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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