Pilgrimage to Kensington Palace

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  • Pilgrimage to Kensington PalaceAuthor(s): George Monger and Jennifer ChandlerSource: Folklore, Vol. 109 (1998), pp. 104-108Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd.Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1260578 .Accessed: 10/06/2014 02:05

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  • 104 Topics, Notes and Comments

    4. Pilgrimage to Kensington Palace

    George Monger and Jennifer Chandler

    The death of Diana Princess of Wales led to an overwhelm- ing popular movement which seemed to fuse elements of the roadside shrine phenomenon previously reported in Folk- lore (Monger 1997), pilgrimage on the "Great Religion" model, and New Age forms of expressing spirituality. The countrywide reaction to the death resulted in gifts and flow- ers being placed at town halls and council offices all over the country. Some were also placed at war memorials (an action which was not considered fitting by many British Legion of- ficials).

    However, the most striking acts of remembrance occurred outside residences with which Diana was associated. One of us, J.C., was able to observe the developments outside Ken- sington Palace on the Tuesday and Wednesday of the week leading up to Diana's funeral; and on the Friday we both went to record the scene. The joint visit to Kensington Palace was a useful exercise in observation and interpretation-al- though we looked together, we noticed different things or saw the same things but interpreted them differently. The paper below is a synthesis of our observations and interpre- tations which describes the offerings presented to Diana (and sometimes to Dodi too) by those who made the pilgrimage.

    Before that, however, we should like to begin by making some general points. First, there was a striking difference between the scenes we observed and those selected for pres- entation by the media. Newspapers and television reports had been describing scenes of mass mourning and focusing on displays of emotion from individual members of the pub- lic. Journalists still write of "gales of emotion awash in the streets" (Toynbee 1997). Indeed, some journalists suggested that the whole event was an opportunity for some form of self-indulgent catharsis and synthetic grieving (ibid.).1 The Guardian's Ian Jack identified a collective mood in which those who did not feel an enormous sense of grief or loss were inhibited from expressing their views for fear of appearing in some way unpatriotic or unfeeling (Jack 1997). Like con- spirators, they had to feel their way in conversations about the death of Diana to determine whether or not they could speak openly. We, on the contrary, saw few tears or emo- tional outbursts: the scene was one of decorum and gravity, and, though the events were cathartic, the majority of the messages attached to the flowers showed that the emotion was not wholly self-indulgent. That impression had been fos- tered in the media as they underlined their concept of "a na- tion grieves" by focusing on some of the more sentimental messages, such as:

    If Heaven had a Number We would call you on the phone

    To tell you how we miss you And tell you to come home.

    Secondly, we would like to note the dominance of "Queen of Hearts" symbolism (in her famous television interview, Diana had, of course, said that she would not be Queen of England but she wanted to be queen of people's hearts). "Queen of Hearts" formed part of the wording of many mes- sages. One "From the people of Pakistan," for example, was headed "Dearest Queen of Hearts Diana," and several bou-

    quets had the Queen of Hearts playing card attached. Thirdly, there seemed to be no opportunist flower sellers.

    One of us, G.M., was told that only the usual vendors were trading in the vicinity of Hyde Park. People intending to lay flowers had either brought them from home or bought them on the way and carried them across London. We saw several people arriving at Liverpool Street railway station, going to the underground carrying large bouquets. People arriving without an offering, but feeling moved to express themselves, often improvised-a message on a scrap of paper held down with an empty wine bottle; a pair of bikers' boots wedged into the railings by the heels, with a T-shirt, head-band and road map; and so on.

    The Offerings

    The use of the word "offering" is deliberate. The prepared flowers and gifts suggested the kind of purposeful travel as- sociated with pilgrimage. There was also sometimes quite explicit use of religious iconography. We saw holy pictures among the flowers, including the Virgin and Child, Our Lady of Fatima, the Sacred Heart, Ganesh, and Buddha. One Sa- cred Heart picture had had Christ's stylised crimson heart cut out and replaced with Diana's photograph. Candles, flares, votive lights and lanterns were much in evidence, some placed in the lines of flowers, some at the base of trees or on a low limb of a tree--in fact, one tree branch had so many candles on it (probably because it was sheltered from the breeze) that it was covered with solidified candle wax. The outrage of the tabloid newspapers when foreign visitors took away items placed in Hyde Park suggests that the objects and flowers were imbued with a sort of sacredness.

