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Lost medieval sacristy at Westminster Abbey unearthed with remains of ‘thousands’ of buried dead

A lost medieval sacristy used by 13th-century monks has been uncovered in the grounds of Westminster Abbey – along with the bones of buried bodies.

Authorities at the abbey plan to construct a building on the site for new visitor facilities, but wanted to fully understand the grounds’ medieval footprint first.  

Archaeologist Chris Mayo has led the team, who have been working since January, on one of Westminster Abbey’s largest archaeological projects.

The aim of the dig is to ‘uncover the foundations of the Great Sacristy on its North Green, facing the busy Victoria Road’, according to The Guardian.   

The abbey was built by Edward the Confessor, but the sacristy was only added during construction of the present church built in the 1250s by Henry III. 

It was the place where monks kept their vestments, altar linens, chalices and other sacred items used in mass.  

Lots of human remains have been discovered, as the site was a burial ground before the sacristy and during the 18th century. 

Mr Mayo said there must be ‘hundreds if not thousands’ of bodies buried across the Abbey.   

The site has been used as a burial ground for monks, one of whom has been temporarily uncovered by the team, and still remains in extraordinary condition.       

The sacristy was once a domestic dwelling but was demolished in 1740, but was later uncovered in 1869 by architect Sir George Gilbert Scott during a project.   

Significant finds include medieval painted wall plaster, which suggest the walls inside were ‘hand painted with red, white and black flowers’.   

A stoup was found in the 13th-century foundations and ‘was probably used by monks in Edward the Confessor’s church to wash their hands as they entered’.   

As with many archaeological digs there have also been moments of excitement at particular discoveries, followed by an anticlimax.

A stacked grave was found, which was believed could belong to the regicides, the men involved in the execution on Charles I, whose bodies were taken from the abbey and thrown in a pit under the order of Charles II.  

However, the dates meant that this was not a possibility.   

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