Lost Tombs of Archbishops Discovered Under London Museum Floor

Laura Heggs | April 17th, 2017

A construction crew working on the Garden Museum near Lambeth Palace in London in 2015 made an amazing discovery. Workers were lifting giant, 3300 pound stones from the floor in order to even out the paving when they accidentally cut a small hole in the floor. This hole revealed a chamber that led to a tomb. The Garden Museum is housed in a deconsecrated church, formerly known as St. Mary-at-Lambeth, so the existence of a burial vault there is reasonable, though no one knew of its existence.

What was in the tomb was even more surprising. There was a pile of coffins, and on top of one was an archbishop’s mitre (this is headwear worn by archbishops). Out of the thirty coffins in the vault, five belonged to former Archbishops of Canterbury, heads of the English church. It had long been thought that these archbishops’ coffins had been moved in the 1850s, when the church was rebuilt, and that their final location was unknown. Historians had always believed that any burial vaults under the former church had been filled in long ago.

lambethpalacelibrary.org
lambethpalacelibrary.org

The most important burial found was that of Richard Bancroft, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 104 to 1610. He led the committee of scholars who produced the King James Bible, which was published in 1611. Other burials included other archbishops from the 1700s and 1800s, an ecclesiastical court judge, and the wife of one of the archbishops.

The discovery of the remains was actually made in 2015, but it has been kept secret for months so that the builders could make sure the vault was safe before the Garden Museum reopens in May. It was feared that floor above the tomb would be unstable after remaining undisturbed for so many years, and authorities were afraid that eager sightseers would try to access the tomb if its discovery was made known.

Once the museum reopens, visitors will be able to view the steps leading to the burial chamber via a window cut into the floor. The lead coffins will remain undisturbed and off-view, in case any of them should crack open. The discovery is expected to greatly increase visitor numbers to this lesser-known London tourist attraction, as tourists flock to get a glimpse of one of history’s solved mysteries.

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