Friday, April 20, 2012

Medieval Abbot's Grave Uncovered

Extraordinary discovery of 12th century abbot's grave

For something like seven centuries he had lain undisturbed.

He – or at least his remains – survived Henry VIII’s destruction of his abbey in 1537, eluded the grave-robbers that followed, and avoided discovery by Victorian archaeologists.

Even deep excavations and the underpinning of the crumbling building in the 1930s failed to unearth him.

But the abbot who headed Britain’s second richest and most powerful Cistercian monastery may soon be unmasked...


The skeleton of a portly figure was discovered almost by fluke when emergency repairs had to be made to the abbey at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.

Cracks had appeared in the ‘mouldered walls’ that featured in Wordsworth’s ‘At Furness Abbey’ verse from his 1805 Prelude, and in some of JWM Turner’s etchings.

They were caused by medieval wooden foundations rotting away. Archaeologists and structural engineers called in to examine them dug down and found an undisturbed, unmarked and unknown grave.

Its significance was immediately apparent. Whoever was buried here had been placed in the presbytery – the most prestigious position in the abbey, usually reserved for those held in greatest esteem.

With the remains were rare medieval jewellery and a silver and gilt crozier, a senior abbot’s staff of office.


Although he could have died as early as the 1150s, English Heritage curator Susan Harrison believes the grave more likely dates from the 1350s to early 1500s.

‘This is a very significant discovery,’ she said. ‘There has been no comparative grave found for the last 50 years in British archaeology.’

The head of the crozier, an ornamental staff carried by high-ranking members of the church, is gilded copper decorated with silver medallions that show the archangel Michael slaying a dragon.

The crook end is decorated with a serpent’s head. A small section of the wooden staff survives – as does part of the cloth the abbot held to prevent his hand tarnishing the crozier.

The ring he wore is gilded silver set with a gemstone of white rock crystal or white sapphire. It is possible that a hollow behind the stone contains a relic – perhaps what the monastery believed to be part of the body of a saint.

Read more: Daily Mail

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