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The final committal of 110 Anglo-Saxon skeletons into the crypt of St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh

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Procession of hearse through Bamburgh Ian Glendinning

Years of research by Bamburgh Research Project and Durham University in partnership with Bamburgh Castle Estate has resulted in an unrivalled wealth of information and data about our Anglo-Saxon ancestors who were living in Bamburgh 1,400 years ago. Over 110 individual skeletons were excavated (1998-2007) from the sand dunes to the south of Bamburgh Castle by Bamburgh Research Project and for the last couple of years I’ve been working with Bamburgh Heritage Trust to secure the final resting place of these skeletons in the second crypt of St. Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh. The culmination of all our hard work was the final committal ceremony held on Friday 24th June.

For the last couple of years I’ve been working with Bamburgh Heritage Trust to secure the final resting place of the Bowl Hole skeletons in the second crypt of St. Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh. The culmination of all our hard work was the final committal ceremony held on Friday 24th June. It has been an absolute privilege to be part of this wonderful project.

The specially created ossuary now houses over 110 individual skeletons that were excavated (1998-2007) from the sand dunes to the south of Bamburgh Castle by Bamburgh Research Project. Years of research by Bamburgh Research Project and Durham University in partnership with Bamburgh Castle Estate has resulted in an unrivalled wealth of information and data about our Anglo-Saxon ancestors who were living in Bamburgh 1,400 years ago. We know they were robust healthy individuals and originated from all over the British Isles and from across the wider continent. Dating evidence suggests that the cemetery  was in use around 650-750AD – meaning that these people were some of the earliest Christian converts in Northumberland and that they would have heard St. Aidan preach. I feel it is incredibly fitting and moving that their final resting place is in the crypt of St. Aidan’s Church. It is tantalising to think the some of these people could have actually heard St. Aidan preach.

It was an incredibly poignant and moving ceremony. A beautiful horse drawn antique hearse brought the remaining ten charnel boxes from Bamburgh Castle to the church and the skeletons were accompanied on their final journey by the staff from Bamburgh Castle and archaeologists from Bamburgh Research Project.

The ceremony was led by the Canon Rev Brian Hurst with the Venerable Peter Robinson, Archdeacon of Lindisfarne. The Canon Rev Hurst said “It seems very fitting that these individuals have found their final resting place in the crypt of St Adain’s church – they who may have known King Oswald and his gentle bishop, Aidan – they who would have known a church on this site and may have known that here it was that Aidan died. It is almost as if the crypt has been waiting for them to come and offer them this peaceful resting space.”

The service included a talk by the author Max Adams about the wider historic importance of Anglo-Saxon Bamburgh and Graeme Young, the director of Bamburgh Research Project, covered the archaeological significance of the site. A particularly moving element of the service was when Tom Clarke read ‘The Seafarer’, an Anglo-Saxon poem, in the original Old English – the very language that these people would have spoken and heard.

Each skeleton is now encased in an individual zinc charnel boxes the skeletons have been finally laid to rest in the small second crypt beneath the 11th Century chancel.  The small second crypt has been secure behind a stunning grille designed and made by local blacksmith and artist Stephen Lunn.  Stephen’s design is a modern interpretation of the Anglo-Saxon knot with animal heads reflecting the zoomorphic tradition in ancient Celtic art and the 3D knot work reflecting  the Anglo-Saxon – the two artistic traditions that merged in St. Oswald's Bamburgh and resulted in the Golden Age of Northumbria.

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Anglo Saxon Skeletons are welcomed into the church Ian Glendinning
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