Hundreds of medieval skeletons discovered at Westminster Abbey

Hyperaxion Aug 25, 2020

During excavations, archaeologists also found the remains of a lost sacristy demolished in the 17th century.

The remains of hundreds of people were found in the grounds of Westminster Abbey in London, as well as a medieval sacristy used by monks during the 13th century.

Hundreds of medieval skeletons discovered at Westminster Abbey
(Credit: Westminster Abbey).

Built almost a thousand years ago, in 1090, Westminster Abbey was rebuilt in the 1250s at the request of King Henry III, who also ordered the construction of the sacristy. The place was where the monks kept their vestments, altar linens, chalices, and other religious items.

Before that, however, the site was used as a cemetery for monks, according to recent archaeological research on the Abbey’s grounds. The study, led by archaeologist Chris Mayo, revealed several buried bodies, including a very well-preserved one that was buried in a chalk-lined grave.

“You do have to be careful where you’re walking,” Mayo said. “You can see from the ground there are burials everywhere.”

As historians explain, the sacristy was reused and became a domestic dwelling until it was demolished in 1740, due to the risk of collapse.

More than a century later, in 1869, the famous architect Sir George Gilbert Scott rediscovered the sacristy while working at the Abbey.

Mayo and his team also discovered a basin, which was probably used by the monks to wash their hands, and a lead pipe, which would have supplied water to the monastery and dates from the 13th century.

In addition, many fragments of painted medieval plaster were found, suggesting that the walls were decorated with red, white, and black hand-painted flowers.

 Painting by Pietro Fabris showing the sacristy at the centre.
Painting by Pietro Fabris showing the sacristy at the center. (Credit: Westminster Abbey).

The researchers also found a large number of 18th-century domestic objects, including porcelain plates, chamber pots, glass drinking vessels, and a variety of combs and brushes.

Still, for Mayo, without a doubt, the most important discovery was that of hundreds of human bones.

Related topics:

Middle ages

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