    Flowers

    J.C. was able to observe developments in the park over three days and noticed that on the Tuesday there were few, if any, formal florists' funeral wreaths, but by Friday several could be seen, mostly against a wall to the left of the Palace gates. These included separate wreaths of pale yellow chrysanthe- mums in the form of letters making up the name "DIANA," a tall white cross, and a heart shape composed of white flow- ers and greenery. In the same area was a wreath of artificial poppies precisely like those laid at war memorials on Re- membrance Sunday.2

    There was some evidence of flower symbolism-for ex- ample, a sprig of rosemary for remembrance. The John fam- ily from Wales had left golden chrysanthemums with the in- scription: "The colour of these flowers reflect the sunshine you brought into people's lives." Many left a single red rose (the symbol of love). In one case a drawing of a red rose was left with a message:

    Queen of Hearts YOU WILL BE MISSED BY ALL ... GOD BLESS YOU!

    MAY YOU REST IN PEACE FROM RATI, KITU, NILESH, SHREE, KARIA, RAJU,

    INDIRA, AMI, NITAL, NEIL, KHAGRAM

    Elsewhere, a single withered rose attached to the park rail- ings was accompanied by the message: "The last rose cut from our garden in memory of you Diana/ Love always/ Allison, John and Persephone.3

    Some people had deposited pot plants amongst the offer- ings, perhaps with the view to their being replanted rather

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  • Topics, Notes and Comments 105

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  • Topics, Notes and Comments 107

    than just withering away. But most flower offerings were bunches, left with their wrappings on, with little thought to presentation--though there were notable exceptions, such as a casually stylish group of three sprays wrapped in shiny cellophane over brown cartridge paper and tied with multi- ple strands of coloured raffia. One journalist commented

    adversely that people had "not even bothered to unwrap" their flowers, and we saw two Marks and Spencer delivery boxes deposited unopened.4 However, this misses the point: it was the act of making the offering that was important, not the appearance of the gift. These offerings were aimed, not at the spectators, but at the deceased. This was reflected in the wording and tone of many of the messages.

    Messages

    Typically the messages were addressed directly to Diana (and Dodi), not worded in the third person. They often expressed a feeling of personal loss:

    Dear Diana, I would have loved to be your friend. You had such great courage to show us that beyond

    class and creed it is the spirit of things that matter. How we will miss you--you who spoke to us.

    Several expressed a vivid concept of an afterlife. Stapled to a bunch of flowers was the note:

    DIANA AND DODI R.I.P.

    GOD BLESS YOU BOTH THE WORLD WILL NEVER FORGET YOU

    MAY YOU HAVE AS MUCH FUN IN HEAVEN AS YOU DID IN ST TROPEZ

    WITH LOVE REBECCA

    XXXX Another message, again written on a scrap of paper but this time taped to the railings of Hyde Park, said:

    Dear Diana My dear you have been treated very badly by a family connected with my church.

    Loving wishes

    always. Another word-processed message "From the people of Paki- stan" began:

    The Royals didn't deserve you. You showed the world what "Royalty" is all about.

    Some messages were not only critical of, but directed at, the Establishment, including the press and the Royal Family. One message, written on the back of an envelope and attached to a park noticeboard adjacent to Kensington Palace, finished with a message to the Queen with the words:

    Why did you treat Diana so badly? You should be ashamed.

    The press also came in for criticism:

    Tabloid editors/Mr Murdoch + co. Take a look in the mirror While she gave love + tried to do good, you sneered,

    chased her + made money out of her. She deserved better.

    Placed amongst the lines of flowers were at least three copies of a poem entitled "Guilty," which suggests an almost per- sonal involvement with the princess. Ironically, the writer's feeling of involvement was probably helped by the publicity and stories printed and produced by the very newspapers implicitly accused in the poem. The middle two stanzas read:

    I don't need the pictures to know who you were If I were blind, would a difference be there I knew you by deed, I knew you by love I knew you in my heart and that was enough.

    They can justify their reasons, They can justify their greed But they can never justify the way They took you from me.

