Medieval priestly burial found at Lincoln Cathedral

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More than 50 burials have been excavated within the medieval burial grounds surrounding Lincoln Cathedral, including what is thought to be the grave of a priest.

Stone-lined grave with skeleton and grave goods
The grave of a medieval priest, buried with a pewter chalice and paten placed at his right shoulder. [Image: Allen Archaeology Ltd]

Investigations were carried out by Allen Archaeology Ltd as part of the National Lottery-funded Lincoln Cathedral Connected project, which involves vital restoration and renovation works to the landmark.

One of the many complete skeletons found is believed to be that of a medieval priest, who had been carefully buried with a pewter chalice and paten placed at his right shoulder. These objects would have been used during Communion services and are consequently key symbols of the work of the priest. It is thought that he was buried with these items so that when called to the Last Judgement he could show that he had been able to perform the services, including Mass, when alive. The objects are relatively plain in style, and similar examples have been dated to the 12th or 13th century.

According to Natasha Powers, Senior Manager at Allen Archaeology, it had been recognised from the outset that significant archaeological remains would be discovered during the Cathedral Connected project, as the investigation was within the religious and administrative quarter of the medieval and earlier city. Multiple areas around Lincoln Cathedral were previously known to have been used as burial grounds, so the discovery of the graves is also not unexpected; however, the priestly burial is particularly unusual.

Other finds from the excavations include a hand from a statue that may have been part of a very early frieze, and a coin depicting Edward the Confessor, the last king of the House of Wessex, who ruled from 1042 to 1066. The coin was minted between 1053 and 1056, so predates the building of the current cathedral. Evidence has also been uncovered of high-status Roman buildings, with decorated painted wall plaster, a near-complete incense burner, and a perfume jar among the artefacts recovered.

Work on-site is still ongoing and post-excavation analysis has yet to be carried out, but the project has already uncovered significant evidence of Lincoln’s medieval, Saxon, and Roman occupants.

Text by Georgina Mackintosh

This news article appears in issue 361 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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