Laying our ancestors to rest

The path to the burial site

On a beautiful warm afternoon, with the cow parsley in full flower, the villagers who were disturbed during the archaeological excavation of Queen Ethelburga’s church were again laid to rest.

Readers of this blog will remember a few encounters with these villagers of the past. We excavated eight graves within the area of the Anglo-Saxon church within the apsidal east end during the second half of the dig. One grave was particularly memorable for containing a large man who would have stood out in any crowd. The last grave to be dug also revealed that these burials were cut into the foundations of the Anglo-Saxon church beginning in the early 13th Century, as the lowest grave contained a piece of datable pottery. This suggests that Ethelburga’s church had been demolished and forgotten by this date, so quite likely it did not survive the end of the 11th Century.

The bones have been in storage up to now. A few weeks ago, we brought them out and put them into calico bags specially made for the purpose. Each excavated skeleton was placed in its own bag. But we had many other disarticulated bones that had been disturbed by grave diggers in the past. The Old Churchyard has been in use for many hundreds of years, and it long ago became impossible to dig a grave anywhere within the ancient boundary without disturbing an earlier burial. Our ancestors must have been very used to this. We found bones scattered all across the area of the excavation, relating to many individuals. During the dig, we carefully collected them together, as we are required to do by law. They have now been returned to the ground as close as possible to where they were found.

The burial site is a quiet spot off the path that leads from the south door of the standing church to the Old Rectory. Our priest Jane Weeks led the service with Curate Ordinand Deb Scoble reading prayers. Jane blessed the bags before they were carefully lowered into the new grave. The service of committal was read in Latin. Prayers were selected to be appropriate for these villagers who died so many centuries ago.

Jane scattered earth over the bags as they lay in the ground. She invited members of the congregation present to do likewise, and to lay flowers on the bags before they were finally re-buried.

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