Invitation from Marlow Archaeology
The Monks’ Graveyard Excavation: finding a lost abbot at the Abbey Church and Cathedral of St Albans
by Ross Lane– Site Director, Canterbury Archaeological Trust
Between August 2017 and February 2018, the Canterbury Archaeological Trust were working at the Abbey Church and Cathedral of St Alban ahead of the construction of a new visitor, education and welcome centre. Commissioned by the Dean and Chapter and overseen by Cathedral Archaeologist, Professor Martin Biddle, the team were tasked with excavating ground situated within the angle of the south-east Transept and Presbytery. The project is titled: Alban, Britain’s First Saint. The cathedral, thought to have been built over the third century AD grave of St Alban, is famous for being the oldest continuous place of Christian worship in England.
The excavation revealed a sequence of archaeological deposits that spanned a thousand years of use and development of the Abbey and Cathedral of St Alban. The foundation remains for two Norman apsidal chapels were identified, that would have opened into the Transept and to the Presbytery. Constructed as part of the Norman Abbey in 1077, these would almost certainly have been built in the same style with re-used Roman material collected from nearby Verulamium.
Foundations for a substantial L-shaped structure were uncovered. Rising to the triforum level the structure was built hard up against the Presbytery and Transept walls the north and west side of which had remained upstanding although heavily modified.
Located within the centre of what is thought to be a chapel was a brick lined tomb that contained the remains of an aged male. Associated were three papal bullae, granted to the Abbey of St Albans by Pope Martin V in November 1423.
The presence of the bullae, together with documentary records indicate that the tomb was that of Abbot John of Wheathampstead.
Image: The Abbot being excavated – note the three Papal Bullae
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