Archaeology breakthrough: Westminster mass grave 'raises hopes' of finding lost 'leader'

Researchers uncovered hundreds of bodies at a previously undiscovered burial site. The location was also found to be scattered with the graves of medieval monks. The lost sacristy, used by 13th century monks, was uncovered in the grounds of Westminster Abbey during a clear out for the construction of a new building.

Researchers have not yet tallied the entirety of the separate bodies found, although reports suggest it could be in the thousands.

Chris Mayo, an archaeologist working on the grounds, told of how workers had to be extremely careful not to damage any remains lying around.

He explained to The Guardian, “You do have to be careful where you’re walking,” after pointing to a fragment of a skull poking out of the soil.

He added: “You can see from the ground there are burials everywhere.”

Mr Mayo led the team, who are currently working on one of the Abbey’s largest archaeological projects.

Their main goal is to uncover the foundations of the Great Sacristy on its North Green, facing the busy Victoria Street.

The discovery of an impressive medieval sarcophagus at the site has raised hopes that the team could have stumbled on the remains of an unidentified leader of the Great Sacristy.

Other finds include a basin, probably once used by monks in Edward the Confessor’s church.

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It came during his reconstruction of the Abbey that was built by Edward the Confessor.

It was here that monks kept their vestment, altar linens, chalices and other sacred items used during mass.

The site’s history goes further, however.

Before, it was used as a burial ground for monks.

One body in particular has remained in remarkably good condition.

The team carefully uncovered the monk in his chalk-lined grave for closer inspection.

The sacristy was later repurposed as a domestic dwelling.

But, in 1740, a failure to maintain the building led to its demolition.

Sir George Gilbert Scott, in 1869, directed a project that quickly uncovered and recorded the sacristy.

Now, the archaeological team currently working on the site are trying to reignite previous research, and better understand the sacristy’s historical significance.

Authorities want to construct a new building on the site to house ticketing and security facilities, hence the complete exposure and discovery of the bottom layer.

Items from the medieval period were not only found at the site.

A large number of 18th century domestic objects were recovered, such as china plates, chamber pots, glass drinking vessels and an assortment of combs and brushes.