    Underlying many of the tributes was a strong identification with Diana as the underdog, as the wronged wife, and as one who championed causes which were unpopular amongst the establishment or demonised by the popular media:

    DIANA Princess of Wales

    More sinned against than sinning Who gave more than she received

    Who received less than she deserved Rest now in peace.

    Diana was also elevated to the heavenly host. A message attached to the railings of Hyde Park read:

    Saint DIANA THE IRREPLACEABLE

    PATRON SAINT OF LOVE

    In Our Hearts Forever.

    Another, with an arum lily, a flower associated with mourn- ing, said:

    I will never forget you, earth angel.

    The image of Diana as some form of healing angel, or even an almost messianic figure, was echoed in another tribute, which also illustrates the time, thought and effort which was put into many of the tributes and messages. It was written on two joined pieces of white card on which were stuck a cut-out hand-drawn picture of a lighted candle with the words:

    Diana the angel that walks our earth no longer. But the light she brought with her will never go out

    for sadly her death has awoken a Diana in all of US.

    Don't let her efforts have been a waste. Don't let the Diana in you die. Follow in her footsteps and lead from your heart as she did and then we can heal this world as she has started.

    All it takes is Lv VE XXX.

    A row of three gold-coloured footprints closed off the mes- sage at the bottom.

    Above this, and attached to it, were black and white pho- tographs of Diana and Dodi framing the message:

    THE QUEEN OF HEARTS FINDS THE KING OF HERS

    rounded off by a row of three hand-drawn hearts. Above this was a tribute mounted on gold-paper backing with a heart-shaped white paper cut-out with the message:

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  • 108 Topics, Notes and Comments

    DIANA X DODI

    Together in this Life, Together in the Next

    RIP.

    All were attached to a tree. We could cite many similar ex-

    amples. Of particular note were the messages which came from

    Islamic states: a message in Arabic, which included a hand- drawn heart, signed off with "BAHRAIN LOVES YOU." An

    offering on purple and pink card had a message in Arabic and ended in English:

    To Diana and Dodi, From Jamela and everybody who wish Bliss and live in peace. United Arab Emirates.

    A hand-lettered message read:

    ON BEHALF OF ALL THE IRAQI PEOPLE WHO ARE STILL STRUGGLING UNDER THE OPRESSION AND BRUTALITY OF SADDAM

    HUSSAIN, WE WILL MISS YOU BADLY DIANA THE IRAQI OPPOSITION

    Shrines

    A great many images, messages and floral tributes were fixed to trees in the area in front of the palace. At the base of the trees were candles, joss sticks and other offerings (including a garden gnome). Objects were also hung in the branches of trees, including a pair of worn ballet shoes, an old 78 record,s toys, photographs and tie-dyed silk scarves (reminiscent of

    offerings at rag wells) as well as lanterns, candles and flow- ers. These "tree-shrines" had scarcely begun on the Tuesday but by Friday were an important element of the scene. Trees are obviously a convenient place to lean or hang flowers or to ensure that the tribute and message could seen, but be-

    yond that were intentionally given a shrine-like appearance. Similarly, "ground shrines" (i.e. a shrine not associated

    with a tree) also developed: one such consisted of a small

    plastic effigy of the Virgin Mary, crowned, robed in white and holding a rosary with two votive candles and a basket of white roses with blue statice and white "baby's breath."

    Nearby was a green heart-shaped candle. The whole was surrounded by bunches of flowers. Similarly, a sandbucket next to the railings at Hyde Park (which were covered in flow- ers and written messages and tributes) was transformed into an altar with a photograph of Diana surrounded by flowers and candles like an icon. The same phenomenon was seen at the Cafk Diana nearby which had a large floral wayside shrine outside, next to the main window.6

    This quasi-religious parallel to the phenomenon at Kensing- ton Palace brings back the concept of the visit and taking of an offering as a form of pilgrimage, a feeling which was reinforced by the sight of people having their photograph taken with some of the floral tributes-evidence that they were there.

