The remains of five archbishops of Canterbury have been found under a medieval church next door to the current archbishop’s official london residence, it has been revealed, to the great joy of the Christians celebrate Easter.
The discovery in the disused church of st Mary-at-Lambeth has been made during the renovation of the Lambeth Palace Garden Museum last year, and has been kept secret for months while the work was completed.
The redevelopment of the team, led by site managers Karl Patten and Craig Dick of building contractors Rooff, accidentally stumbled upon the dark entrance of the tomb when they started stripping back the tiles of the church.
Following the discovery of a set of stairs under a slab, they have shaped a long torch, a mobile phone attached to a stick, and were able to get a first glimpse of what lay below: a crypt hidden in it which contained 30 of the lead coffins.
Patten told the BBC: “We have discovered many coffins – and one of them had a golden crown on top of it.” The archbishops were often buried with gold painted tabs – hairstyle-of-ceremony – put on their coffins.
While the identity of some of the remains are a mystery, three coffins had nameplates. These belong to Richard Bancroft (archbishop from 1604 to 1610, who chaired the committee that wrote the King James Bible), John Moore (archbishop of 1783-1805) and his wife, Catherine Moore.
Frederick Cornwallis (in office 1768-1783), Matthew Hutton (1757-1758), and Thomas Tenison (1695-1715) have also been identified as being buried in the church, alongside of John Bettesworth, dean of arches (an ecclesiastical judge) between 1710 and 1751.
Visitors to the Garden Museum will be able to display the right casket through a glass floor panel. Photo: Museum Of The Garden
In view of Lambeth Palace is the residence of the archbishop of Canterbury, the Church of England, the principal cleric, for nearly 800 years, it is not surprising the remains date back to the 17th century.
Burials were known to have taken place in the cemetery, but it had been assumed that the vaults under the church has since been filled with earth.
Until now the coffins were left intact, although the builders have installed a glass panel in the floor above them so that visitors can peer into the crypt.
The Garden of the Museum, which was closed for its £7.5 m redevelopment since 2015, has re-opened on 22 May.