Five archbishops’ remains found under former village church

The Sunday Telegraph reported Easter Sunday on the discovery of the remains of five former Archbishops of Canterbury buried under a church linked to Lambeth Palace.

The BBC took up the story:

One of the most sacred and precious sites in London, St Mary’s was built in the 11th Century along London’s Embankment, opposite Westminster Abbey, by St Edward the Confessor’s sister.

Mr Woodward said: “This church had two lives: it was the parish church of Lambeth, this little village by the river…but it was also a kind of annex to Lambeth Palace itself.

“And over the centuries a significant number of the archbishops’ families and archbishops themselves chose to worship here, and chose to be buried here.”

The church was deconsecrated in the 1970s and slated for demolition, until it found a new vocation as the Garden Museum. Builders were working on renovating the museum, and lifting flagstones from the floor, when they uncovered the entrance to an underground crypt.

Site manager Karl Patten said: “We discovered numerous coffins – and one of them had a gold crown on top of it”….

The red and gold mitre was resting on top of one of the coffins – which were stacked on top of each other in a brick-lined vault. …

The coffins have been left undisturbed, though builders have installed a glass panel in the chancel floor above them for visitors to catch a glimpse.

Two archbishops’ coffins were identified by their nameplates. Richard Bancroft was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1604-1610, and oversaw the translation of the Bible that would become the King James Version. John Moore served from 1783-1805. His wife, Catherine, was also identified by her nameplate.

According to Mr Mount, St Mary-at-Lambeth’s records have since revealed that a further three archbishops were probably buried in the vault: Frederick Cornwallis (in office 1768 to 1783), Matthew Hutton (1757 to 1758) and Thomas Tenison (1695 to 1715). …

Also identified from coffin plates was the Dean of Arches John Bettesworth (who lived from 1677 to 1751) – the judge who sits at the ecclesiastical court of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Beyond that, Mr Woodward said: “We still don’t know who else is down there”.

Read more about the surprising discovery at the BBC, and find fuller background coverage in the Telegraph on Sunday.

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  1. Donna Hicks

    This is enough to get me back to visit the Garden Museum again! For those who haven’t visited, if you’re in London, it’s worth a visit.

    • David Allen

      That’s good to know. I saw some inexpensive flights to London recently and I have never been off the North American continent, so I was thinking I might take advantage of them.

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