    Conclusions

    The scene at Kensington Palace resembled a pilgrimage which the people taking part invested with many layers of mean- ing. It was an act of remembrance which fused many ele- ments of popular and religious culture. It was also an act of criticism of the Royal Family and the establishment. Diana was seen as having identified herself with the underdogs and

    disadvantaged of society (visiting hostels for the homeless,

    helping children's charities and allying herself with the anti- landmine cause and, although not healing the sick, prepared to embrace AIDS sufferers, the lepers of today's society). Be- ing also perceived as having been rejected and marginalised by the Royal Family, the public offered itself as a more feel-

    ing substitute:

    Although you are outcasted by the Royal Family You'll remain forever in our hearts and minds As a member of a national, even world-wide family Who never took you for granted. May you rest in peace.

    For the student of popular culture and folklore the first and subsequent anniversaries of the death and funeral of Diana will be of real interest and import. Will there be simi- lar scenes at her old homes and at or near the island on which she is buried, or will this whole phenomenon have faded

    away like old news?

    Notes

    'However, if the expressions of grief and mourning were

    synthetic the media were partly responsible because of their selective presentation of images in the newspapers and on the television.

    2Although war memorials were considered inappropriate sites for the placing of remembrance tributes to Diana, the use of the remembrance day poppies was not.

    3Did the last name suggest the choice of offering? Too much can be read into the type of flowers used: J.C. interpreted a bunch of white regale lilies tied to a tree as an expression of Marian-style devotion until a friend (a sociologist) "read" them simply as typical funeral flowers.

    4J.C. has observed that, at Saintes Maries de la Mer in the Carmargue, ropes supporting reliquaries lowered into the body of the church during the twice yearly pilgrimage, are not "garlanded," as sometimes reported, but are hung with individual bunches of flowers still wrapped in cellophane.

    5The message attached to this was signed, "1950s Rock and Roll Man," and said: "This record is one of my most prized possessions. But I would like you to have it."

    6This is a Greek-owned cafk. The Greek wayside shrines for victims of road fatalities are elaborate, see Monger 1997.

    References Cited

    Jack, Ian. "Those who felt differently." Guardian Weekend (22 December 1997):5-10.

    Monger, George. "Modern Wayside Shrines." Folklore 109 (1997):113-14.

    Toynbee, Polly. "Wring out the old." Radio Times (20 Decem- ber 1997-2 January 1998):24.

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    Article Contentsp. 104p. 105p. [106]p. 107p. 108

    Issue Table of ContentsFolklore, Vol. 109 (1998), pp. 1-126Front Matter [pp. 32-76]Society LecturesThe Folklore of Northern Scotland: Five Discourses on Cultural Representation [pp. 1-14]The Celtic Tarot and the Secret Tradition: A Study in Modern Legend Making [pp. 15-24]

    Belief, Legend and Perceptions of the Sacred in Contemporary Bath [pp. 25-31]Collecting Material Folklore: Motivations and Methods in the Owen and Hasluck Collections [pp. 33-40]Charmers and Charming in England and Wales from the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century [pp. 41-52]Night Revels and Werewolfery in Calvinist Guernsey [pp. 53-62]Anchors in a Three-Decker World [pp. 63-75]"The Real Royalists": Folk Performance and Civil Religion at Royal Visits [pp. 77-88]Legend and Life: "The Boyfriend's Death" and "The Mad Axeman" [pp. 89-95]Topics, Notes and CommentsThe Diana Phenomenon[Introduction] [p. 96]The Emotional English and Their Queen of Hearts [pp. 96-99]Research Note: After Diana [pp. 99-101]The Diana Phenomenon: Reaction in the East Midlands [pp. 101-103]Pilgrimage to Kensington Palace [pp. 104-108]Diana Memorabilia: Mail Order Values in Popular American Magazines [pp. 109-110]

    Swarming the Church [pp. 110-111]A Note on Healing Charms [p. 111]

    ReviewsReview: untitled [p. 112]Review: untitled [pp. 112-113]Review: untitled [pp. 113-114]Review: untitled [p. 114]Review: untitled [pp. 114-115]Review: untitled [pp. 115-116]Review: untitled [p. 116]Review: untitled [p. 117]Review: untitled [pp. 117-118]Review: untitled [p. 118]Review: untitled [p. 118]Review: untitled [pp. 118-119]Review: untitled [pp. 119-120]Review: untitled [pp. 120-121]Review: untitled [p. 121]

    Reviews of Folklore ScholarshipReview: Katharine Briggs Folklore Award 1997. Judges' Report [p. 121]

    Back Matter [pp. 122-126]

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