the Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School, now the Hawthorn Building of DMU. Construction took place over several years as each wing of the building was built separately. When the old house came to be demolished in 1935, two ruined arches from the Church of the Annunciation were discovered embedded into the wall of the cellar, along with many bones, coffins and architectural  fragments. The arches were preserved and later incorporated into the Hawthorn Building where they can still be seen as the centrepiece of the DMU Heritage Centre.

The Heritage Centre showcases the story of The Newarke and how this historic location developed over the centuries. It also tells the story of the De Montfort University and hosts two temporary gallery spaces which change every six months, showcasing student and staff research as well as projects and collections from local partners. 

The DMU Heritage Centre is open to the public, find out how to visit.

Gallery

Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Medieval Leicester

(500 – 1500) The early years of this period was one of unrest with Saxon, Danes and Norman invaders having their influences over the town. Later, of course, came Richard III and the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought on Leicester’s doorstep.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Early 20th Century Leicester

(1910 – 1973) The diverse industrial base meant Leicester was able to cope with the economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. New light engineering businesses, such as typewriter and scientific instrument making, complemented the more traditional industries of hosiery and footwear manufacturing.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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