New Uses for Medieval Bones

Episcopal Life is running a story on a (for the time being) unique use for medieval to modern bones from an English church made “redundant” 30 years ago. Here is the link to the article: “New role for old bones at Anglo-Saxon church”. The bones of 3760 people previously buried at the church were turned over for medical research when the church became redundant 30 years ago. Now they are being put back in an ossuary inside a new center for medical research (and visitor’s center) at the former church.

I’m really not so sure how I feel about this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for rescue archaeology when someone wants to build an apartment building on top of an ancient cemetery discovered during building excavations, but this church was in use just a generation ago. One of the skeletons on display is 19th century!

I’m more than a little concerned about the precedent this sets for all the medieval churches that will be declared redundant by the Church of England over the next few decades. I realize that a millennia worth of old cemeteries are a burden on the Church of England but that is the price you pay for being an ancient church! These people rested peacefully in consecrated ground for over a thousand years, and that should mean something. England really doesn’t have a shortage of medieval skeletons found by real rescue archaeology.

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