Final committal of Anglo-Saxon skeletons after creation of ossuary

One of the skeletons from the Bamburgh Bowl Hole Cemetery.
One of the skeletons from the Bamburgh Bowl Hole Cemetery.

The final committal of 110 
Anglo-Saxon skeletons into the crypt of a church on the north Northumberland coast will take place tomorrow.

The Bowl Hole is located at the base of Bamburgh Castle and, from 1998 to 2007, Bamburgh Research Project excavated an Anglo-Saxon cemetery from the dunes there.

Now, after years of research by the Bamburgh Research Project and Durham University in partnership with Bamburgh Castle Estate, it is time to commit the 110 skeletons to their final resting place in the crypt of the village’s St Aidan’s Church.

The creation of this special ossuary in the crypt of the church for the skeletons is particularly poignant as the cemetery below the castle is an early Christian site.

Dating evidence suggests that it was in use around 650 to 700AD, meaning that these people were some of the earliest Christian converts in Northumberland and that they would have heard St Aidan preach.

The cemetery contained men, women and children, and analysis of their bones and isotopes reveals that they were robust and healthy, leading to speculation that the cemetery was associated with the Royal Court of King Oswald.

The ceremony is the culmination of two years’ work by Bamburgh Heritage Trust and the Northumberland Coast AONB Partnership to create the special ossuary in the crypt of St Aidan’s.

Canon Rev Brian Hurst, who will be leading the service, said: “The burial service will reflect the significance of the occasion and will be a blend of ancient and modern.

“We will have a reading and a prayer in Old English and make use of the psalms which St Aidan encouraged.”

In addition, the author Max Adams will talk about the wider historical context while Graeme Young, the director of Bamburgh Research Project, will cover the archaeological significance of the site.

The service is open to all and will be followed by an opportunity to visit the crypt.

Timetable for the afternoon

2.15pm – Ten charnel boxes moved from the Castle to St Aidan’s by horse-drawn hearse.

2.30pm – Service, which will include an exploration of the archaeological significance of the site, Old English psalms and prayer and traditional music.

3.15pm – Afternoon tea

3.30pm to 4pm – Attendees invited to visit crypt in small groups.