Plans have been announced by Winchester Cathedral to lift the lids of their historic mortuary chests. It is believed that the historic tombs contain the mortal remains of some of the early Royals of Wessex.
The chests, which have been assessed as part of the Cathedral’s conservation work, rest in the Lady Chapel and are thought to also contain the remains of three bishops as well as a host of various historical artefacts.
The Very Revd James Atwell, Dean of Winchester, spoke of the archival find, “This is an exciting moment for the Cathedral when we seem poised to discover that history has indeed safeguarded the mortal remains of some of the early Saxon Kings who became the first Monarchs of a united England. Winchester holds the secrets of the birth of the English nation and it does seem that some of those secrets are about to be revealed as future research continues.”
The opening of the chests will form part of a new three-part exhibition that will be coming to Winchester Cathedral within the next few weeks. The exhibition entitled Kings and Scribes: The Birth of a Nation will be shown in the South Transept of the Cathedral and will also feature the 12th century Winchester Bible. The Cathedral’s Receiver General, Canon Annabelle Boyes is the director of this project and commented on the upcoming exhibition, “This welcome news marks a further stage towards achieving our aspirations to tell the stories of the people who have inspired and been inspired by the cathedral.”
It is believe that those interred include Canute, King of England, Denmark and Norway as well as his Queen, Emma of Normandy and their son, Harthacanute. King Canute died in Shaftesbury in 1035 and was subsequently buried in Winchester’s Old Minster before work had even begun on Winchester Cathedral.
The Dean of Winchester continued, “The presence of the bones in the Cathedral, where they would have been placed near the High Altar and the relics of St Swithun, remind us just how significant the inspiration of the Christian faith was for the foundation of our national life.”
The most recent inspection, which found the chests, is one of a number of inspections that has been conducted since the 16th century. Recent developments in archaeological study has allowed the findings to be radiocarbon-dated to give a more accurate confirmation of the date of the remains.